NorEasterCaneStorm Sandy

Let me say up front: I respect, admire, and appreciate the work that the National Hurricane Center does every year. They work hard, they fight to get their message out, and they are usually a very steady voice during the tumult and chaos of tropical systems. They’re an asset to the country.

But someone is dropping the ball to some degree on Sandy. I have read and seen and even been asked myself about the fact that since the NHC will no longer be handling warnings on this system, and it’s only a nor’easter, it’s weaker or not as bad. The meteorological semantics of a hurricane or tropical storm watch or warning means nothing to the general public. It has issues in terms of insurance companies, the meteorological record, and statistics. And in the end it’s probably not a massive deal either way. There’s even some upside to it. But when you get situations where people may let their guard down because a name change to them indicates it’s not so bad…that’s a problem. 

Make no mistake: This storm is a monster, and it should be treated as such….regardless of name or definition. I would much rather see tropical advisories up and down the East Coast, than a jumbled, patchwork, inconsistent map of warnings such as this. The local NWS offices are doing amazing work…and will only have to work harder now because of this. And they deserve everyone’s thanks and appreciation for it.

On to the storm…

As I said, it’s a monster…modeling is unchanged and converging on a Long Beach Island-NYC landfall. Landfall again will only matter in terms of tidal flooding, and current flood projections along and north of the path are for major to record flooding. This is roughly from Monmouth County, NJ through NYC on to Long Island. The surge in New York Harbor is projected to be 5.5-6 feet, which would make it 1.5-2 feet higher than the flood from December 1992 that flooded parts of Lower Manhattan and the subway system, and it would also set a modern record, breaking the surge from Hurricane Donna in 1960. So the worst impacts will be along the Shore from Northern NJ through NY to Long Island and the CT coast. 

In South Jersey, tidal flooding will be much like that of storms we saw in the 1990s…severe to major, but I don’t think it will be record breaking at this time. That will be strictly for the barrier islands, and perhaps along the Back Bays of the Mainland initially as well, though as the wind shifts, the Bay water will rush back to the islands. 

For all areas: 40-60 mph winds, widespread power outages, rainfall flooding for parts of S NJ/PA/DE/MD, and pretty much a complete shutdown Monday, with slow improvement Tuesday.

So regardless of the name or classification, prep for this storm as you would a hurricane. And stay safe.


Friday Evening Update on Sandy for Friends/Fam

So the word “unprecedented” gets tossed around a lot in the modern era. Everything’s unprecedented, the worst in X years, incredible, never before seen, historic, truly amazing, etc. I think social media and the 24 hour news cycle has desensitized a lot of people to things that truly are worthy of those descriptions. All signs, data, signals, and opinions seem to indicate that this storm will be worthy of all those descriptions. Again, as I said, if this were to not materialize or even if it were to be considered a major bust, it would be a catastrophic failure of the entire process of weather modeling.

But I digress….

Hype in weather often comes from what we call “the usual suspects,” various groups and people who tend to scream the loudest whenever a threat presents itself. What I have seen regarding this storm are numerous meteorologists and professionals that I truly respect and admire, with years of experience beyond my own using those very buzzwords mentioned above to describe the storm threat developing. It’s very real, it’s very serious, and you really need to heed all advice and warnings from local emergency management officials.

Feed the Beast: Four independent jet streak structures feeding the development of the Storm. Credit: UCAR

So you’ve seen official forecasts, etc. You’re here to see what I think.So let’s have at it. You don’t see the map to the left (or below or above depending on your browser settings) very often. This shows the truly incredible upper level dynamics at play to feed this monster. The quote I heard or read (sadly, I cannot recall it right now to properly attribute it) was that even without Sandy in the picture at all, this would lead to a major nor’easter in the Northeast. And that is accurate. Sandy just sort of adds insult to injury. You’re looking at the jet stream. Each number represents what we call a “jet streak” or a pocket of stronger winds embedded within the jet stream itself. One thing I should point out, is that #1 is forecast to be as strong as 170 mph and has a wind anomaly you usually only see in the monster storms that regularly occur in the North Pacific. Cliff Mass, who’s one of, if not the foremost expert on the Pacific Northwest, where storms of this magnitude can occur multiple times in a given winter, sums it up best by saying this is a more perfect storm, and will make THE Perfect Storm “look like a zephyr,” a comparison I can live with.

My point here is to show you that, regardless of whatever Sandy does in the next 36 hours, what develops Sunday night and Monday will be utterly incredible.

A new batch of tropical models will come out around 10 PM Eastern, followed by the GFS at 11:30 PM, and the updated Euro while we’re all sleeping (or winding our night down). But this afternoon’s model cluster, which falls in line with what I’m seeing from the main models looked like this.

(Sidebar: Those abbreviations above are for weather models meteorologists use on a daily basis. The two biggies are the GFS (Global Forecast System), run here in the US of A. Sadly, it pales (in most cases) in comparison to the “Euro” or “ECMWF” or model run by the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts. So when you hear or see terms like that, that’s what we’re referencing.)

