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Sandy by the numbers: trying to comprehend a stunning disaster

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 7:19 PM GMT on November 01, 2012

The immensity of the impact of Superstorm Sandy on the Eastern U.S. is difficult to comprehend, and the scenes of devastation coming from the impact zone are stunning and heart-wrenching. To help understand the extraordinary scale of this historic storm, I've put together a list of notable statistics from Sandy:

Death toll: 160 (88 in the U.S., 54 in Haiti, 11 in Cuba)

Damage estimates: $10 - $55 billion

Power outages: 8.5 million U.S. customers, 2nd most for a natural disaster behind the 1993 blizzard (10 million)

Maximum U.S. sustained winds: 69 mph at Westerly, RI

Peak U.S. wind gusts: 90 mph at Islip, NY and Tompkinsville, NJ

Maximum U.S. storm surge: 9.45', Bergen Point, NJ 9:24 pm EDT October 29, 2012

Maximum U.S. Storm Tide: 14.60', Bergen Point, NJ, 9:24 pm EDT October 29, 2012

Maximum significant wave height: 33.1' at the buoy east of Cape Hatteras, NC (2nd highest: 32.5' at the Entrance to New York Harbor)

Maximum U.S. rainfall: 12.55", Easton, MD

Maximum snowfall: 36", Richwood, WV

Minimum pressure: 945.5 mb, Atlantic City, NJ at 7:24 pm EST, October 29, 2012. This is the lowest pressure measured in the U.S., at any location north of Cape Hatteras, NC (previous record: 946 mb in the 1938 hurricane on Long Island, NY)

Destructive potential of storm surge: 5.8 on a scale of 0 to 6, highest of any hurricane observed since 1969. Previous record: 5.6 on a scale of 0 to 6, set during Hurricane Isabel of 2003.

Diameter of tropical storm-force winds at landfall: 945 miles

Diameter of ocean with 12' seas at landfall: 1500 miles

Figure 1. The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite acquired this image of Superstorm Sandy around 3:35 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (7:35 Universal Time) on October 30. This image is from the “day-night band” on VIIRS, which detects light wavelengths from green to near-infrared. The full Moon lit up the tops of the clouds. Image credit: NASA.

Figure 2. Preliminary death and damage statistics for Sandy as compiled by Wikipedia on November 1, 2012.

Figure 3. Precipitation from Superstorm Sandy for the 7-day period ending at 8 am EDT Thursday, November 1, 2012. Image credit: NOAA/NWS/AHPS.

Figure 4. Top five weather-related power outages in the U.S.

Figure 5. Strong winds from Sandy blow snow in West Virginia on October 30, 2012. Image credit: Beau Dodson

Sandy's snows
Several cities set records for snowiest October day on record during Sandy: Elkin, WV (7", previous record, 4.6" in 1917) and Bluefield (4.7", previous record 3.2" in 1993.) Heavy snows caused roof collapses in West Virginia, and snows of two feet or more fell in four states--West Virginia, Tennessee, Maryland, and Virginia. However, Sandy fell short of setting the all-time record for snowfall from a hurricane. The Vermont Journal estimated that the Snow Hurricane of 1804 dumped up to 4 feet of snow in Vermont.

36" Richwood, WV
34" Mount Leconte, TN
34" Sevier, TN
33" Clayton, WV
32" Snowshoe, WV
29" Quinwood, WV
28" Frostburg, WV
28" Davis, WV
28" Huttonsville, WV
28" Flat Top, WV
26" Redhouse, MD
26" Garret, MD
26" Craigsville, WV
24" Oakland, MD
24" Alpine Lake, WV
24" Nettie, WV
24" Norton, VA
24" Quinwood, WV
24" Alexander, WV

Impressive loop of 1-minute visible satellite imagery spanning 6 days of Sandy's life.

A one-day time lapse video from a New York City webcam showing Sandy's impact on the city. It's eerie to see the city suddenly plunged into darkness.

First round of damage assessment aerial imagery collected by NOAA's National Geodetic Survey on Oct. 31 along the New Jersey coast.

Figure 6. Flooding in Haiti from Hurricane Sandy. Image credit: The Lambi Fund of Haiti.

Charities mobilize for Sandy
The outpouring of charitable donations in the wake of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy has been one of the bright spots in the gloomy aftermath of the storm. The main owners of The Weather Channel have agreed to match donations of up to $1 million to the American Red Cross, if you text SANDY to 90999 ($10). I also recommend my favorite disaster relief charity, Portlight.org. They are focusing their response efforts exclusively on the post-Sandy neeeds of people with disabilities.Check out the Portlight blog to see what they're up to; donations are always needed.

