Of global warming and hurricanes

As if New Yorkers like myself didn’t already have enough to worry about, the local news last week helpfully informed us of another threat: the potential for a major hurricane to hit New York City.

Most scientists believe that increased emissions of greenhouse gases have contributed heavily to global warming, which has in turn been responsible for the increase in the number and strength of Atlantic hurricanes. Hurricanes do not usually hit states above North Carolina with great force because the ocean temperature must be at least 80°F (27°C) for a hurricane to maintain its destructive momentum. But with global warming causing an increase of ocean temperatures worldwide, the potential for a major hurricane to reach New York and other coastal areas in the northeast is growing.

I looked up a few facts and figures, which unfortunately seemed to confirm the news report.

After Miami and New Orleans, New York is considered the third most likely city for a major hurricane disaster (and of course we all remember what happened to Miami and New Orleans in 2005!).

The United States Landfalling Hurricane Project reports that there is an approximately 26% chance that New York City or Long Island will be hit with a Category 3+ hurricane in the next 50 years.

If a Category 3 hurricane hits NYC, the storm surge will flood the Brooklyn-Battery tunnel and cause extensive flooding of the subways.

The NYC Office of Emergency Management has posted maps of hurricane evacuation zones for all of the New York boroughs. I was somewhat dismayed to find that my apartment in Brooklyn is in the green zone, which means it is in trouble if a Category 3 ever heads my way (luckily, I live on the third floor of a four-story house). However, the NPG office is in even more danger in the yellow zone in Manhattan, meaning that it is at risk from a Category 2 storm surge!

Allison Doerr (Assistant Editor, Nature Methods)