Hurricane Irene

The following is our coverage 2011’s Hurricane Irene.


Fri Aug 26, 2011 – 10:48am:

How Bad Could Irene Be?
by Patrick Appel

Nate Silver prepares for the worst:

According the model, a hurricane with wind speeds of about 100 miles per hour — making it a “weak” Category 2 storm — might cause on the order of $35 billion in damage if it were to pass directly over Manhattan. Such a storm would probably flood New York’s subway system as well as acres upon acres of prime real estate in neighborhoods like the East Village, the Financial District, TriBeCa, Coney Island, Red Hook, Dumbo, as well as parts of Staten Island and most of the Rockaways.

Although far from the most likely scenario, this may represent a reasonable-worst-case estimate of what could happen if Hurricane Irene took exactly the wrong turn at exactly the wrong time.

City by city warnings here. Mike Smith at Meteorological Musings is updating constantly on the situation. From Smith’s damage projection:

Because of the wet ground, it will be easy for the hurricane to uproot trees which will bring down power lines as they fall. So, regardless of the exact path of the storm, trees will topple causing extensive power failures. Those power failures will last more than a week in a number of areas. In addition, the difference in wind speed between the ground and the top of skyscrapers makes glass damage especially likely. Storm surge will exceed 10 ft. in some areas causing coastal flooding and river flooding will likely occur as a result of these heavy rains.


Fri Aug 26, 2011 – 12:58pm:
by Chris Bodenner

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For New Yorkers such as myself, real bad. Cuomo convenes an emergency cabinet meeting. Dan Amira is live-blogging updates. Choire assembles a survival guide for Brooklynites (money tip: transport your baby in a cat carrier). From the inbox, a Floridian who isn’t being a dick:

If you actually get hit by a hurricane you are somewhat screwed. Construction of everything in Florida takes into account hurricanes. We have shutters or shatterproof windows.  We don’t have water towers on top of buildings or any type of siding in our houses, even street signs and lamps are designed for storms. Our drainage systems are designed to reasonably handle several inches of rain per hour. For geographic reasons, we have one tunnel in the entire state and nothing subterranean like a subway or basement. Heck, people in the Florida Keys aren’t allowed to have a first floor at ground level.  A selling point for a house or condo in Florida is that it is on the same power grid as a hospital or jail. There are a lot of generators, and if you don’t have one, a person with a generator quickly gets reminded of all the nice things you did for them.

The Northeast has little or none of this.

Having been through more than half a dozen hurricanes, there are a couple necessities that don’t make the list too often. A pack of cards, a lot of wine and a bunch of books are as much necessities as batteries and flashlights.

I was visiting family out in Michigan this week, so I was a little bummed that I missed the earthquake. Now it seems the gods are answering my wish for a natural disaster, but on a much suckier scale; my Brooklyn apartment is in an evacuation zone. A reader sent the above photo, captured yesterday in Nassau, Bahamas. Ominously enough, my place is next to Nassau Avenue.


Fri Aug 26, 2011 – 3:45pm:

Shrugging Off The Storm
by Patrick Appel

John Seabrook asks whether New Yorkers will ready themselves for Irene:

Will New Yorkers actually follow Mayor Bloomberg’s advice and prepare? Buy new batteries, canned food, extra water, duct tape; pack a “go bag” and leave it by the door?

Somehow, that doesn’t seem likely. As blue staters, we have come to associate the death and devastation caused by Katrina more with failed political leadership than with the fury of a big storm. And since 9/11, hurricanes seem less threatening precisely because you can prepare for them. You can study their projected track, clock their wind speed, and predict the time of landfall—all from the comfort of your den. In an age of sudden events that change the world in an instant, the approach of a hurricane seems old-world stately, like a transatlantic crossing on an ocean liner. We prepare for the unthinkable (or think we do); and blithely shrug off the known. One day, although maybe not this Sunday, we’ll learn.


