Keeping Watch On A Hurricane's Eye

Michelle Napoli | August 27, 1998

Weather predictions indicated that Hurricane Bonnie was likely to pass by the East End today, but officials were keeping a watchful eye this week and preparing in case storm-related emergencies did arise.

The Weather Service was expecting Hurricane Bonnie to hit the North Carolina shore around 8 p.m. but then get pushed out to sea - "far enough to sea," said Bob Chartuk, a spokesman for the National Weather Service, at around noon yesterday, "that there's no direct impact on Long Island."

Mr. Chartuk said the Weather Service expected to see Bonnie pass by Long Island about 200 miles offshore this afternoon and into Friday. If Bonnie hits the East End at all, the spokesman added, it will be "the very outskirts" of the storm.

No Swimming

Yesterday morning the East End was already experiencing six to eight-foot ocean seas, Mr. Chartuk said.

On the East End, the indirect impact of the 400-mile-wide storm is expected to include gale-force winds, heavy surf, and severe rip tides such as those that have already claimed three lives elsewhere on the East Coast since the weekend.

Large swells and severe rip tides have meant good surfing, but all ocean beaches in East Hampton and Southampton Towns have been closed to swimming indefinitely.

Swimming and boating in these waters would be dangerous, Mr. Chartuk said, although as the weekend approaches the large swell combined with a potential for offshore winds may create even better surfing conditions. In fact, local surf shops reported a little more business than usual thanks to Hurricane Bonnie.

Early Meeting

In addition, all south shore beaches in East Hampton Town and Village have been closed to four-wheel driving. County and state campgrounds in East Hampton Town and elsewhere on Long Island were preparating to evacuate if necessary.

Emergency personnel for East Hampton Town and Village, including members of its fire departments, Dory Rescue Squad, and Police Departments, met on Tuesday night, a week and a half earlier than they had originally planned, to prepare for this year's hurricane season. It is expected to be busier than usual.

The brush-by is expected to create "very high surf and perhaps higher than usual tides," Mr. Chartuk said. It will also worsen a perennial problem - erosion.

Erosion The Problem

In Montauk, there was "very little beach" at Ditch Plain, Larry Penny, the East Hampton Town natural resources director, reported yesterday morning. "If we just get a brush-by," he said, "Ditch Plain is still a concern."

The ocean beaches of Wainscott and Napeague also are areas of concern, as are, on the north side, Lazy Point in Amagansett, Gerard and Louse Points in Springs, and Soundview Drive in Montauk, Mr. Penny said.

Members of the Natural Resources Department have been videotaping the south shore to study the effects of storm activity, and may get up in the air to photograph it if weather permits, Mr. Penny said.

Vulnerable Next Time

East Hampton Village is keeping a sharp eye on the storm's progression, Larry Cantwell, the Village Administrator, said. Other than warning people not to swim in the ocean, however, no storm-related preparations were under way as of yesterday morning.

Erosion was on Mr. Cantwell's mind, also. This summer the ocean beach has grown wider after a spring of severe erosion, but had not quite built back all its bulk, Mr. Cantwell said. Already, two days of rough water "has cut the beach back quite a bit," and in some places the water has not reached but is "starting to approach the road ends."

"I don't think anything's threatened . . . at the moment," Mr. Cantwell said. Whatever impact Bonnie has on East Hampton's coast, he said, "makes us vulnerable to another storm."

Supervisor Cathy Lester said the Town Department of Harbors and Docks was keeping an eye on Gerard, Louse, and Lazy Points and Ditch Plain, and particularly the mobile home parks in the latter two areas.

If storm surges make evacuations necessary it will probably be in those low-lying coastal areas, the Supervisor said, and emergency evacuation centers will be opened as needed. Supervisor Lester encouraged residents to listen to local radio stations for up-to-date information on emergency measures.

She said she hoped residents would "keep an eye on their neighbors," particularly the elderly, and those with medical problems. Residents with special medical needs, especially any using an electrically powered life support system, have been asked to call the Town Human Services Department.

Blue Skies Next

Tuesday night's meeting was to update local officials about changes in how visual assessment of storm damage is done within the first 24 hours, Ms. Lester said.

As personnel such as fire department members evacuating residents from low-lying areas assess what kind of damage has been wrought, the information is passed along to county, state, and Federal emergency agencies to evaluate what kind of extra help and equipment may be necessary. It also creates a record of damage that may be helpful to homeowners later as they deal with insurance claims, she said.

The good news, as of noon yesterday, was that the storm was expected to move "very rapidly" as it passes by our corner of the world, meaning Saturday could bring beautiful weather to the East End, Mr. Chartuk said. Meanwhile, the Weather Service is also keeping an eye on Hurricane Danielle, which is following the same Atlantic track that Bonnie has traveled.