Is New York City Ready For Truly Severe Weather? Depends On Who You Talk To

NEW YORK (CBS 2) — We could still be hit by a hurricane. The season is not over for another two months. And beyond that, experts say our weather is going to get worse.

And there are real concerns that we are running out of time and that a perfect storm will one day arrive.

When Hurricane Irene barreled up the coast last August, flooding whole towns and destroying homes, New York City mostly dodged a big bullet. But up and down the East Coast, Irene cost residents billions of dollars. Experts agree our weather is becoming more severe — from hurricanes and devastating floods to tornadoes and thunderstorms — and they warn that we’re not ready for it.

Jonathan Gaska is the community board president in Rockaway, a low lying area of Queens that he said could go under in the next big storm.

“It could be an utter disaster,” Gaska said.

He said the city isn’t doing enough.

“If there’s a sense of urgency, we certainly haven’t seen it. There are 2 million to 3 million people at risk,” Gaska said.

Professor Malcolm Bowman agreed, saying it’s time to take bold action.

Bowman told CBS 2’s Maurice Dubois there could be a solution — gates in New York’s harbor. He showed CBS 2 the animation that lays out his vision — three multi-billion dollar barriers he said could save the region from disaster.

Here’s how they work: during a storm, massive gates along the barrier drop down, blocking powerful underwater currents. Another gate then swings shut, forming a solid barrier shore to shore. The water is pushed back into the sea and the region is kept safe.

“The gates close behind the ship and the city is protected,” Bowman said.

However, city officials said there’s no need to panic because danger isn’t imminent. And just in case it ever is, they said they do have a plan.

“I would put New York’s record up against any city or state government,” Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway said.

Holloway said the city is taking aggressive action, from shoring up wetlands to spending millions of dollars to physically lift infrastructure out of harm’s way.

“Those are the kinds of incremental investments that we are making. That I think is the right approach,” Holloway said.

Climatologist Dr. Radley Horton agreed that the city is on the right track.

“Wetlands along the coast, more frequent cleaning of storm drains — definitely smaller in their impact, but not insignificant and definitely low cost,” Dr. Horton said.

However, Bowman said he worries about the perfect storm, increasingly worsening weather and precious time running out.

“Sooner or later, God forbid, there’s going to be a catastrophe and I just hope we don’t wait for that to happen before we act,” Bowman said.

Barriers can cost between $5 billion and $10 billion each and take up to 10 years to build.

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