Fri Aug 26, 2011 – 6:41pm:
by Patrick Appel

New Yorkers may exceed John Seabrook’s expectations. Matthew Philips checksthe shelves in his neighborhood:

I live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and there are four drugstores, one  hardware store, and a RadioShack within a three block radius of my apartment. As of 2:30 this afternoon, there were no full-size flashlights left, a scant amount of duct tape available ($8 for 60 yards), and zero D or C batteries. At the hardware store, a scrum broke out among a few elderly ladies over a box of headlamps that were left. Yes, headlamps. The best we could do was a set of mini candles for $1.99, and a key chain flashlight for $9.99.

A reader makes a related points:

I work on the 47th floor and 80% of my colleagues were evacuated from the World Trade Towers in 2001, and when the floors shook this week, many of those people headed for the exits and never looked back. Sure, there are those who won’t or cannot take precautions – perhaps more here than in places that see more hurricanes. But the fact that the city’s own ordinances, in response to 9/11, now require extensive evacuation/rescue procedures for big buildings and the Bloomberg administration’s efforts to anticipate Irene means we are all better prepared. I dare John Seabrook to go out and try to buy batteries in midtown Manhattan. There are none.


Fri Aug 26, 2011 7:48pm:

Face Of The Day

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A man runs to his car trying to avoid getting wet from Hurricane Irene on Thursday, August 25, 2011, in Boca Raton, Florida. By Carline Jean/Sun Sentinel/MCT via Getty Images.

— C.B.


Fri Aug 26, 2011 – 5:35pm:

How Bad Could Irene Be? Ctd
by Chris Bodenner

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A crucial tip from a reader:

If nobody has told you this, you need to fill your bathtub with water.  It is not for drinking; it is for flushing the toilets if you lose water after the storm.   You don’t want to be without a flush toilet.

More advice here. More advice from a reader in NYC:

Having gone through a few hurricanes myself, a couple things I’ve been telling people here at work to have on hand, beyond the usual batteries/food/water: A lighter or two. The standard Bic never fails. Get it in the bright orange color and it’ll be easier to find wherever you set it down. Bandaids and bacitracin. The actual Band-Aid brand “Tough Strips” – the fabric kind, not the plastic – are miles more durable than any other kind I’ve used. I keep a box or two at all times because I slash myself in the kitchen on a weekly basis, but where there’s broken glass, there’s cuts, no matter how careful you are. Tough garbage bags (contractor-grade, if you have a local hardware store) and duct tape. Clean laundry, especially socks, underwear, and t-shirts.

Map of NYC evacuation zones from NYC.gov. Larger version of the map here (pdf). Go herehere and here for earlier coverage of the hurricanapocalypse.


Fri Aug 26, 2011 – 8:56pm:
by Patrick Appel

From Jeff Master’s forecast:

Irene is likely to cause one of the top-five most widespread power outages in American history from a storm. The record power outage from a Northeast storm was probably the ten million people that lost power during the great Blizzard of 1993. I don’t think Irene’s power outages will be quite that extensive, but several million people will likely lose power.

More hurricane tips from a reader in New Orleans:

1. If you leave, put all of the food in your freezer and fridge into “contractor”  garbage bags.  If you lose power, you can throw it out when you get back and save yourself from the stench of having to clean out the fridge, and it can also ruin your fridge.  If you don’t lose power, you can just pull it out of the bags and all is normal.

2. If you have an answering machine and a land line, make sure it is on so you can check to see if you have power or not while out of town.

3. If you stay, make your own ice by freezing  full water bottles. Keep them in an ice chest so they can keep other items cold.  Save your cubes for your cocktails.  When power goes out, ice is like gold.  After the ice melts, you have more drinking water in case the water systems is knocked out.

4. Also, place as much as you can in your freezer.  It will help the freezer stay colder, longer.  You will be eating the food in it in the days that follow.  Place things that you go to often in your ice chest.  Try to open the doors to the fridge as little as possible.  Your fridge will keep things cold for about two days.

5. And lastly, if you are going to leave, leave now and take the mandatory vacation. Go far if you can. Don’t go 90 miles away so that you lose power in your hotel room with sealed windows.

If you don’t have water bottles to freeze, ziplock bags filled with water also work.


