July 19, 2006

Hurricane Headed For The Hamptons?

The proverbial "door has opened" for a powerful hurricane to hit the eastern end of Long Island, according to a well-known hurricane scientist.

In a speech entitled "Katrina — New Orleans, Serena — Southampton?" at Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton last Thursday Dr. Stephen Leatherman, the Director of the International Hurricane Research Center at Florida International University, warned, "We are in a period of increased hurricane activity" and described eastern Long Island as the "number four landfall area for hurricanes in the United States" after Florida, the Outer Banks of North Carolina and the Gulf Coast.

According to Leatherman, a high pressure system that had settled in over Bermuda in the past three years, has moved out, allowing hurricanes a clear path to the northeast coast. The last time a similar meteorological situation existed, in 2003, Hurricane Isabel "had Long Island's name on it," Leatherman said, before another storm diverted it to North Carolina.

Hurricane activity runs in 30 year cycles, Leatherman explained, and the Accumulated Cyclone Energy Index, used to measure the activity of Atlantic storm season, indicates the latest, more intense period of activity began in 1995. Last year was a particularly devastating storm season, with 27 named storms and three category five hurricanes, both records.

The chances of a category four or five storm hitting Long Island are slim, said Leatherman. But a category three storm, which is defined by the Saffir-Simpson for Hurricane Classification as having sustained winds of 111-130 miles per hour and a storm surge of nine to 12 feet, could and has hit Long Island. The Hurricane of 1938, which killed hundreds of people in the Northeast, was a category three storm, with a storm surge of 15 feet that caused extensive flooding and damage in the Hamptons. Hurricane Gloria, one of the costliest storms to hit the northeast in recent times, was a category two storm when it made landfall on Long Island in 1985. Power was out for more than a week in some areas.

Leatherman stressed the importance of hurricane preparedness in the speech, which was sponsored by the Eastern Long Island Coastal Conservation Alliance, an educational organization dedicated to coastal preservation, with a focus on hurricane mitigation and evacuation. In the case of Hurricane Katrina in August of last year, Leatherman said that too many people ignored warnings and failed to adequately prepare for the storm. "It is amazing that people can take these situations so nonchalantly," he said.

"You've got be prepared for at least three days," he added. Because only a "fraction" of the population of eastern Long Island could leave in the case of a storm, Leatherman stressed the importance of relocating to higher ground, rather than leaving the area entirely. Being stuck in traffic on the highway is "the worst place to be. You have no real protection," he said.

"As long as you're on higher ground, you're going to be fine," agreed Southampton Town Councilwoman Nancy Grabowski, who attended Leatherman's presentation. "The Official Town of Southampton 2006 Hurricane Survival Guide," a 30-page booklet on preparing for and dealing with the aftermath of hurricanes, will be mailed to all town residents in August. The town coordinated with adjacent municipalities, area police departments and other governmental organizations in developing the guide.

Leatherman is scheduled to give a follow-up talk at the library in November, after the current hurricane season ends.

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