Harbor Leaves Battery Particularly Vulnerable

The Battery may be down, as the song goes, but let’s hope it’s not down far enough to be flooded by the storm surge that climate experts say Hurricane Irene will be capable of pushing into New York Harbor.

“A hurricane of that size is capable of driving large volumes of water into a funnel-shaped space like New York Harbor,” said Radley Horton, a climate scientist at the Center for Climate Systems Research at Columbia University.

City Room asked Dr. Horton to walk the Battery with us on Friday morning to discuss the storm’s potential impact on the harbor and Lower Manhattan.

He pointed out that hurricanes of this size have flooded parts of Manhattan in the past, but he cautioned against conjuring “an apocalyptic flooding scenario.” He said a storm would have to hit New York City pretty directly, and at a fairly high tide, for this even to be possible.

But Dr. Horton said that as of Friday afternoon, the storm was large enough that it could push large volumes of seawater with it up the coast and into the harbor, even if its winds died down when it hit New York. He said the city was especially vulnerable because of the utility and other equipment in low-lying areas that make New York run.

On the street, pedestrians expressed mixed opinions about the forecast of severe weather. Two tourists from France said they were concerned only that their flight home on Monday could be delayed.

One of them, Regine Lehner, said it was pointless to worry about the uncontrollable, adding, “C’est la nature.”

A worker in Battery Park, Chris Voltaire — “Like the philosopher; he’s my great-uncle.” — scoffed at the talk of a hurricane.

“It’s all hype,” he said. “Everyone will be back at work on Monday.”

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