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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first time i've watched twc in many years.  they don't seem very hype prone at the moment, and watching a meteo getting angry, standing 30 yards back while a guy did gangnam style behind him and people frolicked at the seawall, i don't think their tone is alarmist at all but very , very reasonable.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXMU2qwCVag
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Sandy's center is starting to come into view from radar:

Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 46 Comments: 11660
"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." Dr. Masters

And just think of all the development and people added to the mix in the last century.
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Quoting jeffs713:

It takes quite a bit of Darwin Award potential to sail a smallish sailboat VERY loaded down (17 people!) into the ocean with a hurricane nearby.

Unless there is an incredibly plausible story, they should be charged for their rescue effort.


That sounds like the Bounty story with the size listed wrong - the location, the conditions, 17 people, taking on water, no propulsion, etc.
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Quoting HurricaneTracker01:


I think a real solution to this problem would be to upgrade the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale to account for things like potential damage, storm surge, expansiveness, etc. This would make it so the category of storm would be more directly correlated to the damage potential. Sandy would be more than a 1.

Or we could stop using it and just give the facts.
Member Since: May 18, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 5913
Quoting NICycloneChaser:
Sandbagging efforts at the New York Stock Exchange.



Can't see two sandbags high stopping what New York has on its doorstep.
I.. I don't get that?

Why waste the manpower/sand/bags to do that? The doors to the stone building are up steps higher than the bags. Why not just block the doors and street level windows with sheeting/bags instead of some random zig-zag out in the street? Am i missing something?
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Quoting jeffs713:

It takes quite a bit of Darwin Award potential to sail a smallish sailboat VERY loaded down (17 people!) into the ocean with a hurricane nearby.

Unless there is an incredibly plausible story, they should be charged for their rescue effort.


That is obviously a typo. Old news. It was. 180' vessel.
Member Since: August 30, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 173
Quoting jeffs713:

It takes quite a bit of Darwin Award potential to sail a smallish sailboat VERY loaded down (17 people!) into the ocean with a hurricane nearby.

Unless there is an incredibly plausible story, they should be charged for their rescue effort.


it was a 180ft long boat...thats pretty big....obviously still shouldnt be there...but it wasnt THAT small
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Quoting jeffs713:

It takes quite a bit of Darwin Award potential to sail a smallish sailboat VERY loaded down (17 people!) into the ocean with a hurricane nearby.

Unless there is an incredibly plausible story, they should be charged for their rescue effort.


Those folks are basically left to die, it's crazy
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Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 46 Comments: 11660
Sandy is still following the UKMET track closely, a bit east of consensus:

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Quoting RitaEvac:
People seem to be confused that if you don't live on the immediate coast you are not gonna see the devastating impacts. It's the coastline, bays, inlets that are gonna be destroyed. It's common sense.


They don't have the experience with storms like we do living on the gulf coast. Yanks are a tough group but you cannot beat Mother Nature.
Member Since: August 30, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 173
18L/PTH/S/CXX
NEARING LANDFALL
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Quoting RitaEvac:
People seem to be confused that if you don't live on the immediate coast you are not gonna see the devastating impacts. It's the coastline, bays, inlets that are gonna be destroyed. It's common sense.

Storm surge gets funneled up the inlets.
Member Since: May 18, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 5913
Quoting RitaEvac:
Old news

A 17 foot sailing vessel 160 miles from the center of Sandy this morning with 17 persons onboard has lost all engine propulsion overnight and is taking on water in 35-40 foot seas and zero visibility in blowing sea spray. USCG aircraft are onsite, but have aborted an initial rescue attempt due to the sea state and hurricane force winds. US Navy vessels ordered to sea yesterday from Norfolk, VA are also reporting “significant” sea state with massive waves and relentless winds

It takes quite a bit of Darwin Award potential to sail a smallish sailboat VERY loaded down (17 people!) into the ocean with a hurricane nearby.

