Storm Reading: Gotham Edition

Boston cancelled school. Match follows the BPS calendar. So the building is quiet today, except for the 40 tutors living upstairs. So I offer you this. Back in the day, I played b-ball with a sturdy fellow named Aaron Naparstek; he had a nice touch from the baseline.

In 2005, he wrote a great article...about what could happen if a Sandy-like storm hit New York City.

Professor Coch, whose business card reads "forensic hurricanologist," believes that the best way to understand New York City’s hurricane future is to study its past. He became New York City’s leading hurricane historian virtually by accident.

After the nor’easters of December 1992 and March 1993 devastated Rockaway, Coch sent a group of his coastal-geology undergrads to observe the Army Corps of Engineers replenishing beaches with sand dredged from the sea. The students reported back that "the beach was covered in garbage. Coch remembers telling them, "Get used to it. This is New York City." But they said, "No, this is funny garbage." In the dredged-up sand, Coch’s students found hundreds of artifacts: plates, whiskey bottles, teapots, beer mugs, lumps of coal and, what proved to be the most telling clue of all, an old hurricane lamp. Mystified at how a treasure trove of 19th-century objects could have wound up underwater hundreds of feet off the coast of Rockaway, Coch and his students began investigating.

It took them about two years to unravel the mystery of Hog Island: New York City’s version of Atlantis.

It turns out there was once a small, sandy spit of an island off the southern coast of Rockaway. In the years after the Civil War, developers built saloons and bathhouses, and Hog Island became a sort of 1890s version of the Hamptons. During the summers, the city’s Democratic bosses used Hog Island as a kind of outdoor annex of Tammany Hall. That all ended on the night of August 23, 1893, when a terrifying category-2 hurricane rolled up from Norfolk, Virginia, and made landfall on what is now JFK airport.

The storm was a major event. All six front-page columns of the August 25, 1893 New York Times were dedicated to the "unexampled fury" of the "West Indian monster" and the damage it wrought throughout the region. Dozens of boats were sunk, and scores of sailors perished. In Central Park "more than a hundred noble trees were torn up by the roots," and thousands of sparrows lay dead on the ground. "Gangs of small boys roamed through the Park in the early hours of the morning collecting the dead sparrows and picking their feathers."

Read the whole thing here.

What happened to Hog Island?

"Hog Island largely disappeared that night," Coch says. "As far as I know, it is the only incidence of the removal of an entire island by a hurricane."