The Euro camp has been Delmarva for landfall. This morning that shifted to Atlantic City. The GFS camp has been…everywhere: Out to sea, Maine, loop de loops over New England, but in general north-er. This morning, that shifted toward New York City. Coupled with those tropical models I linked to above that are clustered in Delaware Bay (and have shifted north from an earlier cluster near Ocean City, MD), we get the sense that the trend is to somewhere between about Cape May, NJ and Fire Island, NY on Long Island.

So those are the goal posts. The impacts will be as follows, regardless of where the storm ends up at landfall (except coastal flooding):

Timeline: Sunday afternoon south through Wednesday morning.

Wind: Potential for 60-80 mph gusts on the immediate coast north and east of where the center makes “landfall.” Elsewhere, 40-60 mph wind gusts over the entire region from Virginia through Maine. Widespread and potentially long-term power outages.

Rain: Heavy rain along and southwest of the track. Potential for 5-10″ of rainfall from South Jersey through Pennsylvania, Maryland, DC, and northern Virginia. Flooding likely on streams, creeks, and rivers in those areas. Elsewhere, 3-6″ of rain likely, with localized flooding, but not the destructive massive flooding we saw during Irene. I refer you to this website for the latest rainfall forecast projections.

Snow: Mtns of West Virginia most likely to see snow.

Tidal flooding: Here’s the trickiest forecast and the only one directly impacted by exactly where the storm makes landfall. Along and north of the center, tremendous coastal flooding during the high tides, primarily on Monday night and Tuesday morning. The coastal flooding angle could very well be historic to record type of oceanside (or LI Soundside) flooding. If you are south of the center, tidal flooding will occur, but not quite as severely as the flip side. Flooding of the back bays on to the west side of barrier islands is likely. The most likely areas (AS OF RIGHT NOW) to sustain severe coastal flooding (to me) are from Monmouth County NJ into NYC as well as perhaps along Long Island Sound and Cape Cod.

I never like to speak in hyperbole, so trust me when I tell you this is a serious storm. Even if the worst case scenario of massive coastal flooding does not occur, you can expect Irene-type impacts, if not worse and for a longer duration. Stock up and please be prepared to go without power for awhile. My biggest concern is that the beating trees all across the Northeast and Mid Atlantic have taken (from Irene, the October blizzard of 2011, and the derecho of June) have weakened them and may allow them to be more apt to tumble, given the right circumstances. So just be prepared…and try and remove any leaves that are blocking any drainage.

Sandy Thursday Update for Friends/Family

Couple quick housekeeping things: First, can we stop calling and comparing this to “The Perfect Storm?” It’s a completely different and unique meteorological setup.

In the 12-15 years or so I’ve followed models and weather very closely, I have seen a number of modeled storms….which are eye candy storms that models can’t resolve and end up never happening. I mean…many, many modeled storms that failed. That said, I very rarely have ever seen a modeled storm…less than 5 days away, with high agreement that it will occur, ever not happen. In other words: It would be a catastrophic failure of all the weather models we use and the meteorological community in general if this storm did NOT happen. Thus, the odds of this not happening (in some fashion) is very, very low.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, what’s the latest?

a.) Models continue their dance: Euro goes south of Ocean City, MD, GFS goes into Long Island, their respective ensembles go into NYC. 

b.) All models continue to indicate a high impact storm that is capable to equal or exceed Hurricane Irene last year in terms of duration and problems, impacting much of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. 

I want to draw your attention to a couple things. First, I will show a map of the track of Irene from last year below:

ImageThe thing to notice is that Irene was a classic East Coast hurricane. It went up the coast and into NJ/NYC…while weakening. 

Now let’s take a look at Sandy’s forecast track from a few models. Focus on the circled area:


Notice how different this is. The storm starts out to sea…but it cuts back west after its exit is blocked and it’s captured by an upper level trough digging into the Northeast. This forces the storm to cut West…and how quickly it does this and where it comes ashore is obviously still uncertain. But I think the window is obvious…NJ to Long Island. Why does this matter? Because a storm hitting the coast at a perpendicular angle has the potential to be much worse than one paralleling it, regardless of exactly HOW strong it is. While the storm will be weakening somewhat, it will also be broadening out…spreading its winds out over a large area and behaving much like a nor’easter that deepens as it lifts north of Cape Hatteras. So we have the potential to have 40-60 mph wind gusts (higher gusts possible initially near the coast or just inland) spread out over a 300 mile radius, in addition to massive waves and a storm surge on top of an already astronomically high tide because of the full moon in addition to heavy rain, especially along and just west of the I-95 corridor. Got all that?

Bottom line: There is no longer any “good” solution regarding Sandy. Each one is menacing and poses a share of pretty wicked problems. So to quickly summarize.