Unless there is an incredibly plausible story, they should be charged for their rescue effort.
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Quoting HurricaneTracker01:


I think a real solution to this problem would be to upgrade the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale to account for things like potential damage, storm surge, expansiveness, etc. This would make it so the category of storm would be more directly correlated to the damage potential. Sandy would be more than a 1.


A million times agreed. Both Sandy and Isaac this year were 'Category 1' on the Saffir-Simpson scale, but they were more worthy than that of recognition because of their size and the water potential. The scale is obsolete.
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Rhode Island??..
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 13 Comments: 14256
Quoting washingtonian115:
I wonder how high the death toll could be excluding the caribbean?.Hopefully low.


not very high, single digits i would think.

hopefully 0
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Quoting guygee:
No. See Unnamed Hurricane of 1991

Quote from the article:

"Though the formation of a hurricane in the center of a large extratropical low is unusual, it has happened several times before. Hurricane Karl formed in the center of a deep layer non-tropical cyclone in the central Atlantic on November 25, 1980 and was of hurricane strength until November 27, 1980. By their very nature, the centers of deep layer cyclones are areas of small temperature gradients and light vertical wind shear. Given sufficient heating from the sea surface below, tropical cyclone formation within the larger low pressure center is possible."
Member Since: May 18, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 5913
I will say this in describing Sandy..MONSTER!!

Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 13 Comments: 14256
People seem to be confused that if you don't live on the immediate coast you are not gonna see the devastating impacts. It's the coastline, bays, inlets that are gonna be destroyed. It's common sense.
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This could've been worse guys, the high tide that the storm surge coincides with is smaller than the hightides on either side of it.
By a few inches.
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All Photos Copyright NBC40, Fair Use to demonstrate potency of storm and damage.



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Quoting washingtonian115:
Cnn money said possibly 88 billion in loses.I had to look real close at the screen.

I'd be more interested to see insured losses. Not extended financial losses due to the subway system getting flooded (which by one estimate, could be $55B, but nigh impossible to accurately measure).
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Quoting guygee:
No. See Unnamed Hurricane of 1991.Even TWC knew it was a tropical cyclone while it was occurring, and the NHC specifically said they did not name it and call it a hurricane is because they did not want to cause public confusion and panic considering the extra-tropical "Perfect Storm" that preceded it.
Well-known history, did you even bother reading the link?


As a matter of fact, I did. This is a totally different situation, as it's clear it's an active tropical cyclone. Even then, in post season when they did upgrade it to a cyclone, they recognized it was a hurricane, because there was evidence to suggest such.

Hurricane Dolly is a prime example of exactly this, as it was approaching the coast of Texas, the hurricane hunters found 100mph winds, and trust me there was plenty of news attention on Dolly, and the NHC upgraded it to a Category 2 at it was approaching the coast. If they don't upgrade it to a Category 2, with it being so close to a landfall, they have good reason to do so, and it's not to avoid 'hype'. There is no need to be hostile.
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 23505
The pictures I'm getting from a friend in East Rockaway that I posted some of? I have to say it looks like there are people home in almost every other house. Looking out the windows, taking pictures. And this is right on the shore in Evacuation Zone A. People standing out in the street in it.
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Quoting wjdow:
Make a 1 into a 2 just to get people's attention? Who would ever believe them again?


I think a real solution to this problem would be to upgrade the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale to account for things like potential damage, storm surge, expansiveness, etc. This would make it so the category of storm would be more directly correlated to the damage potential. Sandy would be more than a 1.
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I wonder how high the death toll could be excluding the caribbean?.Hopefully low.
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Sandy still deepening and likely will until landfall. She is off the Gulf Stream already and is still bombing out. Truly amazing to see this storm still explode just due to baroclinic forcing alone. Sandy is already getting into 20 degree C water.

Sandy is also accelerating a little faster than the NHC predicted. You can also see this by the adjusted surge crests in your local areas. Looks to be about 2 hours ahead of the predicted pace from last night...



