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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Quoting presslord:
btw...we're STILL getting serious north wind here in Charleston...which I assume are related to Sandy...been like this since Friday


yep, and wait till we get the back lash winds in a couple days...all that wind that will bring the cold air down from where they are getting blizzard conditions right now
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Jim Cantore depressed because water level has dropped at Battery Park.
Member Since: September 16, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 7249
Quoting coondini:

I think it's an actual supercell thunderstorm over the plains photoshopped over NYC. Similar photos were circulated after Hurricane Katrina and passed off as Katrina photos (though they hadn't been shopped, just horribly mis-captioned).


Yeah, I dont get why they show supercell pictures and label it Hurricane Katrina...

What they are really showing are the storm's remants long after it moved inland.
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Got lights flickering now here at my house...
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From The Dispatch Ocean City, Md

Drastic measures for some in Ocean City, as numerous sources confirm a Marlin Drive homeowner fired some rounds into a runaway boat in an effort to keep it from crashing into his bayfront home. Police were called to the scene. Marlin Drive is behind the Bahia Marina off 21st Street

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Quoting GTcooliebai:
BREAKING (via @CNBCNow Twitter): NYSE to close market tomorrow. Last time NYSE closed for more than 1 day due to weather was in 1888.

That was a pretty big weather day. So big in fact that is resulted in New York's subway system!

Blizzard of 1888
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 46 Comments: 11668
Wind is really beginning to pick up here now. This is the strongest it's been by far. Windows finally rattling.
Member Since: September 12, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 141
btw...we're STILL getting serious north wind here in Charleston...which I assume are related to Sandy...been like this since Friday
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Quoting wolftribe2009:


wow we still are using the word "hype" here. Incredible! The storm is strengthening! Atlantic City is already under water, people have probably already died in the storm, those told to evacuate in Delaware are having to be rescued, all along the coast the water rise is significant and very disturbing with high tide coming. The battery is already at its Irene 2011 height and high tide is still coming. Power is already going out and flood warnings are everywhere. Now that is all BEFORE the storm has gotten there.

Hype no, Reality YES!


Actually, when it is all over, it may well embarrass Katrina by every measure: Cost in life, cost in short term inconvenience, cost in insured dollars, cost in infrastructure damage ... there are huge areas of the east coast that, like NOLA, will never be the same after this day.
Member Since: May 21, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 440
Quoting LostTomorrows:


That's pretty, and pretty terrifying at once.


Your image is from Nebraska. A doctored image:

http://www.snopes.com/photos/natural/nystorm.asp
Member Since: December 28, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 134
BREAKING (via @CNBCNow Twitter): NYSE to close market tomorrow. Last time NYSE closed for more than 1 day due to weather was in 1888.
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Quoting CloudGatherer:
That pic of the Tomb of the Unknowns is from September. This is what it looks like today.


They're still out there too, so doesn't matter if the picture is from September. Huge respect for those guys.
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 24134
Quoting GTcooliebai:


Awsome!
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Quoting presslord:


most of the deaths are on dry land ;-)

Dry land is a relative term.
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I am getting SO annoyed by certain people on FB with their "Bring it on Sandy, nothing is happening here. This is so boring. This storm is all hype". Are you kidding me? My father just talked to the owner of our boat dock. The water already is up above two cinder blocks high that the boats out of the water are on. They are all on THREE cinder blocks. So tonight, they are going to be floating all over. Into his house, into other boats, into the open water.

Towns are already flooded and she is still not here yet. It's so frustrating. Just like during Irene. "I didn't even lose power, this storm was just hype". Really? Because 500,000 other people on Long Island lost power.. but I guess since you didn't, the storm wasn't a big deal at all. It seems so selfish to think that just because you didn't have damage to your property or power outage, that the storm was "nothing".
Member Since: September 12, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 141
G'day,
Well, that is, at least here in sunny but very chilly SE Louisiana.

I'll keep it short / simple -
Best wishes to all of you affected by powerful "Super Sandy'ster"!
You're in our thoughts and prayers...
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Quoting CybrTeddy:
Respect.
That pic of the Tomb of the Unknowns is from September. This is what it looks like today.
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Quoting UpperLevelLOL:


It's also fake as hell

I think it's an actual supercell thunderstorm over the plains photoshopped over NYC. Similar photos were circulated after Hurricane Katrina and passed off as Katrina photos (though they hadn't been shopped, just horribly mis-captioned).
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CyberTed where as that picture taken?.
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$88Bn may or may not be accurate, I don't know I'm not qualified to say. I do know this from watching storms since Hugo in 89 that one thing is certain - we don't know what the full extent is going to be until after it's over. We can make educated guesses, but even with the best information available be off by several $Bn either way. As someone stated earlier, the time to evacuate is now if you are in a danger zone, otherwise hunker down and pray for the best. I just hope those in the areas most in danger have taken every possible precaution for the preservation of life. Property can be replaced, life can't.
Member Since: September 29, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 65
Quoting CybrTeddy:
I understand making people aware of the seriousness of the situation, but the news shouldn't be putting out damage estimates of that scale before the storm has even hit. 88 billion is insane damage.