Sandy's greatest devastation occurred in Haiti, where rains of up to 20 inches in 24 hours unleashed rampaging flood waters that killed at least 54, left 200,000 homeless, wiped out thousand of acres of crops, and killed massive numbers of livestock. For impoverished families in Haiti still struggling to recover from the earthquake in 2010 and Hurricane Isaac in August, Sandy was devastating.  These crops are the very essence of rural Haitian’s livelihoods, and there are fears widespread starvation will result. A disaster relief charity in Haiti that I've contributed to for many years, The Lambi Fund of Haiti, is seeking donations to help farmers purchase local seeds so that they can replant their crops in the wake of this latest terrible Haitian catastrophe.

Jeff Masters
Hurricane Sandy - Davis, W.V.
Hurricane Sandy - Davis, W.V.
Hurricane Sandy, Davis, W.V. - photos taken by Beau Dodson
We Survived
We Survived
Everyone has seen photos of the damage inflicted by Hurricane Sandy that destroyed New Jersey, NYC, & Long Island as well as other areas on the East Coast. I am finally back on line after 4 days without power. It has been a long ordeal. My block was extremely fortunate. We didn't have any trees fall and no flooding but the entire area is devastated. This is a photo of a tree that fell between the street, smashed, the car, and blew out the tires. No one was hurt.


The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

Here my sister's school was closed for all this week... and so my college

October 29 reminds me of three things (there night be other but not at the top of my head)

Oct 29,1929 Stock market cashed....leading to the Great Depression
Oct 29, 2011 Snowtober...About 5" of snowfall along the coast. I saw those fallen tees with the leaves on....some other were tore apart
Oct 29, 2012 Sandy

I guess I'll play 29 on the lotto
Quoting KarenRei:

1. Nuclear has low *marginal* costs, but extremely high capital and decommissioning costs. People like to pretend that the reason that no nuclear power plants were built for over two decades in the US is because of some sort of environmental regulations, when the reality is, there was just no investment money. Even the current wave of "next gen" reactors designed to reduce costs has slowed down a lot.

2. You are completely wrong about solar. First off, you act like all solar is PV. The large scale solar plants are solar thermal. Solar thermal is nearly grid cost-competitive in the desert southwest of the US, and the price keeps going down. PV panels have been plunging in price, to the point that now for home installations the cost of installing the panels is more than the panels themselves. But PV is still more expensive, whether on the residential scale or grid scale, than solar thermal.
Good post..I believe nuclear fusion reactors will be capable of supplying some areas of the world with power sooner than anticipated. My thinking is that in the meantime, going with alternatives other than oil would be a wise choice for the U.S. There is a decent percentage of the world taking a turn in this direction now, and we will fall behind in technologies that supply cheaper, cleaner and more efficient energy the longer we depend on mass quantities of oil.
JeffMasters has created a new entry.
Quoting calkevin77:

New York is tough as nails. We've seen it many times before. In this case add in a little water to the marathon and NYC would make it a triathlon. :)
Joking aside it looks like they are going to take advantage of the marathon for some relief effort as according to their site http://www.ingnycmarathon.org/

I love NY!

N.Y. is great. Godspeed to all that were hit by Sandy.
Quoting MechEngMet:

The scientific method requires you to be skeptical of anything titled 'theory'. But you'd know that if you had really 'been there and done that'.

I'll also point out that you are asking others to follow your advice (#3 & #4) which you yourself are not willing to do. Such is the manner of both hypocrisy and closed mindedness. That's not something a man of science should be known for.

By not following your own advice you are discrediting it. Why should anyone follow/believe anything you say from here on out? DO you see my point?

Not Nea, but I don't see your point.

I've been reading just about everything from all sides of this since it changed my life in 2006 after Katrina. Do you think any of us WANT TO BELIEVE in AGW? The answer to that is "NO!!".

We, just like you, would like to continue burning tons of cheap carbon and doing something other than being terrified that we, through our actions, have made the lives of our grandchildren into a living hell. Our generation has been fossilized carbon burners like no other. It has made our lives wonderful. We have machines that do everything. The entire planet has become our playground.

I almost envy those that have died before seeing the stuff that industry and the media has helped us sweep under the rug. Well, now that stuff under the rug has started to pile up so much that Mother Nature, including humanity, is beginning to trip over it. You might want to call Sandy one of those stumbles.

97% of climate scientists don't call AGW a theory anymore. They, like me, tremble when they contemplate how bad this might get. It is only a tiny cadre of deniers that recycle the same lies over and over in their own particular brand of pathology.

Do yourself a favor and do the reading while thinking of your own grandchildren.
Quoting entrelac:
Has there been official confirmation that the New York Marathon is going to be held this weekend? I've only seen a handful of very angry local bloggers talking about it.

Edit - Nevermind. I found some articles with confirmation. From the Guardian

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is gambling on this weekend's marathon to raise the city's spirits. But the decision not to cancel the event has led to widespread criticism. Some residents and elected officials have said it could divert essential resources from the recovery operation.

On Staten Island, where the race is due to start at 9.30am on Sunday. officials have branded the decision "idiotic".

