As Irene makes landfall in North Carolina, it's still an open question how badly New York is going to get whacked. But that hasn't stopped the entire city from assuming the worst — from a complete precautionary shutdown of city's transit system for the first time ever, to panic buying at grocery and hardware stores. If you don't have a flashlight and candles yet, good luck finding them now. There still may be one lonely bag of trail mix left at Trader Joe's, but it's probably that kind with the dried pineapple that nobody likes.
“Is this the apocalypse supply line?” a man asked as he stood in a line that stretched outside a hardware store on First Avenue, waiting to buy batteries.
The MTA will shut down the entire transit system at noon, and it's quite an undertaking. The Post:
The arduous process — which was last done in 2005 for the transit strike — includes sending workers to lock up each of the system's 468 stations, moving trains to safe spots away from flood zones, and cutting the power on all of the lines. It will take about eight hours.
As during the transit strike, cabs will take group fares and livery cabs will be allowed to make street pickups. And, in case you're evacuating Fido, taxis and all buses are required to take pets as passengers. Still, the chances of successfully finding a ride when you need one are probably not good. And in case you were wondering, the MTA won't be giving you a discount on those unlimited Metrocards that you won't be able to use. Bridges out of the city will suspend tolls, though, so you'll save $13.50 as you flee to Staten Island with all of your worldly possessions.
The mandatory evacuation of New York's flood-prone "Zone A" areas, especially in the Rockaways, is already underway.
“No one is going to get arrested and no one is going to be fined," Bloomberg said. "But we do not have the manpower to go door to door dragging people out of their homes."
Officials urged Zone A residents not to wait for the last train or bus out, since they are likely to be overcrowded and the MTA also needs to evacuate its own workers from those areas. There will, however, surely be holdouts.
"I ain't leaving," Daniel O'Sullivan, 53, a retired Department of Transportation carpenter from Broad Channel, Queens, told the Post. "I ain't listening to Bloomberg. Tell Bloomberg I ain't going anyplace. No way I'm moving. What's he going to do, lock me up?"
Chris Christie was characteristically gentle in warning Jersey Shore residents to forget about the "T" in their GTL regimens.
“Get the hell off the beach in Asbury Park and get out — you’re done,” he said. “You’ve maximized your tan. Get off the beach. Get in your cars, and get out of those areas. You know, it amazes me that you have responsible elected officials from North Carolina north through Massachusetts, along with National Weather Service folks, telling you this is going to be an enormous storm and something for New Jersey that we haven’t seen in over 60 years. Do not waste any more time working on your tan.”
So how bad is Irene going to be in New York, really? The eggheads at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration currently estimate there is a 5 to 10 percent chance that New York will experience hurricane-force winds (more than 74 miles per hour). The eye wall of Irene is expected to make landfall in New Jersey on Sunday morning, with New York getting hit several hours later.
But even a sub-Category 1 hurricane could cause some serious drama, with flooding knocking out the electrical grid. ConEd is bringing in workers from Texas to help deal with the expected problems, but there may come a time on Sunday evening when you will really wish you had bought that flashlight.
Stay tuned for updates.
Update I: The Journal explains why it is the storm surge that could do the real damage:
Because of its large size, the intense central pressure of the storm is more typical of a Category 2 or 3 hurricane. An experimental product from the National Hurricane Center has rated Irene at 5.0 on a 6.0-point scale for its potential to create damaging storm surge and waves. These are values seen more typically in Category 4 hurricanes, meaning Irene is extremely dangerous.
That damaging potential, combined with Irene’s arrival at what might be exceptionally high tide, is a major reason for the mandatory evacuations of low-lying areas across the New York and New Jersey.
Translation? A possible 7-to-15 foot storm surge in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens.
Update II: As of noon today, all of the city's airports were closed to incoming flights — although, until further notice, flights are being allowed to leave, which is surely a comfort to all the New Yorkers who hoped to weather the hurricane while on a beach in San Diego or somewhere else equally far from all this nonsense.
Update III: The Rapture has begun! Check out these reader-submitted photos of deserted streets in the Meatpacking District and at Ninth Avenue and 49th Street, respectively.
Update IV: The first deaths from Hurricane Irene have already been reported, in North Carolina, where up to 200,000 people lost power. Also, looks like heavy rains and 90 mile-per-hour winds aren't the only things we have to look forward to: as the hurricane made landfall earlier today, it set off several tornadoes. Just what we didn't have enough of, raging vortexes of wind and debris.
Update V: Con Edison says it expects extensive power and gas outages as a result of the hurricane and already has 400 extra crew members in the area to help out with damage assessment once the storm passes. But if you end up without power, don't expect the lights to come back on right away. Con Ed says it might take up to 24 hours post-Irene to get a full picture of the fallout.
Update VI: As we enter the final stretch, with pre-Irene storms and rain expected to hit the city tonight, here's a few more images of New Yorkers preparing for the worst (or not, in the case of the East River Park runners below).
Update VII: According to tweets from the mayor's office, taxis are still out in force on the streets of the city. Good news if you're headed to a Broadway show this evening — suprisingly few shows have cancelled — or still need to move stuff out of your Zone A apartment. "We've implemented a zone fare system for cabs to encourage ride sharing and allow liveries to pick up street hails."
Update VIII: Speculations that Irene would be downgraded to a tropical storm by the time she made landfall in New York seem, for the moment, to be unfounded. The National Weather Service, in its latest update this afternoon, reiterated that Irene would reach the area tomorrow morning with hurricane-force winds, up to a foot of rainfall, and surge waves as big as eight feet. (There exists a slight possibility of the hurricane coinciding with high tide, which would mean even greater devastation.) Also, to follow the storm's progress be sure to check out this sleek hurricane tracking map the Times has, which incidentally has Irene transforming into a tropical storm nearabouts Delaware.
Update IX: This is what's coming for us, folks. That's one helluva big storm.
Update X: The National Weather Service's latest update confirmed forecasts from earlier in the day (see Update VIII) and outlined some of the damage that can be expected:
Damaging winds are likely. Homes may have damage to shingles... gutters and windows...especially if these items are not properly secured. Loose outdoor items will become airborne... causing additional damage and possible injury. Power lines will be knocked down by falling trees...resulting in widespread power outages. Many large branches of trees will be snapped...and a [sic] numerous tress will be uprooted.