The hurricane forecasters are going through all sorts of contortions due to the confluence of meteorological factors along the East Coast this week. On one hand, everyone agrees there should be a very strong non-tropical low pressure area form just off the Carolina coast by as early as Wednesday evening. This low would cause near tropical storm strength winds to buffet North Carolina’s coast.
At the same time, what should become Kyle continues to hammer Puerto Rico with relentless rain. Reports of 15 inch rain totals so far are bound to make for flooding on the island. The storm is slowing heading toward the Dominican Republic where flooding rains are expected later today. This system is expected to turn to the north and then the models start going crazy due to possible scenarios.
A couple of the more troubling scenarios are that this storm could quickly become at least a category 2 hurricane and head for either Delaware Bay or Providence, Rhode Island. Much has been written and speculated upon with both of these ideas; and none of it is good. A strong hurricane hitting to the west of the Delaware Bay would be devastating to not only Philadelphia but to the entire Delaware River valley.
Those who study worst case scenarios come up with certain criteria which if met, would enable a given storm to produce the worst possible damage. Philadelphia, much like Houston, would most be impacted by a storm surge pushing up Delaware Bay from a big storm pushing its surge up the bay. Remember this was the scenario most feared with Ike and Houston. Thankfully for Houston’s sake, Ike did not perfectly match all the criteria needed for the perfect storm.
A big wet hurricane with a decent storm surge hitting at the mouth of Delaware Bay and moving north would bring huge flooding problems to Philadelphia. The argument by those who doubt this would ever happen revolve around history not showing many hurricanes able to follow the perfect path needed to produce a storm surge in Delaware Bay. This is a fair argument, but no one can say that the possibility does not exist.
It would be far more difficult for a hurricane to manage to hit New York at the correct angle to produce any kind of storm surge up the Hudson river. New York problems deal more with Long Island and it lack of protection. Anyone living on Long Island should feel at least a tinge of apprehension seeing the images from Galveston. There is a lot of similarity between the two places. Thankfully, there are far few hurricanes that maintain category 3 strength that hit New York than Texas.
The other distinct possibility is a direct hit on Providence. A major hurricane striking near Charlestown or Kingston, Rhode Island would send a storm surge straight up Narragansett Bay into Providence. Just as in the case of Long Island, although the geography is ideal for a devastating hurricane; the meteorology is not. Hurricanes are usually moving northeast as they skirt the coastline of Rhode Island. But, there are some hurricanes which refuse to read the book on hurricane behavior.
In September of 1938 a major unnamed category 3 hurricane slammed into Long Island and continued into Connecticut. In September of 1944 a huge category 3 hurricane blasted Long Island and Rhode Island. In September of 1954, Hurricane Carol (another category 3 storm) hit Long Island and Connecticut. A few weeks later, Hurricane Edna looked like it would hit the same areas but veered to the east and blasted Cape Cod, Massachusetts. In 1955 Hurricane Connie skirted the North Carolina coast and went up Chesapeake Bay.
In early September of 1960, the fifth strongest hurricane to hit the United States, Hurricane Donna struck Florida, North Carolina and Rhode Island. In June of 1972 Hurricane Agnes came ashore in the Florida Panhandle and re-emerged off the coast of North Carolina and hit New York City as a category 1 hurricane. In September of 1999 Hurricane Floyd tore through North Carolina and continued on to New England as a strong Tropical Storm. Numerous other remnants of hurricanes and tropical storms have caused very high tides and flooding rains to all these areas.
Looking back on history it is very clear that portions of the Eastern Seaboard are far past due for a major hurricane strike. A hurricane with the strength of the 1938, 1944 or 1954 ones would cause damage beyond the scope of imagination to Long Island due to the massive building which has gone there over the past 50-70 years. Considering there has not been a major hurricane to hit anywhere in the Northeast since Donna in 1960; there obviously is not the experiential base to draw upon.
Those living anywhere along the East Coast of the United States need to start thinking NOW about what to do if a hurricane does indeed form and heads north from the Bahamas. This is not the time to automatically discount this idea as pure foolishness or hysteria arousing hype. There is a very real hurricane threat for the Mid Atlantic coast all the way to New England over the next week or so.
I am sure as the weather develops, we will have a need to repeat what we did during the Fay, Gustov, Hanna and Ike merry-go-round of storms. The next 3 weeks are sure to hold the distinct possibility of storms, hurricanes and rumors of hurricanes for many sections of the United States coastline form Texas to Maine. Such fun and games to look forward to.