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 Matthias1967:
To me some officials seem to be rather incompetent when appearantly an area is under mandatory evacuation due to expected flooding but electricity wasn't switched off. Those dozens of buildings in Queens did not need to burn. Needless to say that power lines within heavily developped urban areas have to be placed under the surface and not on poles. Also that Manhattan trafo station did not need to explode. Will take much more time and money to repair it from the beginning instead of only exchanging from salty water corroded parts.

I also think they're too optimistic about putting back to service the subway. When in 2002 the Metro in Prague was flooded it took full nine months to repair it. However there has been a lot of mud splashed into the tunnels which not seem to have occurred in Manhattan but I don't believe they will be able to pump out, clean and repair damages within several days.

What is missing in NYC is a comprehensive storm surge protection like the Dutch Delta Works, i.e. flood doors on Arthur Kill, Verrazano Narrows and East River and Manhattan would be flooded never again. Well, that's expensive and the investor would be the state and there are too many Reps thinkung that the state should spend less money...

You simply can't shut down power in an area as large as NYC without causing massive disruptions and rolling power failures on other parts of the grid. Con Ed did shut down power to parts of Manhattan when it was safe to do so, but flipping the switch for entire areas just isn't feasible, one of the many reasons being is that it's a lot more complicated than flipping a switch. I don't know the cause of the fires in Queens, but I suspect leaking natural gas was to blame. You can't just shut down natural gas systems either. Undergrounding of power lines isn't the panacea that people think it is. They are still susceptible to water damage, and finding and replacing circuit breakers and transformers in underground systems is very time consuming compared to above ground systems. I also don't know the circumstances of the failure that took place at the Manhattan substation, but some failures are inevitable in a storm this powerful no matter what precautions are taken.

I have no knowledge of flood control structures but, no matter what's done, mother nature will always win in the end. While the Dutch system is used as a model, the purposes of their flood control structures are much different than trying to protect a city, even one the size of NYC. It's also not clear to me that the Dutch system would not have failed in a storm the size and intensity of Sandy.
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Someone pointed out that during landfall, Sandy made a perfect Fibonacci sequence following the golden ratio.

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Quoting zoomiami:


Us too -- 52 here last night -- had to dig out my fluffy slippers.

But after Wilma there was a cold front too -- so I guess not that unusual.


ZOOO!!! MUAH...missed ya!
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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.


I haven't seen or heard anything this morning. I suspect that means they're still too hard to get around in safely.
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Quoting tiggeriffic:
it is strange weather here today...it is now noon and the temps in Charleston, SC have just now hit 50 degrees...unseasonably cold for us...


Us too -- 52 here last night -- had to dig out my fluffy slippers.

But after Wilma there was a cold front too -- so I guess not that unusual.
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Wow @ that video. Thanks Jeff!
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Transformers can blow up if their internal insulating cooling oil is compromised. The transformers can overheat due to loads being put on them by lines going down and arcing. Also, water can become incorporated in to the device causing the insulator to break down and boil. This will lead to subsequent fire and explosion if the unit is not turned off.
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Quoting schistkicker:
For all those places getting feet of snow from Sandy right now... what's the long-range temperature forecast? It's still early enough in the season that a warm-up is possible-- I'd hate to see a rapid snowmelt hitting the rivers; that'd be one more gut-punch.


For Davis WV- Link

Not really warm enough to thaw until the weekend, but still snowing all week long.
Member Since: December 17, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 1189
Just think of how many lives would have been lost without all of the people that helped track the storm and relayed information , and to those in a protective and rescue role .

Thanks to the USCG , without them there would have been little hope for those aboard the Bounty .

A truly memorable storm , very unusual in it's latter stages .
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Quoting yonzabam:
Anyone know why power station transformers explode in a storm?


Ground faults, arcing, inability of circuit breakers to stop an arc.

