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 GeoffreyWPB:
Good Thanksgiving Canes...Watching Miracle On 34th Street on DVR...If you haven't seen it, you really should.


The little girl was Natalie Wood.
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 71 Comments: 27208
Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
Good Thanksgiving Canes...Watching Miracle On 34th Street on DVR...If you haven't seen it, you really should.


Yes I have. Since it was a long weekend, i'm enjoying a glass of orange juice and watching Star Wars while being relatively healthy for the first time in a week.
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C-A-N-E-S-W-A-T-C-H-W-H-A-T-I-S-R-O-L-L-IN-W-I-T-H- Y-O-U-R-W-X
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Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4488
Quoting Grothar:


Yes, we did. Thank you. Hope you all did.


Yes we did. It was a riot with my cousin's son.
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Good Thanksgiving Canes...Watching Miracle On 34th Street on DVR...If you haven't seen it, you really should.
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Tropical Cyclone Five 003000UTC:

CI#/ Pressure/ Vmax
2.8/ 1000.8mb/ 41.0kt

Final T# 2.8
Adj T# 3.0
Raw T# 4.0

appears to be strengthening, if only slightly at it
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4488
Quoting VAbeachhurricanes:
Canes you is a popular dude.


I guess so LOL
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

C-A-N-E-S-W-A-T-C-H


T-R-O-P-I-C-I-A-L-A-N-A-L-Y-S-T-W-X-1-3
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Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
Hi Canes! How was your Thanksgiving?


Pretty good Geoffrey, how about yours?
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Quoting caneswatch:


Same to you Gro! Did you have a good Thanksgiving?


Yes, we did. Thank you. Hope you all did.
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 71 Comments: 27208
Canes you is a popular dude.
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Quoting Grothar:


Geoff is always considerate of others. And yes, hydrus, I can see all the good feelings on the blog already.
It should get even better as we get closer to Noel..There is always a troll or two that will try to halt the holiday cheer..Man this thing is taking its sweet time..
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22640
Quoting caneswatch:


Same to you Gro! Did you have a good Thanksgiving?

C-A-N-E-S-W-A-T-C-H
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32830
Hi Canes! How was your Thanksgiving?
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Quoting Grothar:


Happy Holidays, Canes!


Same to you Gro! Did you have a good Thanksgiving?
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Quoting caneswatch:


You know you'd love it Gro haha


Happy Holidays, Canes!
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 71 Comments: 27208
.
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 71 Comments: 27208
Geaux Sneaux..!

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 428 Comments: 129844
Quoting hydrus:
It was still very thoughtful of Geoff...Christmas spirit is on the increase.


Geoff is always considerate of others. And yes, hydrus, I can see all the good feelings on the blog already.
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 71 Comments: 27208
Quoting Grothar:


Thanks for the walk down memory lane, hydrus.


You know you'd love it Gro haha
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Quoting Grothar:


Thanks for the walk down memory lane, hydrus.
You know by now that I was more than glad to do it...
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22640
Quoting Grothar:


Thanks anyway, Geoff, but I don't need the balls, I just got me a new set of "wheels"

It was still very thoughtful of Geoff...Christmas spirit is on the increase.
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22640
Quoting hydrus:
Absolutely....These peaceful little critters argument with each other was probably over food and nothing else...Cute arent they..


Thanks for the walk down memory lane, hydrus.
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 71 Comments: 27208
Quoting GeoffreyWPB:


Don't tell Grothar, but for Xmas, I bought him a new pair of tennis balls for his walker.


Thanks anyway, Geoff, but I don't need the balls, I just got me a new set of "wheels"

Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 71 Comments: 27208
Quoting Cotillion:


I want one for Christmas.

or Yuletide. whichever.

