NYC Hiring Private Forecaster for 'Second Opinion' on National Weather Service Predictions

New York City is planning to hire a private weather forecasting service for a "second opinion" to supplement reports from the National Weather Service after Hurricane Ida dropped heavy rainfall on the area, killing 13 people in the city.

"We learned from Ida that we have to do some very, very different things," Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday at a virtual news conference. "This is a brand new world."

Under de Blasio's plan, the private weather forecasting service would create neighborhood-specific forecasts for storms in addition to supplementing the National Weather Service's predictions.

De Blasio said the National Weather Service does "good and important work," but often its reports "were too vague or too late, and we need something more urgent."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

New York City Flooding
New York City is planning to hire a private weather forecasting service to supplement reports from the National Weather Service after Hurricane Ida killed 13 people in the city. Above, cars sit abandoned on the flooded Major Deegan Expressway in the Bronx following a night of heavy wind and rain from the remnants of Hurricane Ida on September 2 in New York City. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

At least 50 people from Virginia to Connecticut died earlier this month when the remnants of Hurricane Ida inundated the Northeast with torrential rain. The rainwater trapped hundreds of cars on submerged waterways, deluged subway stations and stalled trains and flooded basement apartments, turning them into deadly traps.

At its heaviest, the storm dropped 3.15 inches of rain within an hour over New York City, overwhelming an aging sewer system designed to handle roughly half that.

De Blasio likened it to the city creating its own counterterrorism and intelligence division in the New York City Police Department after 9/11 attacks. After the storm hit, de Blasio said he'd been given a forecast that the city would see somewhere between three to six inches of rain for the day—not three inches within one hour.

The National Weather Service did not immediately respond to a message seeking a comment on the mayor's remarks.

The plan calls for preemptively declaring a state of emergency and issuing mandatory evacuation orders for basement apartments hours before heavy rains are forecast, along with travel bans to keep people off roads and subways if a deluge is predicted. The city will also work with community groups to knock on the doors of those living in basement apartments to warn them of flooding threats and identify safe evacuation spaces in their neighborhood. Of the 13 people in the city who died in the storm, at least 11 of them were in flooded basement apartments, according to police.

The report lays out a number of measures the city plans to enact relatively quickly, such as putting up signs warning about flood potential on roadways, creating more green spaces and drainage features at playgrounds and expanding a program to install porous concrete pavement in some areas in the city, where small holes allow water to seep in instead of running into the streets.

But the report also lays out longer-term challenges, such as the $100 billion cost of upgrading the city's century-old drainage system, much of which would need to be paid for with money from the federal government, or the costly conversion of about 50,000 illegal basement apartments into safer homes.

The city estimates that about 100,000 people live in the apartments, which are concentrated in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx and provide badly needed affordable housing. But the apartments can be dangerous with low ceilings and limited exits, light and ventilation. The city plans to try to expand a pilot program for converting the apartments into safe and legal spaces and form a working group to study the issue further.

De Blasio issued the report Monday as he enters his final months in office. Democrat Eric Adams, who is widely expected to win the mayoral election in November, released his own "resiliency" report last week. It lays out similar recommendations for an early warning system and plans to notify those living in basement apartments.

Bill de Blasio
Mayor Bill de Blasio said during a virtual press conference on September 27, that New York is planning to hire a private weather forecasting service as a "second opinion" for reports from the National Weather Service. Above, De Blasio speaks to the media during a press conference at City Hall on January 3, 2020, in New York City. Eduardo Munoz/Getty Images