Storm surge barriers: the New England experience

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 6:22 PM GMT on November 25, 2011

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Back in 1938, long before satellites, radar, the hurricane hunters, and the modern weather forecasting system, the great New England hurricane of 1938 roared northwards into Long Island, New York at 60 mph, pushing a storm surge more than 15 feet high to the coast. Hundreds of Americans died in this greatest Northeast U.S. hurricane on record, the strongest hurricane to hit the Northeast since the 1800s. A destructive storm surge of 13 feet (4 meters) barreled though Long Island Sound into Stamford, Connecticut, inundating the downtown region and causing heavy damage ($6 million in 1938 dollars.) Sixteen years later, a storm surge from Hurricane Carol of 1954 inundated the city again, causing $3.4 million in damage. In response to these twin storm surge disasters, work was begun in 1965 on a 17-foot high, $14 million (1965 dollars) hurricane barrier. Completed in 1969, the barrier across Stamford Harbor is high enough to protect the city from a storm surge of 14.8 feet above mean sea level. Had the barrier been in place during Hurricane Carol, the Army Corps of Engineers estimates damage to Stamford could have been reduced by 85%.


Figure 1. Bedford Street looking south towards Broad Street in Stamford, Connecticut, after the Great New England Hurricane of 1938. Image credit: stamfordhistory.org.


Figure 2. The storm surge from Category 2 Hurricane Carol in 1954 batters the Edgewood Yacht Club near Providence, Rhode Island. Image credit: NOAA Photo Library.

The Providence storm surge barrier
Stamford isn't the only New England city that suffered destructive storm surges from the 1938 and 1954 hurricanes. The 1938 hurricane brought a storm surge that covered the commercial district of Providence, Rhode Island with 8 feet (2.5 m) of water, causing $16.3 million in damage. On August 31, 1954, Hurricane Carol produced a storm surge of up to 14.4 feet (4.4 m) in Narragansett Bay, surpassing that of the New England Hurricane of 1938. The resulting storm surge flooded downtown Providence with 12 feet (3.7 m) of water. Some entire coastal communities were nearly destroyed, and damage was estimated at $25.1 million. In response to the devastation wrought by these storms, a $15 million hurricane barrier 25 feet (7.6 m) high was built across the 1000-foot (300 m) entrance to Providence Harbor between 1961 - 1966.


Figure 3. A ship passes through the Providence, Rhode Island storm surge barrier. Image credit: Douglas Hill, EngScD, P.E., Stony Brook University.

The New Bedford storm surge barrier
New Bedford, Massachusetts lies near the end of a narrow bay, and narrow bays and river estuaries can act as funnels that focus storm surges to extreme heights if the hurricane's direction of motion is aligned so that the surge propagates up the bottleneck. In fact, the shape of the coast near New Bedford makes it the most vulnerable portion of the U.S. coast for a hurricane storm surge. The highest theoretical storm surge produced by NOAA's SLOSH model for the U.S. is 38.5 feet above mean sea level, for a Category 4 hurricane hitting New Bedford. Destructive storm surges hit New Bedford during the 1938 hurricane and 1954's Hurricane Carol, the latter storm causing $8.3 million in flood damages. A hurricane barrier 23 feet (7 m) high and 4900 feet (1500 m) long across New Bedford Harbor was completed in 1966 at a cost of $19 million (1966 dollars.) The barrier separates the New Bedford Harbor from Buzzard's Bay, and successfully kept out the 8 foot (2.5 m) storm surge from Hurricane Bob in 1991, and a 6.5 foot (2 m) surge from the January 1997 Nor'easter.


Figure 4.The 4,900 foot-long New Bedford, Massachusetts storm surge barrier as seen using Google Earth. The city of New Bedford lies to the north (top) of this image.


Figure 5.The four regions of the U.S. theoretically prone to storm surges in excess of 33 feet at the coast. These Maximum of the Maximum Envelope Of Waters (MOM) SLOSH model plots are for a maximum strength hurricane hitting at high tide. A theoretical peak storm surge of 33 - 34 feet (pink colors) is predicted by the SLOSH model for New York City near the JFK Airport (upper left), for the Big Bend region of the Florida Gulf Coast (lower right), and for the Intracoastal Waterway north of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (lower left). The highest theoretical surge occurs at New Bedford, Massachusetts (upper right): 38.5 feet for a Category 4 hurricane.

