|Above, a photo of the East Village, Avenue C and 8th Street, that's all over the internet. The closest I can figure its provenance is here. You don't need to imagine the condition of the subways beneath the streets because there are plenty of photos showing up.|
Given the onslaught from Hurricane Sandy it seemed appropriate to remind readers of a prior Noticing New York article that was partly about the need for New York City to be prepared (really prepared) with better infrastructure for storm surges: Wednesday, September 29, 2010, Brooklyn Tornadoes and a Cool-Headed Appraisal of Weather Weirding in New York.
As I listened to talk of the storm’s approaching surge I started thinking about something I really don’t know much about, which is the buoyancy of New York City’s subway and other metropolitan region tunnels and their general vulnerability when waters surge over them and the sediment burying them. Buoyancy can be a concern when constructing tunnels. Sometimes they are weighted down with gravel so they sink. Making tunnels deep enough is a concern when the harbor are dredged. The harbor and the tunnels are just deep enough for some big ships to pass. Sometimes there is concern about the effect of tides on the surfaces of underground tunnels.
So I know there is a concern about what will happen if the subways get swamped with saltwater as a result of this or any future storm surge. What I don’t really know, and will for the time being just wonder about, is whether the tunnels under the waters of the harbor are vulnerable to any kind of damage from storm surges when vast rushing quantities of water pass over at accelerated and exceptional speeds, disturbing the sediment that covers them. (As for buoyancy, a flooded tunnel isn't buoyant.)
Locked inside during a long storm, one’s mind is inclined to wonder. Perhaps a reader who knows more about the vulnerability of buried tunnels than I do will venture some information. Troubling the MTA with my curiosity is the last thing I want to do as they have been preoccupied with plenty of other things since I began my wondering in this regard.
Notwithstanding what I don't know about the tunnels' vulnerability to surge, my earlier post set forth at the beginning of this post links to some authoritative reports with advice about how New York should be preparing for a future that experts believe will involve more storm surges than before and surges that are more severe.
PS: I did not hit the `publish' button to have the above go up on the internet last night before my internet went down. Signing on the internet today I see that people are passing around a prescient 2005 article by Aaron Naparstek about how New York should foresee a big storm: "The Big One," July 27, 2005. The other thing I am hearing now that the storm surge has receded is that last night the waters of the Hudson and New York Harbor reached their highest recorded levels in 200 years. Were harbor waters ever higher than that? Maybe and maybe not: We don't know because no records were kept before that.
Only a year ago, with Irene, we had a large storm that was in many respects substantially similar to this one. Though its damage wound up being delivered differently, with some minor alterations the Irene damage delivered could have been very much the same . . . .
. . . Could this become the pattern of a new normal?