Superstorm Sandy delivers a devastating blow to the U.S.

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 3:23 PM GMT on October 30, 2012

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In a stunning spectacle of atmospheric violence, Superstorm Sandy roared ashore in New Jersey last night with sustained winds of 90 mph and a devastating storm surge that crippled coastal New Jersey and New York. Sandy's record size allowed the historic storm to bring extreme weather to over 100 million Americans, from Chicago to Maine and from Michigan to Florida. Sandy's barometric pressure at landfall was 946 mb, tying the Great Long Island Express Hurricane of 1938 as the most powerful storm ever to hit the Northeast U.S. north of Cape Hatteras, NC. New York City experienced its worst hurricane since its founding in 1624, as Sandy's 9-foot storm surge rode in on top of a high tide to bring water levels to 13.88' at The Battery, smashing the record 11.2' water level recorded during the great hurricane of 1821. Damage from Superstorm Sandy will likely be in the tens of billions, making the storm one of the five most expensive disasters in U.S. history.


Figure 1. Morning satellite image of Superstorm Sandy taken at 10 am EDT Tuesday, October 30, 2012. Image credit: NASA GSFC.


Figure 2. Sandy's storm surge (green line) at New York City hit 9' near 9 pm EDT, right when water levels due to high tide (blue line.) The total storm tide (red line) reached 13.88 above Mean Lower Low Water, an all-time record for NYC. Image credit: NOAA Tides and Currents.


Figure 3. Storm surge forced the Delaware River in Philadelphia to a crest of 10.62 feet at 4 a.m. EDT this morning, breaking the previous record of 10.50 feet set Apr. 17, 2011 and Nov. 25, 1950. Image credit: NOAA.

Sandy sets all-time low pressure records
Sandy's impact has been so severe over such a wide area that it is difficult to adequately document the event. I'll start with some of the major cities that set all-time low pressure records during Sandy, with the new record followed by the old record and date of occurrence (thanks go to wunderground weather historian Christopher C. Burt for putting this list together):

Atlantic City, NJ: 28.01"/948mb 28.37"/961mb 3/6/1932

Philadelphia, PA: 28.12"/953mb 28.43"/963mb 3/13/1993

Harrisburg, PA: 28.46"/964mb 28.62"/969mb 1/3/1913

Scranton, PA: 28.69"/971mb 28.72"/973mb 2/25/1965

Trenton, NJ: 28.31"/958mb 28.43"/963mb 3/13/1993

Baltimore, MD: 28.49"/965mb 28.68"/971mb 3/3/1932

Harrisburg, PA: 28.46"/964mb 28.62"/969mb 1/3/1913

Cities that came close to setting their all-time low pressure record:

Newark, NJ: 28.51"/965mb 28.45"/963 3/13/1993

New York, NY: 28.53"/966mb 28.38"/961mb 3/1/1914

Washington D.C. 28.63"/969mb 28.54/966mb 3/13/1993

Lynchburg, VA: 29.12"/986mb 28.84"/977mb 3/6/1932

Elkins, WV: 29.22"/989mb 28.85"/977mb 2/25/1965

Sandy's snows
Sandy's snows have clobbered the town of Davis, WV with an estimated 26 - 28" of snow. Most of the town is without power, and winds are blowing 20 - 30 mph with 40 mph gusts. Sandy brought the snowiest October day on record to both Elkins, WV (7" of snow) and Bluefield, WV (4.7".)


Video 1. Multiple trees fall during powerful gusts during Superstorm Sandy's landfall in New Jersey Monday evening (warming: foul language.)

There's so much more to say about Sandy--including how the storm may have been influenced by climate change--but I'll save this for later posts, as it's time to get something posted.

Angela Fritz has a 2:30 pm EDT post that discusses the latest on Sandy's impact and forecast.

