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The Hurricane That Wasn’t

Posted on 09 September 2010

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On Thursday, September 2, the East End was buzzing with talk of Hurricane Earl. Who was preparing and who wasn’t? Who believed the storm, which a day prior had whipped the coast of North Carolina but failed to make landfall, would veer to the west of its predicted course and touch the coast of Montauk? And who was sure the tempest was over-hyped and would be no more than a blip in a year of extreme weather patterns?

Above: Locals snap a photo with the Coast Guard officers stationed on Long Wharf.

In the days before the rain and winds were expected to arrive, municipal officials and the Long Island Power Authority, even residents and marine owners, the entities which couldn’t afford to take any chances, battened down the hatches. While others were tracking the storm online and seemed certain the fallout would miss the East End.

Nancy Haynes, the manager and dock master of the Waterfront Marina in Sag Harbor, was preparing at home and at work.

“I put everything away that could become a missile,” Haynes joked, noting furniture, plants and flags were stowed inside. Her car was filled with a full tank of gas. Extra batteries were purchased and she stocked up on bottled water. At the marina, she contacted every boat owner reminding them to double their lines and take down their sails. Many larger yachts moved on to the Hudson River or the New London Harbor in Connecticut to weather the storm. Boat owners who were living on their vessels were invited and prepared to stay at Hayne’s Sag Harbor home. Days before, municipal officials had already conducted their emergency preparedness meeting.

On Friday, the day the storm was predicted to pass, East Hampton Town set-up their Emergency Operations Center. An estimated 300 Long Island Power Authority vehicles were camped out at the East Hampton airport, noted Sag Harbor Village Mayor Brian Gilbride, in anticipation of power outages. One side of the Long Wharf in Sag Harbor was lined with gray, metal Coast Guard vessels, the officers roaming the boats and downtown Sag Harbor in their bright, arresting orange rain suits. Senior Chief Jason Walter with the Coast Guard station in Montauk explained that the boats were dispatched to the village’s waterfront as a safe haven. He explained that in Montauk the guard’s vessels are tied to floating piers which can be damaged or break away in a severe storm surge.

Downgraded to a tropical storm by Friday evening with winds of around 70 miles per hour, Hurricane Earl proved less disastrous than the rainstorm in March, said many officials.

“Thank God,” East Hampton Town Highway Superintendent Scott King exclaimed of the tempest’s less than eventful showing. He noted that severe weather events tend to put a damper on his budget, pointing out that the March rainstorm cost the town $200,000.

“I was grateful that we didn’t get hit. I have grown up on the East Coast and I have been through hurricanes,” Haynes remarked of witnessing Hurricane Carol, Gloria and Bob. “I didn’t need the experience again [of seeing a hurricane]. There can be so much destruction.”

The damages from Hurricane Earl, officials noted, were slight. King reported that his agency received one phone call on Saturday morning of a fallen tree. The only flooding was in particularly low lying areas of Montauk, he added. Bruce Bates who coordinated the Town’s Emergency Operations Center said most of the phone calls answered were from the media looking for updates on the storm and its affects. Southampton Town Superintendent of Highways Alex Gregor said Southampton’s Dune Road was flooded and was temporarily closed, and one tree fell in Westhampton Beach. In Sagaponack Village, the only area of flooding was Sandune Court, a road that is at the natural water table explained village clerk Rhodi Winchell.

It even appeared that the storm had actually added sand to Sagaponack’s beaches due to the wind circulation. Sag Harbor Village Harbormaster Bob Bori reported only one incident on Saturday morning when fast winds almost pushed a 36-foot boat moored in Sag Harbor Cove onto the beach. On Saturday afternoon, the Southampton Town guarded beaches showed a red flag and the sand was whipped up into a sandstorm.

Officials aren’t summarily dismissing Hurricane Earl. Instead, they are calling the storm a valuable exercise in preparedness and implementing emergency plans.

“For us it was a great training exercise to see how all of our stuff worked,” Gilbride added of the coordination between municipal departments. “Everyone was ready. I don’t think anyone doesn’t like the practice … But I’m glad it missed us.”

Bates believed the county was referring to the storm as a “live drill.” He said in this instance there was more communication within the town on how to prepare for the storm with the police department playing a larger role in these responsibilities. The Emergency Operations Center was staffed with police department employees, he added.

“The fact that we did go through this exercise. I think that it was a positive ending,” he observed.

The East End may have dodged a bullet, but the Long Island Power Authority reminded “customers that almost half of this year’s hurricane season remains” in a release from Saturday, September 4.

“If you were not fully prepared for Hurricane Earl, use it as an opportunity to learn what you need to do before the next storm,” LIPA added.

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