Cleaning Up After Hurricane Sandy

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An NYPD vehicle drives through the flooding in New York. Image Credit: David Shankbone

Things are looking a little creepy in the streets of New York on Halloween eve in the aftermath of the ex-Hurricane Sandy.

On Halloween morning, Sandy degraded to a trough of low pressure.

Although there are still some wind and small craft warnings, the superstorm is essentially finished.

Hurricane Sandy’s Beginnings

The storm strengthened into a hurricane on October 23rd.

Although it was short-lived, its fusion with another storm meant that Sandy became a superstorm, dubbed the “Bride of Frankenstorm” by NASA.

The extent of the storm was huge, and at its peak it covered 1.8 million square miles of ocean and land from the mid-Atlantic up into Canada.

Hurricane Sandy sweeps into Cuba on October 24. Image Credit: US Navy

Serious Damage in the Caribbean

While Hurricane Sandy caused significant damage, flooding, and power outages in the United States, the quiet but devastating story of the hurricane is its impact on the Caribbean. Before it hit the US East Coast, Sandy battered the area, causing flooding and large amounts of property damage. In Haiti, 20 inches of rain fell in four days. Hurricane Sandy destroyed crops in the area, causing concern over potential food shortages in a country that has been battered by multiple disasters in the past few years. The death toll in the Caribbean stands at 71, including victims in Jamaica, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic.

Sandy Slams the US East Coast

Sandy then moved north, merging with a cold front to create a superstorm. Hurricane Sandy turned out the lights for 8 million people in the Manhattan area and hit New York with wind speeds of over 90 mph in some areas. Notably, it also caused the first two-day closure of the New York Stock Exchange since a blizzard closed the exchange in 1888. The total damage from the storm is estimated at 20 billion dollars, and the storm is being blamed for 51 deaths along the East Coast.

Record Storm Surges Recorded

Three factors combined to make Sandy’s storm surges the highest in recorded history – storm surges of 14 feet smashed into boardwalks and filled up roads and subways. A hurricane combined with a cold front, and then the two windy storms combined with very high tides to push water up into coastal cities and towns.

Rough Winter Weather

Hurricanes form over the warm tropical ocean, but Sandy from the tropics met a much cooler storm from the north. Moisture and cold combined to create very snowy conditions. Although it’s unusual to get a large snow pack in October, over 2 feet of snow fell in some areas. Redhouse, Md. measured 28 inches of snowfall.

Chance or Change?

Was Hurricane Sandy a freak Frankenstorm, or does it point to more significant global changes due to climate change? The assessment will take a long time. It appears that Sandy’s intensity is due in part to high surface temperatures in the Western Atlantic: ocean temperatures were about 5 degrees higher than normal. While climate change is changing, and will continue to change, the surface temperature of the oceans, the scientific consensus seems to be that much more research is needed to model the complex factors that determine the intensity of Atlantic hurricanes to determine whether hybrid storms like this will become more common in the future.

Resources

NASA. Hurricane Sandy. (2012). Accessed October 31, 2012.

New York Times. Did Global Warming Contribute to Hurricane Sandy’s Devastation? (2012). Accessed October 31, 2012.

The Telegraph. Battered Haiti Facing Food Shortages After Sandy Destroyed Crops. (2012). Accessed October 31, 2012.

Washington Post. From the devastating surge to crippling snow, Hurricane Sandy by the Numbers. (2012). Accessed October 31, 2012.

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