‘Long Overdue’ Northeast Warned to Prepare for ‘Historic’ Weather Disaster This Year

March 22, 2006

The northeast U.S. coast could be the target of a major hurricane, perhaps as early as this season, according to the AccuWeather.com Hurricane Center.

The weather experts say this year could bring the Northeast a storm like the 1938 hurricane which killed 600 people and resulted in more than $306 million in damage then. In today’s dollars that would mean nearly $6 billion in losses.

In terms of number of storms, the 2006 hurricane season will again be more active than normal, but less active than last summer’s historic storm season, the forecasters said.

“The Northeast is staring down the barrel of a gun,” said Joe Bastardi, chief forecaster of the AccuWeather.com Hurricane Center. “The Northeast coast is long overdue for a powerful hurricane, and with the weather patterns and hydrology we’re seeing in the oceans, the likelihood of a major hurricane making landfall in the Northeast is not a question of if but when.”

AccuWeather.com Hurricane Center research meteorologists have identified weather cycles that indicate which U.S. coastal areas are most susceptible to landfalls.

“If you examine past weather cycles that have occurred in the Atlantic, you will see patterns of storms,” added Ken Reeves, expert senior meteorologist and director of Forecasting Operations at AccuWeather.com. “Determination of where we are in the cycle has enabled AccuWeather.com meteorologists to accurately predict hurricane activity in Florida in 2004 and along the Gulf Coast last year. There are indications that the Northeast will experience a hurricane larger and more powerful than anything that region has seen in a long time.”

The current cycle and above-normal water temperatures are reminiscent of the pattern that eventually produced the 1938 hurricane that struck Providence, R.I. That storm killed 600 people in New England and Long Island. The 1938 hurricane was the strongest tropical system to strike the northeastern U.S. in recorded history, with maximum gusts of 186 mph, a 15- to 20-foot storm surge and 25- to 50-foot waves that left much of Providence under 10-15 feet of water. Forecasters at AccuWeather.com say that patterns are similar to those of the 1930s, 40s and 50s when storms such as the 1938 hurricane, the 1944 Great Atlantic Hurricanes and the Trio of 1954–Carol, Edna and Hazel–battered the coast from the Carolinas to New England. The worry is that it will be sooner, rather than later, for this region to be blasted again.

Additionally, AccuWeather.com believes that the upper Texas coast is likely to be the target of higher than normal hurricane and tropical storm activity over the next 10 years.

“Hurricane Rita was a warning shot,” says AccuWeather.com’s Bastardi, referring to the 2005 Category 5 storm that threatened the Houston area and made landfall near the Texas-Louisiana border last September. “The Texas coast is in for a long period of tropical activity, particularly the region from Corpus Christi to Sabine Pass at the Louisiana border.”

According to AccuWeather.com, the 2006 tropical storm season will still be more active than normal, but less active than last year, with fewer storms than 2005’s record 26 named storms and 14 hurricanes.

However, the threat of a devastating storm striking the most densely populated part of the United States is of serious concern, particularly coming so soon after Hurricane Katrina, one of the deadliest weather disasters in U.S. history.

The 1938 hurricane resulted in more than $306 million in damage which, when adjusted for inflation, would total nearly $6 billion today. Because coastal areas are much more developed and populous today, a similar storm would result in substantially higher damage despite government efforts to protect U.S. citizens and property.

By comparison, insurance claims resulting from damage due to Hurricane Katrina have been estimated at $23 billion, making it the costliest storm in U.S. history. The density and value of developed property in the northeastern U.S. means that the damage from a direct hit from a major storm similar to the 1938 hurricane might conceivably rival or surpass that of Hurricane Katrina.

Because a hurricane of this magnitude has not made landfall in the northeastern U.S. in nearly 60 years, few Americans are even aware that hurricanes can and do directly impact this part of the country. Because most hurricanes in the last 50 years have been a southern U.S. phenomenon, preparedness for a major hurricane along the Northeast coast is not as thorough, officials worry. But the storm that struck Providence on Sept. 21, 1938, traveled northward along the Gulf Stream and first made landfall in Westhampton, Long Island before ripping a path across the island and continuing north to Rhode Island. That storm is still regarded as the greatest weather disaster in Long Island history. It altered the Long Island coastline, created the Shinnecock Inlet, and has since been known as “the Long Island Express.” Many meteorologists believe that the next time a storm like “the Long Island Express” hits the Northeast coast, it could become the greatest natural disaster in U.S. history.

Source: accuweather.com

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