Irene Weakens to Tropical Storm as it Makes Landfall on New York’s Coney Island

New York Grand Central Empty After Evacuation due to Hurricane IreneBOSTON, Aug. 28, 2011 – According to catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide, Irene deviated slightly from the NHC forecast track yesterday, taking a slight westward shift before resuming its north-northeast direction. This brought the center of the storm into New Jersey, near Little Egg Inlet, for its second landfall at 5:30 am this morning. Sustained winds, as reported by the NHC, were 75 mph.

“It is worth noting, however, that as yet there have been no onshore wind observations of greater than tropical storm force since Irene made landfall near Cape Lookout yesterday,” said Dr. Tim Doggett, principal scientist, AIR Worldwide. “This suggests that the winds as measured by the reconnaissance aircraft are not being transferred efficiently to the surface.”

At 9:00 am, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) issued a special advisory indicating that Irene had weakened to a strong tropical storm and was located directly over New York City after making a third landfall on Coney Island. Maximum sustained winds have fallen to 65 mph. The storm is moving toward the north-northeast at 26 mph.

Dr. Doggett continued, “Storm surge of 4 to 8 feet above ground level is likely along much of the Mid-Atlantic and New England coasts. Irene is also expected to produce rainfall accumulations of 5 to 10 inches across the region from eastern Pennsylvania to western Massachusetts.”

Tropical storm force winds extend outward to 320 miles. Hurricane Irene has flooded streets, downed trees and peeled off roof coverings from North Carolina to New York.

Dr. Doggett added, “There are isolated reports of roofs having blown off, exposing contents to wind and water damage from pounding rain. Still, reports of significant structural damage have been limited-and much of that the result of downed trees. There have also been isolated incidents of fires sparked by downed power lines and exploding transformers. Several tornados have also been spawned by Irene.”

In New York City, water lapped over the sea wall along the East River and Battery Park, producing some flooding of streets and sidewalks. However, now that the center of the storm has moved onshore and high tide has passed, water levels will begin to diminish. The worst-case scenario of a lower Manhattan under water and flooded subways has been averted.

Irene has knocked out power to an estimated 3 million people and that number is expected to rise as the storm moves inland. More than two million people were ordered to evacuate in advance of Hurricane Irene’s arrival on the U.S. East Coast-about 1.5 million of them in the New York and New Jersey areas. It will have been the largest evacuation since Hurricane Frances.

According to AIR, this could have a significant impact on insurance losses from Additional Living Expenses (ALE), particularly in the Northeast where the cost of hotels and living expenses are higher. Although mandatory evacuation is not always covered in homeowners insurance policies, these losses are often paid for reasons of good will.

Business interruption losses could also be significant. Hundreds of flights have been cancelled across the region. Atlantic City, usually bustling with activity, has been closed down for two days, and hotels in New York City are well below capacity.

Dr. Doggett concluded, “Irene should continue to weaken as it moves inland. The forecast track has remained virtually unchanged over the last several days. The center of the storm will arrive in Massachusetts sometime this afternoon, where 16,000 homes and business are already without power. After that, extratropical transition should occur as Irene tracks up western Maine and into Canada.”

AIR continues to monitor the progress of Irene closely. Loss estimates for Irene will be provided on Monday.

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