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 weathermanwannabe:
Have not had access to TV all day......Does anyone know what NYC did to try and shore up or barricade the salt water entry points for the subway stations near the coastal areas?


Here is a news article from the International Business Times about the MTA and storm preparations.

Oh, and it happens to quote Dr. Masters :)

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Quoting GBguy88:


Ike was a solid Cat-2, but I see your point. I think there were a lot of people that were desensitized after Irene, and led themselves to believe that Sandy was "all hype". If you live a stone's throw from a bay or ocean, and you are under a hurricane warning, it's a good idea to think about leaving.


Was it a solid cat 2.. I stand corrected. The eye of Ike went right over me... Where I had evacuated to..
Member Since: August 30, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 173
Not sure how accurate my little wind meter is, but just got a 78 MPH wind gust here in Brooklyn. Thought for sure the six story high oak tree was coming down. Wow! This isn't over!
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Quoting leelee75k:


Yesterday I saw pics of plywood covering the steel grates in the sidewalks and pics of sandbags, but they didn't show much, and I'm not sure which part of the city they were doing that


Thanks..........I am sure we will have an idea of the flooding issue and the subways by tomorrow morning.
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1328. centex
Quoting Dakster:
Pressure ticked up to 964.4 - Tide at 9.48' - Residual 6.8'.

Still not at high tide yet...
Wind direction stats is a major factor.
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Quoting loveday123:
Power out in Ontario near Waterloo! Just goes to show you how far out Sandy's winds really actually go!


Ontario, Canada? You're at the wind up, aren't you?
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Link

It's gone :-(
The gazebo is gone...
That's very upsetting; I've been going there since I was very very young.
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Enough with this Jersey Vs. Atlantic city stuff.


Back to the storm:

Battery Flood stage: 9.49 now.
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the storm here will probably not be bad, , i think the nyc subway system is at risk, and power outedges will be the biggest problems.
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This will be one scary night folks. Stay safe if you are in a coastal area from surge and stay safe from winds as well even if it's "only" 90 mph. 90 mph can still do damage.
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Quoting GBguy88:


If you have the money to afford waterfront property, or close to it, in the northeast...you probably have the money to evacuate.


Atlantic City residential real estate is pretty inexpnsive. Mostly slums actually
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Quoting weathermanwannabe:
Have not had access to TV all day......Does anyone know what NYC did to try and shore up or barricade the salt water entry points for the subway stations near the coastal areas?


Yesterday I saw pics of plywood covering the steel grates in the sidewalks and pics of sandbags, but they didn't show much, and I'm not sure which part of the city they were doing that
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Quoting aerojad:
Anyone else catch this from the 5pm update?





The light green-ness over Nova Scotia - does that mean that by day 4 or 5 the leftovers of this thing are going to try to re-intensify?



As a baro gale yes. That was expected.
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Quoting violet312s:
They just found a 15th person from that ship. Unresponsive (no other info). Captain still missing.


I thought I'd heard the coast guard was getting them out of the life boats as I left for work this morning. I guess I thought they had them all, they didn't?
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Quoting CatfishJones:
There are things called storm shelters. It's generally advisable to go to one.



The problem is the shelter in Atlantic city that the Mayor listed was too low. Its flooded out right now.

That, apparently, is why the Governor issued a mandatory evac order to get off the island, but the mayor ignored him so when they sent people in to get people, no one listened or would leave.

So now we have XXX people stuck with no help according to Christie ??

Okay then.....
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1317. aerojad
Anyone else catch this from the 5pm update?





The light green-ness over Nova Scotia & New Brunswick - does that mean that by day 4 or 5 the leftovers of this thing are going to try to re-intensify?
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I have never experienced wind like this in my life. This is absolutely crazy and makes Irene look like nothing.
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1315. Dakster
Pressure ticked up to 964.4 - Tide at 9.48' - Residual 6.8'.

