Stony Brook University is bracing for what could be the worst hurricane to hit the east coast in decades, as administrators, campus police and other university agencies draft contingency plans designed to help weather the storm.
Campus Residences has already moved up the scheduled move-in date for returning students to Saturday, ensuring that thousands of students won’t be moving back to campus in the middle of a Category 1 hurricane. But other departments within the university are beginning to take similar steps to ensure that students and staff are safe and well prepared for a potentially dangerous storm.
The Faculty Student Association has begun exploring emergency hours for dining halls on campus, allowing students to stockpile snacks and other food that can be stored and kept in dorm rooms in the event that leaving the building for a meal on Sunday is not an option. The Student Affairs office, tasked with planning and executing the opening weekend activities for freshman, are booking space indoors for Saturday activities, and are looking at canceling Sunday events altogether in the event Irene hits sooner than it’s estimated 2:00 pm arrival on Long Island.
Stony Brook Professor of Atmospheric Sciences Brian Colle says that unless the hurricane makes a dramatic and unexpected turn out towards the Atlantic Ocean or further inland, Stony Brook University will be experiencing high winds in excess of 70 miles per hour, with gusts reaching as high as 100 miles per hour during the peak of the storm. Even if the eye of the storm lands in New York City 60 miles due west of Stony Brook, the cycle is big enough that it will still produce heavy rain and damaging winds.
University Police aren’t betting on friendly wind patterns. Already they have begun securing objects around campus that could be picked up and tossed across campus by high winds. The colorful umbrellas usually attached to outdoor tables on the Academic Mall have been removed, and several construction sites around campus are being evaluated to ensure no equipment is left out.
“I think, looking at the forecasts that we’re receiving for Stony Brook, we’ve been preparing as much as we possibly can for a bad event,” said Chief of University Police Robert Lenahan on Thursday afternoon. How bad will depend on several elements of the storm, but Professor Colle says that even an indirect hit could knock out power and down trees.
Projections suggest that Irene will likely be a Category 1 hurricane by the time it reaches Long Island, meaning serious infrastructure damage is unlikely. Cars and anything else normally kept outdoors are at risk, and Colle suggests moving what you can indoors or into a garage.
Government agencies began alerting residents about hurricane safety through emergency management offices on Wednesday, and Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency for all of New York. The National Weather Service’s hurricane watch zone extended as far north as Sandy Hook, New Jersey by Thursday evening, but Colle believes that area will be greatly expanded on Friday morning to include New York City and Long Island, among other areas along the coast.
“It’s obvious we’re near the center of that cone,” he said, referring to the impact zone of Irene. “We’re going to be under a watch, I suspect, by tomorrow morning. It’s time to prepare.”
If the current trajectory holds, the weather will begin to worsen by Sunday afternoon, according to Colle.
“We’ll basically be dealing with a hurricane nearby by the late morning, and conditions will be deteriorating rapidly,” he said. “We’re looking at a possible crescendo into Sunday evening.”
If that time frame is adjusted any later, the first day of classes may be in jeopardy on Monday. Only the Governor has the authority to close state agencies like SUNY campuses, and those decisions are often made the night before. SUNY’s central administration in Albany is monitoring the storm carefully and has been in close contact with Governor Cuomo and administrators at Stony Brook University, according to SUNY spokesman David Belsky.
Other colleges on Long Island were taking a more optimistic approach as of Thursday afternoon. SUNY Old Westbury, which was scheduled to welcome students back to campus on Sunday as well, had yet to change the move-in date as of Thursday afternoon.
“We’re keeping students informed of emergency services, but I don’t know of any changes to our schedule,” said a spokeswoman from Old Westbury.
At Farmingdale on Wednesday, Director of Communications Kathy Coley was also remaining hopeful that the hurricane would pass them by.
“We are being optimistic that the storm will not hit Farmingdale,” she said. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed. We’re tracking it and we think it’ll be ok.”
But Wednesday’s forecast models had the storm out over eastern Long Island, near Montauk. Thursday’s models—which benefit from more data and are therefore more accurate—tell a different story though, one where the center of the storm passes directly over Nassau County.
Hofstra University, perhaps the college campus closest to the current predicted trajectory, is on a schedule one week behind Stony Brook University, meaning most of their students won’t be returning until the weekend after Irene.
Students at New York University are not as lucky. Like Stony Brook, NYU’s move-in day for returning students was set for Sunday. No changes to that schedule had been announced as of Thursday evening, though that may change by Friday. A spokesman from NYU was not immediately available for comment.
Think Magazine will be continuing our extensive coverage of Hurricane Irene and it’s impact on Stony Brook University throughout the weekend. We will be on campus Friday as well as all day Saturday and Sunday. On Sunday, sporadically throughout the day, we will be hosting Hangouts on Google+ to answer questions from students as well as hear stories from students stuck indoors. Add us to your Circles to get live updates. We will also be updating our Facebook page, Twitter feed using the #HurricaneSB tag, and Tumblr.