Tenth Anniversary of Hurricane Sandy

It will be ten years this evening that the eye of Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New Jersey -- at tremendous cost to our nation. 

This blog was called the "gold standard" of Sandy coverage by the president of the American Meteorological Society as we provided early warning even though the American computer models took Sandy out to sea. 

The first post (below) was seven days before landfall. As long-time readers know, I have a general policy of not forecasting hurricanes more than five days out because of the relatively high chance of warning the wrong area. 
But, I was so concerned by the potential that the developing low pressure center -- then off the coast of South America -- I felt notification was necessary; especially since the last hurricane to strike that part of the nation was in the middle of the 20th Century. The European (ECMWF) global weather forecasting model, in that era, handled hurricanes extremely well and had Sandy striking the Middle Atlantic coast. All of the other models, including the National Weather Service's models, had the storm going harmlessly out to sea.

Four days before landfall, when many were some were still thinking the storm would go out to sea, we noted the ECMWF model's variants were clustering in the Del-Mar-Va area -- which turned out to be only about 50 miles from its eventual point of landfall..

We continued our 2-5 updates per day until landfall late Monday afternoon. The post below was approximately 54 hours before landfall with a near-perfect forecast. We, and many other weather forecasters, were doing our jobs. 

Unfortunately, the National Weather Service fumbled the ball at this point and made the ridiculous decision not to issue hurricane warnings even as a hurricane headed for the densely populated East Coast. That decision caused considerable confusion amongst the public and many officials. I interrupted the meteorological coverage of this huge threat to explain why.
The decision not to issue hurricane warnings caused NYC's Mayor Michael Bloomberg ("so [Sandy] will be less dangerous"), and others, to downplay the threat of this major storm.  

Sunday's forecast -- 28 hours before landfall -- was essentially perfect. 

Tragically, Hurricane Sandy was everything we feared when it came ashore. 
When the damage was totaled up, 
  • 4th costliest hurricane in USA's history with $70 billion in damages. 
  • 72 deaths; of which 43 occurred in New York City. Lower Manhattan flooded along with parts of the other boroughs. 
  • 650,000 homes destroyed.
  • Record early-season snows occurred in some areas -- nearly unprecedented in hurricanes -- cut off thousands.
  • 8.5 million homes and businesses lost power -- affecting 25 million people -- many for weeks and even months!

Through all of this I was traveling to Kansas City for the wedding on my niece Saturday, to St. Louis on Sunday, two St. Louis speeches on Monday (the day of landfall), and back to Wichita via I-70 on Tuesday. On Tuesday, Mindy East and I viewed a steady stream of electric service trucks headed east. Today, those service trucks would likely have been on the road two days earlier. The confusion about the threat posed by the storm delayed readiness and recovery.

While Mindy drove, I took this photo of the line of 
electric utility trucks headed east on I-70 the day
after Hurricane Sandy made landfall.
It is often believed that the National Weather Service did not issue hurricane warnings and stopped referring to Sandy as a "hurricane" at the request of the White House due to the lack of hurricane coverage in the region's homeowners insurance policies -- especially since an election was imminent. I have no idea whether that contention is true. 

Given the issues surrounding the storm, I was part of an amazing team of scientists team appointed by the National Weather Service to assess the quality of the forecasts of Sandy and subsequent response. But, we were fired shortly after we began work. The NWS's very top management knew this group of scientists would be truthful with our findings and, evidently, that was the last thing the very top management of the National Weather Service and, its parent agency NOAA, wanted. 

The NWS appointed a second Sandy assessment team -- comprised of 100% government employees -- that issued a report over a narrower range of issues than the original team intended to examine. In 2022, far as I can determine, the NWS has stopped doing their lame post-storm assessments. 

While NOAA was spinning untruths and nonsense after the firing, it was extremely gratifying that many independent hurricane experts came to our defense. I urge you to read this piece because it was one of pieces of information that led me, five weeks later, to call for the creation of a National Disaster Review Board. The proposed board would be an independent federal agency modeled after the National Transportation Safety Board. Given the events of the past decade, the need for a National Disaster Review Board is greater than ever. 

Even considering the issues surrounding the warning and communications of Hurricane Sandy, there is no question the warnings saved hundreds, or even thousands, of lives. Congratulations to all of the meteorologists who worked so very hard on this storm. 

Important Addition: Below is a thread about the politics pertaining to Sandy w/r/t insurance policies. 
That Twitter thread, with comments, is here. This is likely why NOAA so greatly feared an honest assessment of Sandy. The original assessment group, clearly, would not have gone along with this scientific nonsense. Because several of us were from outside the government (NOAA could not have threatened us with firing or other sanction), we were dangerous. Thus, the entire group had to be fired.


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