Still not at high tide yet...
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9.48'
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1313. GBguy88
Quoting Pirate999:


For Pete's sake, didn't people see what Ike, a cat 1 did to the bolivar peninsula? Wiped it clean with the surge. Or was it that since it was in Texas they didn't watch? It's those southerns don't ya know. I got an idea.. Twc and nhc should broadcast pictures of bolivar and say "write your ss number on your arm with a sharpie" if you stay.


Ike was a solid Cat-2, but I see your point. I think there were a lot of people that were desensitized after Irene, and led themselves to believe that Sandy was "all hype". If you live a stone's throw from a bay or ocean, and you are under a hurricane warning, it's a good idea to think about leaving.
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Surge @ the Battery, NY is running about 9.25'

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They just found a 15th person from that ship. Unresponsive (no other info). Captain still missing.
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1310. Bdgr66
Cleveland

http://t.co/mrsVYPjI
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Oh wow. So the city in question is Atlantic City of all places.


Christie just said they think they have "significantly lower compliance rate then in Irene"

And as we just saw in some pictures they already have a significant amount of water in the city there.


How many people are we talking is what I keep wondering here. Quite bad.


Christie is basically saying now that he can't help anyone in atlantic city till tomorrow....by boat.
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1308. Jaevyn
Quoting redux:
i think the deepening the storm underwent caught people off guard.

but still it goes to show how ignorant people are of these things.


Its difficult to imagine how people were caught off guard by Sandy's strengthening, especially as it was predicted by the NHC two days in advance.
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Power out in Ontario near Waterloo! Just goes to show you how far out Sandy's winds really actually go!
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1306. zawxdsk
Wow, the frontal setup is amazing between Atlantic City and Cape May. Compare the temperatures and the wind direction at these tidal obs stations. If you want to see the graphical representation of a backdoor warmfront transition, check the difference between these.

Note the difference in Air Temperature and Wind. Atlantic City still has the lowest pressure and continuing to drop...

Atlantic City
Cape May
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1305. guygee
Sunset on Sandy Near Landfall

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Quoting yonzabam:


Sorry if this seems like a stupid question, but when you're ordered to evacuate, what exactly is it that you're expected to do?

I could see some families getting in the car, driving out of town, and booking into a hotel somewhere. Some might have relatives they can board with.

But a lot of people live paycheck to paycheck, maybe don't have a car, and don't have the means to pay for what's involved in an evacuation.

If it's just a matter of walking a mile to a school that's been converted to a refugee center, fair enough. People ought to do that. But is that all that they have to do when an evacuation is ordered?


Then it is up to the government to take care of them. Of course in advance by bringing them out and shelter them and bringing them back afterwards and not by rescuing them after the event, since, as a presidential candidate said some time ago, the U.S. cannot afford paying for relief. I just don't get it why people do want to elect that man.
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Quoting GBguy88:


If you have the money to afford waterfront property, or close to it, in the northeast...you probably have the money to evacuate.


For Pete's sake, didn't people see what Ike, a cat 1 did to the bolivar peninsula? Wiped it clean with the surge. Or was it that since it was in Texas they didn't watch? It's those southerns don't ya know. I got an idea.. Twc and nhc should broadcast pictures of bolivar and say "write your ss number on your arm with a sharpie" if you stay.
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1302. sar2401
Quoting wxgeek723:
Can someone explain to me how temperatures on the East Coast are running in the 50s and there are snow advisories to our west if this is still a TROPICAL system?

There's a bunch of cold air coming down from Canada, but the snow will really only affect higher elevations, not near sea level. If you're over 2,000 feet, you could see some significant snow. Below that, it'll be a few flakes or all rain. The whole snow part of this storm has been seriously overpredicted.
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1301. Dakster
Residual still increasing at Battery, now 6.76'.

Tide is now 9.33' and the pressue is 964.3.
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Quoting yonzabam:


Sorry if this seems like a stupid question, but when you're ordered to evacuate, what exactly is it that you're expected to do?

I could see some families getting in the car, driving out of town, and booking into a hotel somewhere. Some might have relatives they can board with.

But a lot of people live paycheck to paycheck, maybe don't have a car, and don't have the means to pay for what's involved in an evacuation.