Many people forget that the seemingly "docile" electric wires we see overhead or below ground are isolated from allowing current flow through other substances or arc flash. High voltage electric lines carry astounding amounts of energy, a shock from even the smaller utility 3 phase lines in your average neighborhood can deliver a shock capable of ripping apart the humann body(usually 7,200 to 20,000 volt lines depending on company preference), and arc flash from a ground fault can cause significant fires in a very short time. How much more magnified this becomes with transmission lines(100,000 to 800,000 volts) having arc flash and ground faults during storms. Also, this becomes even more concentrated in electric substations.


The destruction caused by electric failure during storms from an underground electric grid in large urban areas like New York is a PRIME example why underground electric grids are not superior to above ground ones when it comes to storm damage.

While yes, when you bury underground lines, the wind threat is reduced, but flooding then becomes the major danger. Also when electric failure occurs with underground grids, it's harder to put the fires out, and also harder to repair. With that said, both designs have their advantages and disadvantages so I'm not saying either one is better overall, its just part of the modern world being run on electrical energy. However those claiming that the underground grid is superior need to learn from what's happened with Sandy.

Obviously in major urban areas, the gird has to be either entirely underground or mostly underground to prevent a mess of high voltage wires all over a major city.
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Quoting MahFL:


Actually some toilets do have alot of elctronics in them, as long as they are isolated from the actual flush water there is no problem. Same as hot tubs.


but it doesnt run thru the water...it is isolated...when it is no longer isolated...it goes boom...same as the transformers
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Anyway thanks to everyone on this blog for providing Sandy related info for me to warn everyone on other websites about this storm.
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Quoting oracle28:


Because of global warming. :)

It could be several factors, water entering them, or a piece of metal debris shorting them out.


Most likely through flooding. It's like throwing a big big hairdryer into the bathing tub. (Don't try this.)
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Scientific American
Live Chat at 1 P.M. EDT on Tropical Cyclone Sandy

Join us for a live online chat with climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh of Stanford University.
Dr. Diffenbaugh will help us understand the science behind Hurricane Sandy

By The Editors

Join us below at 1 P.M. Eastern time on Tuesday, October 30, for a live 30-minute online chat with climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh of Stanford University's , who will discuss Sandy--the tropical cyclone that has caused 20 deaths and left more than 7 million people in the U.S. Northeast without power. Diffenbaugh will answer questions about the storm as well as the role of climate change in severe storms and this storm.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id= hurricane-sandy-live-chat
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Quoting tiggeriffic:


yeah, not the kind of snow a snow blower works on by any means...you are lucky to have power...my friend lost power bout dark last night...plows keep covering her driveway...last i talked to her they had piled almost 6 ft of snow blocking her in...



We lost power about 9 pm last night, but got it back about 10:45 this morning. Still a lot of outages in the area.
Member Since: December 17, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 1189
Quoting yonzabam:
Anyone know why power station transformers explode in a storm?

Generally, substation transformers don't blow, unless there's actual damage from something like wind blown debris. It's the circuit breakers that trip, which can cause some pretty impressive arcing. Circuit breakers are there specifically to prevent damage to the much more expensive and difficult to replace transformers. Most of the circuit breakers can be replaces in a day or two. Unfortunately, this won't help people without power, due to the massive damage to the distribution system. All the downed utility poles have to be replaced along with all the pole mounted transformers that are damaged. These smaller distribution transformers are usually damaged by either hitting the ground when the pole goes down or by excessive amounts of wind-blown water getting inside and causing the transformer to blow.