Sat Aug 27, 2011 – 2:08pm:

Weathering Irene
by Patrick Appel

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From Jeff Master’s latest:

Latest radar-estimated rainfall amounts in North Carolina already exceed ten inches in some locations. Cedar Island, NC has reported 7.21″ as of 11am EDT, and a 100 mile-wide swath of 8+ inches of rain will likely fall from Eastern North Carolina northwards along the coast, through New York City, and into Vermont and New Hampshire during the next two days. Destructive river flooding will be a significant danger from New Jersey northwards to Southeast New York, where soils are saturated and run-off will be the greatest.

A bit from Mike Smith’s update this morning:

There is one peculiarity of the storm worth mentioning. While maximum sustained surface winds as of 9am were 90 mph (with higher gusts), sustained winds were 115 mph aloft. This does not matter in eastern North Carolina. It may matter quite a bit if the center of the storm goes over Manhattan in terms of damage to skyscrapers (i.e., objects like antennas blown off roofs and causing more damage as they fall) even if the storm weakens before arriving.

Adam Pasick gives advice to those in NYC:

As during the transit strike, cabs will take group fares and livery cabs will be allowed to make street pickups. And, in case you’re evacuating Fido, taxis and all buses are required to take pets as passengers. Still, the chances of successfully finding a ride when you need one are probably not good. And in case you were wondering, the MTA won’t be giving you a discount on those unlimited Metrocards that you won’t be able to use. Bridges out of the city will suspend tolls, though, so you’ll save $13.50 as you flee to Staten Island with all of your worldly possessions.

A reader writes in with an ingenius tip for evacuees:

I second my fellow New Orleanian’s recommendation about putting food in contractor bags in the fridge and freezer.  But in addition, if an evacuation is required, one should freeze a nice, clear, full, pint-sized glass of water into solid ice and put a penny on the top of the ice in the freezer.  Given that power outages can vary from block to block for varying lengths of time, and that power can be restored before one can return home, it is very possible to arrive after an evacuation to a fridge and freezer working normally.  However, if you find the penny at the bottom of an almost-full glass of solid ice, you can toss your bags of food in the trash without even opening them.  The penny at the bottom of the glass of ice means that power was out long enough for the ice to melt all the way through.  Long enough so that the stuff in the bags is surely re-frozen and re-chilled spoiled food.

And one more piece of advice from a reader:

The other major tip I would add (as a resident of the Florida panhandle now living in DC), beside the bathtub thing, is to urge people to take out money now from ATMs. Those won’t work when power goes out.

TPM is live-blogging the hurricane. For earlier thoughts on the storm go herehere,here, and here.

(Photo: In this handout satellite image provided by NASA, Hurricane Irene churns of the east coast of the United States, August 27, 201, in the Atlantic Ocean. Irene, now a Category 2 storm, has started to lash the eastern coast of the U.S. with wind gust up to 125 miles per hour. By NASA via Getty Images)


Mon Aug 29, 2011 – 9:33am:

Hathos Alert
by Chris Bodenner

Xeni Jardin delivers the dark humor:

It’s not a real American disaster until some drunk idiot pranks a live TV news shot. Above, Weather Channel reporter Eric Fisher gets mooned while reporting Hurricane Irene. Full frontal dong-age occurs shortly after that.


Mon Aug 29, 2011 – 9:57am:

The Politics Of Disaster
by Patrick Appel

Summarizing an old post, Ilya Somin explains natural disaster political incentives:

[P]olitical ignorance makes disaster policy less effective than it might be otherwise. “Rationally ignorant” voters over-reward disaster relief spending and under-reward disaster prevention spending, even though the latter is demonstrably more effective. They also give politicians insufficient incentives to prepare for very rare but extremely devastating disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina and the massive earthquake that hit Japan earlier this year.

Joyner sympathizes with public officials:

Governors and mayors have to make decisions about evacuation in time to actually affect an evacuation safely. The safe course is to take the worst projections, add 50 percent, and act accordingly. Nine times out of ten, though, people will be pissed that they were forced to evacuate unnecessarily. The other time, though, countless lives will be saved.

In the same ballpark, Joshua Tucker points to a paper that finds that “voters are willing to blame incumbents for just about anything, including things beyond the control of government like the weather.”


Mon Aug 29, 2011 – 10:57am:

A Technicolor Lining To The Storm?
by Chris Bodenner

Hurricane Irene could cause a boom of boomers:

[O]ne of the strange aftermaths of a hurricane is an increased amount of mushrooms popping up — especially the psilocybin — or “magic” kind — the ones that cause hallucinations. According to Dr. Casey Simon, an addiction expert based in Orange County, Calif., hurricanes create the perfect climactic conditions for the mushrooms to grow. “Mushrooms are spores and they multiply in moisture and are spread by wind,” he told [David Moye].

But a word of caution:

Simon says the real danger of the mushrooms isn’t the psilocybin. “Some mushrooms can attract a fungus that makes them more toxic,” he said. “It looks like a gray mold on the under side. Just a few differences in temperature can make a difference.”

[Dr. Suneil] Jain says that’s why experienced mushroom experts pick mushrooms when they are as fresh as possible. “The optimal time to pick is right after the storm before the other elements can affect them,” he said.

Happy hunting.


Mon Aug 29, 2011 – 11:31am:

Christianism Watch
by Chris Bodenner

“I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, ‘Are you going to start listening to me here?’ Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we’ve got to rein in the spending,” – Michele Bachmann.

Alex Seitz-Wald notes the obvious irony: “[T]he damage [Irene] causes it likely going to increase government spending.” The Bachmann camp is calling her comments a joke. I’ll say.


Mon Aug, 29, 2011 – 12:05pm:

The Giant Gambian Rats Of Hurricane Irene
by Chris Bodenner

A reader actualizes my unspoken fears:

I was rather shocked to read your piece about the Giant Gambian Rat that was killed in some project housing here in New York. Imagine my surprise when I drove, not an hour ago, down my street and witnessed a huge mother rat cross the street with two baby rats hanging on her side. It looked just like the one in that photo – huge long tail and everything. This is an affluent neighborhood of Queens. The power is out in our local area and I’m guessing Hurricane Irene forced many rats out of their hiding places.

Then again, I’ve never been out at 2am in our neighborhood. Maybe this is a normal occurrence here :/

At least the sighting wasn’t near the Gowanus Canal, or we could be talking toxic giant rats.

Update: Let’s hope this reader is right:

The reader almost certainly describes an opossum, not a giant rat.  I believe rats carry babies with their teeth, not clinging to their sides. You can see why one might think rat, though:

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Mon Aug 29, 2011 – 12:16pm:

Quote For The Day
by Chris Bodenner

“I’m very, very calm and pretty relaxed and laid-back – pretty much the opposite of a hurricane.  I guess that’s funny,” – Irene Tien, who has owned @Irene since 2006 and recently became inundated with tweets.


Mon Aug 29, 2011 – 12:28pm:

Did Global Warming Cause Irene?
by Patrick Appel

Maybe, maybe not. Elizabeth Kolbert rephrases the question:

Are more events like Irene what you would expect in a warming world? Here the answer is a straightforward “yes.” In fact, experts have been warning for years that New York will become increasingly vulnerable to storm surges and flooding as the planet heats up. In 2009, the New York City Panel on Climate Change, appointed by Mayor Bloomberg, concluded that, as a result of global warming, “more frequent and enhanced coastal flooding” was “very likely” and that “shortened 100-year flood recurrence period” was also “very likely.” Much of the problem simply has to do with sea levels—as these rise, any storm or storm surge becomes more dangerous.


Mon Aug 29, 2011 – 4:20pm:

Mental Health Break
by Patrick Appel

Irene’s artsy side:

Irene NYC from Buffalo Picture House on Vimeo.


Mon Aug 29, 2012 – 4:41pm:

Irene: False Alarm?
by Patrick Appel

Howard Kurtz claims Irene was overhyped. David Kurtz explains the limits of weather forecasting and defends the government’s preparations:

The bottom line is we have a lot better idea where a hurricane is going to hit than we do how strong it will be when it gets there. That uncertainty creates risk. How do you prudently address that risk? It’s really simple. You have to be more aggressive in your disaster preparation. That means getting people out early, while the getting is still good. It means closing flood gates, securing property, shutting down mass transit systems, and prepositioning first responders and relief efforts.