Jeff Masters

Hurricane Sandy (Biskitten)
Amazing waves at high tide and the storm is just beginning here in Seacoast NH!
Hurricane Sandy
Downed Sycamore (deltabird)
Weehawken NJ
Downed Sycamore
Davis, West Virginia - 4 PM (beaudodson)
Snow increasing in intensity.
Davis, West Virginia - 4 PM
Corn Neck Road, Block Island, RI (JudyGray)
Corn Neck Road, Block Island, RI
Harlem, NYC (ArsenalNYC)
Part of the roof of my building ripped off during Hurricane Sandy and landed on two cars across the street
Harlem, NYC

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Quoting kwgirl:
Here in Key West in the 60's while I was growing up, it seemed that our lights would go out the minute we had a puff of wind from a hurricane. Then I was told that the City purposely turned off the electric for safety reasons. In present day, if we get a lot of surges that destroy appliances, the electric company has to pay recompense. I don't think they do it now, but feel it is a good precaution to take in turning off the power.
You get compensated for damage from surges? I never even thought to ask. Once time I was sitting at my computer and there was a huge surge that jolted everything in the house, then the power was out on a sunny day. I looked in back and there was some idiot contractor up on the pole who had turned off the power at the transformer without even warning anyone. Fried my motherboard. I guess I should have complained.

Living in a salty area we get a lot of small surges, but that one nearly shook the house with a big zapping sound.
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Quoting RitaEvac:


That's this "live life to the fullest" mentality generation out there. Think you gotta try and do everything and can't worry about risk. Trust me I see it and hear it all over.


I know right?
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Quoting CaicosRetiredSailor:


Taxis in Hoboken NJ

[edit] When I look close, it appears as if these don't have complete taxi indicator light on the top... I wonder if these are "retired"?


i have seen the pic in other places...news headlines as well...it is accurate
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Quoting kwgirl:
That many homes were destroyed because of the wind driven flames. The wind just kept the fire going from house to house.


I don't remember fires being started by the hurricanes here in Florida. Do you?
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West Virginia

... Berkeley County...
1 N Martinsburg Arpt 60 833 PM 10/29 ASOS

... Jefferson County...
1 NNW Ranson 65 843 PM 10/29 trained spotter
2 NNE Halltown 53 824 PM 10/29 mesonet

... Mineral County...
2 SSW Keyser 64 900 PM 10/29 co-op observer
1 E Wiley Ford 53 854 PM 10/29 AWOS

... Pendleton County...
2 SW Brushy Run 49 517 am 10/30 mesonet


The station near Keyser is just 2 miles from home- I did not know the wind was quite that high, but I do know it was a noisy, wet night.
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Quoting sar2401:

It's possible that a falling power line was the proximal cause, but it's rare to get that many homes destroyed without some source of additional fuel, and natural gas is the logical suspect.

As I said, I know nothing about flood control structures. I think a higher priority now is deciding if one city should be the nerve center of the entire world. It seems like many companies, including the NYSE, had no contingency plans about what to do if NYC sujffered a major storm. There are probably millions of servers located in the flooded areas, and many web sites are down. Along with other flood protection plans, having backup plans about how to handle a major storm, no matter what the cause, seems like a pretty good idea.
That many homes were destroyed because of the wind driven flames. The wind just kept the fire going from house to house.
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Film from CNN on Asbury Park, lots of damage, power out to the city, but the old Dance Hall survived. You can see the bent doors on the first floor where the water rushed through. The Boardwalk is extremely damaged, and floating around parts of the city. It is going to take the Jersey Shore a long time to recover from this. Unfortunately there are many old historic buildings that are not going to be recoverable.

As to disaster plans: Most large companies have disaster plans. I've read that the NYSE has a plan to be able to begin operations off site, but not sure that will be necessary. Its hard to make plans for basically the absolute worst case scenario.
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After looking at all the photos all last night and today and videos of the aftermath, and good luck to everyone there sorting it all out and dealing with it and hope all the fellow bloggers are ok and look forward to hearing from them all....but, this made me laugh...the other folkes in the UK (and probably Ireland) will get it...


