Hurricane Irene 2011: Damage, Destruction, Rebuilding, and Before and After Photos

On August 28, 2011, Hurricane Irene slammed into the Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains, causing devastating floods and other storm damage. One year later, the cleanup and rebuilding continues


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hurricane irene satellite imageSatellite image of Hurricane Irene, courtesy of NASA

Why Irene hit so hard 

Hurricane Irene began as a Category 3 hurricane with winds of 115 miles per hour, slamming the Bahamas on August 24 (pictured at right). It crawled up the Eastern Seaboard, made landfall in North Carolina, and proceeded to pummel the Northeast.

Part of what made Irene so potent was its slow speed. Because the storm inched along at only 14 miles per hour — about half the usual speed of coastal storms — the brutal rains stayed put. “The flooding that resulted was a major factor” why the Prattsville area was hit so hard, said Harvey Thurm, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration office in Bohemia, N.Y. “The biggest impact with these storms is usually felt along the coast, but this time it was more inland. The combination of strong winds and heavy rains was especially destructive.” Oversaturated soil weakened tree roots and building foundations, sending trees and structures toppling, resulting in widespread power outages. The relentless rain caused normally tranquil streams and rivers to rise quickly — many of them swollen with tree limbs, roots, and other storm debris that crashed through towns during the floods.

A second element affecting the flooding was the meteorological phenomenon known as orographic lift. “Orographic lift occurs when air is forced to rise along the slopes of a hill or mountain,” said Raphael Miranda, the weekend meteorologist for NBC New York. “As the air rises and cools, it loses its ability to ‘hold’ moisture, and this can lead to precipitation. Imagine the air is a wet towel, and as it rises the rain is wrung out of the towel. This is what happened as Irene approached the Catskills. The orographically enhanced rainfall was one of several factors which led to the devastating flooding.”   

Still another factor in Irene’s path of destruction was the storm’s huge size; swirling out more than 250 miles from the eye, nearly 55 million people were in its dangerous path. Weather experts compared Irene to deadly Hurricane Katrina, which hit six years earlier, nearly to the day (it battered New Orleans on August 29, 2005); Katrina stretched nearly 290 miles wide.

» Next: Irene’s blow to local farms and crops

1 & 2: Greene County Route 42 between Lexington and West Kill, as it looked in September 2011 (1) and June 2012 (2). 3: Main Street in Tannersville at the height of the flooding. 4 & 5: Scenes of flooding near Margaretville taken by Gov. Cuomo from his car. 6 & 7: After the waters receded, the cleanup began. Mud covers the floor at Cave Mountain brewery in Windham (6) and the Zadock Pratt Museum in Prattsville (7)

photographs:  robert j. near (1 & 2), bobby janiszewski (3), gov. andrew cuomo (4 & 5), courtesy cave mountain brewery (6),  larry gambon (7)


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