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Hurricanes have had major role in American, local history

Hurricanes have had major role in American, local history

Americans have been dealing with fallout for decades

Hurricane Harvey did not behave normally.

It made landfall as a Category 4 storm and quickly deteriorated into a tropical storm event.

Unfortunately, meteorological conditions blocked its movement, causing the storm to stall over southeastern Texas and western Louisiana, dumping an incredible four feet of rain in a four-day period over an extensive area.

The storm affects the nation, as seen in the recent increase in energy prices.

Hurricanes and tropical storms are dangerous and unpredictable.

The National Weather Service (NWS) has greatly reduced the fatality numbers as warning technology continues to improve.

However the NWS was in its infancy when the nation’s worst natural disaster occurred during September of 1900.

A Category 4 hurricane struck Galveston, Texas, with a storm surge up to 15 feet that swept across the barrier island, killing at least 8,000 people.

The Okeechobee Hurricane struck South Florida in 1928 with 125 mph winds, killing 2,500 people.

Twelve years ago, Hurricane Katrina, a Category 3 storm, struck southern Louisiana, breached the inadequate flood protection works protecting New Orleans, and caused 1,500 deaths.

Interestingly, a tropical storm in April of 1836 (likely not a hurricane) saved the rebellious Texans by destroying the Mexican army.

Sam Houston and his small 910-man army captured a 1,250-man section of the Mexican army and its dictator  Santa Anna April 22, 1836, near the future city of Houston.

However, 4,000 crack Mexican soldiers were only two days march away and could have easily crushed Houston’s small army.

That tropical storm impacted at least 200 miles of the Gulf Coast and has been compared to the 2001 Allison storm that dropped 38 inches of rain on the city of Houston.

That storm had a profound affect upon our nation.

Without an independent Texas joining the Union, President James K. Polk would not have provoked the Mexican War and acquired the southwestern section of the country.

Hurricane Irma is a very strong Category 5 hurricane this weekend threatening south Florida and the East Coast. A Category 5 hurricane is very dangerous and rare.

Only three such hurricanes have struck the United States.

The first Category 5 hurricane with 185 mph winds struck the Florida Keys in 1935, killing 408 people.

Hurricane Camille struck the Mississippi coast in 1969 with 175 mph winds that produced a 24-foot storm surge, killing 259 people.

Hurricane Andrew struck south Florida in 1992 and killed 44 people.

The reduced death rate can be credited to ample warnings by the NWS.

We in upstate New York do not realize how vulnerable we are to major coastal storms.

Few remember the devastation of the 1938 New England hurricane that first struck Long Island. That Category 3 hurricane caused 682 fatalities.

In addition, the record shows that a Great Colonial Hurricane struck New England in 1635 with 135 mph winds, causing 46 deaths.

If one looked at the historical tracking of hurricanes, one would see that Long Island is more susceptible to a hurricane strike than north Florida and the Georgia coast.

I will never forget the June 1972 Agnes tropical storm event. That storm developed into a Category 1 hurricane, but winds declined to a tropical storm as it approached New York.

The storm was forecast to tract up the Hudson Valley when meteorological conditions caused it to shift westward.

The storm dropped up to 19 inches of rain over the Southern Tier of New York and Pennsylvania.

The resulting flood breached flood control projects in Corning, Elmira and Salamanca, New York, and in Pennsylvania, and caused 128 fatalities.

Tropical storms Irene and Lee six years ago caused hundreds of millions in damages in the Schenectady area, but no deaths.
The rainfall amounts were approximately one half the amounts as the Agnes event of 1972.

A NWS hydrologist said had the Agnes storm moved as predicted up the Hudson Valley, downtown Schenectady, the General Electric campus and much of Scotia would have flooded.

I worry over the potential of Mohawk River flooding.

I am convinced that the Vischer Ferry Dam increases flooding in the Schenectady/Scotia reach of the river, as floods cannot pass through that barrier but must flow over the spillway.

I am pleased to report that the New York Power Authority, which is responsible for that structure, is seriously studying this important issue.

Russ Wege of Glenville is a retired engineer.

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