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Heavy Rain in New York City Causes Life-Threatening Flooding

New York City streets flooded after heavy rainfall.
New York City streets submerged in floodwater after record rainfall. Credit: Patrick McFall / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Unprecedented rain in New York City on Friday, September 29, led to a major problem: too much rainwater for the city’s sewer system to handle. This caused serious flooding in the streets, basements, schools, subways, and even cars in the country’s largest city.

The water rose quickly and forcefully, surprising some people who were trying to get to work during Friday morning’s busy rush hour. Emergency responders quickly got to work, rescuing individuals from stranded cars and filling basements like bathtubs.

At New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, a record-breaking amount of rain poured down in a single day, reaching nearly 8 inches. This hasn’t happened since 1948.

Unusually high rainfall

According to scientists, the unusually high amounts of rain in New York City are a sign of climate change. They explain that a warmer atmosphere can hold more water vapor, similar to a big sponge. When it releases this moisture, it comes down as heavy rain in short bursts, which can easily overpower old flood defenses.

Rohit Aggarwala, who is New York City’s Chief Climate Officer, mentioned during a news conference on Friday morning “Overall, as we know, this changing weather pattern is the result of climate change.” He also pointed out the unfortunate truth that our climate is changing faster than our infrastructure can adapt to it.

State of emergency for NYC

New York Governor Kathy Hochul took action on Friday morning by declaring a state of emergency for New York City, Long Island, and the Hudson Valley as the most severe flooding occurred. During an interview with New York’s WNBC-TV, she strongly advised residents to stay at home due to the widespread and hazardous travel conditions.

Hochul emphasized the seriousness of the situation, saying, “This is a very challenging weather event.” She further said, “This a life-threatening event. And I need all New Yorkers to heed that warning so we can keep them safe.”

Safety conditions in New York City

Firefighters from the New York City Fire Department conducted rescue operations in six flooded basements within the city.

Water also managed to enter 150 out of New York City’s 1,400 schools. This information was shared by David Banks, the Chancellor of New York City schools, during a news briefing held on Friday.

In Brooklyn, one school had to be evacuated because the floodwater caused the school’s boiler to produce smoke, as reported by David Banks. He reassured, “Our kids are safe and we continue to monitor the situation.”

The flooding also affected the subway and railway systems, leading to significant problems. This included the suspension of service on 10 train lines in Brooklyn and all three Metro-North train lines. Governor Hochul announced that the city was responding by dispatching extra buses to compensate for the disruption caused by the train shutdowns.

Air travel was also severely impacted. Flight delays affected all three major airports in the New York City area on Friday. At LaGuardia airport, the historic Marine Air Terminal had to be shut down due to flooding. This terminal, which is the smallest at the airport, serves Spirit and Frontier Airlines.

A travel advisory is still in place for New York City until 6 a.m. Eastern Time on Saturday, with the potential for more flooding.

The National Weather Service issued a warning, stating that the New York tri-state area is currently at a Level 3 out of 4, which signifies a “moderate” risk for flash flooding for the remainder of Friday.

The threat of flooding extends beyond New York City and affects approximately 25 million people in the Northeast.

More rainfall is expected for the evening

The heavy rain in New York City continued to move north and east, impacting a large area in southern New England throughout Friday evening.

The most intense rainfall was expected in Connecticut, where flash flood warnings were already in effect on Friday afternoon. Earlier in the day, the southwestern part of the state experienced rainfall of 3 to 4 inches.

From central Connecticut to certain parts of Rhode Island, one to three inches of rain could fall by Friday evening. In Massachusetts, including Boston, widespread rainfall totals of 1 to 2 inches are expected by the time the heaviest rain subsides on Friday night.

Record breaking rainfall

In Brooklyn, an entire month’s worth of rain, reaching up to 4.5 inches, poured down in just 3 hours on Friday morning, based on data from the National Weather Service.

According to estimates by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), this level of rainfall in such a short time is typically expected only once every 100 years in Brooklyn.

In Manhattan, nearly 2 inches of rain fell within a single hour in Central Park, marking the second-highest hourly rainfall in the past 80 years. In total, over 5 inches of rain have fallen in Central Park so far.

Queens experienced its wettest day on record at John F. Kennedy International Airport, as indicated by preliminary data from the National Weather Service. Since midnight, the airport has received at least 7.88 inches of rainfall.

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