From an electrical viewpoint, this will be the most challenging restoration effort ever. Crews will be bought in from all over the country, and reserve stocks of utility poles, circuit breakers, and distribution transformers will have to be rounded up and transported from the four corners of our country. Along with other first responders, remember all those utility workers you see, some of whom will be thousands of miles from home, most working 18 hour shifts. If they are working on your street, give them some coffee and a few words of thanks. They'll appreciate it.
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Thanks Dr. Masters, luckily Sandy wasn't too bad in MI. I hope the NE/Mid Atlantic has a speedy recovery.
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To me some officials seem to be rather incompetent when appearantly an area is under mandatory evacuation due to expected flooding but electricity wasn't switched off. Those dozens of buildings in Queens did not need to burn. Needless to say that power lines within heavily developped urban areas have to be placed under the surface and not on poles. Also that Manhattan trafo station did not need to explode. Will take much more time and money to repair it from the beginning instead of only exchanging from salty water corroded parts.

I also think they're too optimistic about putting back to service the subway. When in 2002 the Metro in Prague was flooded it took full nine months to repair it. However there has been a lot of mud splashed into the tunnels which not seem to have occurred in Manhattan but I don't believe they will be able to pump out, clean and repair damages within several days.

What is missing in NYC is a comprehensive storm surge protection like the Dutch Delta Works, i.e. flood doors on Arthur Kill, Verrazano Narrows and East River and Manhattan would be flooded never again. Well, that's expensive and the investor would be the state and there are too many Reps thinkung that the state should spend less money...
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Quoting Doppler22:
Thanks Dr. Masters.... Glad that I fared well in SE PA..... suprised i have power

same

1 death in my city from a fallen tree
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The problem with the current hurricane classification system is it tries to boil a lot of information in to one number which leads to misleading information. We need a system more like the NFPA hazard alert system.



Where the options would be Surge Hazard, Flood Hazard, and Wind Hazard.

A system like this would better convey the specific hazards a particular storm is likely to present at a specific location. A mountainous area would look at the wind hazard numbers, the shore would be most concerned about the surge numbers, and flood zones could focus on the flood potential numbers.

If Sandy was a Cat 1 Wind, Cat 3 Surge, and Cat 1 Flood hazard, people along the shore may have had a better sense to run from a Cat 3 storm.
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Quoting milo617:


dead deer?


I never saw the dead deer, but again thats not that graphic really.
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Quoting leftlink:


Of course politics matters, it is politics that determines whether the government is able to raise taxes high enough to fund the kinds of infrastructure that would have prevented this disaster!

To say that politics shouldn't be discussed is like saying that after 9/11 we shouldn't have been talking about Al Queda and Osama Bin Laden.

Perhaps you should watch your logic. 9/11 was directly caused by Al Queda and Osama, so by your statement government is directly responsible for a hurricane? A bit tinfoil-hat-ish if you ask me.
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Quoting oracle28:


Because of global warming. :)

It could be several factors, water entering them, or a piece of metal debris shorting them out.

Damn you beat me, I was going to say they were exploding to over-hype this minor cat 1 hurricane. :)
Probably some sort of conspiracy, stupid HAARP blowing up all those transformers with chem trails (am I getting this right?)
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Quoting tiggeriffic:
it is strange weather here today...it is now noon and the temps in Charleston, SC have just now hit 50 degrees...unseasonably cold for us...


No kidding, it's only 55 here in Jacksonville, FL! Worst effects from Sandy were Friday here, nice squal came through, believe the area had gusts near 60mph from that.
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Quoting MahFL:


There was nothing graphic about those pictures.


dead deer?
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-
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Quoting tiggeriffic:


hubby is an electrician...his explanation is simple...they explode due to water, water is a conductor of electricity...this is why toilets are not electric...


Actually some toilets do have alot of elctronics in them, as long as they are isolated from the actual flush water there is no problem. Same as hot tubs.
Member Since: June 9, 2004 Posts: 0 Comments: 2912
Falling trees are one of the big death related items in storms (minor or major) which are accompanied by soil soaking rain and wind. Some of the deaths are caused when a tree falls onto/into a home without any notice.

