By one measure, 2012 has already been a notable year for tropical storms, though the Northeast wouldn’t know it. The ninth “named” storm of the season has developed and may grow into a hurricane as it passes just south of Puerto Rico.
At this time last year, Hurricane Irene, which, like the Caribbean’s present visitor, Isaac, was also the ninth of the season, had Long Island in its gun sights. Its path varied from the forecasts, but it made an initial landfall in North Carolina as a category one, or lowest-level hurricane, causing widespread damage. Its center passed over Coney Island at mid-day on Aug. 28, though by then the winds had diminished to about 63 miles per hour.
Eastern Long Island saw downed trees, some inundation by high tides, although that was limited, and prolonged power outages. The worst flooding took place far inland, and it was catastrophic in New Jersey, Massachusetts, Vermont, and parts of upstate New York. According to the official report from the National Hurricane Center, there were 41 deaths attributed to this storm in the United States. The total U.S. damage was estimated at $15.8 billion.
The far eastern points of Long Island were spared by most measures. Montauk saw a storm surge of less than three feet. The 1938 Hurricane, the standard by which our storms are judged, brought with it a storm surge estimated at 14 to 25 feet as it roared ashore on an otherwise ordinary Sept. 21. Photographs of some of the hell it wrought here are on view through Oct. 8 at Clinton Academy.
Irene, which had become a tropical storm when its outer winds and rain struck East Hampton, is all but forgotten now. The 2011 Atlantic season spawned another 11 systems, six of them hurricanes, though none threatened here. Tropical Storm Sean touched Bermuda in November, and for another year, Long Island had dodged the inevitable.
Do take a look at the East Hampton Historical Society’s exhibit at Clinton Academy if you are in the area on Saturday or Sunday. It is an important reminder.