Superstorm Sandy: 5 Years Later
Half a decade ago, thousands of lives were changed over the course of just a few days.
Record storm surge descended over barrier islands and towering sandbags. Roadways, homes, and even subways were inundated with water. Power was knocked out to millions of people. It would take months to even years for people and businesses to fully recover from what became the second-costliest storm in U.S. history (at the time), but even time couldn't wipe away the memories of one of the most destructive events to ever hit the Northeast.
But Sandy didn’t start as the large storm that impacted the Northeast. Nor did it just impact the Northeast. On October 22, 2012, Tropical Storm Sandy was first given its name as it began to take shape in the southwest Caribbean Sea. Sandy was slow to get going until a trough over the Gulf of Mexico accelerated it northward towards Jamaica, where it became a Category 1 hurricane just prior to making its first landfall. After a quick intensification, it slammed into eastern Cuba as a Category 3. However, after impacting the island and interacting with its mountainous terrain, it weakened to a Tropical Storm as it tracked northward toward the Bahamas. By this time it had grown nearly double in size.
From there, the storm was initially forecast to turn out to sea as it pushed north. However, the near-impossible was forecast to become a reality. Meteorologists (including our own) began to issue more dire forecast warnings that brought Sandy into the Northeast by making the now infamous “hard left” turn. This coincided with increasing confidence in an approaching trough’s ability to grab Sandy and pull it west toward the Northeast U.S. Governors from North Carolina to Massachusetts and even West Virginia issued a state of emergency with most of coastal NJ and portions of Long Island evacuated as the warnings became more strongly worded and confident with each passing day.
Prior to the official landfall near Atlantic City, NJ on October 29th, a central barometric pressure of 940mb was recorded, making it the lowest pressure ever observed in the Atlantic Ocean north of Cape Hatteras, NC. There are still disagreements within the meteorological community as to whether the storm was still considered a hurricane as it made landfall given its extra-tropical features. Regardless of this, though, hurricane-force winds were recorded in some locations with tropical force winds extending as far as 175 miles from the center of the storm.
Speaking of the size of the storm, impacts were felt far and wide throughout the Northeast. Storm surge along the coast was devastating. It reached a peak of 14.4 feet in Sandy Hook, NJ when combined with the astronomical high tide (which was higher than normal anyway due to a full moon). Places as far away as South Carolina and Maine experienced tropical storm-force winds. Rainfall was another factor as well, with over 10 inches of rain reported in locations near and south of the center of the storm. The even more unusual feature of this system was its snowy attributes. Since the storm combined with an Arctic cold front, it was able to produce upward of 30 inches of snow in elevated parts of Maryland, West Virginia, and Tennessee.
When all was said and done, an estimated 8.5 million people were without power throughout 15 different states and Washington, D.C. Nearly 365,000 housing units in New Jersey alone were damaged or destroyed, along with iconic vacation spots along the Jersey Shore (like the Casino and Funtown Piers). Although the storm totaled a staggering $65 billion in estimated damages, the toll on residents and businesses was immeasurable. Frank Lombardo, President/CEO of WeatherWorks with over 35 years of forecasting experience, agreed, saying: “Sandy is the worst storm to affect New Jersey that I remember; it had perfect storm attributes. It just all came together at the worst possible time”.
Regardless of lost power, the generators kicked on at the WeatherWorks office in Hackettstown, NJ and we pushed through forecasts, client notifications and consulation using a weakened, storm-ravaged backup internet connection, hooked to several computers. In fact, some meteorologists even used cell phones to acquire additional information for the crucial forecasts. We tracked the storm from beginning to end and helped our clients make hard decisions across the Northeast. At the storm's completion, we busily analyzed and produced Certified Snowfall Totals for the Appalachians. Forensic weather reports were also constructed to help insurance companies with the hundreds of claims that came rolling in. And when not performing these tasks, WeatherWorks employees found themselves volunteering their time at "ground zero", offering helping hands to storm battered residents of the New Jersey shore.