Rain has walloped the New York metropolitan area with a startling punch, knocking out several subway and commuter rail lines, stranding drivers on highways, flooding basements and shuttering a terminal at LaGuardia Airport in one of the city's wettest days in decades.
Almost 18 centimetres of rain had fallen in parts of Brooklyn by midday on Friday, with at least one spot seeing 6 centimetres in a single hour, according to weather and city officials.
The nearly 20 centimetres at John F. Kennedy Airport surpassed its record for any September day, a bar set during Hurricane Donna in 1960, the National Weather Service said. And more downpours were expected.
The deluge came two years after the remnants of Hurricane Ida dumped record-breaking rain on the Northeast and killed at least 13 people in New York City, mostly in flooded basement apartments.
Although no deaths or severe injuries have been reported so far from Friday's storm, it stirred frightening memories.
Ida killed three of Joy Wong's neighbours, including a toddler.
And on Friday, water began lapping against the front door of her building in Woodside, Queens.
"I was so worried," she said. It became too dangerous to leave: "Outside was like a lake, like an ocean."
Within minutes, water filled the building's basement nearly to the ceiling.
After the family's deaths in 2021, the basement was turned into a recreation room. It is now destroyed.
City officials said they got reports of six flooded basement apartments on Friday, but all occupants got out safely.
State of emergency
Governor Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams declared states of emergency and urged people to stay put if possible.
Virtually every subway line was at least partly suspended, rerouted or running with delays.
Metro-North commuter rail service from Manhattan was suspended for much of the day but began resuming by evening.
The Long Island Rail Road was snarled, 44 of the city's 3,500 buses got stranded, and bus service was disrupted citywide, transit officials said.
"When it stops the buses, you know it’s bad," Brooklyn high school student Malachi Clark said after trying to get home by bus, then subway.
School buses were running, but they transport only a fraction of public school students, many of them disabled.
A long line of people snaked from the ticket counter in the afternoon at Grand Central Terminal, where Mike Tags was among those whose trains had been cancelled.
Railroad employees had suggested possible workarounds, but he wondered whether they would work out.
"So I’m going to sit here, ride it out until they open up," he said.
Traffic hit a standstill earlier in the day on a stretch of the FDR Drive, a major artery along Manhattan's east side.
With water above cars' tires, some drivers abandoned their vehicles.
At around 11 am, Priscilla Fontallio said she had spent three hours in her car, which was on a piece of the highway that wasn't flooded but wasn't moving.
"Never seen anything like this in my life," she said.
Flights into LaGuardia were briefly halted in the morning, and then delayed, because of water in the refuelling area.
Flooding also forced the closure of one of the airport’s three terminals.
A Brooklyn school was evacuated because its boiler was smoking, possibly because water got into it, Schools Chancellor David Banks said at a news briefing.
Another Brooklyn school was mopping up ground-floor classrooms, City Councilperson Crystal Hudson said in an email seeking volunteers to help.
The New York Rangers and New York Islanders postponed a preseason game on Long Island.
And at the waterlogged Central Park Zoo, a sea lion swam out of her swollen pool.
With the zoo closed because of the weather, she looked around for a bit before returning to the pool, zoo officials said in a statement.
Hoboken, New Jersey, and other cities and towns around New York City also experienced flooding.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy called for state offices to close at 3 pm, except for essential personnel.
Why so much rain? The remnants of Tropical Storm Ophelia over the Atlantic Ocean combined with a mid-latitude system arriving from the west, at a time of year when conditions coming off the ocean are particularly juicy for storms, National Weather Service meteorologist Ross Dickman said. And this combination storm parked itself over New York for 12 hours.
The weather service had warned of 7.5 to 13 centimetres of rain and told emergency managers to expect over 15 centimetres in some places, Dickman said.
The deluge came less than three months after a storm caused deadly floods in New York's Hudson Valley and swamped Vermont's capital, Montpelier.
As the planet heats, storms are forming in a hotter atmosphere that can hold more moisture, making extreme rainfall more frequent, according to atmospheric scientists.