CLICK PICTURE FOR ANIMATION
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Quoting RJinBoyntonBeachFL:
Good thing this wasn't a week later with the elections next Tuesday!
this event will still cause problems with the elections, even if it is a week out.
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Quoting DavidHOUTX:


Great comparison.
Member Since: August 30, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 173
I think it would be wise if the NHC started issuing intermediate advisories every two hours like they often do for landfalling hurricanes.
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 46 Comments: 11660
I'm just outside Philly. Right now winds are light, around 10-15mph with gusts around 30-35mph. It's just a light rain/drizzle.
I have noticed the storm seems to be getting stronger, but I'm starting to doubt all the hype. It's still early and I know it'll get worse, but I'm just not feeling it
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Quoting CybrTeddy:


If data supports it, they will upgrade it. That is their job, regardless of 'hype', a prime example of this is Hurricane Dolly in 2008. That was upgraded to a Category 2 as it was about to make landfall in Texas.
No. See Unnamed Hurricane of 1991.
Quoting CybrTeddy:


Huh? That wasn't even declared a cyclone until post-season even, this is an active cyclone and has no relevance. Warning people that the winds have increased is the NHC's job, they're not going to give into hype. Besides, it's already been stated that further strengthening wouldn't be unexpected.
Even TWC knew it was a tropical cyclone while it was occurring, and the NHC specifically said they did not name it and call it a hurricane because they did not want to cause public confusion and panic considering the extra-tropical "Perfect Storm" that preceded it.
Well-known history, did you even bother reading the link?
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Quoting Wiebel:


Waves are less of a problem for Long Island as it is sheltered. Its many channeling of the surge and local generated wind waves, which are still significant. Dont overhype this, there is no way you are going to see +30ft waves crashing into manhattan.


The wind forecast just shown indicates the same winds will hit Westerly, RI, Point Judith, and Horseneck Beach, MA around 6pm tonight. Those beaches are on totally open water, I swim there all the time!

You ARE going to see +30ft waves crashing into Rhode Island and Block Island.
Member Since: December 28, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 134
Old news

A 17 foot sailing vessel 160 miles from the center of Sandy this morning with 17 persons onboard has lost all engine propulsion overnight and is taking on water in 35-40 foot seas and zero visibility in blowing sea spray. USCG aircraft are onsite, but have aborted an initial rescue attempt due to the sea state and hurricane force winds. US Navy vessels ordered to sea yesterday from Norfolk, VA are also reporting “significant” sea state with massive waves and relentless winds
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Some pictures and updates.

Link
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Good thing this wasn't a week later with the elections next Tuesday!
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Quoting wjdow:
Make a 1 into a 2 just to get people's attention? Who would ever believe them again?


Given that the dropsonde picked up 99-100mph winds, there's evidence to do so. There's not much of a difference between a 90mph Category 1 and a 100mph Category 2. The fact that people underestimated it because of the category isn't exactly the NHC's fault.
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 23505
Here is some footage I took at the Newport Tall Ships Parade of Sail in July. Bounty appears at 00:57 and 3:00
Video: Newport Tall Ships

Very sorry to hear about the losses. My thoughts are with their families and the crew.
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this morning high tide will likely become trapped near the coast as wind increase over the next few hours.
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Quoting bappit:
Water level at the Battery, NYC. Looks like storm tide a little over 7 feet and storm surge a little over 4 feet. Low tide this afternoon.


It's forecasted to reach over 11' tonight at around 10pm.



If your in the Northeast USE this site for current surge levels and future forecasts.

LINK
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234. wjdow
Quoting fmhurricane2009:
Even if Sandy is Border line for Category 2, NHC should make it at 2:00 so it would increase awareness and prove to people that this is not a "wimpy" category 1 hurricane.
Make a 1 into a 2 just to get people's attention? Who would ever believe them again?
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Quoting 1900hurricane:

Both the NAM and short range models such as the RAP have consistently shown very strong winds developing in that area. Looks like that is verifying now.





Thanks for the graphic... this was generated at 9am, right? The question is, have they done a model run that shows the lower central lower pressure? These images show pressure 20mb higher than actual measurements.
Member Since: December 28, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 134
Quoting DavidHOUTX:


ಠ_ಠ
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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.