Friday, August 26, 2011

Storm surge calculus

Jeff Masters' latest forecast for Hurricane Irene, besides warning New York City and coastal New England of damage, serves as a reminder of something to consider whenever you see a static map depicting what your community would look like if sea level rises by X m: the level of the sea is constantly varying, because of the astrononomical tides, storm systems and ocean currents.

On Sunday, New York City could be seriously damaged by the storm surge from Irene, even though the storm will have weakened to Category 1 at most, because the passage of the storm could coincide with a high tide:

At 9:30am EDT this morning, a wind analysis from NOAA/HRD (Figure 1) indicated that the potential storm surge damage from Irene rated a 5.1 on a scale of 0 to 6. This is equivalent to the storm surge a typical Category 4 hurricane would have. While this damage potential should gradually decline as Irene moves northwards and weakens, we can still expect a storm surge one full Saffir-Simpson Category higher than Irene's winds. Since tides are at their highest levels of the month this weekend due to the new moon, storm surge flooding will be at a maximum during the high tidal cycles that will occur at 8 pm Saturday night and 8 am Sunday morning. At those times, Irene is expected to be near the NC/VA border, then close to Long Island, NY, respectively. Thus, storm surge damage rivaling that experienced during Hurricane Isabel in 2003 is likely in northern NC, southern Maryland, and up Chesapeake Bay on Saturday night. It looks like Irene will pass New Jersey during low tide, which may limit the storm surge inundation to 3 - 6 feet there. Coastal New England from New York City to Massachusetts may also see storm surges characteristic of a Category 1 hurricane during Sunday morning's high tide, even if Irene has weakened to a tropical storm. I continue to give a 20% chance that a storm surge high enough to over-top the Manhattan flood walls and swamp the New York City subway system will occur on Sunday.

No comments: