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Hudson River Almanac: Special Hurricane Irene Issue August 27 - 31, 2011

OVERVIEW

The National Hurricane Center initiated advisories for what would become hurricane Irene on August 20. By August 22, Irene had made landfall at hurricane strength near Puerto Rico. It quickly strengthened while passing through The Bahamas. Irene made its first continental U.S. landfall over eastern North Carolina's Outer Banks on August 27, and moved north along southeastern Virginia. After briefly heading over water Irene made its second landfall near Little Egg Inlet, New Jersey, on August 28. Irene was downgraded to a tropical storm as its center of circulation made its third landfall in the Coney Island area of Brooklyn, New York, later that day. Traveling north-northeast, Irene deposited major amounts of rainfall on the Hudson River watershed and New England.

The following special issue of the weekly Hudson River Almanac spans the five days before, during, and after the passing of Irene. Although these entries highlight some of the storm's unusual natural history occurrences and impacts on the ecosystem, they by no means should steal attention from Irene's calamitous effects on human communities in the region. Hurricane-turned-tropical-storm Irene gave us a graphic lesson on what we mean by "watershed."

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

8/27 - Kingston, HRM 92: I spotted two golden plovers flying south down the Hudson River from Kingston Point beach this evening.
- Jim Clinton Jr.

[The American golden-plover is an Arctic shorebird known for its long migrations. In fall, most follow an offshore route, taking off from Maritime Canada and New England for a non-stop flight to South America. A few do migrate through our area. Either way, their flight south was likely to be impacted by the far-reaching cyclonic winds of Irene. Tom Lake, Steve Stanne.]

8/27 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: The gentle, steady rain that started around noon was the beginning of our hurricane Irene experience. I watched two hummingbirds sitting on the garden fence "showering." Over and over, they fluffed their feathers and stroked down their sides with their bills. They spread their wings, and twisted their bodies. They squirmed and fluttered as they aimed their tiny breasts to the falling rain. Finally satisfied, they shook all their feathers back into place and resumed the business of jousting and feeding as the rain fell.
- Robin Fox

8/27 to 8/28 - Hudson River, HRM 69-66: On Friday, we came in the Ambrose Channel, planning to berth at the Caven Point Army Corps of Engineers dock in Jersey City. That was the plan until the forecast started calling for southeast winds and the Army Corps sent its boats off the dock. So on Saturday we headed upriver, planning to jog around the Hudson Highlands through the worst of it and ride the backside winds back to the city and home. We ended up south of Poughkeepsie riding out the storm. Despite our sea stories of grueling weather, we did things the RV Seawolf way and had a cookout with tuna steaks and corn on the grill as the rains began. The storm hit with a fury and we jogged off the Barker gravel operation [at Clinton Point] all night - it was a wonderfully lit landmark during a night of almost zero visibility in the driving rain. It seemed as though every boat in New York Harbor went up the Hudson, and all our accumulated knowledge of the river came in handy as we bobbed and weaved among all the anchored tugs and barges, ferries, tour boats, and Coast Guard cutters. Three A.M. found us off Danskammer Point, coming by a large articulated tug barge unit in the driving rain. Newburgh Bay alone must of had 15-20 tug and barge units hiding out - quite a sight. As daylight came we got to see the Hudson overflow its banks, putting many marinas and homes along the banks under water. We headed downstream earlier than many boats as we wanted to transit in daylight. You would not believe the logs and floating debris!
- Steve Cluett, Captain SUNY Stony Brook RV Seawolf

8/28 - Germantown, HRM 109: We evacuated our riverbank house this morning as the Hudson surged beyond normal high tide and started to flood our yard. We have been watching water levels closely since we bought our riverbank property in 1984, and Irene was definitely the highest water level since then.
- Kaare Christian

8/28 - Beacon, HRM 61: Irene's storm surge finally made its way upriver with the midday high tide, and it was impressive. The river had risen and overrun the flood plain; a strong west wind was pushing the water shoreward and Long Dock Park was totally under water ranging from 2 to 4 feet deep. As precipitation finally ended late in the day, the rainfall total was 8.03 inches.
- Tom Lake

[Some of the higher Hudson Valley rainfall totals (inches) from Irene included Shandaken (Ulster) 11.5, Tuxedo Park (Orange) 11.45, and Yonkers (Westchester) 8.15. National Weather Service.]

