Why did Hurricane Sandy take such an unusual track into New Jersey?

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 4:33 PM GMT on October 31, 2012

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We're used to seeing hurricane-battered beaches and flooded cities in Florida, North Carolina, and the Gulf Coast. But to see these images from the Jersey Shore and New York City in the wake of Hurricane Sandy is a shocking experience. New Jersey only rarely gets hit by hurricanes because it lies in a portion of the coast that doesn't stick out much, and is too far north. How did this happen? How was a hurricane able to move from southeast to northwest at landfall, so far north, and so late in hurricane season? We expect hurricanes to move from east to west in the tropics, where the prevailing trade winds blow that direction. But the prevailing wind direction reverses at mid-latitudes, flowing predominately west-to-east, due to the spin of the Earth. Hurricanes that penetrate to about Florida's latitude usually get caught up in these westerly winds, and are whisked northeastwards, out to sea. However, the jet stream, that powerful band of upper-atmosphere west-to-east flowing air, has many dips and bulges. These troughs of low pressure and ridges of high pressure allow winds at mid-latitudes to flow more to the north or to the south. Every so often, a trough in the jet stream bends back on itself when encountering a ridge of high pressure stuck in place ahead of it. These "negatively tilted" troughs have winds that flow from southeast to northwest. It is this sort of negatively tilted trough that sucked in Sandy and allowed the hurricane to take such an unusual path into New Jersey.


Figure 1. Inlet section of Atlantic City, N.J., after Hurricane Sandy. Image credit: 6 ABC Action News.

The 1903 Vagabond Hurricane
The only other hurricane to hit New Jersey since 1851 besides Sandy was the 1903 Category 1 Vagabond Hurricane. According to Wikipedia, the Vagabond Hurricane caused heavy damage along the New Jersey coast ($180 million in 2006 dollars.) The hurricane killed 57 people, and endangered the life of President Theodore Roosevelt, who was sailing on a yacht near Long Island, NY, when the hurricane hit. However, the Vagabond Hurricane hit in September, when the jet stream is typically weaker and farther to the north. It is quite extraordinary that Sandy was able to hit New Jersey in late October, when the jet stream is typically stronger and farther south, making recurvature to the northeast much more likely than in September.


Figure 2. The path of the 1903 Vagabond Hurricane, the only other hurricane to hit New Jersey since 1851.

The blocking ridge that steered Sandy into New Jersey
A strong ridge of high pressure parked itself over Greenland beginning on October 20, creating a "blocking ridge" that prevented the normal west-to-east flow of winds over Eastern North America. Think of the blocking ridge like a big truck parked over Greenland. Storms approaching from the west (like the fall low pressure system that moved across the U.S. from California to Pennsylvania last week) or from the south (Hurricane Sandy) were blocked from heading to the northeast. Caught in the equivalent of an atmospheric traffic jam, the two storms collided over the Northeast U.S., combined into one, and are now waiting for the truck parked over Greenland to move. The strength of the blocking ridge, as measured by the strength of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), was quite high--about two standard deviations from average, something that occurs approximately 5% of the time. When the NAO is in a strong negative phase, we tend to have blocking ridges over Greenland.


Figure 3. Jet stream winds at a pressure of 300 mb on October 29, 2012, as Hurricane Sandy approached the coast of New Jersey. Note that the wind direction over New Jersey (black arrows) was from the southeast, due to a negatively tilted trough of low pressure over the Eastern U.S. caused by a strong blocking ridge of high pressure over Greenland. Image credit: NOAA/ESRL.

