Another Sandy/”perfect storm” update.

sandy 11 a.m. Oct 25 graphic

The National Hurricane Center’s 5-day tracking forecast as of 11 a.m. this morning, October 25th. Yeah, it’s coming in. (Source)

Yeah, most likely it’s coming in.

Sigh.

It’s too early to tell by what name this is going to go down in history, since tropical systems lose their name when they lose their warm core and go subtropical/extratropical, as is likely to happen before Sandy slams into the Northeast.

I’ll refer to it as Sandy from now on, going to ex-Sandy or whatever the NHC selects.

I’ve been watching NHC forecasts during tropical seasons for several years, more closely since I was down in West Central Alabama and experienced the 2005 hurricane season. They tend not to graphically show sensational things unless they’re darn sure it’s going to happen. They showed Katrina coming in over New Orleans in 2005.

Sandy isn’t a Katrina, but in the above graphic they’re showing it heading into New York City and you can be sure emergency management people and other authorities are already starting to gear up.

Heavy impacts coming up

This morning, I saw something in both the NHC discussion and Jeff Masters’ posts that I haven’t seen before.

Dr. Masters described the two most like scenarios as things appear this morning (remember always that we’re still several days out and this could change):

The Northeast U.S. scenario

If Sandy makes landfall farther to the north near Maine and Nova Scotia, heavy rains will be the main threat, since the cold waters will weaken the storm significantly before landfall. The trees have fewer leaves farther to the north, which will reduce the amount of tree damage and power failures compared to a more southerly track. However, given that ocean temperatures along the Northeast U.S. coast are about 5°F above average, there will be an unusually large amount of water vapor available to make heavy rain. If the trough of low pressure approaching the East Coast taps into the large reservoir of cold air over Canada and pulls down a significant amount of Arctic air, the potential exists for the unusually moist air from Sandy to collide with this cold air from Canada and unleash the heaviest October rains ever recorded in the Northeast U.S., Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. This Northeast U.S. scenario would probably cause damages near $100 million dollars.

The mid-Atlantic U.S. scenario

Landfall Monday along the mid-Atlantic coast on Monday, as predicted by the ECMWF and NOGAPS models, would likely be a billion-dollar disaster. In this scenario, Sandy would be able to bring sustained winds near hurricane force over a wide stretch of heavily populated coast, causing massive power outages, as trees still in leaf fall and take out power lines. Sandy is expected to have tropical storm-force winds that extend out more than 300 miles from the center, which will drive a much larger storm surge than its winds would ordinarily suggest. The full moon is on Monday, which means astronomical tides will be at their peak for the month, increasing potential storm surge flooding. Fresh water flooding from heavy rains would also be a huge concern. Given the ECMWF’s consistent handling of Sandy, I believe this mid-Atlantic scenario has a higher probability of occurring than the Northeast U.S. scenario. However, it is likely that the models are overdoing the strength of Sandy at landfall. The models have trouble handling the transition from tropical storm to extratropical storm in these type of situations, and I expect that the 940 mb central pressure of Sandy predicted at landfall Monday in Delaware by the ECMWF model is substantially overdone.

I haven’t ever seen him use such an intense phrase: “[L]ikely be a billion-dollar disaster.”

The NHC’s 11 a.m. discussion also added a comment that I haven’t seen them use before:

NOTE THAT THE TROPICAL CYCLONE WIND SPEED PROBABILITIES ARE NOT
DESIGNED TO HANDLE THE TYPE OF STRUCTURAL CHANGES ANTICIPATED WITH
SANDY DURING THE FORECAST PERIOD. AS A RESULT…THESE PROBABILITIES
WILL UNDERESTIMATE THE ACTUAL RISK OF STRONG WINDS AWAY FROM THE
CENTER OF SANDY.

It sounds like Dr. Masters and the NHC are saying contradictory things about Sandy’s winds, but not really. Masters is talking about the storm’s strength at the point where it comes ashore, while the NHC is pointing out the likelihood of strong winds even in places that are at some distance from the point of landfall. (By the way, those wind speed probabilities are listed and updated at the NHC’s website for Sandy.)

Get Ready

I hope this doesn’t pan out, and considering that they haven’t even launched the extra weather balloon yet, maybe today or tomorrow more data will come in and show that the curve inland isn’t going to happen. However, I’m really impressed by the NHC’s showing that graphic now and by Dr. Masters’ “billion-dollar” comment, as he’s not prone to hyperbole. He and all the other professionals are probably also hoping it’s a bust, but they understand and I have learned from them that preparation is the key to minimizing possible heavy impacts.

So let’s prepare for a very heavy impact along the heavily populated East Coast this weekend, no matter what happens. If it’s a bust, you’ll be ready for the next emergency.

I have a little experience. Katrina was only a strong tropical storm when it passed over us in West Central Alabama, but it still did damage and we were without power for 3 days. Based on that, I suggest getting yourself a weather radio, preferably one that you can crank by hand to charge. They’re invaluable. If that’s not possible, get tons of batteries.

Solar power is okay for charging cell phones and radios, but it takes a long time to get a surprisingly little charge; you also need inverters and other stuff. If I were down by the coast now, instead of some 150 miles inland, I’d go with the hand-cranked radio/charger. I would also take both tropical storm and winter storm types of precautions (you never know).

This late in the year, it’s also nice to remember that while down is cozy, wool keeps you warm even when it’s wet.

Internet resources

If you live there or know people there, you already know that the best sources are local, especially TV and radio. A few Internet resources, besides the NHC and Wunderground, are:

  • The National Weather Service. You can enter your zip code here and get a local weather page with forecast, discussion, radar, and all sorts of data.
  • FEMA.
  • FEMA’s Taking Shelter From the Wind (downloadable). Of course, this is no time to build a shelter, but the paper also includes a discussion of what hazards to expect in hurricanes and tornadoes (which sometimes accompany these systems, especially in the right front quadrant of the storm).
  • MetEd’s Hurricane Strike program for young people. It’s dated and the computer graphics are hilarious, but it gets you thinking along the right lines. You do have to register, but it is free, they don’t spam, and registration gives you access to a wealth of other meteorological information, if you’re so inclined.

You might also want to try a Web search for the name of your state and the word “emergency.” That will bring up a link to your state emergency website, which might be helpful, too.

A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is the old saying “Hide from the wind and run from the water.” In this particular scenario, it wouldn’t hurt to add the old New England survival tip: “Stay warm and don’t let the snow bury your air holes.”

This amateur’s opinion is that no one is really sure what is going to happen this weekend and the early part of next week, but it is likely going to be at least as bad as 1991’s “perfect storm,” and possibly worse.

Or it may bust. Let us hope that it does!

Meanwhile, as mentioned, I’m a good distance inland, but if the storm holds together and tracks over us here in the Albany, New York, area, I’ll try to get as much video as possible to post later.

Stay safe, all.



Categories: Weather

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