Superstorm Sandy intensifying, bringing record storm surges

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:54 PM GMT on October 29, 2012

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The final countdown to Hurricane Sandy's arrival has begun, and this extraordinary and historic storm is already causing havoc all along the U.S. coast from North Carolina to Massachusetts. The scale of this massive storm truly earns Sandy the title of "superstorm". Sandy's tropical storm-force winds span an area of ocean 940 miles in diameter, and both North Carolina and the island of Bermuda, 700 miles to the east, are under tropical storm warnings. The region of ocean covered by 12-foot high seas spans an area of ocean an incredible 1560 miles in diameter. Winds near hurricane force are expected to affect waters from Virginia to Massachusetts today. Record storm surge flooding has already occurred in regions along the New Jersey coast this morning, and the highest water levels recorded in over a century of record keeping are expected over much of the New Jersey and New York coasts this evening during the 8 - 9 pm EDT high tide cycle. Sandy brought sustained winds of 60 mph and waves 30 feet high early this morning to the buoy east of Cape Hatteras, NC. A wind gust of 58 mph occurred at New York City's La Guardia Airport at 9:51 am EDT, and a buoy at Robins Reef, NJ recorded sustained winds of 42 mph, gusting to 55 mph. As of 8 am EDT, Sandy has dumped heavy rains of 7.87" at Cape Hatteras, NC; 4.01" at Ocean City, MD; 3.12" at Dover, DE; and 3.22" at Virginia Beach, VA. As of 9 am EDT, peak storm surge values of 5" were observed at Lewes, Delaware, 4.2' at Cape May, NJ, 4' at Atlantic City, NJ, 2.9' at Philadelphia, and 3.9' at New York City.

Latest data from the Hurricane Hunters shows that Sandy is intensifying as its core traverses the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. At 8 am EDT, an Air Force hurricane hunter aircraft found top winds of 98 mph in the heavy thunderstorms to the southwest of Sandy's center, at a point about 150 miles east-northeast of Cape Hatteras, NC. A dropsonde released in the eye measured a central pressure of 945 mb, but observed winds of 19 knots at the surface, so Sandy is probably a 943 mb hurricane that is very close to Category 2 strength. The Hurricane Hunters did not observe an eyewall, and saw very little temperature difference from inside to outside the eye, so Sandy is not going to be able to undergo rapid intensification. The storm could still see an increase of 5 mph in its winds before landfall tonight between 6 pm - 10 pm EDT, due, in part, to interaction with the low pressure system to its west that is pulling the hurricane towards the coast. The new, higher winds of Sandy don't have a lot of time to pile up additional storm surge water, so the NHC storm surge forecasts will probably not change today. But it is clear that Sandy is not going to pull its punch, and this superstorm is going to deliver a punishing multi-billion dollar blow to a huge area of the Eastern U.S.


Figure 1. Morning satellite image of Hurricane Sandy.

Sandy already producing a record storm surge
The National Weather Service in Atlantic City, NJ said that isolated record storm surge flooding already occurred along portions of the New Jersey coast with this morning's 7:30 am EDT high tide cycle. As the tide goes out late this morning and this afternoon, water levels will fall, since the difference in water levels between low tide and high tide is about 5'. However, this evening, as the core of Sandy moves ashore, the storm will carry with it a gigantic bulge of water that will raise waters levels to the highest storm tides ever seen in over a century of record keeping, along much of the coastline of New Jersey and New York. The peak danger will be between 7 pm - 10 pm, when storm surge rides in on top of the high tide. The full moon is today, which means astronomical high tide will be about 5% higher than the average high tide for the month, adding another 2 - 3" to water levels. This morning's 9:30 am EDT H*Wind analysis from NOAA's Hurricane Research Division put the destructive potential of Sandy's winds at a modest 2.9 on a scale of 0 to 6. However, the destructive potential of the storm surge was record high: 5.8 on a scale of 0 to 6. This is a higher destructive potential than any hurricane observed since 1969, including Category 5 storms like Katrina, Rita, Wilma, Camille, and Andrew. The previous highest destructive potential for storm surge was 5.6 on a scale of 0 to 6, set during Hurricane Isabel of 2003. Sandy's storm surge will be capable of overtopping the flood walls in Manhattan, which are only five feet above mean sea level. On August 28, 2011, Tropical Storm Irene brought a storm surge of 4.13' and a storm tide of 9.5' above MLLW to Battery Park on the south side of Manhattan. The waters poured over the flood walls into Lower Manhattan, but came 8 - 12" shy of being able to flood the New York City subway system. According to the latest storm surge forecast for NYC from NHC, Sandy's storm surge is expected to be 10 - 12' above MLLW. Since a storm tide of 10.5' is needed to flood the subway system, it appears likely that portions of the NYC subway system will flood. The record highest storm tide at The Battery was 10.5', set on September 15, 1960, during Hurricane Donna.


