“It’s Armageddon!” “We’re all done for!” “Buy all the bottled water and Twinkies you can!” Hurricane Earl was set to turn Long Island into a modern-day Atlantis. And then…nothing. A little flooding here, some power outages there. By and large, Earl missed us. Was the storm to end all storms overhyped, or did Long Island just barely survive by the skin of its teeth? Here to discuss are Press Staff Writer Lindsay Christ, Senior Editor Spencer Rumsey and Scott Mandia, professor of Physical Sciences at Suffolk Community College.
As the storm was approaching, I came across three different groups of people: Those who were sure this was going to be the next Long Island Express, those who thought it was just the media being dramatic, and those who had no clue who or what Earl was. Now that he passed and we’re left relatively unscathed, the naysayers are having the last laugh. Not that I want total destruction on Long Island—I do live in a flood zone—but I’m not entirely sure if the naysayers will be laughing for very long. In my opinion, it’s never a good idea to write off Mother Nature.
Earl weakened quite quickly and took a slightly more eastward track. It always had potential to cause tropical storm conditions but, for the most part, the various forecast models were consistently keeping the track offshore. From what I read, the press did a decent job and it is always better to err on the side of caution. Having said that, whenever one cries or even whispers “wolf” and the wolf does not appear, it does make it less likely future warnings are taken seriously. Apathy is a major concern for emergency management personnel and Earl did not help in that regard.
When I walked into the Nassau County Office of Emergency Management on Aug. 26, Hurricane Danielle (anybody remember her?) was looming large off the Caribbean, but the agency officials were already focusing on Earl. Their forecast maps had blood-red lines projecting that storm’s path up the coast, crossing Long Island and Cape Cod (where my family and I were headed for vacation). These emergency guys were extremely worried about Earl a week before most people even tuned into The Weather Channel. As I left, I kept hearing the mantra “We’re overdue” in my mind. I wonder if that’s the same as saying, “We’re doomed”?
I think it’s important to realize how vulnerable we are as an island, but sometimes I wonder if preaching that too often just annoys people. When forecasting these storms, sometimes it seems like you just can’t win in the public’s eye. You either didn’t warn them enough and they weren’t prepared, or they got all prepared for no reason. The majority of people would probably be better safe than sorry, so when another hurricane comes up the coast we need to keep in mind that ANYTHING—good or bad—can happen and be as prepared as we can be for any scenario, be it a perfect storm or a scattered shower.
I am unsure why they had the patch over LI. At no point was the center of the cone for the projected path making landfall here. There were a few outlier models that had landfall here but the consensus was always east of us. By the way, being “overdue” does not actually increase the chances of being hit. Mother Nature does not consider the math.
It had to be an outlier, given the lead time, but it definitely got my attention. And when I wasn’t basking in the beach battling the big waves and wishing I knew how to surf, I was glued to the home page of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, watching the cone about to swallow Cape Cod. I lost my patience with The Weather Channel, because I had to wade through too much tangential information to get what I wanted to know. Still, until Friday morning, I really believed we’d get nailed. But then the eye’s time table kept changing, as well as its trajectory, so it was hard to keep up my level of urgency (“we’ve got to get gas now!”), given the growing complacency of my traveling companions! I don’t know how emergency personnel do it.
So on Friday, while Spencer was off on vacation (no hint of bitterness) I was at the office also checking out NOAA’s website, waiting for updates on Earl to come in. Judging by our tropical storm warnings and watches and the pace Earl was weakening, I wasn’t expecting “THE BIG ONE,” but I definitely thought we would have a lot more wind and rain than we did. However, I know our already wounded beaches took the brunt of the storm, and even on Monday parts of Jones Beach were still covered in puddles. Between this and the Nor’easters, our sand just can’t catch a break.
It is only a matter of time before Long Island/New York City is devastated by a major hurricane such as Katrina or the 1938 Long Island Express. We once again got lucky and should be very grateful, but we must be mindful that luck always runs out in the long run.