As we all hunker down in our apartments, surrounded by our stockpiles of water and batteries and bacon—yes, bacon, lots of people stockpiled bacon because there was NO BACON at any of my local stores, clearly no one in Brooklyn knows what the word "non-perishable" means—it is important to remember that, no matter how big and bad Hurricane Sandy looks to be, New York has survived stormpocalypses before. And we will survive them again. Unless you're in Zone "Toxic Shitstorm" aka the Gowanus Canal. In that case, there's a good chance you will get cholera and superstrain gonorrhea and your odds aren't so great after all.
However, it's easier to keep Hurricane Sandy in perspective by looking at hurricanes and blizzards of years past. And since most people don't have ancient New York City-born grandparents to relate stories of walking through miles of windy, snow-strewn streets, I will be your grandfather today. I will not however be my grandfather, who actually was a lifelong New Yorker and a completely amazing guy who constantly regaled me with great stories of old New York. But, no, I will not be him today because he drank non-alcoholic beer. And, on a day like today, I will be drinking fully alcoholic everything.
1821: The Great Hurricane
This devastating storm was the first recorded tropical cyclone to hit New York City. Storm surges created waves that reached heights of thirteen feet. All of lower Manhattan up to Canal Street was completely flooded. The storm could have been even worse if it had not struck at low tide. As it was, this hurricane was notable for being one of the only times an eye of the storm passed directly over New York Harbor, which has traditionally been protected from direct hits due to many geographical features and sheer awesomeness. Probably just the first reason, actually, because nothing stops Mother Nature once she's really out to get you. She's relentless.
1888: The Great Blizzard
This storm struck NYC in mid-March of 1888, after several days of warm spring weather, which, once again, proves that Mother Nature is nobody's bitch. Seriously, JUST when you think you're in the clear—she strikes! The 20+ inches of snow that were dumped on the city during the two-day storm were accompanied by 75-mile-per-hour winds which caused snowdrifts up to 30-feet high. This storm did not mess around. It took two weeks for the city to fully recover. Power lines were severely compromised because of the snow and this led to the 1889 mayoral proposal to put all power lines underground, which is why we almost never lose power due to storm-related reasons today. I really hope we don't lose power today. I don't know how to live without the Internet anymore.
1893: The Hurricane That "Dismantled Brooklyn Houses"
New York City sustained the worst damage from this hurricane, which was one of the only hurricanes to amke direct landfall in city history. The New York Times reported that, in Central Park, "More than a hundred noble trees were torn up by the roots, and branches were twisted off everywhere." Wikipedia further relates that dead birds littered the Park grounds which led to "groups of children gather[ing] the birds and pick[ing] them up, with the apparent intention of selling them to restaurants." Yum?
Brooklyn sustained particularly severe damage, with large trees being uprooted and houses being "dismantled." Waters reached waist-high levels and low-lying regions were severely devastated. Hog Island, which is off the coast of the Rockaways, was totally destroyed. As in, it was washed away. Gone. Yikes.
1938: The Long Island Express
This storm was a Category 3 when it hit Long Island, the strongest storm ever to make a direct hit near NYC. Although Long Island and New England bore the brunt of the storm—which caused 700 deaths and made 63,000 people homeless—NYC also suffered through this storm, which created a storm surge of 17 feet and waves that reached heights of FIFTY FEET. This is very, very high. The storm knocked out power everywhere above 59th Street in Manhattan and the winds were so strong that the Empire State Building was visibly swaying due to their power. And this was just the effects of the weaker side of the storm. Who knows what would have happened if NYC had sustained a direct hit? Let's not think about that right now.
1947: North American Christmas Blizzard
This blizzard struck on Christmas Day and was not anticipated at all. So, surprise! This was the largest blizzard since the Great Blizzard of 1888 and it buried the city in more than two feet of snow. 77 deaths were attributed to this storm and its severity was devastating for the city and the whole Northeast corridor.
1960: Hurricane Donna
Although Donna was not one of the strongest hurricanes in terms of wind-force, it did cause 11-foot storm surges in New York City, which demolished many of the piers in Brooklyn and downtown Manhattan. Also, the damage caused by Donna up and down the East Coast, makes it one of the top ten costliest hurricanes to strike in the last hundred years. Notable too is that hurricanes started getting names in the mid-1900s, so it's much easier to keep track of them, now that they're not all just "the great" this and "the great" that.
1985: Hurricane Gloria
Experts say that Gloria would have been truly devastating to NYC if it had hit at high tide, or approached land slightly closer to the city, but as it was, it still caused a great deal of damage. Approximately 683,000 people in New York State were left without power and $300 million dollars in property damage was caused. There was but one fatality, due to a falling tree, which makes us want to remind everybody STAY INSIDE. Unless, like me, you have to walk your dog, in which case, BE CAREFUL. Possible conversation topic during this hurricane: Are dogs worth it? Answer: Undecided, at this point.
1996: Blizzard of '96
This was a big one. It also makes me wonder why we don't name blizzards the way we name hurricanes. It seems like a missed opportunity. Anyway, I remember this blizzard. I remember this whole winter actually because it just seemed to never end. There was so much snow. And ice. This particular storm dumped 2-3 feet of snow on the city and was notable for closing city schools for the first time since 1978. So that was good anyway.
1999: Hurricane Floyd
First of all, this is a great name for a hurricane. Way better than Sandy or Donna. FLOYD. All of our hurricanes should be named Floyd. Irene was good too. But it's still no Floyd. Anyway, Floyd came on quickly and caused flash floods and torrential downpours. City schools were closed for the first time since the Blizzard of '96. I personally remember walking through the East Village and trying desperately to help my friend light her cigarette to no avail. The winds were strong that day, my friends. Your average Bic lighter was no match for Floyd, that wily bastard.
2010: Boxing Day Blizzard
This blizzard was CRAZY. I'm sure we all have good stories from it. I know I do. I had the brilliant idea to go see "Black Swan" (which I hated) with my friend and then have an admittedly delicious, though ill-advised, dinner at Franny's under the assumption that I could always catch a cab home. And we needed to salvage the night after seeing the terrible "Black Swan." But there were no cabs to be hailed. Instead I had to WALK home four miles in the driving snow. I was pretty sure I would die huddled in some doorway in Park Slope, just like the Little Match Girl. But I persevered. Why? I was NOT going to die in Park Slope. I was not.
Anyway, this blizzard was part of the snowiest NYC winter on record and was notable for forcing drivers to leave so many abandoned vehicles in the streets that clean-up for the blizzard was compromised and slow. Total mess.
2011: Hurricane Irene
This was the last time the city was going to be destroyed by a "perfect storm" but, luckily, we're all still here. Irene wound up being a little bit underwhelming for residents of New York City, even though it caused major devastation upstate and in New England. However, one important thing that Irene did introduce was the whole evacuation zone lexicon. So now we know if we're Zone A, B, or C. Or in my case, Zone nothing. I don't live in a Zone, which should mean that I'm safe from everything but the reality is that there are two huge trees outside my home and, uh, yeah. We'll see! The lesson with all of these storms is that they're hit or miss. So, let's hope Sandy ends up being one big miss for all of us, and we can laugh about it later, drunk on all the whiskey and bacon that we've been packing away since we first learned about the storm's imminent arrival. Stay safe!
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