Figure 2. Observed storm tide (red line) and predicted storm surge for Hurricane Sandy at The Battery on the south shore of Manhattan, New York City, from the experimental Extratropical Storm Surge model, run by NOAA"s Meteorological Development Laboratory (green line) and the NYHOPS model from the Stevens Institute of Technology (pink curve), which uses a highly detailed 3D ocean model and even includes rainfall and tributary inflows. These models have a storm surge of 5 - 6', which brings the maximum storm tide--the water level reached as a result of the combined action of the tide and the storm surge--to 11' above MLLW (Mean Lower Low Water.) Irene brought a storm tide of 9.5' above MLLW to The Battery in 2011. At a storm tide of 10.5', water will likely pour into the Lower Manhattan subway system, unless efforts to sandbag the entrances are successful. The NWS in NYC is predicting a 10 - 12' storm tide at The Battery during tonight's 9 pm high tide cycle.


Figure 3. Observed storm tide (red line) and predicted storm surge for Hurricane Sandy at Atlantic City, New Jersey, from the experimental Extratropical Storm Surge model, run by NOAA"s Meteorological Development Laboratory (green line) and the NYHOPS model from the Stevens Institute of Technology (pink curve), which uses a highly detailed 3D ocean model and even includes rainfall and tributary inflows. These models predict a maximum storm tide--the water level reached as a result of the combined action of the tide and the storm surge--of ' above MLLW (Mean Lower Low Water.) Irene brought a storm tide of 9.5' above MLLW to The Battery in 2011. At a storm tide of 10.5', water will likely pour into the Lower Manhattan subway system, unless efforts to sandbag the entrances are successful. The NWS in Atlantic City is predicting a 9.5' storm tide for the city during tonight's 8 pm high tide cycle, which would be the highest water levels ever observed in Atlantic City.

Links for Sandy
To find out if you need to evacuate, please contact your local emergency management office. They will have the latest information. People living in New York City can find their evacuation zone here or use this map. FEMA has information on preparing for hurricanes.

People with disabilities and caregivers seeking information on accessible shelter and transportation can contact portlight.org

Atlantic City beach cam

Ocean City, MD webcam

Statue of Liberty cam

An impressive 1-minute resolution satellite loop of Sandy today is at the CSU RAMMB website.

Our Weather Historian, Christopher C. Burt, has an excellent post on Late Season Tropical Storms that have affected the U.S. north of Hatteras. He also has a post, Historic Hurricanes from New Jersey to New England.

Hurricane Sandy info from NASA.

Joe Romm at climateprogress.org has a thoughtful piece called, How Does Global Warming Make Hurricanes Like Irene More Destructive?

For those of you wanting to know your odds of receiving hurricane force or tropical storm force winds, I recommend the NHC wind probability product.

Wunderground has detailed storm surge maps for the U.S. coast.

The National Hurricane Center's Interactive Storm Surge RIsk Map, which allows one to pick a particular Category hurricane and zoom in, is a good source of storm surge risk information.

Storm Surge prediction model from the Stevens Institute of Technology, which use a highly detailed 3D ocean model and even includes rainfall and tributary inflows.

Research storm surge model run by SUNY Stonybrook for New York City.

Climate Central has a nice satellite image showing which parts of New York Harbor are below five feet in elevation.

I'll have an update this afternoon.

