New York City Region Faces Flash Flood Emergency, Tornado Watch

The National Weather Service issued a Flash Flood Emergency for New York City and Northeast New Jersey on Wednesday night as the remnants of Hurricane Ida pummeled the region with heavy rain. 

A Flash Flood Emergency is a rare declaration that exceeds a warning designation, which the weather service said it issued for the first time for the region. The expected rainfall rate was 3 to 5 inches an hour. 

“This is a particularly dangerous situation. Seek higher ground now!” the warning read.

Manhattan’s Central Park got 3.10 inches of rain within one hour, from 8:51 p.m. to 9:51 p.m. local time, according to the service. Newark Airport got 6.42 inches in the three hours ending at 9:51 p.m. That’s roughly the equivalent of seven weeks of average rainfall falling in a few hours, National Weather Service meteorologist Alex Lamers said.

The flooding halted train services across the region, downed trees, and flooded streets. Video of the flooding posted on social media showed major thoroughways, airport terminals, baseball stadiums, and subway stations turned into wading pools.

Earlier, the service issued a tornado warning for Manhattan and the Bronx in New York City, which expired at 9:30 p.m. A tornado watch remained in effect across New York City until 1 a.m. It warned of potentially dangerous flying debris, flooding, and power outages and urged residents to immediately go indoors and seek shelter. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio asked any residents who were out of their homes to “turn around and go back,” in an interview on the local news station NY1. “Get to safety now, it’s just a stunning amount of rain.” 

He said bridges and tunnels remained open but roads were flooded around the city, with just the top of some cars peeking out. The city’s fire and police departments are prepared to assist if needed, de Blasio said. “The part I’m worried about particularly is folks out on the road.”

De Blasio declared a state of emergency around 11:30 p.m. and said thousands of New Yorkers have lost power.

“We’re enduring an historic weather event tonight with record breaking rain across the city, brutal flooding and dangerous conditions on our roads,” he said in a statement on Twitter.

More than 11,000 customers in the New York City area were without power Wednesday night, particularly in the Bronx and the city’s northern suburbs, as the storm battered the area, according to Consolidated Edison Inc.’s outage map. Some customers could see power restored as early as Thursday morning while other areas may take a day or two, said Jamie McShane, a spokesman for ConEd.

“We’re monitoring this very closely,” McShane said. “This is a very serious event. With the wet ground, trees can come down easier. That’s a concern and when trees make contact with power lines they can bring down poles.”

New York City’s subway system experienced severe service limitations as water poured onto underground train platforms in Manhattan. Three branches of its Metro North Rail Road, which connects to the city’s northern suburbs, were suspended, said Tim Minton, spokesperson for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which oversees the city’s buses, subways and commuter rail lines. The Long Island Rail Road  train service is suspended on all lines between Penn Station and Jamaica and between Atlantic Terminal and Jamaica, according to an NYC notification.

“At this time, there is very limited train service,” Sarah Meyer, the MTA’s chief customer officer, tweeted Wednesday night. “Do not travel on the subways.”

Subway service was normal until just after 9:15 p.m. EST, when the heavy rainfall began to cause delays, Minton said. 

“There has been a lot of water in a very short period of time in New York City and the region,” he said. “It’s a difficult weather night because of the historic rainfall that is coming down.”

This is the second time in two months that extreme rainfall has flooded parts of New York City’s subway network. Tropical Storm Elsa in early July pounded New York City with heavy rains that flowed into subway stations, forcing riders to wade through waste-deep waters. About 2.5 million passengers rode the subways on Tuesday, less than half what the system carried on a weekday before the pandemic decimated ridership.

“It’s flooding, it’s terrible,” said Andy Castillo, 22, one of two dozen people huddled inside the East Broadway subway station in Lower Manhattan who were stranded after the MTA shut down service. Castillo, who works in a Queens supermarket, said he was “trying to get home so I can work early tomorrow morning.”

In New Jersey, the heavy rain suspended nearly all of NJ Transit’s rail service. Buses were running with 45-minute delays, said Jim Smith, a spokesman for the agency. For the morning commute, customers should monitor New Jersey Transit’s website, agency alerts and its social media accounts for the latest status updates, Smith said.

“We’re monitoring the storm,” Smith said. “We’re monitoring the impacts and we’ll communicate service levels as soon as we can to customers and as soon as we can safely operate.”

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency that took effect at 9 p.m. across all 21 counties in the state, allowing resources to be deployed throughout the state during the duration of the storm. He called an 8 a.m. meeting with state emergency management officials and said he would tour damage of a tornado that hit down in Harrison Township later in the morning. He said more than 80,000 power outages have been reported in New Jersey.

“Tropical Storm Ida is severely impacting all areas of our state,” Murphy said in a statement on Wednesday.

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