Hurricane Harvey is not bearing down on Long Island this weekend — but what would happen if a storm like it were?
As the Gulf Coast of Texas and surrounding areas face a forecast of hurricane-force winds, threats of up to 12 feet of storm surge and up to 35 inches of rainfall, local experts weighed in on how officials and residents on Long Island might respond to those same forces.
Locally, “people would be flocking to get off of the Island, and it would be a traffic nightmare,” if such a storm were heading here, said Meghan McPherson, an adjunct in Adelphi University’s emergency management graduate programs.
Tropical-storm force winds would have kicked up as of early Friday afternoon, meaning New York City bridges would be at risk of being shut down due to wind-speed restrictions, said McPherson, a former emergency manager, who’s also assistant director of Adelphi’s Center for Health Innovation.
Contraflow, in which all traffic would be heading off the Island, could be instituted on roads, but “that doesn’t mean it would not be a complete nightmare,” she said.
Bill Korbel, News 12 Long Island meteorologist, said he “cannot envision any scenario that would require evacuating all of Long Island, nor is there any way of doing it.” Instead, people near the coasts would need to move inland, he said, with others sheltering in their homes.
Most jurisdictions set a deadline for evacuating, McPherson said, after which “you have to shelter in place,” knowing that at some point first responders will not be able to safely get to you.
In such a case, people staying in their homes “should be prepared to be self-sufficient,” Korbel said, with the potential for “no electricity, water, gasoline, food and maybe medical services for a minimum of three days,” possibly a week or more.
In Nassau County, by Friday some hospitals and nursing homes would already have been evacuated, voluntary evacuation would already have been requested – and evacuation of some areas south of Sunrise Highway would already have been made mandatory, said Craig Craft, commissioner of the county’s office of emergency management. That’s assuming the direct approach of a Category 3, Harvey-like storm, he said. Harvey has since intensified to Category 4.
His department would be overseeing staffing of the county’s 25 general shelters, with several additional specialty locations, including ones for those with special needs, even one for pets only.
The best-case scenario would be for residents at risk to have already traveled to homes of friends and family in the middle of the Island, Craft said.
Would such a scenario be even possible for Long Island?
“It is very possible a storm of this size could absolutely come right up the East Coast,” McPherson said. And, given the right conditions, systems certainly have been known to stall in place, she said.
If Long Island were in Texas’s shoes, with a Harvey-type scenario on the doorstep, Brian Ciemnecki, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Upton, said he expects his office would be issuing similarly dire warnings to those coming Friday from meteorologists in Corpus Christi.
Forecasters there are speaking of the need to protect against impacts from “life-threatening” wind and surge, as well as “catastrophic and life-threatening rainfall flooding.”
A key message, Ciemnecki, said, would be encouraging residents to follow direction from emergency managers, who understand the risks to their particular areas.
And possibly, to help each other, as National Weather Service Director and Long Island native Louis Uccellini urged residents of Texas and Louisiana on Friday evening.
“Continue to work together and follow directions from local authorities,” he said in a statement. “We see millions of people at risk for life-threatening flooding, storm surge and dangerous wind. But we also see millions of people ready to help one another and get through this storm safely.”