Arctic sea ice loss can cause blocking ridges
Blocking ridges occur naturally, but are uncommon over Greenland this time of year. According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, blocking near the longitude of Greenland (50°W) only occurs about 2% of the time in the fall. These odds rise to about 6% in winter and spring. As I discussed in an April post, Arctic sea ice loss tied to unusual jet stream patterns, three studies published in the past year have found that the jet stream has been getting stuck in unusually strong blocking patterns in recent years. These studies found that the recent record decline in Arctic sea ice could be responsible, since this heats up the pole, altering the Equator-to-pole temperature difference, forcing the jet stream to slow down, meander, and get stuck in large loops. The 2012 Arctic sea ice melt season was extreme, with sea ice extent hitting a record lows. Could sea ice loss have contributed to the blocking ridge that steered Sandy into New Jersey? It is possible, but we will need to much more research on the subject before we make such a link, as the studies of sea ice loss on jet stream patterns are so new. The author of one of the new studies, Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers, had this say in a recent post by Andy Revkin in his Dot Earth blog: "While it’s impossible to say how this scenario might have unfolded if sea-ice had been as extensive as it was in the 1980s, the situation at hand is completely consistent with what I’d expect to see happen more often as a result of unabated warming and especially the amplification of that warming in the Arctic."

Jeff Masters

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Quoting aislinnpaps:


Certainly not in the number of deaths. As to the financial and property loss, it might. I don't know enough about that and I think they are being careful not to compare them yet. I don't think they have a full handle on the cost of Sandy yet either.


I think when it's all said and done, Sandy will be the 2nd most destructive hurricane to hit the US, beating out Ike.
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Quoting BADHYPEAGAIN:
Was this worst then katrina?


Certainly not in the number of deaths. As to the financial and property loss, it might. I don't know enough about that and I think they are being careful not to compare them yet. I don't think they have a full handle on the cost of Sandy yet either.
Member Since: August 22, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 3113
Good morning.
Hurricane Sandy death toll reaches 74.

Link
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Good morning/evening all. The pictures still coming out are so devestating. Not being used to hurricanes or their after effects, I'm not sure that while many did prepare, they got enough food and water. They generally say enough for three days, but some of these people are looking at more than that before they are even rescued.
Member Since: August 22, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 3113
Has anyone posted this?
Florence TCR

*Tropical Storm Aletta - PDF - KMZ
*Hurricane Bud - PDF - KMZ
*Hurricane Daniel - PDF - KMZ
*Hurricane Emilia - PDF - KMZ

Four EPAC TCRs issued.
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Quoting vanwx:


Excuse me. This storm had the best warning, most advanced warning ever. It was called 11 days before at WU on NOAA data. Only local real estate types pooh-poohed it, including Bloomberg. Now you want to go hang someone because you had your life set on 'ignore'. Well, lah-ti-dah, that warning was for you.


I'm not sure you're paying attention to what the person wrote. They're talking about the official category for different areas of tropical storm / hurricane warnings, not that "NOAA didn't predict the storm". It's about a decision on whether to use a classification that has a psychological impact for many people or not.

And Matthias *certainly* wasn't talking about himself.
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558. vanwx
Quoting Matthias1967:


Actually he should resign for misjudgement.

---

The problem with the NOAA was that they bent the rules. Tropical storm warnings are announced when tropical storm conditions (sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph) are possible within the specified area within 48 hours. Well, according to their own rules NHC should have put the whole coast from North Carolina up to Massachusetts under a tropcial storm warning on last Saturday when the storm definitely still was a hurricane. The same for hurrciane warnings. They didn't. Sandy still was full tropical when tropical storm winds reached the coast. When the radius of maximum winds reached the New Jersey and Long Island coasts Sandy was still classified full tropical. While they got predictions of intensity, track, storm surge, and other hazards pretty exactly their forecasting philosophy was big fail.

According to their pamphlet (the PDF mentioned earlier on this blog) they did this for not confusing the public when tropical storm warnings/hurricane warnings would've ceased after et transition but still nor'easter/blizzard conditions would've continued for a long time (which in the area proper btw did not happen because Sandy absorbed much of the other systems, blizzard conditions f.ex. happened only in parts of the Appalachians which anyways would't have been under hurricane/tropical storm warnings). Putting up graphics with a tropcial storm warning at the coast of North Carolina but lacking warnings for the coast north of that while Sandy was smacking down on the coast as a hurricane was a really bad, bad solution. People are looking on graphics, they're not reading advisories – some are not able to read or they don't understand terminology. Within this blog readers mostly understand the difference between hurricane winds and hurricane-force winds, the general public does not know about the difference, nor they understand the why.