It'd feel different, though - Britain was in the southern hemisphere, very warm and had supervolcanoes in the Ordovician. Meh, swings and roundabouts.
Grothar was there. He stated that ya just get use to it and that is not a big deal, less the Super-volcanoes of course.....Shape your environment when ever possible, adjust to it when ever necessary..
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22640
Quoting GeoffreyWPB:


Don't tell Grothar, but for Xmas, I bought him a new pair of tennis balls for his walker.
.You are simply brimming over with generosity and consideration for the elders....Well done..:)
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22640
Quoting hydrus:
Absolutely....These peaceful little critters argument with each other was probably over food and nothing else...Cute arent they..


looks like a face...
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Quoting GeoffreyWPB:


I don't think I have enough reward points on my credit card.


yeah but imagine all the miles you will get with that purchase!!
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Quoting hydrus:
Absolutely....These peaceful little critters argument with each other was probably over food and nothing else...Cute arent they..


I want one for Christmas.

or Yuletide. whichever.

It'd feel different, though - Britain was in the southern hemisphere, very warm and had supervolcanoes in the Ordovician. Meh, swings and roundabouts.
Member Since: August 23, 2008 Posts: 7 Comments: 5300
Quoting Cotillion:


Would've preferred to swim with the trilobites. :)

Absolutely....These peaceful little critters argument with each other was probably over food and nothing else...Cute arent they..
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22640
Quoting hydrus:
The Grothar predates the trilobites and all other objects that exist in the Universe by a factor of at least a billion. Hence his omnipotent and ubiquitous wisdom.


Don't tell Grothar, but for Xmas, I bought him a new pair of tennis balls for his walker.
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Quoting Cotillion:


Did Grothar swim with trilobites as well?

The Grothar predates the trilobites and all other objects that exist in the Universe by a factor of at least a billion. Hence his omnipotent and ubiquitous wisdom.
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22640
Quoting hydrus:
In your younger days the Appalachian Mountains were taller than the present Himalaya,s . The Appalachian Mountain range is one of the oldest on the planet.,,,Just worn down a bit..:)


Did Grothar swim with trilobites as well?

Would've preferred to swim with the trilobites. :)

Member Since: August 23, 2008 Posts: 7 Comments: 5300
Quoting VAbeachhurricanes:


can i have a porsche?
Lol...Those fossil posts were intended for Grothar. Next time I will definitely WU-Mail....If you get a Porsche, so help me Darwin I better get my Ferrari...:)
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22640
Yeah, I'm out before I get banned.
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Quoting VAbeachhurricanes:


can i have a porsche?


I don't think I have enough reward points on my credit card.
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yqt1001, VAbeacurricanes---give up the argument! you're getting sucked into a discussion with one of them, and ya might as well beat your head against those rocks. You'd make more progress getting your head bloodied.
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I think I'll leave before I start a full blown argument (I'm strongly anti-theist).
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Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
Think I'll go back to my online Xmas shopping.


can i have a porsche?
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Think I'll go back to my online Xmas shopping.
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Quoting SPLbeater:


i could care less about an aguement, because i will take a stand for my Lord. i dont want anybody to make the choice of going to hell, and unfortunately turning from the truth leads to that. i respect everybodys opinion, but will not sit back and watch others being deceived by false statements

No, you will leave religion off the blog, or get banned permanently. You bringing religion onto the blog has already been the result of TWO arguments.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32830
.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32830
Quoting yqt1001:


People have their right to an opinion..no matter how much you disagree with it (and I).



Can you prove that it didn't happen? Also the vast amount of mining resources and the glacial lakes here should be enough evidence.


i can prove that it earth wasnt here that long ago. its a book called the bible
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4488
Quoting SPLbeater:


accoring to the only perfect being existing(the Lord) there was nothing 500 million years ago. no sun, no earth, no light, nothing

Stop bringing religion onto the blog...It can, and will, lead to arguments.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32830
Quoting VAbeachhurricanes:


stop being so ignorant


People have their right to an opinion..no matter how much you disagree with it (and I).

Quoting SPLbeat:


can you prove that a few billion years past and did that? NO.


Can you prove that it didn't happen? Also the vast amount of mining resources and the glacial lakes here should be enough evidence.
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Quoting SPLbeater:


can you prove that a few billion years past and did that? NO.


Can you prove god created the universe, and no because its written in a book is not proof.
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I live on the oldest landmass in the world (or close). The mountains here were at one time as tall as the Himalayas, but now they are just rolling hills. Kinda amazing what a few billion years of erosion does. I must say though, the terrain here is absolutely beautiful because of the erosion.
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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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