"U.S met office issues a stark warning that Hurricane Sandy has been upgraded to a British Summer"
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Quoting DocBen:
I have a feeling there will be questions raised about the failure to cut off power earlier than they did. I watched a couple of transformer blow on the news and then we had that fire that destryoed 80 or so homes.
Here in Key West in the 60's while I was growing up, it seemed that our lights would go out the minute we had a puff of wind from a hurricane. Then I was told that the City purposely turned off the electric for safety reasons. In present day, if we get a lot of surges that destroy appliances, the electric company has to pay recompense. I don't think they do it now, but feel it is a good precaution to take in turning off the power.
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Quoting DocBen:


I have to disagree. I line in tornado alley but the % chance of ME getting hit is low and thus is an insurable risk. However, building underwater leads to a rather high % risk of flooding. The simply way to deal with this might not be a ban but rather the elimination of subsidized insurance. Thus if I build in a place that floods out every 10 years then I accept that risk.
If you hold a mortgage and you live in a flood zone then you must carry extra insurance that covers the risk of flooding...flood insurance. The real problem comes in when FEMA tries to update the flood maps based on impartial information provided by the USGS. As you might imagine, telling a whole bunch of people that they now have to buy flood insurance when before they did not is a big political football, and that football gets kicked around a lot. Regulations on "zero-change" to the flood map have been relaxed or overturned, so that now not only do we have to worry about the effects of global warming but also any new construction that affects run-off and flooding. In addition, agriculture has never been regulated, and with the increasing extreme weather events a lot of farmers are tiling their farmlands which increases run-off in heavy rains even more.

So the problem is that we need politicians with the backbone to enforce the changes to the flood maps as the potential flood areas increase in size. That is a tall order.

I think we basically agree, people in flood zones should pay their own way. It is a "luxury" to live in a flood zone, not a right, unless you either pay more for flood insurance or have cash to payoff on the property and are willing to go without insurance and waive all public liabilities. Sign that on the dotted line.
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Model scores:

ECMWF A+++
GFS C
NAM C---
GFDL B (925 mb was too much).

Amazing that American model can't predict a major storm like this 5 days out, but ECMWF nails it a week in advance.

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Quoting FunnelVortex:


I know, I can understand people wanting to experiance it and take pictures, but who in the right mind would walk up to a downed power line?


That's this "live life to the fullest" mentality generation out there. Think you gotta try and do everything and can't worry about risk. Trust me I see it and hear it all over.
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Quoting FunnelVortex:


I dont think there is any offical description, but it is what it is being called.

That's not the same as "official".
I dont think there is a "Category" for SuperStorm in the Atlantic.
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Thanks Doc...What a mammoth storm.
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Quoting Matthias1967:


I read that a falling power line caused this.



Don't underestimate the power of European windstorms. When f.ex. Kyrill came ashore on the dutch coast the central pressure was about 960 mbars, sturm surge was about 4,5 m over astronomical height (though not exactly at high tide) and widespread gusts with more then 100 kn had been observed.

Considering NYC and the area protected by the Delta Works I consider both to be comparable, both in their actual size as well as development and population. (It does not really matter, if we speak about five million or eight million people living in an area. With rising sea levels it is not really a question wether it has to be done but the question is why the Army Corps of Engineers wasn't committed with this goal a couple of decades ago.
Money. If it ain't broke why fix it. Maybe this is just the disaster we needed to get Congress off their butts, acknowledge global warming and threat of sea level rise and DO something about it. Same reason that bridge collapsed a few years ago in...I forget which state. Money is always the reason something isn't or is done.
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Quoting sar2401:

It seems like many companies, including the NYSE, had no contingency plans about what to do if NYC sujffered a major storm. There are probably millions of servers located in the flooded areas, and many web sites are down. Along with other flood protection plans, having backup plans about how to handle a major storm, no matter what the cause, seems like a pretty good idea.


