You hear about this hurricane that's headed up the East Coast? According to a variety of scientific and mathematical calculations, Hurricane Irene might completely drown New York City and much of the Eastern seaboard. It's a dire weather prediction geek-off.
Let's start with Dr. Jeff Masters, of founder of Weather Underground. In a blog post replete with colorful charts and graphs (which means it's right), he warns that seawater could breach New York's paltry five-foot flood walls and "Irene's storm surge may flood New York City's subway system."
NOAA's SLOSH model predicts that a mid-strength Category 2 hurricane with 100-mph winds could drive a 15 - 20 foot storm surge to Manhattan, Queens, Kings, and up the Hudson River. JFK airport could be swamped, southern Manhattan would flood north to Canal Street, and a surge traveling westwards down Long Island Sound might breach the sea walls that protect La Guardia Airport. Many of the power plants that supply the city with electricity might be knocked out, or their docks to supply them with fuel destroyed.
"SLOSH" model? Even the scientific models they use are foreboding!
On the other side of the geek spectrum, modern day math oracle Nate Silver of the New York Times, who so accurately predicts election outcomes you have to wonder if he's not actually secretly controlling them, warns that the hurricane "could be a multibillion-dollar catastrophe."
Apart from the inevitable loss of life in the most densely populated part of the country, history suggests that the economic damage could run into the tens of billions of dollars, depending on the severity of the storm and how close it comes to the city. Unlikely but theoretically plausible scenarios could have the damage entering the realm of the costliest natural disasters of all time, and perhaps being large enough to have a materially negative effect on the nation's gross domestic product.
How much would it cost, oh calculator jockey?
According the model, a hurricane with wind speeds of about 100 miles per hour - making it a "weak" Category 2 storm - might cause on the order of $35 billion in damage if it were to pass directly over Manhattan.
So, there you go. Math and science, united to terrify us to death.