More storm surge barriers needed
Storm surge barriers in Stamford, New Bedford, and Providence have already proved their worth and prevented damages more than the cost of their construction. For example, the Stamford barrier kept out the storm surge from the December 1992 Nor'easter, which neighboring New York City suffered storm surge flooding of it subway system and roads that caused hundreds of millions in damage. Similar barriers in the Netherlands and England's Thames River have also proved their worth, and multi-billion dollar storm surge barriers are nearing completion in St. Petersburg, Russia and the Venice Lagoon in Italy. Many more such barriers will be needed world-wide in the coming decades, because of sea level rise.
Sea level rose an average of 7 inches (18 cm) during the 20th century. The 2007 report of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted global sea level rise of 0.6 - 1.9 feet (18 - 59 cm) by 2100--excluding the contribution from melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. Several studies published since that report predict much higher levels of sea level increase will occur if one includes the melting from Greenland and Antarctica, For example, a 2008 paper published by Pfeffer et al. in Science concluded that the "most likely" range of sea level rise by 2100 is 2.6 - 6.6 feet (80 - 200 cm.) If these higher sea level rise estimates prove correct, storm surge damage could easily double of triple, particularly if climate change makes the strongest storms stronger. A Report to Congress by FEMA (1991) estimated that existing development on the U.S. coast would experience a 36 - 58% increase in annual damages for a 1-foot rise in sea level, and a 102 - 200% increase for a 3-foot rise. Much of this additional damage would result from storm surges riding on top of heightened sea levels. As I'll report on in future blog posts in this series, even if the sea level does not rise this century, there are three locations along the U.S. coast that should immediately begin planning to install hurricane storm surge barriers: New York City, Galveston/Houston, and Tampa Bay.

Jeff Masters

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Quoting Patrap:
Geaux Sneaux !!!

Yeah, right. Snow in Central Louisiana in late November???

I mean, we've had snowfall in South Louisiana every year for the last 3 years...but this early???

When the NWS in Lake Charles or Baton Rouge/New Orleans starts mentioning the possibility of snow, then I will start believing that. Until then, it's all model prediction.


Anthony
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Quoting SPLbeater:
Water temperatures very warm n Caribbean still, convection growing looking better...i wont make prediction but i would lean towards atleast <10% chance at 7PM


Well, it's 10:30 CST and it looks like your <10% is now about ~0%. :0 We are going to the Bahamas this coming week on a cruise and it looks like we'll only have highs in the low 70's and lows around 60 for a few days. I'm pretty sure the tropical storm season is over, no matter how hard one wishes up a depression.
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Quoting SPLbeater:
im bored...IM BORED....Im bOrEd....iM BoReD...

Go to bed.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32706
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wake up blog
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4488
Quoting trHUrrIXC5MMX:


yes it does.


i posted that comment before they showed anything about it
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4488
Quoting SPLbeater:


where did you find something confirming that it has developed, JTWC doesnt say anything?


yes it does.
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115. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
well that maybe confusing if it get identified as ARB04-2011.
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Quoting cyclonekid:


The Navy/NRL site.

Link


:D!! TC Five, 35kt winds. Wunderground has it now..aint that somethin lol
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4488
Quoting SPLbeater:


where did you find something confirming that it has developed, JTWC doesnt say anything?


The Navy/NRL site.

Link
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Quoting cyclonekid:
Say hello to TC Five-B. :)



where did you find something confirming that it has developed, JTWC doesnt say anything?
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4488
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

Not really..Just an extremely weak area of low pressure.




showing us nothing lol
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Quoting cyclonekid:
Say hello to TC Five-B. :)


Needs to get it's act together. Could be come really dangerous if it does.





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Say hello to TC Five-B. :)

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Member Since: September 10, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 11518
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

ok.
thought you would know lol
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Quoting interstatelover7165:
It was... Sonic Adventure.

ok.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32706
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

No?
It was... Sonic Adventure.
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Quoting interstatelover7165:
"The servers are the seven chaos.
Chaos is power,
Power enriched by the heart.
The controller is the one that unifies the chaos."

Reconize this, TWXA13?

No?
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32706
What I'd do?
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

Nope.
"The servers are the seven chaos.
Chaos is power,
Power enriched by the heart.
The controller is the one that unifies the chaos."

Reconize this, TWXA13?
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Quoting WeatherNerdPR:

GFS:

Very weak development, but it's something...


thanks. guess ima pack it in and watch and wait with the SW Pacific and N/S Indian!
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4488
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

No models predict any development.


ok, thanks. with 98B with high chance i want the ATL chart out of the way
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Quoting WeatherNerdPR:

The CMC:

Not gonna happen.
it could
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Completely off-topic, but look at my awesome desktop background ;)

I think mine is *gorgeous*!

