120 Years Since the 1893 NY Hurricane & the Disappearance of Hog Island

As the industry and modeling organizations continue to learn from the impacts of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, it’s important to know that this event, although historical and record breaking on many counts, was not unprecedented.

The historical record shows that there have been dozens of other tropical cyclones to impact the Northeast U.S., some of which were more intense than Hurricane Sandy from both a wind and surge perspective.

Noteworthy examples include the 1938 New England Hurricane, 1954 Hurricane Carol, and the 1893 New York Hurricane, which will be marking its 120th anniversary on August 24. This storm is notable for being one of only two hurricanes to make a direct landfall in New York City, the other being the 1821 Long Island Hurricane.

First identified as a tropical storm on August 15, 1893 in the central Atlantic Ocean, the storm gradually intensified over the next seven days as it tracked northwestward toward the U.S. By August 22, it had reached its peak intensity of 115 mph (185 km/h), categorizing it as major hurricane status (Category 3). At this point, it began to recurve to the north, bringing it in-line with coastal New Jersey and New York. Two days later, after land interaction with parts of New Jersey resulted in some weakening, the storm made landfall on western Long Island with peak winds around 85 mph (140 km/h).

The hurricane impacted much of the coastal and interior portions of the Northeast with tropical-storm force winds, and much of the New York City with hurricane-force winds. From a surge perspective, the storm brought a 30-foot (9.1 m) storm surge that completely flooded southern Brooklyn and Queens, NY, along with many other low-lying regions.

Here is an extract from the New York Times on August 25, 1893.

Given the severity of this storm’s surge component, it is well known for destroying the majority of Hog Island, a 1 mile (1.6 km) long island that existed south of the modern-day Long Island coast.

According to version 13.0 of the RMS U.S. Hurricane Model, if the 1893 New York Hurricane were to occur today, the modeled insured losses from a wind-only perspective would be $6.4 billion, and $6.9 billion from a wind and surge perspective. Although not as damaging as Hurricane Sandy, this storm would be a top-10 historical event in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions.

Compared to Hurricane Sandy, the 1893 New York Hurricane was estimated to have been smaller in overall size and intensity at landfall, but significantly larger in terms of surge height and extent. Model-generated hazard and damage footprints for the 1893 New York Hurricane are narrower in width and comparable in terms of peak wind gust.

Further, the impacted areas are confined to coastal New England regions due to the traditional clockwise recurving nature of the storm. On the contrary, Hurricane Sandy took a counterclockwise turn toward the coast just before landfall and prior to recurving toward the north and east, which resulted in a hazard footprint that included many Mid-Atlantic states.

Nevertheless, an event such as the 1893 New York Hurricane demonstrates that from a hazard perspective, Hurricane Sandy was not an once-in-a-lifetime type of storm.

Similar events have and will continue to occur in the future, especially given the period of heightened hurricane activity in the Atlantic, and high surge risk in the Northeast U.S. During this time, it is imperative that the industry increases awareness of these risks and monitors them accordingly.

Meteorologist and Manager, Model Product Strategy, RMS
Jeff Waters is a meteorologist who specializes in tropical meteorology, climatology, and general atmospheric science. At RMS, Jeff is responsible for guiding the insurance market’s understanding and usage of RMS models including the North American hurricane, severe convective storm, earthquake, winter storm, and terrorism models. In his role he assists the development of RMS model release communications and strategies, and regularly interacts with rating agencies and regulators around RMS model releases, updates, and general model best practices. Jeff is a member of the American Meteorological Society, the International Society of Catastrophe Managers, and the U.S. Reinsurance Under 40s Group, and has co-authored articles for the Journal of Climate. Jeff holds a BS in geography and meteorology from Ohio University and an MS in meteorology from Penn State University. His academic achievements have been recognized by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the American Meteorological Society.

2 thoughts on “120 Years Since the 1893 NY Hurricane & the Disappearance of Hog Island

  1. Jeff Waters Post author

    Hi Andrew, thank you for your comment and interest. We always welcome and appreciate feedback from our readers. In regards to your question, the seemingly low surge insured loss estimate for the 1893 event if it were to occur today reflects the amount of insured surge loss that the market would carry, after taking the following into consideration: 1) surge losses paid out under the National Flood Insurance Program, which are excluded from our estimate, 2) a relatively small amount of “coverage leakage”, i.e. Storm surge damage paid out under wind-only policies if the event were to occur today, and 3) the percentage of properties that have flood cover being relatively low in the impacted area. Further, the 30-foot surge that was reported in 1893 may not lead to as extensive flooding today, given the changes to the topography that have have occurred since 1893 with all the development since that time, which have acted to elevate buildings in general in very high risk areas. We should also bear in mind that given the event occurred over 100 years ago, the observations of flood extent are limited. Hopefully this information is helpful. Please let us know if you have any additional questions.

  2. Andrew Siffert

    I don’t want to downplay the importance of Sandy in historical terms and what the risk modeling companies have learned. I also think you made valid points that Sandy was not an once-in-a-lifetime type of storm and the New York City area has been hit by numerous hurricanes and tropical storms in the past. However, your comments around the expected loss from the 1893 hurricane according to the new V13 RMS NAHU model need to be clarified.

    According to the RMS Press Release

    “Our model shows there is a 20 percent chance that storm surge loss will be greater than wind loss for any U.S hurricane that makes landfall, which rises to almost 40 percent along the northeast coast of the United States — this is a risk the market can no longer afford to ignore.””

    So with this understanding and the fact you have written the 1983 New York Hurricane “brought a 30-foot (9.1 m) storm surge that completely flooded southern Brooklyn and Queens, NY, along with many other low-lying regions”

    According to the RMS USHU model there is additional surge loss of only $0.5billion. ($6.9B –$ 6.4B =$0.5B ) as I am sure there is some surge leakage into the wind complement of the loss. The overall loss value seems low considering the water level far exceeds anything observed from hurricane Sandy according to the NOAA Water Level and Meteorological Data Report and that there is a 40 percent chance that storm surge loss will be greater than wind loss for any U.S. hurricane making landfall.

    As you pointed out each storm is unique in its impacts, but my general thoughts to expect damage from a storm similar to 1983 New York Hurricane is RMS estimated Sandy Loss at $20-25 Billion and PCS has settled at 18.7 Billion. Hurricane Irene (2011) causes 4.3 billion in loss and as you know neither of these produced hurricane force wind over the very populated New York City area.

    Let’s hope it is another 120 years before we have to see how the RMS models validates a similar 1983 New York Hurricane.



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