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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TropicalAnalystwx13 HEY .DOING GOOD WORKING 2 JOB
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Soooo funny, the ACE for the ATL and Epac this year were both near 120...
I never seen both basins to nearly match it
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Quoting xcool:


18z snow for LA yay ...ALL FOEECAST MODELS ON board NOW

xcool! Not seen you since earlier this year! How's it going?
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32830


18z snow for LA yay ...ALL FOEECAST MODELS ON board NOW
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As expected:

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
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32830
Quoting StormHype:
On topic video clip of Irene hitting New England:
Irene Surge in CT

LOL at around 1:28 there was a seagull in the background!
BTW another video of it in NC.
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On topic video clip of Irene hitting New England:
Irene Surge in CT
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Quoting washingtonian115:
I knew I wasn't going crazy,I just knew I wasn't!!!!!!!.Ha ha yes!!!.Every time I get on people dissapear I have proof!!!!!!!.On the last page people were commenting every minute to four minutes on average.Then I get shafted and everyone dissapears.


not hard to see why ROFL =P
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4488
nice anticyclone sitting over 98B. Link to current N Indian Upper-level winds image
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4488
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
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
I knew I wasn't going crazy,I just knew I wasn't!!!!!!!.Ha ha yes!!!.Every time I get on people dissapear I have proof!!!!!!!.On the last page people were commenting every minute to four minutes on average.Then I get shafted and everyone dissapears.
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Quoting WeatherNerdPR:
It's been raining for a while.


training thunderstorms...enjoyable in drought, i assume your not enjoying that tho lol
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4488
im about to die with no activity. kenneth is dead and gone, leaving us with no more then 2 invests halfway around the world lol
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4488
It's been raining for a while.
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Quoting lovemamatus:
This Carribean system looks like the real deal. Could be that the season is finally going to get going!!
The season got going when Arlene formed back in June XD!!!!.
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850mb vorticy not quite circular with 98B, but getting there...on the other hand 96S's vorticy has been gradually growing and consolidating. Link to 5-day loop
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4488
Once again I'm not surprised to see people on the blog gang up on some bloggers who are critizing the NHC about classifying storms and all that other bull****.Their not gods and goddeses.Just people folks....Just people.Who help saves lives yeah but their still people and not like freaking imortal or something.
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Quoting Articuno:

I don't want the cold :(
I do.I got some nice clothes this fall and winter and I can't even try them out because of all the mild and warm air.Also I wouldn't mind for some early season snowstorm to happen in December when hopefully this mild/warm air is kicked outta hear.
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somehow im still bored
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4488
Quoting Grothar:


Never say Never, Tropical. Mrs. Grothar wanted a walkway with Hibiscus trees alongside. I said I would never do it. Would you like to come over and smell the flowers????


No thanks.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32830
On second thought, pressures in the Southwestern Caribbean are falling some...Although, I'd wait a little longer to see if this "thing" becomes more organized, if one can consider it "organized" at this current time.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32830
Quoting Articuno:

I don't want the cold :(


im ready for it, got a few truckloads of wood at grandparents house needing splitting. i enjoy splitting that red oak when its 40 or so, no sweat hehe
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4488
Quoting washingtonian115:
This weather needs to make up it's freaking mind.I got a nice sweater in the mail not to long ago and wanted to wear it out today.But when I read the murcury it was freaking 71 degress outside.When's the cold gonna come :(.

I don't want the cold :(
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

Yeah...that ain't happening. There's nothing going on down there, and nothing will.


Never say Never, Tropical. Mrs. Grothar wanted a walkway with Hibiscus trees alongside. I said I would never do it. Would you like to come over and smell the flowers????

Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 71 Comments: 27208
This weather needs to make up it's freaking mind.I got a nice sweater in the mail not to long ago and wanted to wear it out today.But when I read the murcury it was freaking 71 degress outside.When's the cold gonna come :(.
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Quoting Cotillion:
Nice blog, Doc. Onto the offseason program?

FPB:



Yes. Link

It was either a high VEI6 or a low end VEI7 around 969AD or so.


That is also called Mount Doom as even a small eruption would (or could) cause the lake to drain and flood communities below it...
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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
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4488
Quoting stormpetrol:
I expect to see a yellow circle in the SW Caribbean at 7 pm. The AOI there is getting really interesting!
Agree, that area continues to show signs of development, that would give some "life" to the blog for a while. Let's see.
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Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting stormpetrol:
I expect to see a yellow circle in the SW Caribbean at 7 pm. The AOI there is getting really interesting!

Yeah...that ain't happening. There's nothing going on down there, and nothing will.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32830
Quoting JNCali:
Did everyone have a nice T-Day??


I know I did!
Red Velvet cake and apple pie for desert! YUM
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I expect to see a yellow circle in the SW Caribbean at 7 pm. The AOI there is getting really interesting!
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The season is over, the blog slows down. I do like to read Dr. Ms off season blogs though.

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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

Yes, the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season comes to a close in 120 hours.
I said that here in Puerto Rico 4 years ago, and put a wonderful xmast tree lights and all the decorations, in the front porch,, 5 days later everything was blown away by tropical/suptropical, not sure, Storm Olga that hit us.
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Or employ the tea party to dump stuff in the harbor to block the storm surges.
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Did everyone have a nice T-Day??
Re: the storm surge barriers... nice idea for sure and could probably add a few more jobs to the economy.. but who is gonna pay for these? ~rhetorical question~ Granted, now that we have been introduced to Trillion dollar figures the billions needed to construct these barriers don't cause the immediate dropping of the jaw.. I'd like to see the plans developed at a cost of only a few hundred million I suppose, but I think we should wait for the economy to sort itself out a bit. or.... maybe we could get the OWS crowd to Occupy the Harbor Entrance!
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Quoting WxGeekVA:
Wow. The blog just died....


Was Some1Has2BtheRookie on? He usually does that!
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 71 Comments: 27208
no activity for almost an hour come on yal thats sick
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4488
Wow. The blog just died....
Member Since: September 3, 2011 Posts: 13 Comments: 3477
im bored
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4488
Quoting WxGeekVA:


What's that spining to the SW of the North Indian invest?


That is 96S. it looked good a few days ago, lost its orginazation, and is apparently coming back lol. JTWC gives it a medium chance of development, as 98B has a high chance
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4488
Quoting SPLbeater:
98B looking better and better, i like this:D forecast to move NW away from land for awhile, not too bad!


What's that spining to the SW of the North Indian invest?
Member Since: September 3, 2011 Posts: 13 Comments: 3477
Quoting Articuno:

I wonder, has a tropical cyclone has ever traveled up the whole red sea..?


would have to look that up, but i would probably bet on atleast 1 has in history
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4488
Quoting SPLbeater:
98B looking better and better, i like this:D forecast to move NW away from land for awhile, not too bad!

I wonder, has a tropical cyclone ever traveled up the whole red sea..?
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the earthquakes in Oklahoma continue
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

Yes, the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season comes to a close in 120 hours.


:( boooooooooo
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4488
98B looking better and better, i like this:D forecast to move NW away from land for awhile, not too bad!
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4488
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

Only 188 days left.




can we plzs make it sooner
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Quoting Tazmanian:
is it june 1st yet?

Only 188 days left.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32830

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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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