But others occur in the street if folks are outside walking or driving during the weather event; this is why it is so dangerous to be outside during a storm or in the after math near trees and tree-lines especially if winds are still gusting even though it may have stopped raining.
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Quoting BahaHurican:
I'm not sure I agree with this. I think there is a place for evaluating past and present presidents and other elected officials as part of what can be learned from these disasters and as part of ensuring better preparation in the future. However, I do think it's hard during moments of heightened emotions to separate between critiquing and blaming. So I suppose I can understand where you are coming from...


Of course politics matters, it is politics that determines whether the government is able to raise taxes high enough to fund the kinds of infrastructure that would have prevented this disaster!

To say that politics shouldn't be discussed is like saying that after 9/11 we shouldn't have been talking about Al Queda and Osama Bin Laden.
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Quoting ncstorm:
From the Baltimore Sun..Pictures of CT, NJ and NY shore..some are a little graphic..


There was nothing graphic about those pictures.
Member Since: June 9, 2004 Posts: 0 Comments: 2912
What gets me about the storms and people and government reactions is this is going to become a common occurrence in the future if the sea level rise projections are even close to accurate.

Since mortgages are a 30 year transaction, and bridges and high rise buildings are generally intended to pay for themselves over as much as a generation or two in some cases, it seems to me that some locations along the coast will need a near-total ban on new construction for certain types of uses, phasing in a couple decades from now.

You have to figure if a mortgage is a 30 year plan, then you need a total building ban by 2070 in any area that will be fully inundated by 2100, or any area that will be in a "catastrophic damage" predictor from a tropical storm, or at least something like this. the exact year will differ by location and elevation, obviously.

Without some sort of such bans, how will the government and insurance companies an banks keep absorbing the losses?

At some point, it becomes unfair, even immoral, to keep asking the people living in less effected areas to pay higher and higher mortgage, tax, and insurance rates to pay for the damages.

At what point does the lower 1/3rd of Florida become economically ineffective, that is, costing more to maintain than it produces? The same can be said for parts of Louisiana, and any number of locations on the East Coast.


Obviously, you can't permanently evacuate and ban everything, but think of the water level rise from an identical storm if this was 2100?! The projected mean sea level rise is 3 feet higher, so add another 3 feet on top of what just happened, and that's what an identical storm would do, and based on pressure, this is probably not quite a 1 in 100 storm, but close.

If the water was 3 feet higher to begin with, then perhaps a 60mph landfall would produce the same net water level rise as this 90mph landfall just did. So then floods of this sort would happen every couple years, either from a hurricane or a nor'easter, or some other low, instead of once or twice per century.


It's inconceivable that the existing paradigm of commercial and residential construction could be maintained profitably for more than a few decades at the rate things are going, particularly since so many components of our government at every level are near-bankrupt, and so many businesses are struggling as well.

90 years is a long time, but 16 trillion dollars existing federal debt is a long time. I the U.S. had a 100 billion dollar surplus every year, and paid that to the debt, it would take 160 years to remove the debt. We haven't had a surplus at all since the Clinton years.

This one storm is probably a top-five monetary loss event, and would single-handedly erase a 100 billion dollar surplus through a combination of direct damage and secondary economic losses. If it starts happening every year or two, it would become economically impossible to ever pay for the losses while trying to maintain the government's debts.
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Another shot of Breezy Point:



Source
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Quoting nigel20:

That's extremely sad.


just wait till the snow melts...
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Quoting CaicosRetiredSailor:
Death toll climbs to 33 as Sandy moves inland

Written by  Media Sources
Tuesday, 30 October 2012 11:45

NEW YORK (AP) -- Millions of people from Maine to the Carolinas awoke Tuesday without power, and an eerily quiet New York City was all but closed off by car, train and air as superstorm Sandy steamed inland, still delivering punishing wind and rain. The U.S. death toll climbed to 33, many of the victims killed by falling trees.
...

That's extremely sad.
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Quoting yonzabam:
Anyone know why power station transformers explode in a storm?


hubby is an electrician...his explanation is simple...they explode due to water, water is a conductor of electricity...this is why toilets are not electric...
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Quoting muddertracker:
Another high tide to go..talk about adding insult to injury. Some of the pictures coming out of Queens are terrible.