Well I agree that having backup plans is a pretty good idea. But many companies might just relocate their interests – contingency plans are costly. So (I am doing the devil's advocate) why not relocate Wall Street's business to, say, Chicago, when neither NYC government nor the USACE is able to warrant that Wall Street stays dry and safe? What happened once to Indianola can happen to a mega city like New York City. Donna and Irene have been warnings, Sandy was a strike. How many strikes does it need to throw you out?
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Weather Channel has over 250 amazing photos from Sandy.

Link
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SafeInTexas had an interesting post about basing a storm hazard system on the 4 quadrant NFPA hazard alert system. Something that takes into account the multiple dimensions at play based on standards. There's enough data points to build those standards.
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Quoting yonzabam:


Really? I never realized there was an official designation for a 'superstorm'. What are the criteria?


I dont think there is any offical description, but it is what it is being called.
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Quoting FunnelVortex:
Sandy has officialy been given status as a Superstorm.


Really? I never realized there was an official designation for a 'superstorm'. What are the criteria?
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Quoting icmoore:


Sad and tragic indeed. Foolhardy youth and inexperience...


I know, I can understand people wanting to experiance it and take pictures, but who in the right mind would walk up to a downed power line?
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Quoting FunnelVortex:
Sandy has officialy been given status as a Superstorm.

By whom ?
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Quoting TomballTXPride:
Saffir-Simpson scale is obsolete. It needs a serious revision/upgrade/modification.


Total Kinetic Energy would be a much better indicator of the strength of the storm. However, in tightly wound storms, it would prove worthless (Charley, Andrew).
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Quoting FunnelVortex:
Sandy has officialy been given status as a Superstorm.


What does that entail?
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Quoting pottery:

A very sad combination of Idiotness.
Needless, tragic death.


Sad and tragic indeed. Foolhardy youth and inexperience...
Member Since: July 18, 2005 Posts: 9 Comments: 4141
Sandy has officialy been given status as a Superstorm.
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Quoting icmoore:
Times Newsfeed

Oct. 30, 12:50 p.m.: Of the 15 New York City deaths related to Hurricane Sandy, one of the most tragic is that of a 22-year-old woman in Queens, who was killed last night. The New York Post reports the yet-unidentified woman left her home in the Richmond Hill section to snap photos, but got too close to a downed power line and was electrocuted. Her neighbor told the Post what happened:

%u201CI looked out my window and I saw the girl across the street taking pictures of the live wire sparking near my car, so I ran outside to move my car,%u201D said Mahendra Chetram, 35.

%u201CI jumped in [the car]. She was still taking pictures and as I backed down the street, [then] I heard a loud shriek and it looks just like how it does in the movies. Her body was gyrating, smoke was coming from her and within 25 seconds she was out, No movement.%u201D %u2014 by Madison Gray

Terrible tragedy, but how much do you want to bet me she was taking pictures to post on FB or Tweet to her friends? Digital cameras, social media, and people foolishly taking risks to be the first one with the "news" can be a fatal combination.
Member Since: October 2, 2004 Posts: 0 Comments: 9872
Another great post as always Dr. Masters. I hate to be the grammar nazi but I think you've got a couple typos in your Figure 2 caption:

Sandy's storm surge (green line) at New York City hit 9' near 9 pm EDT, right when water levels due to high tide (blue line.) The total storm tide (red line) reached 13.88 above Mean Lower Low Water, and all-time record for NYC.

And one in the Video 1 caption:

(warming: foul language.)
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Quoting Wiebel:
Any footage from the Barrier Islands on the Jersey Shore or Long Island?

Haven't seen any of images of those areas yet, and their whereabouts during the storm weren't that pretty.

They did a fly over, unreal the sand goes in for miles/blocks some of it up to the house roof. I am surprised the houses weren't washed away by the water. Some other places are gone. Staten Island a mess.

cbs ny stream Link
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Sadly, US death toll up to 35.

