Don Moore

How Tropical Storm Nicole Could Cripple NYC’s Subways

In Subway, Weather on October 1, 2010 at 2:52 AM

The NYC subway is great. It gets over five million people where they need to be every single weekday. But the subway, as the name suggests, is also below the ground. And the laws of physics dictate that more often than not, water will tend to end up collecting below ground.

To deal with this obvious drawback of underground mass transit, the MTA has approximately 700 water pumps in stations around the city, which push water out of the subway and into NYC sewers.

Even on a dry day these pumps deal with millions of gallons of water–being underground in a city situated mainly of islands means lots of water– and on rainy days the amount of water pumped out is quite literally immeasurable. Periods of particularly intense rainfall, like a large storm, can be too much for the pumps to handle, causing delays or even stoppages in train service.

What happens when a really large storm hits the Big Apple? In 2004, Hurricane Frances wreaked havoc on the subway system, causing delays and/or suspensions in at least ten subway lines. And we may have to begin preparing for a sequel: Tropical Storm Nicole (not technically a hurricane until it makes landfall) is on course to hit the Northeast this weekend, bringing with it 60 mph winds and seven inches of rain per hour. For context, the MTA’s pumps can handle 1.5 inches of rain per hour. Which means we could be looking at near total shutdowns in subway service in large parts of the city. And after two twisters tore their way through Brooklyn, a tropical storm in NYC suddenly doesn’t seem too far fetched.

Find up to the minute updates on the storm at


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