A Snow Day in August
That’s what it felt like walking along the Hudson River in the wake of Hurricane Irene.
I crossed the Henry Hudson Parkway at 125th Street, a rare feat since it’s a six-lane highway with busy north and south lanes separated by a steeply graded median. On Sunday afternoon, a handful of northbound drivers warily made their way uptown eying the DOT pump truck mired in a foot of water on the southbound side, which was closed to traffic.
The wind at 2:00 p.m. was blowing 25-30 mph but didn’t deter wandering bands of pedestrians and diehard bike-riders from descending on the Greenway to survey Irene’s handiwork. It was strong enough though, to keep pigeons and sparrows out of the trees and in the grass and low shrubs. If New York had been hit by the full Category-3 storm we were on course for, the local birds would have taken a major hit. I could find no sign of the tenacious Riverside monk parakeets along the Washington Heights stretch of the Hudson Greenway, but a birder friend assured me that they likely made it through the storm fine. We’ll see.
The faltering local economy was spared too by Irene’s passage through New York on an August weekend. The loss in productivity and commerce resulting from a weekday strike would have further hobbled local businesses, a problem merchants upstate, and across Long Island, New Jersey and Connecticut, grapple with today as flood waters crest to heights of up to 14 feet.
For Upper Manhattan, the worst of “Mean Irene” seems to have been the bad reputation that preceded her.
On the morning before the storm, a gaggle of worrywarts, myself included, mobilized to move scores of plants off the roof deck of our apartment building. Along with big pots of fussed-over mums and daisies, every skanky tomato plant was hauled in and stored in the lobby, creating a fetching meadow-on-the-main-floor effect. Devotion to our green roof extended even to the compost bins, which were dutifully sheltered, despite being full of rotting food scraps.
On Saturday night, as hurricane parties raged across the city, Irene dumped six inches of rain on us but, thankfully, not much else. The following morning, assured by weather experts that the center of the storm had passed, I went out looking for the shit. And I found it in abundance, not in widespread property damage or the flooding everyone feared, but in the Armageddon of plastic bottles, pulverized Styrofoam and other trash the river had spewed out in the course of the storm.
Off shore, without a single boat on the water, the Hudson looked weirdly serene, like the growing number of public zones that resemble quarantine sites when extreme weather conditions make them inhospitable to mammals.
On land, the feeling of relief across the city was palpable and overflowed at times in a giddy sense of having gone head-to-head with a major storm and beat it. In fact, New York got off very easily and the subsequent crowing about New Yawk toughness in the face of disaster, particularly in the media, seems silly.
The Hudson River, on the other hand, deserves a medal for the huge load of untreated sewage and storm water it absorbed on our behalf. For the time being, New Yorkers are free to enjoy the last big weekend of the summer. But the wonks who monitor the local waterways have started squawking about the threat a different set of jaws poses to those who think the danger has passed and it’s safe to go in the water. Two good articles about New York City’s antiquated combined sewage overflow system recently appeared in City Limits and on the Guggenheim Lab’s blog.
River detritus before Irene (left) and shortly after ( bottom right).
Posted September 2, 2011
After the Storm
10:30 a.m.: Irene appears to have treated Upper Manhattan gently. The National Weather Service predicted she’d hit New York City between 9:00 and 10:00 a.m.
This was the view from eleven stories moments ago after a light drizzle and a few hints of sunlight. Power active, check. Water running, check. NYC seems to have dodged a bullet.
Posted August 30, 2011
8:00 a.m. : With the storm center still about 40 miles south of the city, I went out in search of a cup of coffee only to find that the cornerstones of 24-hour commerce on the Upper West Side had been shuttered.
The Westside Market had sold it’s last overpriced pastry the night before and the coffee bar was closed.
As was Duane Reade. Anyone running short on cash was even more out of luck than usual, particularly if all the weather drama and inconvenience had given them a headache.
I returned to my apartment grateful to find the power working and logged-on to find this nice e-mail from Governor Cuomo:
For more information about New York City evacuation zones and emergency shelters, please visit: http://www.nyc.gov/html/oem/html/hazards/storms_sheltering.shtml.
Important Phone Numbers for New York City Residents:
• Public Inquiries in NYC: 311
• Public Inquiries outside NYC: 212-639-9675
American Red Cross
• Bronx: 718-823-1418
• Brooklyn: 718-330-9200
• Manhattan: 1-877-REDCROSS
• Queens: 718-558-0053
• Staten Island: 718-983-1600
Flooding in Riverside Park at 8:30 a.m..
Posted August 28, 2011
New York had been in an official state of emergency since 5:00 p.m. Friday. By early Saturday afternoon panic buying had subsided and Manhattanites turned their attention to doing normal weekend things. They jogged, rode bicycles, and walked their dogs through the intermittent downpours.
One woman picked mushrooms.
Well-heeled couples who would be in Cape Cod or Sag Harbor if so many highways hadn’t been closed by the DOT gamely strolled along the popular Greenway.
The 79th Street marina denizens who seemed in prior days to be among the naysayers treating Irene like a “baby” Catergory-1 storm, suddenly had a spring in their step as they worked to secure their boats. Otherwise, activity on the normally bustling Hudson had dwindled to slow-moving Coast Guard vessels and the occasional tug boat pushing a big ship upriver.
The noonday suspension of bus and subway service contributed to a sequestered feeling which, given the tropical weather conditions, made Manhattan feel more like an island than ever before.
This was the view from eleven stories at 8:00 p.m.
Posted August 28, 2011
Before the Storm
Plenty of boats remained docked at the 79th Street Boat Basin as Hurricane Irene barreled toward NYC Friday and there was a lot less battening down of hatches than one would expect given the National Weather Service’s hurricane warning for New York. As mandatory evacuations got underway in low-lying areas downtown, at least one laid-back Basin-dweller evidently took the time for a leisurely paddleboard cruise.
This was the view further uptown in Riverside Park where the threat of falling trees was still hours away. Violent storms have already destroyed or damaged more than a hundred of the park’s elegant trees this summer.
The line of shoppers stocking up on hurricane provisions snaked around the Westside Market on 110th and Broadway Friday night. Despite checkout queues 30-45 minutes long, last-minute shoppers chatted good-naturedly while waiting to pay for their candles, jugs of water, canned tuna and chilli and –this being the UWS — basil plants.
Out on the street, Upper West Siders enjoyed Friday night dinner outdoors, ran after-work errands and calmly went about the business of preparing for the weekend. As inhabitants of low-rise buildings built on a plateau of schist rising 140 feet above sea level, residents of the UWS and Morningside Heights seemed content to stay-put until the storm passed.
Come On Irene
Hudson River Stories will be on the weather beat this weekend. Log-on for hyper-local hurricane coverage from NYC’s Upper West Side.