8/28 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: Yesterday, as the rain "fell" horizontally, hummingbirds zipped back and forth. I'd taken the hanging flower baskets down and lashed the feeders to the fence. It took just a few zips for the little birds to find the feeders. It rained and rained, window sills leaked, gutters overflowed and the cellar sump pump was overwhelmed. The rain stopped this morning as Irene dragged her long cape of weather up the coast, bringing amazing wind. I felt I could see the wind currents in the same way you can see water currents in a stream. Through the woods I could see slender trees bending at right angle to the ground while several yards away, other trees stood motionless. The winds swept, flowed, slammed until dark. Through all the tumult of falling twigs, blasts of wind and swaying perches, the hummingbirds darted back and forth to feed. When they lit on the fence, they were like little moored sailboats, holding fast.
- Robin Fox

8/28 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 34.5: In late afternoon we spotted three sooty terns and eight black terns. One adult sooty tern passed very close to us as it flew across the trestle at the mouth of the Croton River. Another was an immature and the third was a distant adult skimming the water at Croton Point. The black terns were composed of three adults in fading plumage and five juveniles. We also saw 20 common terns and one Forster's Tern.
- Lewis Lolya, Michael Lolya

[The sooty tern is a tropical species. It nests as near to us as The Bahamas, but as described in The Birds of North America Online, "This is a species that lives on the wing - well known for its ability to stay airborne for years at a time between fledging and first breeding, never coming to land during the nonbreeding season, and essentially never seen resting on the water." It's one of many pelagics - birds of the open ocean - that might be seen during coastal storms, drawing hopeful birders to shoreline vantage points in the thick of the bad weather. When a hurricane's eye is right at the coast or inland, as was the case with Irene, the counterclockwise circulation results in a powerful easterly and southeasterly wind flow off the ocean as the storm approaches, sweeping pelagic birds into land. Given the tropical origins of these storms, hardy birders are often rewarded with rarely-seen species from warmer seas as well as more northern pelagics and migrants that are southbound offshore in late summer. Steve Stanne]

8/28 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: A black-necked stilt was spotted at the former General Motors facility on the Hudson River. In addition, we identified three bridled terns and three Wilson's storm petrels.
- Evan Edelbaum, Ben Van Doren, Bob Lewis, Lewis Lolya, Michael Lolya

[The black-necked stilt is a shorebird that breeds along the coast from Delaware south. The bridled tern is a seabird of the tropics and subtropics, usually not seen closer to us than the waters off Virginia. The Wilson's storm petrel may be the most abundant bird in the world, but one would never suspect that here in New York. It nests in the Southern Hemisphere in our winter and is found over the northern oceans during our summer months. Tom Lake, Steve Stanne.]

8/28 - Manhattan, HRM 8: An hour-long watch on the Hudson River from the overlook in Riverside Park at 116th Street was rewarded with two sooty terns, a non-breeding adult and a juvenile. At least seven Wilson's storm petrels were also present at varying points as well as two Leach's storm petrels.
- Jacob Drucker, Lila Fried, Rich Fried

[Like the Wilson's storm petrel, the Leach's storm petrel is a pelagic seabird usually spotted a considerable distance offshore. Unlike Wilson's, Leach's storm petrels nest in the Northern Hemisphere - in the western Atlantic, on islands from Massachusetts north. Tom Lake, Steve Stanne.]

8/28 - Manhattan, HRM 7: Some of us spotted several Wilson's storm petrels on the Hudson River between the west 100s and west 80s. From the pier on West 70th Street [HRM 5], we also spotted a sooty tern.
- Peter Post

8/28 - Manhattan, HRM 5: A royal tern was seen from the West 70th Street pier.
- Ardith Bondi

[The royal tern is a coastal species uncommonly seen north of Virginia. Tom Lake.]

8/29 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Storm damage in the area from Irene was not too dramatic. Some trees were down, some power outages, and 2.8" of rain. However, I have never seen the Hudson River as brown and muddy as it is today. It looks like the rivers and streams that you see adjacent to agricultural lands.
- Charlotte Demers

8/29 - The Falls at Cohoes, HRM 157: At dawn on the day after Irene, the rock face of the falls at Cohoes was overrun, completely hidden by the Mohawk River. Fueled by flood waters and colored by sediments from the Schoharie system in the northern Catskills, the river was running red. The scene evoked images of the catastrophic deluge of glacial Lake Iroquois cascading over the falls 12,000 years ago.
- Tom Lake

[The Cohoes Falls flow over graywacke (a hard sandstone) and shale, and range from 75-90 feet high. Tom Lake.]