Whoever was responsible for that bad judgement within NOAA should resign as well.


Excuse me. This storm had the best warning, most advanced warning ever. It was called 11 days before at WU on NOAA data. Only local real estate types pooh-poohed it, including Bloomberg. Now you want to go hang someone because you had your life set on 'ignore'. Well, lah-ti-dah, that warning was for you.
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Quoting sfranz:
I saw a recent press conference with Bloomberg. He seems to have gotten that his evacuation order was a bit late and too conservative.

Guess he'll have to live with that call.



Actually he should resign for misjudgement.

---

The problem with the NOAA was that they bent the rules. Tropical storm warnings are announced when tropical storm conditions (sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph) are possible within the specified area within 48 hours. Well, according to their own rules NHC should have put the whole coast from North Carolina up to Massachusetts under a tropcial storm warning on last Saturday when the storm definitely still was a hurricane. The same for hurrciane warnings. They didn't. Sandy still was full tropical when tropical storm winds reached the coast. When the radius of maximum winds reached the New Jersey and Long Island coasts Sandy was still classified full tropical. While they got predictions of intensity, track, storm surge, and other hazards pretty exactly their forecasting philosophy was big fail.

According to their pamphlet (the PDF mentioned earlier on this blog) they did this for not confusing the public when tropical storm warnings/hurricane warnings would've ceased after et transition but still nor'easter/blizzard conditions would've continued for a long time (which in the area proper btw did not happen because Sandy absorbed much of the other systems, blizzard conditions f.ex. happened only in parts of the Appalachians which anyways would't have been under hurricane/tropical storm warnings). Putting up graphics with a tropcial storm warning at the coast of North Carolina but lacking warnings for the coast north of that while Sandy was smacking down on the coast as a hurricane was a really bad, bad solution. People are looking on graphics, they're not reading advisories – some are not able to read or they don't understand terminology. Within this blog readers mostly understand the difference between hurricane winds and hurricane-force winds, the general public does not know about the difference, nor they understand the why.

Whoever was responsible for that bad judgement within NOAA should resign as well.
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556. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
India Meteorological Department
Tropical Cyclone Advisory #25
DEPRESSION, FORMER NILAM (BOB02-2012)
8:30 AM IST November 1 2012
=============================================

At 3:00 AM UTC, The depression over Rayalaseema and adjoining area of southern interior Karnataka moved westward and now lays near 14.0N 76.5E, near Chitradurga. The system will likely move northwestward and weaken further into a low pressure area during the next 12 hours.
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Quoting OracleDeAtlantis:
Don't go wading at Kitty Hawk ...

Looks like a little bull shark.



Looks a lot like this shark! A lot!!

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Quoting MrMixon:
Just wow:





That's what an uncontrollable fire looks like. We see it in bush fires all over the world, especially when the Santa Ana wind gets a blowin'
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Quoting sunlinepr:


Yes, it was.... got one from Galveston.... Wikipedia... Thanks
Bolivar is actually in Galveston County. The part of the city of Galveston that was behind the seawall was saved by the wall. Yet may have forced more water towards Bolivar and into the Bay. Bayside towns like Kemah, Bacliff, and San Leon were hard hit all are in Galveston County. Your photo looks to be from the west end of the island where no wall protects it.
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Quoting OracleDeAtlantis:
Don't go wading at Kitty Hawk ...

Looks like a little bull shark.


Another post-Sandy fake. Check at Snopes Sandy Fakes before reposting this kind of thing.
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Quoting KoritheMan:


Is it raining this year?
Hoping for it happens.Thank God we are in the rainy season.;)
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Blog update on Rosa.
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Don't go wading at Kitty Hawk ...

Looks like a little bull shark.

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Quoting allancalderini:
Technically is 11:40 in Honduras so its not my birthday :p but thanks very much you are the second person to wish me hbd.I am so anxious for a call that someone important told me that he would call me at 2:00 am the hour I was born.can`t wait.you know an interesting fact about me is that it always rain on my birthday.