If it's just a matter of walking a mile to a school that's been converted to a refugee center, fair enough. People ought to do that. But is that all that they have to do when an evacuation is ordered?
There are things called storm shelters. It's generally advisable to go to one.
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Quoting yonzabam:


Sorry if this seems like a stupid question, but when you're ordered to evacuate, what exactly is it that you're expected to do?

I could see some families getting in the car, driving out of town, and booking into a hotel somewhere. Some might have relatives they can board with.

But a lot of people live paycheck to paycheck, maybe don't have a car, and don't have the means to pay for what's involved in an evacuation.

If it's just a matter of walking a mile to a school that's been converted to a refugee center, fair enough. People ought to do that. But is that all that they have to do when an evacuation is ordered?



Use the state buses which were provided in this case.


Apparently the issue however was the mayor of the town in that area ignored the governor and told her citizens to stay....and is now asking for help which can't be provided because of the high water.


So basically this was a "message mixup". People did not leave because the citizens were told something incorrect.
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Just remember, the people in the South/SE have gone through much worse storms than this. Katrina, Rita, and Ike just to name a few.

Andrew in 1992. You go through the eyewall of that one, you have gone through an f2-f3 tornado.

Hopefully, NYC Battery park will stay under 11 feet tonight.





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Quoting yonzabam:


Sorry if this seems like a stupid question, but when you're ordered to evacuate, what exactly is it that you're expected to do?

I could see some families getting in the car, driving out of town, and booking into a hotel somewhere. Some might have relatives they can board with.

But a lot of people live paycheck to paycheck, maybe don't have a car, and don't have the means to pay for what's involved in an evacuation.

If it's just a matter of walking a mile to a school that's been converted to a refugee center, fair enough. People ought to do that. But is that all that they have to do when an evacuation is ordered?


I'm sure it probably depends on the local government and so on. Some places, I know, do work hard to make arrangements for people who need to evacuate but have no transportation or need various help in actually doing so, but I believe those decisions are usually local, so I'm sure some places are better at it than others.

But yes, in all of these discussions, I think it's also important to remember that it's not always so easy for everybody to evacuate. There are lots of people who can't just pack up the car and go -- people without cars, the elderly or disabled, the very poor, so on. In even just doing prep for this storm outside of evacuation areas, I know a lot of people who literally couldn't _afford_ to go buy flashlights and canned food right now. It's the end of the month.

And then, yes, there are also the stubborn curmudgeons who think they're tough, but I don't want them to die, either, even if I think they're dumb.
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Quoting Velocity23:
Powering going on and off here in Fairfax, Virginia. Each time it lasts a little longer.


Yep, I just had a flicker too near Fairfax.
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1295. GBguy88
Quoting charlottefl:


If I lived on the beach and was ordered to evacuate and didn't have money, I would be off of the island even if I had to walk to the mainland. That's just my perspective, because I know how deadly surge can be.


If you live on the beach, you probably have money. I've never seen bargain waterfront property...
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Sandy hook is at 10.25 feet above sea level, which is 7 feet above the normal tide level, and it has been at this level for over 20 minutes.

Bridgeport up to 6.4 feet, compared to 6.2 feet at this morning's high tide.

For the stations based in CT, try:

http://water.weather.gov/ahps/region.php?state=ct
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1293. Dakster
Quoting yonzabam:


Sorry if this seems like a stupid question, but when you're ordered to evacuate, what exactly is it that you're expected to do?

I could see some families getting in the car, driving out of town, and booking into a hotel somewhere. Some might have relatives they can board with.

But a lot of people live paycheck to paycheck, maybe don't have a car, and don't have the means to pay for what's involved in an evacuation.

If it's just a matter of walking a mile to a school that's been converted to a refugee center, fair enough. People ought to do that. But is that all that they have to do when an evacuation is ordered?


