One Year Later: Looking Back on Irene

A Beach Patrol Headquarters used by the City of Long Beach lifeguards was lifted and moved to the boardwalk by the strong winds of Tropical Storm Irene as it swept through Long Island on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2011, in Long Beach, N.Y. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

As forecasters watch Isaac barrel towards New Orleans, New Yorkers are remembering the effects of Tropical Storm Irene, which hit the region exactly a year ago Tuesday.

Irene was ranked as the costliest Category 1 storm on record since at least 1980, racking up an estimated $15.7 billion in total damages. New York suffered more than $1.3 billion worth of damages and 10 of the just under 70 deaths, including a windsurfer in Bellport Bay.


Much of the area was spared due to the fact that Irene was downgraded to a tropical storm just before the eye made landfall in Coney Island at around 9 a.m. on August 28, 2011. It was a Category 3 at its strongest, and made its first landfall on North Carolina’s Outer Banks as a Category 1.

While Irene only brought winds that were between 40 mph and 65 mph to New York, the damage was still apparent, especially on parts of Long Island. Torrential rains flooded the North and South Shore, and downed trees and powers lines blocked roads. The ocean reportedly breached the dunes in Montauk.

While no homes were lost, docks in Lindenhurst and Fire Island’s Davis Park were destroyed, and a particularly strong storm surge sent the Long Beach lifeguard house careening into the boardwalk. The Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation reported that a 20-foot female minke whale was found dead on the beach in Moriches a day after Irene hit.

Before the storm made landfall, Long Islanders rushed to prepare for what many feared would be the “big one.” Tens of thousands of Long Islanders in low-lying coastal areas evacuated their homes, including the all of Fire Island and everyone south of Merrick Road.

For the first time in history, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority shut down completely in preparation for the storm. In all, the MTA said they lost $65 million as a result of the storm, and claimed $5.7 million for damages and lost revenue on the Long Island Rail Road.

FEMA set up three Long Island centers in Uniondale, Hauppauge and Riverhead two weeks after Irene to help those seeking federal assistance. In April Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the state is providing $8.5 million to Nassau and Suffolk counties to help cover damages caused by the storm.

The Long Island Power Authority is still smarting from the criticism the utility faced for their response to Irene. About half of LIPA’s 1.1 million customers lost power, and many remained without it for more than a week after the storm. Two people were arrested for making threats against LIPA due to the prolonged lack of power.

The utility spent $176 million restoring power to all of their customers.

Just last month New York Senator Charles Schumer held a press conference in Wantagh where he demanded that LIPA improve their emergency response plans before the next major storm.

“The bottom line is LIPA and PSEG need to have a plan in place to keep the lights on so that Long Island homeowners and businesses aren’t ever again left in the dark for up to nine days,” he said.

Last year was ranked one of the busiest hurricane seasons on record, with 19 named systems. An average hurricane season produces 12 named storms with six hurricanes, three of which become major hurricanes.

Over the years Long Island has experienced its worst hurricanes in late September. Hurricane Gloria made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane on Sept. 27, 1985. The infamous Long Island Express, a Category 3 hurricane that pummeled the Island and left 50 dead, came ashore on Sept. 21, 1938.

Hurricane season officially starts June 1 and ends Nov. 30. The peak of the season runs from August until October. The 2012 Atlantic hurricane season got off to an earlier than usual start on May 19 when Tropical Storm Alberto formed off the South Carolina coast.

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center changed its 2012 Atlantic hurricane season forecast earlier this month, stating that it expected 12 to 17 named storms. Five to eight of the storms are predicted to be hurricanes, of which two or three could become major hurricanes with winds of at least 111 mph. The organization’s initial outlook in May predicted nine to 15 named storms, four to eight hurricanes and one to three major hurricanes.

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