Horn, toot and whistle: sounds of New York Harbor as fog creeps over Staten Island


STATEN ISLAND, NY – With the fog thick as pea soup, the harbor sets off a cacophony with toots, horns and bellows. From the noises around Staten Island to the weather experience itself, there is a lot to enjoy when a cold, sweaty blanket of humidity sets in town.

Sixth-generation Staten Islander James Hannah of Tottenville says fog has marked autumns in the borough since he was around 80 years old. He observes: “On foggy days and nights we can hear ships at anchor sound their fog horns every minute. Our decks have fog horns perched above them, automatically alerting moving ships of danger to their structures. “

Indeed, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the Ministry of Commerce to place (Charts.noaa.gov/OnLineViewer/12327.shtml), Foghorns are parked at the St. George and Whitehall ferry terminals, at the entrance to the Gowanus Canal and on the Brooklyn side of the Verrazzano Bridge.

On the North Shore, you can also hear trains coming from New Jersey rail lines. At 7:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. sharp, plus a few other in-between points, whistles are coming from Caddell Dry Dock in West Brighton during shift changes and lunch breaks.

To understand the riot in the hazy calm, it’s important to understand the science behind the fog.

According to Andrew Kozak, Spectrum News 1 meteorologist and former Great Kills resident, “Fog simply forms when the difference between air temperature and dew point reaches about 4 to 5 degrees. At this point, under light or calm winds and moist soil, the water vapor condenses into very small droplets which are suspended in the air.

He explains, “Basically it’s a cloud that forms near or on the surface. This reduces visibility – sometimes to or near 0 miles, which becomes unsafe on streets, highways and bridges for motorists.

Can fog amplify harbor noise?

According to Kozak, “The truth is that fog can actually soften or muffle harbor noises, and even traffic and car noises. “

He specifies: “These tiny droplets suspended in the air that form the fog? Sound, which by definition is a compression wave, will pass through the air and through these particles. These particles essentially “absorb” the vibrations produced by sounds as they pass through the air. This will actually reduce the level of noise created by almost anything under the fog. “

Kozak says, “If you want to hear the loudest, least fractured sounds of the harbor, traffic, nature or your neighbors (haha) wait for a clear sunny day!”

Based on Hannah’s years of research and observations, there are exceptions to the muffled rule. He says, “Foghorns are baritones and bases rather than tenors and violas so they can be heard better.”

Borough musicians reflected on the sound of the iconic Staten Island ferry hoot.

Lawyer, former acting district attorney, and musician Dan Master compares the sound to the lowest-pitched saxophone, the Subcontrabass.

“They’re really loud and deep and sound weird, in E-flat,” he says.

Singer and guitarist Karlus Trapp says it sounds like a baritone saxophone playing a low “B” in the harbor. He strummed his guitar, sounding a deep “mmmmm” with the music. His son, Germaine, likened the ferry’s sound to a “B below middle C” on the piano and played the long, low note on the cello.

Pianist and songwriter Richard Wazz of Westerleigh remembers the familiar E-flat sound on The Boat as a child, as a college student on his way to Hunter. Waking up on the boat in the morning, said Wazz, “Always E-flat. E-flat on the boat to fall asleep.

A spokesperson for the Department of Transport said: “Each ship has its own whistle. Audible signals are most often used in conditions of reduced visibility, in rear wheel drive and in various other situations listed by the US Coast Guard Rules of the Road for Vessel Traffic.

Hannah recalls the American poet Carl Sandberg who appreciated the peaceful calm of the fog and who wrote: “The fog comes on the little cats feet. It overlooks the harbor and the city on silent hips, then moves on.

Hannah also thinks about the potential aspects of cozy fog cooking.

He says, “It’s that time of year when we start to think of rich stews with tender pieces of meat and root vegetables bracing each other for room in steaming pots of thick broth. Add dumplings and maybe a hearty peasant bread and serve to the sound of fog horns. They blend well.

– Alina Gubskiy is the new owner of Fab Cup, a gourmet and health cafe in West Brighton. Split pea soup with croutons. Pamela SilvestriPamela Silvestri


(Makes 4-6 servings)


1 tablespoon butter 1 1/2 pounds kielbasa or smoked sausage, diced

1 to 2 garlic cloves, crushed and minced

2 cups onion, chopped

1/2 cup carrots, diced

1/4 cup celery, diced

A few pinches of salt and pepper

1 bay leaf

1 pound of dry split peas, rinsed and picked

6 cups of chicken broth


Over medium-high heat, add the butter to a large saucepan. When melted, sauté diced meat cubes until golden brown, about 5 minutes.

Add the garlic, onion, carrot, celery, salt and pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the peas, broth and bay leaf. Bring to a boil and simmer over medium heat for about 45 minutes, uncovered and stirring occasionally. Puree if you are looking for a smooth soup. Remove the bay leaf and serve with crusty bread.

James Hannah, Tottenville