The National Hurricane Center indicates Hurricane Irene is passing the eastern North Carolina and Virginia border and heading back out to sea as a solid Category 1 storm. She has reportedly claimed at least four lives. Delaware, eastern Maryland, and the New Jersey shoreline are now or will soon be feeling the maximum effects of Irene’s 80 mph winds and deceptively powerful storm surge during a new moon high tide. In addition, the system is inundating wide swaths of the region with heavy rain. Via WeatherUnderground:
The latest NWS forecast is calling for a 5 – 8 foot storm surge in New York Harbor, which would easily top the flood walls protecting the south end of Manhattan if the storm surge occurs at high tide. High tide is near 8 am Sunday morning. A research storm surge model run by SUNY Stonybrook predicts that water levels at The Battery at the south end of Manhattan will peak at 2.2 meters above Mean Lower Low Water (MLLW) at high tide Sunday morning …
Even relatively moderate winds, combined with driving rain, can combine to leave behind damage that will have to be repaired quickly. Wind and rain exploit structural weaknesses, shingles loosen, eaves are drenched and start to rot, ceilings mildew. It’ll be a big insurance mess, if you were thinking roof job before the storm, you’ll have to get one soon after. And the same scenario will be played out on a far grander scale in the densely populated urban centers in New York, Connecticut, and up into New Hampshire beginning early tomorrow. Hurricane Agnes in 1972 was also a Cat 1. Agnes did over $2 billion in damage to sections of northeastern Pennesylvania as a tropical storm, and that was in early 70s dollars in a region with comparatively low population density. The storm surge and of this storm will probably more comparable to Hurricane Isabel, the most costly storm of the 2003 Atlantic season. When all is said and done, Irene could theoretically cost more than $10 billion.
There’s been some news footage of people almost playing in the wind and rain — bad idea. This storm may be moderate, but it’s a moderate hurricane. A chunk of two-by-four hitting at 50 mph can snap bones and crack skulls. Broken glass in shallow water can slice feet and tires, tangled power lines can electrocute, jagged pieces of whirling plywood or sheet metal can slash a throat. And it’s the freak accident that usually gets people in a storm like this. I expect we’ll have some examples of full blown Darwin Award winning behavior before this is over. If you’re in the storm, please resist the urge to be among those trying out for a lead role.