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NYC Hazards: NYC Hurricane History

Early New York Hurricanes

Reaching the City on September 3, 1821, the storm was one of the only hurricanes believed to have passed directly over parts of modern New York City. The tide rose 13 feet in one hour and inundated wharves, causing the East River to converge into the Hudson River across lower Manhattan as far north as Canal Street. However, few deaths were attributed to the storm because flooding was concentrated in neighborhoods with far fewer homes than exist today.

The most powerful hurricane known to have made landfall nearby — a category 3 hurricane — occurred in 1938. Its eye crossed over Long Island and into New England, killing nearly 200 people. The storm killed 10 people in New York City and caused millions of dollars in damage. Its floods knocked out electrical power in all areas above 59th Street in Manhattan and in all of the Bronx, the new IND subway line lost power, and 100 large trees in Central Park were destroyed.

Fortunately, New York City experienced the weaker "left side" of the 1938 hurricane — the City was 75 miles from the eye when it passed over Long Island. The hurricane could have caused far more deaths and damage if it passed closer to the five boroughs.

An excellent history of the 1938 hurricane is provided at Scott Mandia's website: The Long Island Express: The Great Hurricane of 1938.

Mid-Twentieth Century Hurricanes

In 1954, Hurricane Carol made landfall in Eastern Long Island and Southeastern Connecticut. With sustained winds up to 100 mph and gusts of 100 to 125 mph, it was the most destructive hurricane to hit the Northeast coast since the Long Island Express in 1938. Fortunately for New York City residents, the storm's track was forty miles further east, and spared it a direct hit, but did result in major flooding throughout the city.

Leftover rains from hurricanes Connie and Diane caused significant flooding in the city in August 1955, even though the eye of those storms did not cross directly over any of the five boroughs. Connie dropped more than 12 inches of rain at LaGuardia Airport. Diane caused more than 200 deaths in Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.

In 1960, Hurricane Donna created an 11-foot storm tide in the New York Harbor that caused extensive pier damage.

In June 1972, Tropical Storm Agnes fused with another storm system in the northeastern U.S., flooding areas from North Carolina to New York State, causing 122 deaths and more than $6 billion in damage (when adjusted for inflation).

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has said that 1985's Hurricane Gloria could have been catastrophic if it arrived at high tide and just a little closer to the city.

Recent Hurricanes

Many hurricane experts say the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico have begun to spin off more frequent and destructive hurricanes than in previous decades. Tropical storms have been on the rise since 1995, and a record 15 hurricanes made their way into the North Atlantic in 2005.

Hurricane Felix lingered off the East Coast for nearly a week in 1995, menacing the northeastern U.S. before it finally drifted out to sea.

A weakening Tropical Storm Bertha brought heavy rain to the city in July 1996.

Hurricane Edouard veered out to sea after tracking toward New York City around Labor Day 1996.

In September 1999, Tropical Storm Floyd brought sustained 60 mph winds and dumped several inches of rain on upstate New Jersey and New York State over a 24-hour period. Flash flooding from this tropical storm — one of the most powerful to affect New York City in a decade — forced hundreds of people to leave their homes in counties just outside the five boroughs. Floyd caused New York City's schools to close for the first time since 1996 and led the city to open emergency storm shelters as a precautionary measure.

In August 2011, Hurricane Irene was downgraded to a tropical storm right before it made landfall in New York City. In preparation the City issued the first-ever mandatory evacuation of coastal areas on August 26, 2011. The evacuation encompassed 375,000 residents living in evacuation zone A, the entire Rockaway Peninsula, and 34 healthcare facilities located in evacuation zone B. The City sheltered 10,000 evacuees at 81 shelters. The rest stayed with family and friends outside the evacuation zones. Irene dropped up to seven inches of rain across the city and brought winds of 65 mph. The storm cost the city an estimated $100 million in damages. More than 8,000 residents were approved for $13.6 million in federal disaster assistance to help with the recovery.

In late October 2012, Hurricane Sandy was downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone as it made landfall in New York City. In preparation the City issued the second-ever mandatory evacuation of coastal areas on October 28, 2012. The evacuation encompassed residents living in evacuation zone A, which was updated to include: Coney Island, Manhattan Beach, and Red Hook and other areas along the East River in Brooklyn; all of the Rockaways, as well as Hamilton Beach and Broad Channel in Queens; almost all the coastal areas of Staten Island; City Island, a small patch of Throgs Neck, and other patches of the South Bronx; and Battery Park City and stretches of the West Side waterfront and of the Lower East Side and East Village in Manhattan. The City opened 76 shelters to the public. Sandy brought winds of up to 85 mph, total rainfall of about 1 inch across the city, as well as a peak storm surge of 9.41 feet.

More Resources
Read more on U.S. Hurricane History at the National Hurricane Center website.

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