A more concrete picture of the hurricane

Here’s a story from the New York Times with the most specific information I’ve seen about the harm the hurricane has done, including six deaths. I’ve bolded the passages that detail the most serious damage so far and the most serious dangers to come. The storm is a big deal. It’s not as big a deal as the media (especially the shameless TV stations) and officialdom have been making of it. (Comments begin here.)

August 27, 2011
Hurricane Irene Pushes North With Deadly Force
This article was reported by Kim Severson, Dan Barry and Campbell Robertson and was written by Mr. Barry.

COINJOCK, N.C.—Weakened but unbowed, Hurricane Irene mowed across coastal North Carolina and Virginia on Saturday as it churned up the Atlantic Seaboard toward a battened-down New York City, where officials had taken what were called the unprecedented steps of evacuating low-lying areas and shutting down the mass transit system in advance of the storm’s expected midmorning arrival on Sunday.

Announcing itself with howling winds and hammering rains, the hurricane made landfall at Cape Lookout, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, around 7:30 a.m., ending several days of anxious anticipation and beginning who knows how many more days of response and clean-up. Downed and denuded trees. Impassable roadways. Damaged municipal buildings. Widespread flooding. The partial loss of a modest civic center’s roof, forcing the relocation of dozens of people who had found shelter there.

Across the Atlantic Seaboard, and most particularly in New York, officials frantically tried to convince people to heed evacuation orders. “Staying behind is dangerous, staying behind is foolish, and it’s against the law,” New York City’s mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, said Saturday, amid reports that some people—in his city as well as in other communities—were not heeding evacuation orders. “And we urge everyone in the evacuation zones not to wait until gale-force winds.

“The time to leave is right now.”

In Nags Head, N.C., on the Outer Banks, the day began with surging waves eating away at the dunes, while winds peeled the siding from vacated beach houses—as if to challenge the National Hurricane Center’s early morning decision to downgrade Irene to a Category 1 hurricane, whose maximum sustained winds would reach only—only—90 miles an hour, with occasional stronger gusts.

The hurricane also quickly contributed to at least six deaths. In North Carolina, three men died: one whose car hydroplaned and hit a tree, another who was hit by a falling tree limb and a third who had a heart attack while nailing up plywood. Three more people died in Virginia: in Newport News, a fallen tree crashed through the roof of an apartment building and killed an 11-year-old boy; in Brunswick County, a tree fell on a car and killed a man; and the Associated Press reported that the most recent death, in Chesterfield County, was from toppled trees.

By Saturday evening, the massive storm was pushing back out to sea and continuing north at about 13 miles an hour, and producing tornado watches and warnings from Delaware to New York City. Laurie Hogan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s operations on Long Island, said that the storm was expected to hit Long Island a little after 8 a.m. on Sunday, and cause storm surges of seven feet at the southern tip of Staten Island, and more than five feet at Battery Park, at the bottom of Manhattan.

By Sunday evening, Ms. Hogan said, southern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York will have received as much as nine inches of rain. Flooding is a particular concern, she added, because the ground in New Jersey, for example, is already saturated from heavy rains over the last month. New York City scrambled to complete the evacuation of about 370,000 residents in areas where officials expected flooding to follow the storm, including Battery Park City in Lower Manhattan. Officials also ordered the entire public transportation system—subways, buses and commuter rail lines—to shut down Saturday for what they said was the first time in history. Officials in Boston announced late Saturday that all buses, subways and commuter trains in that metro area would cease service all day Sunday, as well. After high winds reached about 55 miles per hour, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge was closed, the Maryland Emergency Management Agency said.

Mayor Bloomberg said mass transit in New York was “unlikely to be back” in service on Monday. He also raised the specter of electrical shutdowns in parts of the city, though the power company Con Ed said it had no immediate plans to take such dire action.

Federal, state and local officials along the East Coast strongly recommended that people not be fooled into complacency by the hurricane’s loss of wind speed once it hit landfall. They said that a central concern was the storm surge of such a large, slow-moving hurricane—the deluge to be dumped from the sky or thrown onto shore by violent waves moving like snapped blankets.

“I would very much take this seriously,” Brian McNoldy, a research associate of the Department of Atmospheric Research at Colorado State University, said. “Don’t be concerned if it’s a Category 1, 2, 3, 4. If you’re on the coast, you don’t want to be there. Wind isn’t your problem.”

