Thursday, October 25, 2012

Huge Storm to Affect Northeast

Hurricane Sandy near Cat Island at 4:14pm CDT

Introduction. There has never been a storm quite like this one in the era of modern modern meteorology (i.e., high-resolution computer models, aircraft data sensing, weather satellite temperature/humidity profiles), so we don't fully know whether our tools are up to the task.

The Meteorology. Over the next few days, you may be hearing terms like "cold core, warm core, baroclinic, hybrid,"etc. This is important to meteorologists but not important to you. For the purposes of this blog, the storm is "Hurricane Sandy" regardless of its temperature structure aloft.

The Comparisons. Yes, there are comparisons to be made to storms that occurred 74, 50, and ("The Perfect Storm") 21 years ago. The problem is that memories are not good with the earlier storms and the 1991 storm was far off the coast with few inland effects. So, I'd like to try a more meaningful set of comparisons:

  • Wind. Think the June 29, 2012 derecho except over a larger geographic area with the potential for stronger gusts than occurred in that event. Yes, this means the potential for multi-state power failures.
  • Coastal flooding. Given the full moon, the high winds and the storm surge, a storm surge to more than ten feet above mean sea level is likely -- and, perhaps, significantly higher than that. 
  • River flooding. See map below. While the exact path of the heaviest rain cannot yet be determined, major river flooding is possible to likely. 
  • Heavy wet snow. Yes, heavy wet snow is possible in the mountains of western Pennsylvania through West Virginia and western Virginia. There is even a chance the snow could extend farther south and east. Halloween 2011 brought major power failures from New Jersey to Connecticut with some places without power for three weeks.  
Got your attention? 

This issue now isn't as much what will occur but where. 

The center of Sandy should move inland somewhere between Norfolk and Providence. 
But, unlike most hurricanes where the strongest winds are concentrated within 10-25 miles of the eye, the wind field of this storm may be considerably more spread out. 

Here is the rainfall forecast. Again, don't concentrate on the locations as much as the amounts -- which are enough to cause major flooding.
European model rainfall forecast via Pro web site
12Z GFS model
So, if you live in these areas, what now? Here are my suggestions. The originals (black) were posted this morning. With the storm being more certain, I'm adding some (blue). 
  • Get prescriptions refilled now, especially if you doctor must approve the refill. 
  • Vote. If the stronger models are correct, power could still be out in some paces on election day. Regardless, that is one less thing you will need to do. The election will not (and shouldn't be) postponed. 
  • If you have considered getting a generator, now would be a good time to do it, but get started today (Thursday) so you have time to have an electrician do the installation. Generators should not be self-installed.
  • If you don't have a generator, get a power inverter or two. Radio Shack and similar stores sell them. They are a "poor man's generator" and will keep your cell phone, laptop, and similar charged.
  • Keep your car's gas tank full. 
  • If you have a wood-burning fireplace and you know your chimney is clear, get wood. Keep some indoors to keep it dry during the storm. You may need it to heat your home. 
  • If you live in a 100-year flood plain (you can check at city hall or your library) figure out your evacuation strategy now. Make your list of things you will take with you. 
  • Fill a few gas cans (the type you would use for your mower) to have extra in the event of power failures. 
  • Purchase extra staples. Without power, stores will be closed.
  • Purchase booster batteries for your cell phone and other essential equipment. If you need insulin or other medicine that must be kept chilled make plans now. 
  • Addition at 11:50pm. Consider what you would do if you were without electricity for a month. If you have an invalid living with you that requires electricity, there will be areas that will be without for weeks. Be proactive. 
  • If you live in a heavily wooded area, does someone in your vicinity have a gasoline-powered chain saw? Does it have fuel and a reasonably good chain/blade? Test it, now. 
  • Get to an ATM. Without power, credit card readers and ATMs will not be working. In a disaster, cash is king. 
And, if you are planning to travel by air to or through airports between Richmond-Boston Monday through Tuesday Wednesday, forget it. Here is what you should do, now. Amtrak in the Northeast Corridor will likely have service interruptions.

Outlook. In addition to the Hurricane Hunters, NOAA is going to fly its Gulfstream jet tonight to gather additional data around Sandy. This should enhance quality of the forecasts available tomorrow morning so we should be able to narrow down the areas to be affected as well as providing more specific forecasts of wind, rain, etc.

ADDITION 6:15pm CDT. Here is the official NWS rainfall forecast out to 7pm EDT Tuesday. Some additional rain may occur after this time.


  1. Great post, Mike.

    One quibble. As noted in my post about possible election impacts, most of the states in the potentially impacted region do not have early voting. Specifically, the swing states of Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Virginia all don't, though I'm told Virginia's absentee ballot procedure is so lax that it's virtually a form of early voting. (I haven't verified that claim.) The only swing state in the region with early voting is Ohio. So folks there should definitely vote. Others need to hope for the best.

  2. By the way... I haven't forgotten about those book reviews I owe you. I've just been really busy. After the election, I will get to them!

  3. Great, Brendan. Thanks for the comments.


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