Jeff Masters

Hurricane Sandy 1 (gwegret)
Post-Hurricane Sandy waves pound the Deerfield Beach, FL fishing pier!
Hurricane Sandy 1
Hurricane Sandy Long Neck Delaware (mal247)
On Rehoboth Bay
Hurricane Sandy Long Neck Delaware

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Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 19608
Quoting Bluestorm5:
@WunderAngela

Dr. Jeff Masters is now giving it a 30% chance that the #NYC subway will be flooded.
Glad chance has dropped a little. We will know in a few hours.
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Well just like the power is out here in this small part of Northern Va. Not sure what happened, our lines are buried and the winds still aren't extreme, if the forecasts are still the same things are only going to get worse from here on out.
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Quoting Bluestorm5:
@WunderAngela

Dr. Jeff Masters is now giving it a 30% chance that the #NYC subway will be flooded.


what did he have it originally?
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 13 Comments: 13481
Quoting AstroHurricane001:
As I sit in for a hydrology class (unique to my region of Ontario), I am enjoying the discussions of soil porosity and Darcy's laws, but somewhat wish we were also covering more current events like Hurricane Sandy making landfall right now in New Jersey. A strong backdoor warm front, the same one that hit us earlier this weekend and dropped some non-accumulating wet snow, will be passing over my region in an hour and giving us 0.8 in/hr of rain. This storm could give us about 2-3 inches of rain.


Man, that's kind of lame. There is a time to teach the regular lesson and there's a time to show how it applies to current events. Boy, this is the second one!

I remember back in my Tropical Met class, it was the middle of winter, but when we had a couple of S Pacific hurricanes, we watched them Fujiwara around each other and talked about some of the major dynamics of those particular storms. Guess that was probably back in 2004 or so, but great lesson which I never forgot.
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HURRICANE SANDY TROPICAL CYCLONE UPDATE
NWS NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL AL182012
400 PM EDT MON OCT 29 2012

...CENTER OF SANDY MOVING TOWARD CAPE MAY NEW JERSEY...
...LANDFALL EXPECTED BY EARLY THIS EVENING...

SUMMARY OF 400 PM EDT...2000 UTC...INFORMATION
----------------------------------------------
LOCATION...38.6N 74.0W
ABOUT 55 MI...90 KM ESE OF CAPE MAY NEW JERSEY
ABOUT 65 MI...105 KM SE OF ATLANTIC CITY NEW JERSEY
MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS...90 MPH...150 KM/H
PRESENT MOVEMENT...WNW OR 300 DEGREES AT 28 MPH...44 KM/H
MINIMUM CENTRAL PRESSURE...940 MB...27.76 INCHES

LATEST REPORTS FROM AN AIR FORCE RESERVE RECONNAISSANCE AIRCRAFT...
AS WELL AS NOAA DOPPLER RADAR OBSERVATIONS...INDICATE THAT SANDY
IS NOW MOVING TOWARD THE WEST-NORTHWEST. ON THIS TRACK...THE
CENTER OF SANDY IS EXPECTED TO REACH THE COAST OF EXTREME SOUTHERN
NEW JERSEY OR CENTRAL DELAWARE WITHIN THE NEXT 3 TO 5 HOURS.

$$
FORECASTER STEWART

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Quoting goalexgo:
Storm looks naked to the east. All the action is and has been west and south. What exactly is going to clip us? There's nothing out there.


Come back in two hours and tell us what your windspeeds are and if there's no rain. Your turn is coming right up - rains and wind are steadily increasing on Long Island and in fact your area is likely to get stuck in a long duration band that lasts all night - not to mention 70 mph wind gusts within the next two hours. Your reading of the storm is very faulty.
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Quoting Maryland1:


Largo, most of that stuff won't be there in the next high tide cycle. I'd image the Assawoman Bay and the ocean have a date to meet a bit later.
yes just saw a news article that pier that sticks out was destroyed gee
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Quoting ScottLincoln:


Worst of the surge is not there yet. This storm is not over, even upon landfall.


Yeah, there ARE still strong winds on the back half of the storm, so when it makes landfall it's gonna continue driving water into the coast and into those bays up there..
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Quoting LargoFl:
Ocean city boardwalk...........