Is it raining this year?
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Quoting KoritheMan:


Nothing wrong with a little laughter on your birthday. :)
Technically is 11:40 in Honduras so its not my birthday :p but thanks very much you are the second person to wish me hbd.I am so anxious for a call that someone important told me that he would call me at 2:00 am the hour I was born.can`t wait.you know an interesting fact about me is that it always rain on my birthday.
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Quoting wjdow:
li believe that photo is from Bolivar Island, not Galveston.


Yes, it was.... got one from Galveston.... Wikipedia... Thanks
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Quoting allancalderini:
lol you make me laugh.thanks.


Nothing wrong with a little laughter on your birthday. :)
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Quoting KoritheMan:


I have such a great knowledge I had to stop and do math just to figure that out. :/

But thanks for the compliment. Kinda makes me feel all warm inside. *strokes e-d**k*
lol you make me laugh.thanks.
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Quoting flsky:

My mother as an example - while in her sixties, she and a friend considered selling what they owned outright and buying a motor home. By the time my mom was 70 she had had a number of strokes and didn't really know where she lived at all. Could she have operated a motor home at that point? I'm just saying take everything under consideration. We sometimes don't take into account what will happen when we age.

True, and, if that time comes for me, I have insurance and enough money in the bank from the sale of my home to pay for my care. My motorhome, which is a 1995 Safari Trek, cost me $38,000 in 2005. It's worth about $20,000 now, but still serves as a nice home for me. The good thing about a paid for house is that you can manage the money you get from the sale, plus your SS check, and have a reasonable income to live off of each month. I will admit I was lucky selling at the top of the market, but it can still be done.

To younger people who want to live a comfortable life in retirement, one bit of advice - GET OUT OF DEBT. You really don't need all that stuff you buy with money you don't have. Learn to live debt free and you will be as close to rich as you need to be by the time you're 60.
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Quoting allancalderini:
oh ok thanks ;) I know I can always ask you this thing because you have a great knowledge about it.


I have such a great knowledge I had to stop and do math just to figure that out. :/

But thanks for the compliment. Kinda makes me feel all warm inside. *strokes e-d**k*
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Quoting KoritheMan:


You know what? I had never considered that before, but quite surprisingly, it appears this list comes out on top. 66 storms to the other list's 61, and 33 hurricanes relative to 28.

In terms of big storms though, the 2009 list comes out on top.
oh ok thanks ;) I know I can always ask you this thing because you have a great knowledge about it.
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540. wjdow
Quoting sunlinepr:


True....



Seems like the only solution to secure your family in such an event, is to make reservations in advance, securring the best you can your property... then get all your personal papers, and leave and drive away, staying in a motel or guesthouse in another state.... Then come back when the situation eases.... My sister left NOLA 3 days before Katrina, driving with all the family to Memphis and staying in a Holyday Inn.... Then they came back one week later....

li believe that photo is from Bolivar Island, not Galveston.
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off to bed. good night all, stay safe
Member Since: August 29, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 429
Quoting allancalderini:
Which is the most inactive list this one or the one of 2009?


You know what? I had never considered that before, but quite surprisingly, it appears this list comes out on top. 66 storms to the other list's 61, and 33 hurricanes relative to 28.

In terms of big storms though, the 2009 list comes out on top.
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This is for GRO in post 391

https://www.citizensfla.com/about/CitizensAssessm ents.cfm

Last year citizens assessed my car ins 3% boat ins 3% home owners 3% All three are assessed against my property tax. Only because it is a state agency can the levy an assessment on the auto and boat on my POPERTY tax. This means if I don't pay it they won't cancel my insurance with allstate as I paid that. They will just take my house for not paying my property tax.

A scam a private company could never get away with.

