Is FEMA using data from phantom hurricanes?

A talk with the FEMA expert leaves a Barnstable resident uneasy

Editor's note: The following letter was received in response to the OP-ED "FEMA's new flood-zone maps" by D. A. Mittell, Jr. from September 25, 2013.

To the Editor:

I am a physical chemist and a year-round resident of the Town of Barnstable. I talked to the FEMA “expert”, Chris Markesich, at the Barnstable Town Hall on Aug. 19, 2013 for about 30 minutes and I was not very happy as a result.

I said that I live on Long Beach which is a barrier beach. Chris said, “I consider the whole Town of Barnstable a barrier beach”. I said that the Long Beach Association has done two beach nourishments since 1988 and pumped 150,000 cubic yards of sand onto that beach. He said, “it doesn’t matter because the hurricane that we chose had 15’ swell in Buzzard’s Bay”. I said, “was that Hurricane Bob which caused some flooding on our street on the Centerville River side but no high velocity flooding on the beach side?” Chris said, “Bob wasn’t much of a hurricane. I said, “power was out for a week and there were a significant number of trees down.” Even in the hurricane of 1944 which was the worst in Cape history, the problem was a rise in the level of the Centerville River not high velocity waves from Centerville Harbor.

I asked, “What was the hurricane that you used? “ Chris said, “Hurricane Gloria”. I said, “In 1985, that did not hit the Cape.” Chris said “Not '85 but in the 60s, there was a 15’ swell in Buzzards Bay.” I checked Wikipedia for Cape Cod Hurricanes in the 60s but I could not find a Hurricane Gloria listed. This guy is FEMA’s expert? Many of us on the Cape and South Shore are going to have to pay significantly more because of his expertise? This does not seem fair.

“The velocity of idealized traveling waves on the ocean is wavelength dependent and for shallow enough depths, it also depends upon the depth of the water” as shown below:


(Where: V = velocity, λ = wavelength, d = water depth
and g = acceleration due to gravity at the Earth's surface)

Nantucket Sound is very shallow body of water with an average depth of approximately 9 meters or 30’. At Long Beach, there is a considerable amount of the 150,000 cubic yards in the water off our beach. Did the FEMA consultant use the data from the phantom 60s hurricane for these calculations?

Hurricane Sandy hit NJ and NY from the open ocean. Sandy had waves >60’ measured by a solar powered robot off the shore of NJ. This was the second deadliest hurricane in US history and cost >$60 billion but I wonder how much of that is actually unrelated to the hurricane.

As a result of Hurricane Sandy, it appears that parts of many Cape and South Shore town will suddenly become v zones and have their flood insurance double. If you are unhappy about this, please write your congressional representatives about this unfair assessment of FEMA.

Dr. Jack Driscoll
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