Largo, most of that stuff won't be there in the next high tide cycle. I'd image the Assawoman Bay and the ocean have a date to meet a bit later.
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@WunderAngela

Dr. Jeff Masters is now giving it a 30% chance that the #NYC subway will be flooded.
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As I sit in for a hydrology class (unique to my region of Ontario), I am enjoying the discussions of soil porosity and Darcy's laws, but somewhat wish we were also covering more current events like Hurricane Sandy making landfall right now in New Jersey. A strong backdoor warm front, the same one that hit us earlier this weekend and dropped some non-accumulating wet snow, will be passing over my region in an hour and giving us 0.8 in/hr of rain. This storm could give us about 2-3 inches of rain.
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Quoting zone9slash:
It appears that this storm is not affecting NY City to the extent they warned, and other than inland flooding and the obvious waterfront flooding and erosion, it is not a "once in your life storm" or the End of the world scenario they predicted. My question is this.. with the center close to land and not much on the east and southeast side, won't the storm be passing more quickly than expected? I have been in (as in actually living in) numerous Cat 1-3 storms over the years and this one does not seem to be equal to the hype. Yet I have always been 4 mi inland and what I am seeing reported is normal hurricane water, larger surge and less wind and rainfall. Or is this storm packing something offshore that I am missing? Thanks!!!


Worst of the surge is not there yet. This storm is not over, even upon landfall.
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Quoting zawxdsk:
Weather Channel Needs to update their Battery estimate of 5.6' excess water. Total water is at 6.4 and predicted at 0.2 - so 6.2' of water - 6 more inches in last half hour.



Was about to post a link to that site with the comment:

The surge seems to be surging. Over six feet of surge currently with a five foot tidal increase on the way.
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Update should come soon.
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Please someone tell me the sense in Reynolds from TWC in the middle of the mariner on on a docking slip doing a report..he couldnt find anywhere to report from?
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 13 Comments: 13481
Quoting MAweatherboy1:
Winds continue to be the big story up here, only picked up a little over an inch of rain, but wind gusts over 60mph have knocked out power to tens of thousands up here... not me yet though :)


The reason the power is still on here in MA is the Halloween snowstorm last year that removed half of the branches from most of the leafy trees. Rain bands here in northern MA have only started in the last hour.
Member Since: December 28, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 134
Quoting biff4ugo:
Looking at the storm surge, if your are in New Brunswick...get out!


Saw the predicted measurements there maxing out. Is there any gauge to measure that area?
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Perfect cloud ring formation over the water

Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9625
Folks, no sense responding to the "I'm so tough, this storm is nothing.." trolls. These events tend to bring them out of the woodwork. Just hit ignore and they'll eventually go away.

Up here in Canada (hour west of Buffalo) have just had a decent squall come through with heavy winds and rain, but most of our weather is expected around midnight. Praying that everyone in the path of this unique storm stays safe.
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Post #848 (I'm NOT quoting that).
...
Words fail me.
Member Since: July 18, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 392
That crane looks pretty sketchy. It's going to be Godzilla if it comes down.
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Looking at the storm surge, if your are in New Brunswick...get out!
Member Since: December 28, 2006 Posts: 113 Comments: 1501
In North Eastern Maryland, we have had a ton or rain. The wind has really picked up in the last hour and i expect things to go downhill quick. This storm has been serious in this area.
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Weather Channel Needs to update their Battery estimate of 5.6' excess water. Total water is at 6.4 and predicted at 0.2 - so 6.2' of water - 6 more inches in last half hour.


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Weird large ring like formation going on near the center

Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9625
905. afs
Quoting Neapolitan:
National Guard bumper sticker: "THAT PLASMA TV YOU JUST PICKED UP SURE IS NICE, BUT I BET IT CAN'T STOP A 5.56X45MM NATO ROUND FIRED FROM MY M4."

Disaster-time looters--aside from those seeking sustenance or medical supplies in a time of dire emergency--are the absolute scum of the earth, cockroaches to be squashed underfoot.


Could you guys see if you can get through a national emergency without talking about all the things you wanna kill with your guns, please.
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Ocean city boardwalk...........
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Quoting Bluestorm5:
Recon ran into 105 knots flight winds or 120 mph. Surface is still low, though.


This is what you usually get from a baroclinic storm. Wind speeds at higher altitudes, especially up in the Pennsylvania and West Virginia mountains, will be HUGE.
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Quoting Maryland1:


Nothing is stopping you, but perhaps you might consider leaving some instructions behind, if you are leaving now.


I think you meant to quote the fool that wants to go to work, not me. He should definitely head in now. He can still get some work done :D
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New York Harbor Entrance






Member Since: September 23, 2005 Posts: 13 Comments: 10473
Quoting ConnecticutWXGuy:
There is actually impressive activity for this time of year in the ITCZ


Yes,All the way around....Maybe a surprise?
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Quoting Bluestorm5:
Well be lucky you're home. You could've been killed by flooding or fallen tree. The worst of this storm haven't arrived yet.
Storm looks naked to the east. All the action is and has been west and south. What exactly is going to clip us? There's nothing out there.
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Quoting Kristina40:


It's attitudes like yours that get people killed and not just yourself. The storm isn't even ashore yet and you're proclaiming it's over. Foolish.