Question: So NY subways and tunnels are, obviously, under the water line...any guess as to how long it will take to pump it out? Do they have pumps built into the infrastructure?


They have pumps, buts thats for the normal leakage in the system. The Sandy flooding will take many more pumps.
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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.
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Link


Link to photos.<>a href="Photobucket" target="_blank">
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Quoting goosegirl1:



I have word on the ground from there too :) I live on the next ridge over from Green Mountain, where Elk Garden is, and yes, it's really snowing and the mountain top is covered. You can't see the Pinnacle wind farm for the blowing snow. I live at 1200 ft elevation, so we are not getting snow that lays, only wet snow that slaps your face as it flies by.


yeah, not the kind of snow a snow blower works on by any means...you are lucky to have power...my friend lost power bout dark last night...plows keep covering her driveway...last i talked to her they had piled almost 6 ft of snow blocking her in...
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Death toll climbs to 33 as Sandy moves inland

Written by  Media Sources
Tuesday, 30 October 2012 11:45

NEW YORK (AP) -- Millions of people from Maine to the Carolinas awoke Tuesday without power, and an eerily quiet New York City was all but closed off by car, train and air as superstorm Sandy steamed inland, still delivering punishing wind and rain. The U.S. death toll climbed to 33, many of the victims killed by falling trees.
...
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Quoting tiggeriffic:


second year in a row that Elk Garden has had snow for Halloween...it is not good in either area, no power at all

Wyoming co where my family lives probably wont have it for days and days...

nigel, email me here on WU and will give you info as i get it if you want me to



We had 8 inches of wet, heavy snow last year for a Halloween treat. It was, strangely, the last measurable we had.
Member Since: December 17, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 1189
Quoting yonzabam:
Anyone know why power station transformers explode in a storm?


Because of global warming. :)

It could be several factors, water entering them, or a piece of metal debris shorting them out.
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For all those places getting feet of snow from Sandy right now... what's the long-range temperature forecast? It's still early enough in the season that a warm-up is possible-- I'd hate to see a rapid snowmelt hitting the rivers; that'd be one more gut-punch.
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The farmers in eastern Jamaica were affected pretty badly.
11,000 farmers affected by Hurricane Sandy
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Breezy Point:



Source: Business Insider
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Quoting tiggeriffic:


i have family in Wyoming Co WV (southern point where WV, VA, KY meet), they had about 8" at 9am

my friends in Elk Garden(NE panhandle) have well over a foot and still blizzard conditions at 11am



I have word on the ground from there too :) I live on the next ridge over from Green Mountain, where Elk Garden is, and yes, it's really snowing and the mountain top is covered. You can't see the Pinnacle wind farm for the blowing snow. I live at 1200 ft elevation, so we are not getting snow that lays, only wet snow that slaps your face as it flies by.
Member Since: December 17, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 1189
That mass in the eastern Caribbean looks interesting, I think Sandy's remnants have drawn it up into the waters there. For now, her massive influence is not allowing anything to develop, not even 99 E - she is drawing moisture everywhere from the eastern Atlantic to the GOM across to the east Pacific. It's neat to see.
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Quoting tiggeriffic:


second year in a row that Elk Garden has had snow for Halloween...it is not good in either area, no power at all

Wyoming co where my family lives probably wont have it for days and days...

nigel, email me here on WU and will give you info as i get it if you want me to

Will do
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Anyone know why power station transformers explode in a storm?
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Truly living up to its "superstorm" media label, very devastating storm and we should not forget it is still causing damage.

We also have yet to find out exactly how bad things in the barrier islands are.


That said, big thank you to Jeff and the team, and everyone here who posted relevant information during the landfall, and in the days leading up to this event.


Got a long way to go before this is all said and done but the worst is certainly over, now the question is "how bad was the worst"?
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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.