If Sandy tracks into Long Island or New England: Worst surge/flooding impacts are Boston to Rhode Island/eastern CT and Long Island. Heavy rain west of Philly north into New England. Strong winds of 40-60 mph from the Jersey Shore to New England with 60-80 mph gusts on Long Island and coastal New England. Snow will be possible in the mountains of PA and Western NY.

If Sandy tracks into New York City: Substantial coastal flooding is possible from North Jersey/Raritan Bay through New England, including in Lower Manhattan. Back Bay flooding may be severe in NJ and blowout tides are possible in Delaware Bay as well. 40-60 mph wind gusts widespread over the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. 60-80 mph gusts will be possible on Long Island and possibly close to NYC, especially in high rises.  Heavy rain in Southern New England, Upstate NY, and Pennsylvania. Snow possible in the mountains of PA, MD, and WV.

If Sandy hits the Jersey Shore: North of the track will be severe to historic coastal flooding through Long Island Sound. South of the track will be back bay flooding and blowout tides. 40-70 mph gusts on the coast…40-60 mph gusts inland. Heavy rain inland from DC/Maryland through Upstate NY and parts of Southern New England. Snow possible in the mtns of Western PA, Maryland, and much of West Virginia. 

If Sandy hits Delmarva or tracks up the Delaware Bay: Severe to historic coastal flooding for the entire Jersey Shore. Possible tidal flooding in Philadelphia. Mod to severe coastal flooding NYC into New England. Winds still 40-70 mph or so over a wide area. Heavy rain inland from Virginia north through PA, with mod to heavy rain in NY and New England. Snow possible in West Virginia.

All Scenarios: Heavy rain, localized to widespread flooding, moderate to severe coastal flooding, and power outages…possibly extended for a long period of time in the hardest hit areas.

Time to prepare and not panic…still a long way to go, and Sandy still has a fair amount of wind shear to go through. I don’t think it matters much, but the weather is full of surprises. There are not many benchmarks in the historical record to compare this storm to: It is truly a unique and devilish beast, and one that will be fodder for numerous journal articles down the line….whether it happens or not.

Enter Sandy

Oh hi, blog. I haven’t seen you in about 9 months. Let’s talk about Sandy. Numerous friends/family have asked me questions about this storm already. Hype is in overdrive, but we don’t do hype here.

Sandy is Jamaica’s problem at present, en route to Cuba, the Bahamas, and a brush with coastal South Florida. Not a severe storm relative to what is often experienced in these areas (though it’s interesting to note this is Jamaica’s first landfalling storm since Gilbert in 1988). So where’s it going from here?

ImageWe have two main models we look at (among many others): The GFS and European (Euro). For the last few days the GFS has kicked Sandy out to sea harmlessly, whereas the Euro has blown Sandy up into a monster superstorm, with varying landfall points from New Jersey to New England. The GFS is not a very skillful model with tropical systems in most cases. During Isaac, for several days the GFS suggested the storm would hit the Big Bend of Florida, while the European model went between Pensacola, FL and west of New Orleans. It wasn’t until we got within 48-72 hours of landfall that the GFS showed skill. We’re presently 4-5 days from first impacts with Sandy. That said, even the GFS began to come around today. I pasted an image above of the GFS ensemble members from this morning, which shows multiple ones with a big hit somewhere between NJ and New England.

Now, I do believe the European model is grossly overdoing the intensity of the storm (it missed Irene last summer by about 30 mb of pressure). It’s currently showing 930-940 mb for a central pressure, which is massive. I suspect that comes in reality between 955 and 970 mb. Either way, we’re talking about a big storm.

What does this mean for you?

I am not prepared to make a call on exactly where Sandy will go or how strong it will be or specific impacts, but I will give you some ideas of my thinking:

– Sandy will come ashore later Monday or early Tuesday somewhere between southern NJ and New England.

– Impacts will include strong tropical storm force winds across most of the Northeast and Mid Atlantic, with possible hurricane force gusts on the coast (highest risk of this right now seems to be the New England coast). Whether we get those really strong gusts remains to be seen.

– A full moon will enhance coastal flooding, as a long duration “fetch” over the open ocean could lead to very high tides from NJ north into New England, with west side flooding possible in Delmarva/Hampton Roads.

– Extremely heavy rain will fall, especially inland I believe. The inland flooding threat is difficult to peg down. It may not rival Irene…or it may; it just may occur in a different place. Do not underestimate this angle of the storm.

– Snow will be possible in western Maryland, West Virginia, and Western Pennsylvania as cold air wraps in behind the storm.

What should you do right now? Well, not much. First: Do not panic. Unnecessary….this is not the end of the world. It may just end up like your usual strong nor’easter. That said, it may not be a bad idea to get out in front of this storm and get some hurricane supplies set up before the media hype goes into overdrive (that should occur tomorrow evening). I would advise this for anyone living from NJ into New England, including NYC. Stay tuned to the forecast, and if you have plans Sunday night through Tuesday, start coming up with backup plans you can implement, just in case.

I will be less accessible than usual due to work obligations, so I may not post frequently about this.