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Quoting AstroHurricane001:


18z GFS is going crazy with this stalled low bringing snow to Southern Ontario via NE-to-NW winds. Each of the past five runs has been predicting more and more snow.


snow?? for who?
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Quoting WeatherNerdPR:

The CMC:

Not gonna happen.

Nope.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32706
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

Not really...

The CMC:

Not gonna happen.
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Quoting WeatherNerdPR:

GFS:

Very weak development, but it's something...

Not really..Just an extremely weak area of low pressure.

Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32706
Quoting WeatherNerdPR:
000
ABNT20 KNHC 252331
TWOAT

TROPICAL WEATHER OUTLOOK
NWS NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
700 PM EST FRI NOV 25 2011

FOR THE NORTH ATLANTIC...CARIBBEAN SEA AND THE GULF OF MEXICO...

TROPICAL CYCLONE FORMATION IS NOT EXPECTED DURING THE NEXT 48 HOURS.

$$
FORECASTER STEWART
I'm pretty sure that for them to mention something this late in the season it has to be fully going and for a while , to be mention...they are very conservative now,,due mostly to climatology.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

No models predict any development.

GFS:

Very weak development, but it's something...
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Quoting SPLbeater:
Now..before i put my chart of the Atlantic ocean with 2011 tracks on it away, does ANYBODY have anything about models showing development, if even one model? cuz i really dont want to have to pull this thing out again lol

No models predict any development.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32706
Quoting AstroHurricane001:
Wouldn't completely discount the possibility of late-November Caribbean formation. This image is Hurricane Martha on Nov. 21, 1969.



Martha stalled and remained stationary for 30 hours before making landfall in Panama, the only tropical storm to do so.
Awesome sat pic..:)
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Completely off-topic, but look at my awesome desktop background ;)



I have always thoroughly enjoyed the Harry Potter series, read them when I was a teen, and read the last 2 for light reading. The Star Wars of the 2000s imo.
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 24550
Geaux Sneaux !!!

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 427 Comments: 129435
Wouldn't completely discount the possibility of late-November Caribbean formation. This image is Hurricane Martha on Nov. 21, 1969.



Martha stalled and remained stationary for 30 hours before making landfall in Panama, the only tropical storm to do so.
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Now..before i put my chart of the Atlantic ocean with 2011 tracks on it away, does ANYBODY have anything about models showing development, if even one model? cuz i really dont want to have to pull this thing out again lol
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4488


18z GFS is going crazy with this stalled low bringing snow to Southern Ontario via NE-to-NW winds. Each of the past five runs has been predicting more and more snow.
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looky at the TCFA page from Joint Typhoon Warning Center, first paragraph:


WTIO21 PGTW 250800
MISGID/GENADMIN/NAVMARFCSTCEN PEARL HARBOR HI/JTWC//
SUBJ/TROPICAL CYCLONE FORMATION ALERT//
RMKS/
1. FORMATION OF A SIGNIFICANT TROPICAL CYCLONE IS POSSIBLE WITHIN 160 NM EITHER SIDE OF A LINE FROM 4.1N 79.3E TO 10.4N 72.8E WITHIN THE NEXT 12 TO 24 HOURS. AVAILABLE DATA DOES NOT JUSTIFY ISSUANCE OF NUMBERED TROPICAL CYCLONE WARNINGS AT THIS TIME. WINDS IN THE AREA ARE ESTIMATED TO BE 25 TO 30KTS. METSAT IMAGERY AT 250730Z INDICATES THAT A CIRCULATION CENTER IS LOCATED NEAR 4.9N 73.8E. THE SYSTEM IS MOVING NORTHWESTWARD AT 13 KNOTS.



this seems positive:D
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4488
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

Good idea, but no, yours is definitely not better. :P


Old school radio:

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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Completely off-topic, but look at my awesome desktop background ;)



BLAH. nasty:)
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4488
I'll post it later...how do you post it?
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Quoting xcool:
brb

ok
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brb
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Quoting yqt1001:


Nah, mine is better. :P



I should probably clean it up...

Good idea, but no, yours is definitely not better. :P
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32706
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Completely off-topic, but look at my awesome desktop background ;)



Nah, mine is better. :P



I should probably clean it up...
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Completely off-topic, but look at my awesome desktop background ;)



shes so hot
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TropicalAnalystwx13 HEY .DOING GOOD WORKING 2 JOB
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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