Everyone in the state with any kind of insurance is assessed something by citizens and the amount is totally up to them (to a point)
Member Since: August 29, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 429
Quoting KoritheMan:


Not as bad as it seems. We exceeded the 'G' storm in every instance except 1982 and 1994. The real trouble began when we tried to eclipse Isaac, lol.
Which is the most inactive list this one or the one of 2009?
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535. flsky
Quoting sar2401:

I'm 66, and sold my paid for home that I worked for all my life, bought my motorhome, and enjoy traveling the country. The "elderly" are not always as helpless or as poor as you think they are either. :)

My mother as an example - while in her sixties, she and a friend considered selling what they owned outright and buying a motor home. By the time my mom was 70 she had had a number of strokes and didn't really know where she lived at all. Could she have operated a motor home at that point? I'm just saying take everything under consideration. We sometimes don't take into account what will happen when we age.
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534. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
India Meteorological Department
Tropical Cyclone Advisory #24
DEPRESSION, FORMER NILAM (BOB02-2012)
5:30 AM IST November 1 2012
=============================================

At 0:00 AM UTC, The deep depression over northern Tamil Nadu and neighborhood moved northwestward and weakened into a depression over Rayalaseema and adjoining area of southern interior Karnataka. Depression, Former Nilam lay centered near 14.0N 77.5E, or a bout 75 km south of Anantapur. The system is likely to move west northwestwards and weaken further into a low pressure area during the next 12 hours.
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Quoting flsky:


I suppose if you're in the 65-85 year-old range, you will stay with the home you've paid on all your life. When elderly, it might be hard to operate a motor home - if you could afford it. The poor aren't always who you think they are....

I'm 66, and sold my paid for home that I worked for all my life, bought my motorhome, and enjoy traveling the country. The "elderly" are not always as helpless or as poor as you think they are either. :)
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Quoting StopThePropoganda:
The ability of some to take a historical disaster like this and twist it for their own political gain makes me sick beyond words. Dozens of people are dead. Thousands saw their homes damaged or destroyed. Millions are without power. This storm caused billions in damage, and is one of the worst natural disasters in the history of this country. How can anybody watch the devastation caused by this and think about how they can spin this to advance their own personal crusade against truth? This is worse than the nut jobs who try to tie religion into disasters - and by the way, there's just as much evidence that God was punishing the northeast with Sandy as their is that humans caused global warming, or that global warming caused Sandy.

When will enough be enough?

I don't know. When Katrina hit us in the South, I remember an awful lot of posts about how we rednecks had it coming to us because (choose your reason)....There was also a lot of political posturing on both sides about what or what wasn't being done to help. It seems to be part of the human condition that some take peverse delight in the suffering of others...until it happens to them.
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531. Skyepony (Mod)
Photos from a plane are starting to be posted into the Sandy Rapid response imagery.
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530. flsky
Quoting sar2401:

Compared to a beach home? A motorhome is pretty cheap by comparison. Heck, compared to a lot of new cars, a motorhome a few years old and in good shape is cheap. Most motorhomes are not the $500,000 palaces on wheels many people think of when they hear the word.


I suppose if you're in the 65-85 year-old range, you will stay with the home you've paid on all your life. When elderly, it might be hard to operate a motor home - if you could afford it. The poor aren't always who you think they are....
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Quoting flsky:


Not everyone can afford a motorhome....

Compared to a beach home? A motorhome is pretty cheap by comparison. Heck, compared to a lot of new cars, a motorhome a few years old and in good shape is cheap. Most motorhomes are not the $500,000 palaces on wheels many people think of when they hear the word.
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The ability of some to take a historical disaster like this and twist it for their own political gain makes me sick beyond words. Dozens of people are dead. Thousands saw their homes damaged or destroyed. Millions are without power. This storm caused billions in damage, and is one of the worst natural disasters in the history of this country. How can anybody watch the devastation caused by this and think about how they can spin this to advance their own personal crusade against truth? This is worse than the nut jobs who try to tie religion into disasters - and by the way, there's just as much evidence that God was punishing the northeast with Sandy as their is that humans caused global warming, or that global warming caused Sandy.

When will enough be enough?
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527. flsky
Quoting sar2401:

That's one of the reasons I live in my motorhome. If things get bad, I just unhook and drive my house away. If you want to live near the beach, it's really not a bad idea.