Link
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Quoting icmoore:
Times Newsfeed

Oct. 30, 12:50 p.m.: Of the 15 New York City deaths related to Hurricane Sandy, one of the most tragic is that of a 22-year-old woman in Queens, who was killed last night. The New York Post reports the yet-unidentified woman left her home in the Richmond Hill section to snap photos, but got too close to a downed power line and was electrocuted. Her neighbor told the Post what happened:

“I looked out my window and I saw the girl across the street taking pictures of the live wire sparking near my car, so I ran outside to move my car,” said Mahendra Chetram, 35.

“I jumped in [the car]. She was still taking pictures and as I backed down the street, [then] I heard a loud shriek and it looks just like how it does in the movies. Her body was gyrating, smoke was coming from her and within 25 seconds she was out, No movement.” — by Madison Gray

A very sad combination of Idiotness.
Needless, tragic death.
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From a close friend in NYC...a prominent disability community leader...It's utterly absurd!!!!!

Spent the day out visiting evac centers/shelters. Guess what? Of the 5 I visited--5 were inaccessible. Surprise, surprise. Back out again tomorrow. Staff called people in Zone A areas. Several couldn't evac on own.
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Quoting TomballTXPride:
Saffir-Simpson scale is obsolete. It needs a serious revision / upgrade / modification.


I agree, there needs to be a Category 6.
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friend of mine 2 miles down the road just lost power, in Owings mills, MD. Havent seen winds over 20 mph sustained since like midnight.

Still a lot of stress on the electric grid, would be my guess. Doubt trees are still falling, but you never know.
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Quoting BDAwx:
Interestingly, the water for that storm surge had to come from somewhere. If you look to the northern gulf coast you see water levels dropped by about a foot there, and if you looked to the north shores of the Caribbean islands similar observations might be made.


We've had no shortage of tide here in the Lower Florida Keys.

"... Minor coastal flooding still possible during high tides...

* coastal flooding... numerous Florida Keys residents have reported
minor coastal flooding during the last four days in low-lying areas
exposed to persistent and strong northwest breezes. Areas with
highest reported water levels include those properties adjacent to
Blackwater Sound and Sexton Cove. Some secondary roads in these
areas have been inundated to a depth of a foot or more. Water
levels will remain higher than normal again around the time of high
tide through this evening."

Link
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Quoting Matthias1967:


I read that a falling power line caused this.



Don't underestimate the power of European windstorms. When f.ex. Kyrill came ashore on the dutch coast the central pressure was about 960 mbars, sturm surge was about 4,5 m over astronomical height (though not exactly at high tide) and widespread gusts with more then 100 kn had been observed.

Considering NYC and the area protected by the Delta Works I consider both to be comparable, both in their actual size as well as development and population. (It does not really matter, if we speak about five million or eight million people living in an area. With rising sea levels it is not really a question wether it has to be done but the question is why the Army Corps of Engineers wasn't committed with this goal a couple of decades ago.

It's possible that a falling power line was the proximal cause, but it's rare to get that many homes destroyed without some source of additional fuel, and natural gas is the logical suspect.

As I said, I know nothing about flood control structures. I think a higher priority now is deciding if one city should be the nerve center of the entire world. It seems like many companies, including the NYSE, had no contingency plans about what to do if NYC sujffered a major storm. There are probably millions of servers located in the flooded areas, and many web sites are down. Along with other flood protection plans, having backup plans about how to handle a major storm, no matter what the cause, seems like a pretty good idea.
Member Since: October 2, 2004 Posts: 0 Comments: 9872
Quoting fireitup:
Thanks Dr. Masters. Whats Next in the 2012 Atlantic Season? Hopefully nothing... but i have a feeling we are not out of the woods yet.