Doug Mataconis supports the media’s coverage of the storm. Nate Silver says that, compared to other hurricanes, “the coverage was quite proportionate to the amount of death and destruction that the storm caused”:

 Irene right now ranks as the 10th-deadliest storm since 1980, with some possibility of that number going higher. And it ranks as the 8th most destructive storm economically, give or take. Meanwhile, it received about the 10th-most media coverage.

Joyner doubts Silver’s numbers. Earlier thoughts on the politics of Irene here.


Tue Aug 30, 2011 – 12:31pm:
by Patrick Appel

A reader writes:

Irene is labeled a false alarm only because she foolishly did her greatest damage outside the major media markets.

Virtually every town surrounding Whately, Massachusetts, where I live, was flooded to some degree. My kids, five miles away with their mom, were evacuated. A friend took refuge here as the Deerfield River was flowing at a rate 50-100 times normal, forcing streets to be evacuated and sending a building near her own down river. Significant flooding throughout the Connecticut River Valley in both Massachusetts and Vermont destroyed dozens of roads and bridges. River heights in many places set new records.

But I guess it doesn’t count if Soledad and her viewers didn’t see it.

Photos of the storm, which enforce this reader’s point, here and here.


Tue Aug 30, 2011 – 6:02pm:

The View From Your Window

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North Bennington, Vermont, 3.45 pm


Thu Sep 1 2011 – 8:47am:

An Upstate Story
by Chris Bodenner

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A reader writes:

I’m emailing in response to your recent VFYW contest on Amsterdam. Your picture was posted the same day I saw the pictures I am now sending to you. You can imagine I was a little stung by the irony.

This is the only Amsterdam I have ever known, which is Amsterdam, New York. The business, Carpetland, was started by my grandfather 67 years ago. It is still run today by his son, daughter (my mother) and their cousins. The Amsterdam location is the original store, but a second store and warehouse reside in Saratoga Springs, NY. So, although this building will probably be destroyed, the business itself will survive.

After I was born, my parents brought me home to the apartment above the store. My older sister and I spent much of our early years hanging out in the store, playing on the huge rolls of carpet, and begging my grandmother for dimes to get gum from the March of Dimes gum machine. When I posted news of the loss on Facebook, many of my friends wrote to me recalling their childhood memories of shopping in our store with their parents. It’s just a little piece of history, from a little city in upstate New York, but it means a lot to all of us.

I no longer live in Amsterdam NY, but the city and her residents are very much in my mind and heart.

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Our reader captions the above photo: “Where the water was as of Tuesday, somewhat lower than at its highest level.” By the way, for live-blogging coverage of the Catskills region, check out Watershed Post. From the reader who recommended the site:

This regional news blog is doing some great work in assembling all the available information on the Irene damage. Not only is it proving how a local blog run with passion and community expertise can run circles around larger outlets, it’s also rocking several separate, town-specific live-blogs, collating reports from readers and other news outlets as well as interviews, etc. The main live-blog is run like a Twitter feed, which I don’t absolutely love compared to the easier readability of an html/post format – but regardless, it’s awesome to once again see a small staff of committed people really rise to the occasion. Would be interesting to see how many new local readers they still have several months from now …


Thu Sep 1, 2011 – 2:29pm:

Powering America
by Patrick Appel

Brad Plumer uses Irene’s powerline damage to advocate for a smart grid:

A recent study by the Electric Power Research Institute estimates that implementing smart-grid technology nationwide could cost, at the high end, $476 billion over 20 years. (The 2009 stimulus poured $4.5 billion into a handful of smart-grid pilot projects around the country.) Amin, for his part, calculates that doing so would reduce the cost of blackouts by at least $49 billion per year. A smart grid obviously can’t prevent all power outages, especially in a violent hurricane, but it can reduce the damage considerably.