They have these things called 'Shelters' and 'Buses'... If you can't go to a friends/relatives house or a hotel room, there are places for you to go. Most areas in the U.S. when an evacuation is ordered provide transportation to a shelter. The problem arises when you have pets as most shelters will not allow them. Now, it isn't the ritz carlton with private rooms, but it is a place to ride out the storm safely. (Unless you were in New Orleans during 'K' - you got bused there, but the superdome didn't exactly hold up)

I choose to figure out a way to LEAVE.
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Quoting yonzabam:


Sorry if this seems like a stupid question, but when you're ordered to evacuate, what exactly is it that you're expected to do?

I could see some families getting in the car, driving out of town, and booking into a hotel somewhere. Some might have relatives they can board with.

But a lot of people live paycheck to paycheck, maybe don't have a car, and don't have the means to pay for what's involved in an evacuation.

If it's just a matter of walking a mile to a school that's been converted to a refugee center, fair enough. People ought to do that. But is that all that they have to do when an evacuation is ordered?


If I lived on the beach and was ordered to evacuate and didn't have money, I would be off of the island even if I had to walk to the mainland. That's just my perspective, because I know how deadly surge can be.
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The key is the green line, the residual. If it levels off here, we are at 10.5' at high tide. It has tended to continue upward, although it is not a given.
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Quoting yonzabam:


Sorry if this seems like a stupid question, but when you're ordered to evacuate, what exactly is it that you're expected to do?

I could see some families getting in the car, driving out of town, and booking into a hotel somewhere. Some might have relatives they can board with.

But a lot of people live paycheck to paycheck, maybe don't have a car, and don't have the means to pay for what's involved in an evacuation.

If it's just a matter of walking a mile to a school that's been converted to a refugee center, fair enough. People ought to do that. But is that all that they have to do when an evacuation is ordered?


Evacuation is difficult, but drowning is even worse. There are shelters inland, so it's not like every evacuee has to pay for a hotel. Staying in the shelter isn't fun, but again, it sure beats drowning.
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1289. snowboy
Quoting aislinnpaps:


If I understood it correctly, some officials and people stayed on Barrier Island and now want help. Christie said go to the highest place you can and they won't be there to help until at least tomorrow.


Natural selection is never pretty.
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if there was a school within a block or a mile of their evacuation site, then yes that is all that would've been required, walk to the school. Most of those places probably had donations given to them sat/sun of water,etc. One has to take their meds and pets,etc, but as far as if they didnt have money, it wouldnt matter.
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Have not had access to TV all day......Does anyone know what NYC did to try and shore up or barricade the salt water entry points for the subway stations near the coastal areas?
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1286. ncstorm
I really hope some of you guys dont become first responders..
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Can someone explain to me how temperatures on the East Coast are running in the 50s and there are snow advisories to our west if this is still a TROPICAL system?
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1284. sar2401
Quoting ncstorm:


I feel so bad for them..the coast guard cant assist? Gov Christie just seemed a little cold in that briefing..

I always felt bad for people that needed rescue...until it was me that had to do the recsuing. When you're out in athe storm, risking your life to rescue people who had ample warning to leave, you get a different perspective. Governor Christie has done a good job warning people what was coming. All of us on the rescue teams also have families we'd like to go home to, and risking ourselves for people who chose to disregard warnings...well, I guess it does sound cold, but that's the way it is.
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Quoting yonzabam:


Sorry if this seems like a stupid question, but when you're ordered to evacuate, what exactly is it that you're expected to do?

I could see some families getting in the car, driving out of town, and booking into a hotel somewhere. Some might have relatives they can board with.

But a lot of people live paycheck to paycheck, maybe don't have a car, and don't have the means to pay for what's involved in an evacuation.

If it's just a matter of walking a mile to a school that's been converted to a refugee center, fair enough. People ought to do that. But is that all that they have to do when an evacuation is ordered?


No such thing as a stupid question unless it's the one that's not asked. Many will get in cars or use public transportation to get out of the evacuated area. Shelters have no cost, so even if you are paycheck to paycheck, you can go to one. They often have bus pickup points as well for those who need a ride to a safer area.
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1282. redux
i think the deepening the storm underwent caught people off guard.

but still it goes to show how ignorant people are of these things.
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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.

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