I know that in WV, KY, NC, etc, the areas that are getting the blizzards...they are gonna take damage not just from the power outages CT, but think of all the crops that will be lost from the freeze alone if they couldnt harvest all of it in time or if it wasnt ready to harvest...and those are states that are not even taking a direct impact...i see your point but i can see that number rising non stop so far just from what i am seeing live
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Does anyone think we'll see clearing (partly cloudy skies) along the coast due to the dry air behind the center.
Once the center of the storm passes, the skies may clear with strong winds continuing.
Member Since: September 16, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 7249
Quoting Hurricane12:


Is that real?
No, it's a photo of a supercell thunderstorm photoshopped behind the Statue of Liberty.
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Bridgeport, CT just crested at 11'...

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Quoting SSideBrac:


I may sound callous and uncaring - I am NOT - they have been repeatedly warned and chose to ignore warnings - in essence if things continue to go downhill from now - they are on their own - and in a "cruel aside" - it is all down to them!!


Darwin called it natural selection..
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NYC surge is at 4.6 Ft, and Rising, Ireme peaked at 4.8
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455. DrewE
Okay, does anyone want to take an educated guess on final landfall point?

For me, extreme southern Cape May county in New Jersey, possibly even a bit south.
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I understand making people aware of the seriousness of the situation, but the news shouldn't be putting out damage estimates of that scale before the storm has even hit. 88 billion is insane damage.
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 24134
Quoting CybrTeddy:
Respect.


I hope they get short shifts through this. They may be exhausted just trying to stand up straight.
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452. MahFL
Quoting LostTomorrows:


That's pretty, and pretty terrifying at once.


Fake.
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Quoting CybrTeddy:
Respect.


The utmost!!!!
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450. redux
to me...it looks like its headed more towards delaware bay than southern NJ.
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Quoting CybrTeddy:
Respect.


That's a million times fantastic.
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Quoting LostTomorrows:


That's pretty, and pretty terrifying at once.


It's also fake as hell
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The ABC newsbroadcaster on live stream keeps stepping out into 70+ mile winds along the Jersey shore. I hope he doesn't get hit in the head with a flying two by four!
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Ryan Maue thinks that the greatest surge may lag a bit behind the center's actual landfall. That would be devastating.
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Quoting presslord:
Stormjunkie and I have a friend who rode out Hugo aboard a shrimp boat docked near Folly Beach...she described the experience as "...kinda breezy..." alcohol was involved...


Alcohol, specifically rum, is a must.. Lol
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Quoting washingtonian115:
Cnn money said possibly 88 billion in loses.I had to look real close at the screen.
...and if you look even closer, there is an extra 'S' in there. No pun intended. j/k...LOL
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Pooooooooooop. Ok ok, I get it. I jumped on the wagon too soon, I still think it's a pretty picture, haha.

Then again, I think Sandy's appoach would be uglier than that.
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Respect.
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 24134
441. wpb
euro model had it nailed ten days ago. gfs had it flying ne out to sea
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Quoting 900MB:
Kind of amazingly quiet here in NYC (Manhattan/high ground). We've had a couple of gusts in the mid 40's but mainly calm or breezy. Amazing considering the scenes as close by as coastal Brooklyn.


That's been my observation as well (also from Manhattan high ground). It's eerily quiet, and we've been getting the periodic gusts blowing leaves around.

I've been watching a few webcams and there are still people around, but even the touristy areas are starting to clear out.

I'm very concerned for people out on the Rockaways and other ocean-facing areas.
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Quoting LostTomorrows:


That's pretty, and pretty terrifying at once.
It may be pretty--but, as others have noted, it's not a real image, and it has nothing to do with Sandy; it's a stock image of the Statue of Liberty superimposed on a stock image of a backlit Midwest supercell.
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Surge 1.5 feet above projection in New Bedford, MA
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12.5' foot surge occurring at Kings Point, New York currently...

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Quoting Lonewulf:
I've rode out more than 1 hurricane onboard a US Navy ship (a frigate at that) and it's a lot safer for the ship than sitting in port taking a beating. If we get underway in time we can usually outrun the worst parts of the storm and circle around in behind it to come back home.

I live in Hampton Roads and the Navy ships here left Friday afternoon so they should have been able to get out away from the worst parts of Sandy, but I guarantee they are having a rough ride right now. They'll be safe, but I don't envy them the trip.


Ex navy here Lone...USS Acadia AD 42...they sunk her this year in the Pacific off the coast of San Diego...have hit plenty of rough waters...and will agree that as long as you left in time to out run em...water is safer...
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Stormjunkie and I have a friend who rode out Hugo aboard a shrimp boat docked near Folly Beach...she described the experience as "...kinda breezy..." alcohol was involved...
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Quoting LostTomorrows:


That's pretty, and pretty terrifying at once.


that is fake
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NY/NJ Topo Map:

http://www.arcgis.com/home/webmap/viewer.html?web map=71d238144d4442cb99784890a50a4373

Link

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I've rode out more than 1 hurricane onboard a US Navy ship (a frigate at that) and it's a lot safer for the ship than sitting in port taking a beating. If we get underway in time we can usually outrun the worst parts of the storm and circle around in behind it to come back home.

I live in Hampton Roads and the Navy ships here left Friday afternoon so they should have been able to get out away from the worst parts of Sandy, but I guarantee they are having a rough ride right now. They'll be safe, but I don't envy them the trip.
Member Since: September 29, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 65

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About

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.