Mazie Swindell Smith, the county manager in Hyde County, N.C., which was expecting storm surge from the inland bay that abuts it, agreed. “The storm is moving more slowly than expected,” Ms. Smith said. “That’s not good as far as rainfall, because it will just sit here and dump rain.”

With the first hurricane to make landfall in the continental United States since 2008, government officials issued evacuation orders for about 2.3 million people, according to The Associated Press—from 100,000 people in Delaware to 1 million people in New Jersey, where the governor, Chris Christie, seemed to speak for all concerned public officials when he told everyone to “get the hell off the beach.” In addition to the evacuations being ordered in New York City, county and town officials on Long Island were ordering about 400,000 people to do the same, with some police officers going door-to-door to ensure cooperation.

The storm, or the anticipation of it, upended everyday life from the Carolinas to New England, as communities went into lockdown mode and governments declared states of emergency. Amtrak canceled all train service in the Northeast, while airlines canceled thousands of flights and Newark Liberty International Airport, Kennedy International Airport and La Guardia Airport shut down.

Major League Baseball postponed games. Broadway plays went dark in deference to nature’s more dramatic production. And, if the Cairo Wine and Liquor in Washington is any measure, liquor stores enjoyed brisk, storm-related business. (“It’s like New Year’s Eve,” Gary Lyles, an employee, said. “They’re buying everything. Wine. Beer. Even water.”)

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, still seeking to redeem itself from its spotty performance after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, had 18 disaster-response teams in place along the East Coast, with stockpiles of food, water and mobile communications equipment ready to go. The Coast Guard: more than 20 rescue helicopters and reconnaissance planes ready to take off. The Defense Department: 6,500 active duty military personnel poised for deployment. The National Guard: about 101,000 members available to respond. The American Red Cross: more than 200 emergency response vehicles and tens of thousands of ready-to-eat meals in areas due to be hit by the storm.

And President Obama: back early in Washington from his vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, and issuing federal emergency declarations for North Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. These declarations clear the way for federal support in responding to the hurricane’s aftermath, which could affect more than 50 million people and cause significant financial harm.

For most of Saturday, though, other states along the Atlantic Seaboard could do little more than see their own reflection in the toll being exacted by the hurricane in its first victims, North Carolina and Virginia, where more than a million people had lost power by late Saturday afternoon. The communities of Wrightsville Beach and Carolina Beach struggled with flooding, while Atlantic Beach dealt with a pier’s partial collapse. And just outside the port city of Wilmington, the dangerous weather conditions forced the police to suspend the search for a teenage boy who had jumped off a boat ramp and into the churning waters.

Power was out for about half of Wilmington’s 106,000 residents. At the New Hanover Regional Medical Center, several dozen children had spent the night in sleeping bags and inflatable beds, arriving with staff members who had to work and parents from the area who wanted a safe place to wait the storm out.

After a night of fierce winds that gusted to nearly 80 miles an hour, people emerged from their homes to downed trees, darkened traffic lights—and a collective sense of having been spared the worst of the storm’s wrath.

In the tiny hamlet of Swansboro, for example, about 30 miles west of where the hurricane made landfall, 80-mile-an-hour winds had stripped many trees of their foliage, sent tumbleweed-like balls of rain rolling down deserted streets and knocked out power. But the mayor, Scott Chadwick, expressed relief while sharing doughnuts with city workers at a local fire station after an afternoon that he described as “pretty rough.”

“I’ll tell you what, everybody’s breathing a lot easier than they were,” Mr. Chadwick said. “This could have been terrible.”

But farther north, in Currituck County, close to the Virginia border, the dread of the approaching unknown mixed with the rain. .

Louis Davis, the owner of the Coinjock Marina and Restaurant, drove a pickup truck through his deserted community, as the wind jostled the vehicle and his cellphone rang with calls from worried boat owners. (“So far, so good, cap,” Mr. Davis said.) Then he returned to his marina, feeling buoyed by reports that the hurricane’s direction had veered away from his business. Then he looked at the radar, which indicated that the hurricane was coming straight for the marina.

“That’s not good,” he said.

A couple of hours later, at about 5:20, the storm’s eye passed right over this small, unincorporated place, suddenly stilling the howling onslaught of wind and rain that had been driving the water of the Intracoastal Canal, on which the marina sits, into Albemarle Sound. Everything got quiet, which meant the problems were really getting started.

