November 07, 2012

Sandy's Circuitous Death March

By Rick Murphy

The most destructive storm in the history of the United States had, like most, an innocuous beginning.

In the middle of October a so-called tropical wave formed over the Sahara Desert. Feeding off the warm coastal waters, the storm, still in its infancy, rode the trade winds all the way to the Caribbean.

On October 22 the National Weather Service, which had been monitoring the system, noticed the dreaded counter clockwise motion intensifying and issued a tropical storm bulletin. Some meteorologists also began noticing a troublesome scenario that might be on the horizon.

On October 24 the storm, now officially called Sandy, was gathering girth and intensity. It slammed into Jamaica and became a killer. It would take many more lives before it finally dissipated.

By October 25 the scenario meteorologists feared was becoming a reality. A high pressure system that stretched from Bermuda up through Newfoundland would force Sandy to chose one of two paths . . . one would lead her harmlessly out to sea. The other would send her barreling up the Northeast coast.

On Saturday, October 26 the National Weather Service, noting the developing weather pattern, labeled Sandy, "a potentially life-threatening storm." The air-pressure in the eye took a sudden, large, drop, and the National Hurricane Center warned Sandy was "a large storm." That proved to be an understatement. It was, briefly, upgraded to a Category 2. But there was more: A wintry storm was moving across the U.S. from the west, and frigid air was streaming south from Canada.

Forecasters were forced to grapple with the unthinkable: If the three weather systems collided they would create a monster storm, one to rival the Perfect Storm of 1991 and the Hurricane of 1938 dubbed The Long Island Express. Unfortunately, that's what happened.

Sandy churned up the Atlantic until she caught a scent of the cold front headed east. She made an abrupt turn toward the mainland, increasing in speed and intensity as the two systems hurtled toward each other.

Sandy crashed into southern New Jersey Monday as a hurricane and turned into a cyclone soon after. It was the most intense storm ever to make landfall in the Northeast corridor of the continent. By Tuesday, October 30, the storm, slowing down, battered an area from West Virginia through Pennsylvania with heavy snow. Last Wednesday, finally breaking up, Sandy passed through western New York State on a path to the Great Lakes. She would end up in Canada, finally turning northeast and back out to sea, leaving in her wake two weeks of terror.

Sandy's death march was an epic massacre. As of this writing there are 80 dead, and an estimated $60 billion in damages. As hard to believe as it seems, the East End was relatively lucky; it will take years for New Jersey, for example, to recover and rebuild.

"Compared to what I've seen on TV we feel silly complaining," said Larry Cantwell, the East Hampton Village Administrator. "I realize how fortunate we were." Still, the impact here is palpable. "The [beach] erosion is the worst I've ever seen," Cantwell said.

"You look around and it's hard to say we were lucky but we were," State Assemblyman Fred Thiele remarked.

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