This decision is more than idiotic. It's grossly irresponsible. Any idea how many police officers and first responders are normally assigned to this event? The numbers are usually between 700-800. There are also thousands of volunteers needed to run this event, people that could be better used to help in recovery eforts. The mayor even has two large, truck mounted generators standing by, doing nothing, to provide power for the race, instead of using these in places like Staten Island, where search and rescue teams are still pulling bodies out of homes. New York may be tough as nails, but they also need to direct resources to the areas of greatest need...and it ain't for running a marathon.

In other news, non-union utility crews are being turned awyu from working in Seaside NJ, one of the hardest hit section of the NJ coast. The IBEW controls all utility work in NJ, and they are apparently more concerned about union jobs rules than restoring power. Several of the crews are from my state, Alabama. They drove all night and day to get there, only to be told they "weren't needed". All this with another strom approaching next week.

At some point, it becomes hard to be sympathetic to places that make dumb decisions and act like it's busines as usual. I do feel sorry for the citizens who are affected by these kind of things. I'm hoping they will protest loudly and get things back on track.

Not Union? Go Away
Quoting MechEngMet:

The scientific method requires you to be skeptical of anything titled 'theory'. But you'd know that if you had really 'been there and done that'.

I'll also point out that you are asking others to follow your advice (#3 & #4) which you yourself are not willing to do. Such is the manner of both hypocrisy and closed mindedness. That's not something a man of science should be known for.

By not following your own advice you are discrediting it. Why should anyone follow/believe anything you say from here on out? DO you see my point?

You are confusing theory with hypothesis. We have a Theory of General Relativity. We have a Theory of Evolution. We have Heliocentric Theory. These are accepted as facts by scientists in roughly the same proportion, and on the basis of roughly the same evidence, as global warming. Someone who seems to be claiming to be a mechanical engineering meteorologist or something should know that. "Theory" does not mean "unproven;" it merely means "A comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence," according to the United States National Academy of Sciences.

There is a difference between being a skeptic and a denier. A skeptic requires extraordinary proof for extraordinary claims. Anthropogenic global warming has a well-supported mechanism, extensive work rejecting the null hypothesis, and experimental and observational verification. There are no competing theories that in any way describe the variation in climate we are currently experiencing. Nir Shaviv's cosmic ray hypothesis was firmly rejected due to its lack of correlation with past climate events, and that was the furthest into the scientific process competing theories managed to make. Right now, there are uncounted millions of dollars available from the Competitive Enteprise Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, and other Orwellian-named oil-funded groups if you merely speak against the anthropogenic cause of global warming, let alone prove an alternate cause. It's telling that less than a handful of actual climatologists even bothered to take them up on their offer - the science is that strong. With that extraordinary body of evidence, a skeptic would not uncritically claim "It must be something else."

Here in New York, we're very painfully aware of the fact that the globe is warming. It hasn't escaped people's notice that the waves are starting to lap over the walls more often at the Battery. Without the one-foot post-industrial sea level rise, Sandy would have barely flooded our subways at all, and the substation at 14th and Ave. C wouldn't have exploded, plunging so many people into darkness. Without the massive pumping of heat to northern latitudes, Sandy wouldn't have been able to strengthen so far north - last I heard on this blog, SSTs were nine degrees above normal near the coast before landfall. I keep hearing from the usual suspects - including people who kept downcasting and downplaying the effects as the storm was going on - that this is no time to talk about the causes.

To hell with that!

I have people huddled up in my home waiting for power, unable to return to their homes or go to work and, up until last night, not knowing if their loved ones made it through the storm (they did, praise God, and may the idiots never again ignore mandatory evacuation warnings). They want to know why this happened. They want to know why a storm more destructive than anything that's come through here since Western habitation began was able to form. They want to know why children and adults alike have died, and they want to know how to make sure it never happens again.

My shoes are still sticky with the remains of Coney Island Beach spewed more than a thousand feet inland. My nostrils are filled with a strange gagging scent that I've never experienced before in my life - I honestly can't describe it beyond some sort of unholy alchemy applied to gasoline, rotting sea-flesh, and something else I've never encountered before. My ears are filled with the unnatural quiet of a neighborhood shell-shocked and still. Of all the times to start a dialogue about how we keep this from happening again, I can't think of a better time than when the evidence of inaction is all around us and the distractions are fewer.
deleted and moved to comment 24 in the next blog
Captainktainer, Global warming did not cause or help Sandy become a strong destructive Cat 1 or super storm. I've been through Cat 5 hurricanes and seen as much if not more damage than Sandy. The trouble with where Sandy hit is their building codes and lack or respect for these storms. All building codes on the Atlantic and Gulf waters should be the same as those in South Florida and the Florida Keys. It would cost a lot to bring these areas up to a S. Florida type building codes but it would also save a lot of livesand property damage and hopefuly people will evacuate the next time one comes along. Wasn't their a storm called the Long Island express that killed over a 1000 people and look back further, I believe in the 1700 and 1800s their were very strong storms to strike that area. If you live up their, good luck and hope you have a quick recovery.
mechengmet is a troll.