Thursday, August 25, 2011

Prepare for Hurricane Irene in NYC

The 3-day forecast as of Thursday morning
The 5-day forecast as of Thursday morning
At the present time, the National Weather Service (click on the Hurricane Irene tab) is predicting that Hurricane Irene is likely on Sunday to pass right over New York City, becoming only the fifth hurricane to do so since the late 19th century. As it happened, I lived in New York City when the last one came over, Hurricane Gloria in 1985; I also lived through the glorious summer of 2004 in Central Florida, when we were hit by three hurricanes—two of which passed directly over my home. Consequently, I have a few words of advice for my many readers in the New York City Metropolitan Area who may not be so familiar with what to do to prepare for a real, live hurricane.

A Hurricane Is NOT Just Another Big Storm

New Yorkers are used to big storms. A hurricane is not just another big storm. Yes, it will have all the hallmarks of a big storm—massive amounts of rain, hence dangerous levels of flooding—but it may also have exceedingly high winds (currently well over 100 mph in the Caribbean), and unusual electrical activity. This will make it extremely dangerous to be on the streets, to be sure, but in addition it will also possibly interrupt electrical power, either by blowing down power lines, or by simply causing electrical transformers to explode. (Even in Manhattan, electrical transformers are put just below ground under those metal grids in the sidewalks. I’ve seen them explode. It’s not pretty.)

But won’t this storm die down by the time it gets to New York City? Maybe. But no one knows, and it is entirely possible that it won’t die down that much.

So, this could be much worse than just another big storm. Even Floyd, back in 1999—massive flooding, you may recall—had been downgraded from hurricane status by the time it hit NYC. Irene may still be a hurricane when it hits.

But one can prepare for a hurricane. Below, I suggest preparations to be made today, Thursday, and tomorrow, Friday. By Saturday morning, I suspect that we will already be experiencing the “outer storm bands” of the hurricane, which will make even travel on the sidewalks difficult and maybe even perilous. You need to prepare on Thursday and Friday.

Prepare Today for the Hurricane

Preparation should address several things, roughly in this descending order of importance: shelter, food and water and other supplies, behavior during the hurricane, and the aftermath.


If you live in an area that is prone to flooding, now would be a great time to go visit Aunt Flo in Chicago. I’m not kidding. Trains leave everyday from Penn Station; it’s not too late to get on one now, although Saturday will be too late. The flooding that accompanies a hurricane is immense, worse than just a big storm.

Even if flooding is not an issue, the extremely high winds accompanying a hurricane mean that you need to prepare your home for damage from flying debris. It would be appropriate to at least tape down your windows (for example, make a big X in masking tape on regular-sized windows) so they will be less likely to completely shatter from flying debris. In Florida, I put up plywood over my picture windows.

Food and Water and Other Supplies

Apartment dwellers need to remember that, in the event of an electrical outage, the water pumps may not function to get water to anywhere above about the fourth floor or so. Hurricanes have been known to interrupt water treatment and contaminate regular water supplies, so everyone needs to have bottled water handy, about a gallon per adult per day, just for drinking (not including cooking). I would store at least a 3-day supply of water; if there is a problem with water treatment that makes tap water undrinkable, that problem won’t just magically go away as soon as the storm passes.

New York City groceries only have about three days of food on their shelves. Anything that disrupts transportation—like a hurricane—disrupts the food distribution chain. Now is the time to sock away several days worth of food, especially including things that don’t require cooking, like bread and peanut butter. (Keep in mind that in the event of an electrical outage, electrical stoves won’t work.)

If your medical prescriptions are running out, today would be the time to renew them.

Hurricanes are not great times to be walking around a dark house with lit candles. Get flashlights and plenty of batteries in the correct sizes.

Two more words about crucial supplies: Toilet tissue.

Also, stock up on reading material and board games. If your electricity is out, you won’t be able to watch that marathon of The X-Files. ( >sniffle< )

So when do you get this stuff? Let me put it this way. New York City has the population of three full Western states, crammed into a single city. When everybody figures out “hmm—this could get bad,” do you want to be in that line? Your call.

Behavior During the Hurricane

Hurricanes always have a relative region of calm right at the center, the “eye of the hurricane.” This region passes very quickly and unexpectedly. Do not go out in the eye of the hurricane. Do not go out in the eye of the hurricane.

Prepare Now for the Aftermath

If you are in a neighborhood with overhead power lines, the hurricane may take them down. Do not approach a downed power line, even if it appears to be “dead.” Before you touch the handle of your car after the storm, first be sure that no downed power line is touching it. And, do not try to push away a downed power line yourself! Report it and eave that for the electrical workers.

Tell your clients / customers / boss you may not be to work on Monday.

Finally, however unpleasant it is to say this, whenever I’ve been in town over the last 40 years during an extended power outage, there’s been looting. Just plan to stay off the streets after the storm if there’s still power out.

One Last Super-Important Thing

Your elderly and disabled neighbors will likely need help in preparing for this hurricane. Be a New Yorker, and take the initiative to lend them a hand.


As we Mormons say, “If ye are prepared ye shall not fear.” This works for everyone, of any spiritual persuasion. So prepare and fear not.

More information about emergency preparedness may be found on the websites of Provident Living (a Mormon site), the Ready Campaign (a government site), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Peace out, y’all. Batten down the hatches.

Being prepared for an emergency is truly On The Mark.


You will find a great sheet of tips, covering issues I have not addressed here, at this link, which leads to material written by Kathleen Schmid Koltko-Rivera

[The images of the 3-day and 5-day forecast of the path for Hurricane Irene were obtained from the website of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a U.S. federal agency. The images are thus in the public domain.]

Copyright 2011 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.

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