Hurricane primer

Hurricanes are ferocious spinning storms that can occur over warmer waters in the Western Hemisphere between June and November – in the far Pacific they’re called cyclones or typhoons. The spinning action actually lifts the ocean surface under the storm and pushes sea water ahead of it. This is the “storm surge.”

They are categorized according to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane scale. Category 1 means winds of 74 to 95 mph and a storm surge of four to five feet. Category 2 has 96-110 mph winds and a six to eight foot storm surge. Category 3 is up to 130 mph and 9-12 feet; Category 4 goes to 155 mph and 13 to 18-foot surge.

Category 5 has no upper limit on wind or surge – on October 19, 2005 hurricane Wilma recorded sustained winds of 185 mph. Fortunately, its track was hundreds of miles out to sea when it passed New York.

In 1985, Hurricane Gloria skirted Queens and hit Long Island as a Category 2 storm. Gloria was travelling at 35 mph and hit at low tide, but still savaged the south shore. Twenty-nine years earlier, hurricane Carol hit even further east on Long Island.

The un-named hurricane of 1938 tore across mid Long Island on September 21. With Category 3 winds, it was estimate to have killed as many as 800 and caused the 2010 equivalent of $4.7 billion in damage – at a time when Long Island was mostly farmland.

It’s been more than 100 years since a hurricane hit the city directly, but experts agree it’s just a matter of time. They say a direct hit by a strong hurricane could put much of southern Queens – and low lying areas around the borough – under water.

To find out if you live in a hurricane evacuation zone, go to this page on the city’s Office of Emergency Management web site: https://gis.nyc.gov/oem/he/index.htm.

To learn more about hurricanes – and see if one is coming – visit the National Weather Service’s National Hurricane Center at www.nhc.noaa.gov.