Not everyone can afford a motorhome....
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Quoting knative:
Well, law enforcement officials would probably know how many people have been found. Though, you are right though. I think we should be skeptical though. You are right. "Multiple police officials confirm her worst fears" is a very nebulous phrase.

As I said, the police also have no idea how many people are still in those homes. They shouldn't be talking to reporters about this either. We will all know how many people have been found once the SAR teams complete their work. Speculating about how many might be found serves no useful purpose, and has a lot of negative side effects.
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Quoting sunlinepr:


True....



Seems like the only solution to secure your family in such an event, is to make reservations in advance, securring the best you can your property... then get all your personal papers, and leave and drive away, staying in a motel or guesthouse in another state.... Then come back when the situation eases.... My sister left NOLA 3 days before Katrina, driving with all the family to Memphis and staying in a Holyday Inn.... Then they came back one week later....


That's one of the reasons I live in my motorhome. If things get bad, I just unhook and drive my house away. If you want to live near the beach, it's really not a bad idea.
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Well, law enforcement officials would probably know how many people have been found. I think we should be skeptical though. You are right. "Multiple police officials confirm her worst fears" is a very nebulous phrase.
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Rosa is becoming increasingly separated from the deep convection:

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Quoting MrMixon:
Just wow:




Imagine 2,000 homes like this on fire, all at or about the same time, with 100 mph winds and temperatures of 100 degrees. That was the Oakland Hills Firestorm of 1991. As bad as this was, "Wow!" doesn't come close to describing that one.
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Quoting flsky:


That didn't help them much....


True....



Seems like the only solution to secure your family in such an event, is to make reservations in advance, securring the best you can your property... then get all your personal papers, and leave and drive away, staying in a motel or guesthouse in another state.... Then come back when the situation eases.... My sister left NOLA 3 days before Katrina, driving with all the family to Memphis and staying in a Holyday Inn.... Then they came back one week later....

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Quoting knative:


Watch the video. The news reporters were talking to a civilian, and they talked to law enforcement officials to confirm what she was saying.

No, that's not what the reporter said. He stated he talked to unnamed "law enforcement officials" that agreed with the civilian. These officials had no more knowledge of how many people may or may not have persished in those homes than the civilian. I've done flood rescue before, and this kind of thing is total speculation. I've been at scenes that didn't look bad and found far more bodies than in neighborhoods that were completely underwater. Let the SAR teams do their jobs and we'll soon enough know the truth. This kind of speculation only serves to make the waiting worse for relatives and friends of people who may be missing in that area.
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Been a long time since we've seen this:

ZCZC MIATWOAT ALL
TTAA00 KNHC DDHHMM

TROPICAL WEATHER OUTLOOK
NWS NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
800 PM EDT WED OCT 31 2012

FOR THE NORTH ATLANTIC...CARIBBEAN SEA AND THE GULF OF MEXICO...

TROPICAL CYCLONE FORMATION IS NOT EXPECTED DURING THE NEXT 48 HOURS.

$$
FORECASTER BRENNAN
NNNN
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This aerial photo shows burned-out homes in the Breezy Point section of the Queens borough New York after a fire on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012. The tiny beachfront neighborhood told to evacuate before Sandy hit New York burned down as it was inundated by floodwaters, transforming a quaint corner of the Rockaways into a smoke-filled debris field. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

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Quoting sunlinepr:



Would it be possible to create a Galveston like infrastructure along those coastal areas?

There are two immediate issues I see from looking at the pictures:

1. Homes were built directly on the beach

2. Many of the homes were not elevated with flow-through support structures.

The state and local governments can mandate set backs from the beach and elevation of existing or new housing. It wouldn't have taken a storm the size of Sandy to cause catastrophic destruction - it's just that Sandy's size and energy made it much worse
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Quoting sar2401:

Then Shawn need to do fact checking. Interviewing a civilian about what they think might happen, along with unattributed "law enforcement sources" is not news - it's speculation, and specualtion of the worst kind.


Watch the video. The news reporters were talking to a civilian, and they talked to law enforcement officials to confirm what she was saying.
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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.