“Unless something changes drastically, I’m not worried about the wind now,” Mr. Davis said, sitting at the counter of his dock shop, the doors thrown open to the torrential rains outside. “My biggest problem is water.”

Up to this point, most people had experienced Hurricane Irene only through the multi-colored radar maps that appeared on television. Or maybe they had seen the breathtaking, even humbling, images arriving from some 200 miles up, via the International Space Station: the photographs taken by astronauts that showed what looked like a massive swirl of mashed potatoes straddling the edge of the green plate of the United States.

But here, in Coinjack, the storm had dramatically moved from being a radar image to becoming a violent, roaring presence in the life of Mr. Davis, 40, a burly man in waders and a baseball cap, waiting for the rising waters to flood his dock shop and even his home.

With resignation and respect, he said: “It is what it is.”

- end of initial entry -

Paul Nachman writes:

Did you notice this sentence from that NYT article you posted?

In the tiny hamlet of Swansboro, for example, about 30 miles west of where the hurricane made landfall, 80-mile-an-hour winds had stripped many trees of their foliage, sent tumbleweed-like balls of rain rolling down deserted streets and knocked out power.

Balls of rain??

LA replies:

That’s an example of the Times getting oh-so-precious in its descriptive prose.

Here’s another example:

The hurricane, 290 miles of fury dancing angrily across the Atlantic Ocean toward the coast …

“290 miles of fury dancing angrily across the Atlantic Ocean”? Isn’t that ripe? The Times’ philosophy is that reporters aren’t just reporters, but expressive artists. And whenever they reach for these faux literary effects, they make fools of themselves. But the Times sets the tone for the media generally.

LA continues:

Or what about this?

The storm, a wide and relentless mass that had lurched onto the Outer Banks of North Carolina in the early daylight hours of Saturday, heaved clumsily but implacably north, leaving in its wake at least nine deaths.

The storm “lurched” onto the Outer Banks, and “heaved clumsily but implacably north”? How does a storm “lurch”? How does it “heave clumsily”? The writer is trying to soup up his account with these dramatic words, but they don’t work because they don’t fit what a storm does.

Next thing you know, the Times will be reporting that the hurricane is “moving its slow thighs,” as it “slouches toward New York.”

Robert B. writes:

You know, I think people on the East Coast are wimps. Living on the very eastern edge of the Great Prairie, we see storms more powerful than this all the time. The only difference is that they largely form and come out of nowhere. The only pending sign of doom is when the sky turns a bizarre shade of yellowish green and the birds go silent. Even the dogs start looking for cover. Those are the tell tale signs of a tornado whipping up. Tornadoes can reach wind speeds of up to 300 MPH. Their paths of destruction and annihilation can be as wide as one mile and can completely obliterate small towns—the most recent town to disappear near me was Siren, Wisconsin. In 1998, I had one touch down about a mile and a half from my home. We were without power for several days. Usually tornadoes come in batches—as many as five or six will form in a given area of about 100 sq. miles in a matter of thirty minutes.

We also get what are called “straight line winds” that easily go above 100 MPH. They too come out of nowhere and without warning.

Then there are the everyday thunderstorms. The lightening, which I have seen with my own eyes, can melt the earth to a molten mass when it strikes the ground. It can also take down 80 foot tall trees as if they were nothing. The winds that come with thunderstorms routinely reach 50 to 75 MPH. We frequently get downbursts of rain from them that can total two to four inches in an hour—as much as seven to ten inches over several hours. We’ve had a number of such events this summer. It’s just part of life here. In fact, the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers have not dropped below flood stage all summer this year.

And then there are the winter storms. Imagine 10 to 18 inches of snow falling over a 24 hour period with temperatures at 5 to 10 below zero and winds from 45 to 60 MPH. When the storms are done, the temperature frequently falls to -20 to -30 below F.

And we just live it with it. That is the weather from Denver to the Mississippi, and from Saskatchewan to Texas.

Just sayin’, as they say. It helps to have perspective sometimes.

Robert continues:

When I was a teenager, a tornado formed just outside of downtown Minneapolis. It came right up the Nicollet Mall blowing the glass out of buildings—one being the IDS tower—in the middle of the working day, no less. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IDS_Center

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 27, 2011 11:12 PM | Send

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