Here’s a storm track of 1985 Hurricane Gloria, via Stormpulse:
Strolling around the internet, I’ve seen a lot of Northeasterners pooh-poohing Irene’s threat, reasoning that Gloria hit about the same way. Gloria didn’t destroy much, so Irene and its lower windspeeds will be a popgun by contrast.
Here‘s Wikipedia on Gloria:
Gloria’s high winds caused significant damage across Long Island and southeastern New York. The area hit the worst was eastern Long Island, where high wind gusts blew thousands of trees into buildings and across roads. The broadcast tower of WBLI-FM toppled on Bald Hill in Farmingville. In addition, the winds ripped roofs off of many buildings, including hangars at the MacArthur Airport and the roof of the Islip Police Station. Prolonged exposure to high winds and waves led to moderate beach erosion, washing away several piers and docks. The storm surge, though relatively weak, destroyed 48 houses on the ocean side of the island. Gloria’s high winds left 683,000 people in New York without power, with some lacking electricity for over eleven days. . .
So Gloria was no picnic. But Irene is different from Gloria.
It is slower. Gloria got from the Outer Banks to Long Island in 10 hours. That means more rain to weaken the base that trees sit on (Gloria left about 4″).
It has a wider wind field, so more people are likely to feel hurricane force winds – like Essex County, NJ, where I live – maybe 40 miles from Irene’s eye. We’re going to have 40 mph winds for 12 hours – nine from the east and three from the west.
The storm I think about: Hurricane Hugo hitting Charlotte in 1989. Hugo was remarkable because it was powerful enough to bring tropical storm winds far inland, hitting trees that had never known that sort of force. Again, Wikipedia:
By the time it reached Charlotte, North Carolina, Hugo was still a fairly strong tropical storm with sustained winds of 54 mph (87 km/h) and gusts of 87 mph (140 km/h). This was enough to topple trees across roads and houses, leaving many without power, closing schools for as long as two weeks, and spawning several tornadoes. Hugo reached the city of Charlotte only six hours after landfall, and the City of Conover around 7:00 am causing heavy rain and tearing down hundreds of trees. which is roughly 200 mi (320 km) inland.
In all, 29 counties in North Carolina were declared federal disaster areas, with damages in that state alone estimated at $1 billion (1989 USD, $1.77 billion 2011 USD).
New Jersey, for example, hasn’t been hit by anything like this since 1903. There are a lot of big old trees in New Jersey, even near the Shore in towns like Avon, Belmar and Spring Lake. Those mighty oaks were eight-foot saplings the last time they got so battered.
Lots of wind + different directions + soft ground + old trees = toppled trees. Lots and lots of them.
I worry that the field will be wide enough to damage tens of thousands of trees along the east coast, with those trees striking homes and power lines, causing so many outages that it could be a week, maybe more before power is restored.