Nothing is stopping you, but perhaps you might consider leaving some instructions behind, if you are leaving now.
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Quoting goalexgo:
99 percent of us in this State do not live near the "high tide". Storm winding down for the other 11.7 million of us. Should have gone to work.


Leave us troll boy
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It appears that this storm is not affecting NY City to the extent they warned, and other than inland flooding and the obvious waterfront flooding and erosion, it is not a "once in your life storm" or the End of the world scenario they predicted. My question is this.. with the center close to land and not much on the east and southeast side, won't the storm be passing more quickly than expected? I have been in (as in actually living in) numerous Cat 1-3 storms over the years and this one does not seem to be equal to the hype. Yet I have always been 4 mi inland and what I am seeing reported is normal hurricane water, larger surge and less wind and rainfall. Or is this storm packing something offshore that I am missing? Thanks!!!
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Quoting AstroHurricane001:


Looks like she'll enter the northern end of Delaware Bay.
thats bad news, going to push all the water in the bay forward..
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Quoting islander101010:
cantori might be too far north
Cantori ruined the whole thing for us. Should have sent him to a buoy in the central atlantic...storm would have hung a hard right instead of the hard left.
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Quoting goalexgo:
99 percent of us in this State do not live near the "high tide". Storm winding down for the other 11.7 million of us. Should have gone to work.
Well be lucky you're home. You could've been killed by flooding or fallen tree. The worst of this storm haven't arrived yet.
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Looks like the storm center structure is starting to fall apart / transition to subtropical.

This is exactly what the models predicted, even if they did keep it nearly intact at the higher heights. Also doesn't necessarily mean that it is weakening - just picking up a strange movement and uncertain center.
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Quoting hydrus:
I was thinking that too..Hope she is ready for the unexpected.


Her lights were flickering from the wind gust earlier I hope she still has power.
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Quoting 1900hurricane:
Getting close...



Looks like she'll enter the northern end of Delaware Bay.
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http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/livenow?id=8857235 Seaside heights, new jersey. The Boardwalk is flooded, power out, 70-80 mph winds.
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Winds sustained at 70 mph. Sea Side Heights, NJ
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886. 900MB
Quoting centex:
Maybe not if surge gets into the subway which would happen couple hours after landfall.

Cantori is shielding Manhattan! Just gotta get him up to 57th Street so the crane doesn't fall!
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TIDAL POTOMAC RIVER AND MARYLAND PORTION OF CHESAPEAKE BAY.

FORECASTS OF WAVE HEIGHTS DO NOT INCLUDE EFFECTS OF WIND DIRECTION
RELATIVE TO TIDAL CURRENTS. EXPECT HIGHER WAVES WHEN WINDS ARE
BLOWING AGAINST THE TIDAL FLOW.
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Quoting SSideBrac:

Digressing somewhat - I would be interested to see what the Rules of Engagement are for the National Guard warned off to be deployed in NYC - even if they will be carrying live ammunition.


They may have live ammo but I'd guess rubber bullets/sim rounds to be more likely. Sting like a ***** when they hit, but not fatal even if they hit you in the head. When I was in the National Guard back in 89-93 we never covered this situation, so I don't know for sure.
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Quoting goalexgo:
99 percent of us in this State do not live near the "high tide". Storm winding down for the other 11.7 million of us. Should have gone to work.


It's attitudes like yours that get people killed and not just yourself. The storm isn't even ashore yet and you're proclaiming it's over. Foolish.
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Quoting SyriboTigereyes:

Franklin Square area here.. Just had a transformer blow right near us, maybe two blocks away? Glad it wasn't ours.. but it's only a matter of time. We are expecting it to go out so I'm already lighting candles and getting prepared. These gusts keep getting worse and worse.
Hey, sweetie...you are not supposed to light candles (oil lamps, open flames) until the storm has passed because if a window breaks a candle can topple and start a fire. Please use flashlights until this passes. Sorry, not preaching or intimating that you don't know this already...just stating...for others in the storm as well.
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.