Sincerely hope that the next one will be for the leewards... Not a Rafael, A BIG ONE, or schedule it for next year
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Times Newsfeed

Oct. 30, 12:50 p.m.: Of the 15 New York City deaths related to Hurricane Sandy, one of the most tragic is that of a 22-year-old woman in Queens, who was killed last night. The New York Post reports the yet-unidentified woman left her home in the Richmond Hill section to snap photos, but got too close to a downed power line and was electrocuted. Her neighbor told the Post what happened:

“I looked out my window and I saw the girl across the street taking pictures of the live wire sparking near my car, so I ran outside to move my car,” said Mahendra Chetram, 35.

“I jumped in [the car]. She was still taking pictures and as I backed down the street, [then] I heard a loud shriek and it looks just like how it does in the movies. Her body was gyrating, smoke was coming from her and within 25 seconds she was out, No movement.” — by Madison Gray
Member Since: July 18, 2005 Posts: 9 Comments: 4141
Quoting yonzabam:
Anyone know why power station transformers explode in a storm?
Part is probably from water, but also salt in the air. They are going to be surprised when the utilities find that their connections are corroded from salt. It may not be right away, but if they are not replaced the electricity will continue to have outages due to corrosion.
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166. HCW
22 inches of snow in Gatlinburg,TN
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I have a feeling there will be questions raised about the failure to cut off power earlier than they did. I watched a couple of transformer blow on the news and then we had that fire that destryoed 80 or so homes.
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Quoting sar2401:

Hmmm....We'll have to watch Snopes for updates on this one. Convincing picture, but it seems odd that that station still apparently has full electrical power.

Snopes Sandy Pictures-Real or Not?


Yeah, always take with a pinch of salt. There's a few unverified pictures of the subway; the one above seems convincing but not been able to verify any yet. There's a good one of 86th in Brooklyn too, but again unverified.

A few more real or nots, on The Atlantic's website. The 86th street pic also shows lights on, as does a linked pic from that article of the N line nearby.
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Quoting FunnelVortex:


So the HAARPers are going at it again,

They never stop. HAARP and chemtrails are responsible for all the world's problems. They are probably causing global climate change too. I can just imagine them, sitting in that basement, gleefully pressing buttons...
Member Since: October 2, 2004 Posts: 0 Comments: 9872
Quoting guygee:
The problem is that I can make the same arguments about people living near fault zones, or people living in mountainous areas where flash floods are common, or people living near chemical plants where industrial accidents are a risk, or people living in tornado alley...on and on, I think you get the picture.

Do not just assume that you are paying an extra insurance premium for people living on the coast. If people live in flood zones they are already required to carry extra insurance, and as long as the USGS and FEMA keep updating the flood zone maps to stay accurate then all of the extra insurance charges should be covered only by those that need them and nobody else.


I have to disagree. I line in tornado alley but the % chance of ME getting hit is low and thus is an insurable risk. However, building underwater leads to a rather high % risk of flooding. The simply way to deal with this might not be a ban but rather the elimination of subsidized insurance. Thus if I build in a place that floods out every 10 years then I accept that risk.
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Quoting CaicosRetiredSailor:


Taxis at Hoboken NJ

Don't buy any Crown Vic's that were registered in New Jersey during October of 2012. :)
Member Since: October 2, 2004 Posts: 0 Comments: 9872
Quoting JVGazeley:




Hmmm....We'll have to watch Snopes for updates on this one. Convincing picture, but it seems odd that that station still apparently has full electrical power.

Snopes Sandy Pictures-Real or Not?
Member Since: October 2, 2004 Posts: 0 Comments: 9872
Quoting FunnelVortex:
Is the name "Sandy" going to be retired now?


The World Meteorological Organization will retire the name if it is requested during the hurricane conference in next April or so. I think it's very likely that Jamaica and Cuba will request its retirement.
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Taxis in Hoboken NJ

[edit] When I look close, it appears as if these don't have complete taxi indicator light on the top... I wonder if these are "retired"?
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Question: Were the subways flooded?

Thanks.

:-)
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About JeffMasters

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