Monday, August 29, 2011

Earthquake and Hurricane in NYC in the Same Week

Last week, our city experienced both an earthquake and a hurricane. We prepared well for the hurricane and never had any warning on the earthquake.

Earthquakes and Hurricanes in NYC

As recently as 2001, Upper Manhattan experienced an earthquake, but there has not ever been a major earthquake in NYC for as long as earthquakes have been recorded in our area. The largest earthquake ever in the NYC area was only a magnitude 5.2 on the Richter Scale, and it occurred in 1884. The Richter Scale is designed so that each successive whole number represents a full 10x increase in the energy released by the earthquake. A magnitude 6.2 earthquake would be 10x as forceful as the strongest earthquake ever known to have hit NYC. The earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan earlier this year was a magnitude 9.0, representing approximately 100,000x the force of a 5.2.

We have had hurricanes in NYC as well. The most severe and most deadly was the Long Island Express, a 1938 hurricane that pre-dated the hurricane naming convention that began in 1950. But, hurricanes in NYC are quite rare.

The likelihood of experiencing a hurricane and an earthquake in NYC in the same week must be very small. The earthquake felt in NYC last week originated in Virginia, and was a magnitude 5.8. Therefore, while the earthquake did not originate in NYC, it was certainly experienced here. The hurricane that struck NYC last week turned out to be far less devastating than feared, but it was a hurricane when it arrived in NYC.

Hurricane Irene

Mayor Bloomberg and city leaders were effective in preparing for the hurricane. Governor Cuomo and his New York State team were equally effective. Evacuations were ordered from low-lying areas. Mass transit was shut down; tolls were suspended on bridges for residents exiting evacuation zones early in the weekend and for residents returning at the end of the weekend as evacuation orders expired.

Because of the preparation and because of the weakening of Hurricane Irene, NYC survived the storm with far less damage than had been predicted. The inconvenience was significant, but the worst is over.

Last week, we survived an earthquake and a hurricane. Within weeks, all of the flooding will be nothing but a memory, and we will be back to normal. But, we'll know that we had a week that was anything but normal.

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