8/29 - Green Island, HRM 153: Anglers at Green Island normally scramble down a 25-foot embankment to the river. At the new moon high tide today the river had climbed the escarpment. The seventeen-foot-high federal dam at the head of tide was simply a bump in the river as the Hudson flowed over the top without losing a step.
- Tom Lake

8/29 - Rensselear County, HRM 141: A white-tailed tropicbird was recovered as it sat on the side of the road in Stephentown. This was one of several white-tailed tropicbird reports from the Hudson Valley following the passing of Irene.
- Jesse Jaycox

[The white-tailed tropicbird is a pelagic species found in subtropical and tropical oceans around the world. It nests as near to us as Bermuda and The Bahamas. Tom Lake, Steve Stanne.]

8/29 - Germantown, HRM 109: In the aftermath of hurricane Irene, our Hudson river front yard contained one-third of a gazebo (a neighbor found a gazebo bench labeled "Al's gazebo"), a melon in edible condition if it hadn't been cracked open and soaked in storm debris, a float from the nearby town docks, a television in what looked like good condition, and a water quality test kit. A can of Bud Lite beer floated directly to my door, unopened and ready to drink. Our picnic table floated away, but we found it lodged in the nearby woods.
- Kaare Christian

8/29 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: The Hudson ran red owing to the flooded sediments from the Catskills through Schoharie Creek and the Mohawk River. The seal bobbed up in the turbid river a few times and we had to wonder how it was navigating the opaque water in search for his favorite catfish.
- Tom Lake, Bob Johnson

8/29 - New Paltz, HRM 78: While the lower part of our property was covered by near record-setting flooding of Wallkill River this morning, our house, yard, and gardens were luckily well above the water. Nonetheless, a garter snake was apparently taking no chances, curled up in a ball five feet up in the topmost stems of our butterfly bush.
- Cara Lee, Steve Stanne

8/29 - Manitou, HRM 47.5: After Irene passed and the winds had switched to the west, we went out to assess the damage to our piece of the river shore. The flood tide and the included storm surge had been the highest I could remember witnessing in my 50+ years at Manitou. The river, back at a normal flood tide level, was within a half hour of the predicted dead low tide and not receding. The current flow downriver was ripping at a speed I have never seen with the west side muddied and the east clear, not mixing together but staying separate. It could have been the next flood tide trying to push its way upriver against the tremendous flow towards the sea. The river is over 100 feet deep in our reach but there were what appeared to be rapids with swirls and eddies, characteristics of a shallower river. Waves turning up the surface, their tops turning to mist by the wind and dark threatening clouds racing to the east, presented the Hudson in a way that we had not seen before. Speechless and in awe, it was a scene we will never forget. This river never ceases to amaze.
- Owen Sullivan, Zshawn Sullivan

8/29 - Brooklyn, New York City: I was back to work at Floyd Bennett Field today thinking about how this week was sort of odd. It isn't every week that an earthquake hits and then a major hurricane barrels up the coast to clobber the park: Tons of sand were all over Riis Park's boardwalk; tons of sand were missing from the beach off Fort Tilden; trees were uprooted and roads eroded.
- Dave Taft

[Floyd Bennett Field is part of the Jamaica Bay Unit of the Gateway National Recreation Area, managed by the National Park Service. Tom Lake.]

8/30 - Lake Meahagh, HRM 40.5: The sight of a diving tern at the entrance to the Viking Boatyard in Verplanck had me out of the truck and across Kings Ferry Road, pronto. The bird plucked a small silver fish from the water and flew to within fifty yards of me, where it dipped again to present the fish to its chick. The chick got two more fish and then the adult circled the young one with a fourth fish. No free lunch this time - the adult flew over the boatyard, loudly crying, the chick followed. The sandwich terns disappeared from sight: finally, a gift from Irene that was welcome.
- Christopher Letts

[The sandwich tern is a southerly species uncommonly seen north of Virginia. Tom Lake.]

8/31 - Cohoes, HRM 157: In two days, the falls at Cohoes had changed from red to "reddish" perhaps signaling a lessening contribution from the Schoharie system. The rock face of the falls had begun to reemerge.
- Tom Lake

8/31 - Green Island, HRM 153: The federal dam had slowly risen from the river but the water was still a reddish-brown torrent. The river was running high and hard and waterfowl were finding precious few backwaters and eddies in which to rest. Flights of monarchs were using the northwest breeze to navigate southward.
- Tom Lake

8/31 - Croton River, HRM 34: The gulls, terns, and wading birds were having a feast in the lower Croton River on the thousands of formerly landlocked "sawbellies" (alewives) that Irene's flood waters had swept over the Croton Reservoir dam a few miles upstream.
- Christopher Letts

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