Hurricane Sandy: The Rest of the Story: Alabama Weather Blog

Ten years ago tonight on WeatherBrains, we were talking about a storm that emergency managers in New York were worried about. But there is another side to Sandy that you may not know about. Paul Harvey had a show called The Rest of the Story. This is the rest of the Hurricane Sandy-style story from this week’s weather history pages.

Back In October 1997, emergency management officials in New York conducted a hurricane simulation for their area. The fictional storm was loosely based on the Long Island Express hurricane of 1938, which caused extreme destruction on Long Island.

The training hurricane was expected to come inland on Saturday evening, October 4, as a Category 2 hurricane east of New York. The advice used in the exercise eerily predicted what would happen a little more than fifteen years later when the very real and very serious Hurricane Sandy came ashore.

But there was something else that is even scarier today, given what we know now. That little tidbit is the rest of the Today in Weather History story.

The hallmark of the Long Island Express was that it struck literally without warning. The storm was moving at over 50 miles per hour after passing the Outer Banks on September 21, 1938. At 730am she was near Cape Hatteras. It landed on Long Island around 3:00 p.m. Without the benefit of satellite imagery, reconnaissance aircraft and coastal radar, the US Weather Service was literally flying blind. They were sure the storm would weaken as it moved over cooler water. Turns out there was no time.

On the other hand, Sandy is certainly one of the best predicted storms in history. Numerical weather forecasting models have done an excellent job a week ahead. But while the forecast was excellent, the communication was not.

The only thing missing from the NHC advisories was hurricane warnings. Sandy was just turning into a powerful nor’easter. Because of this, the National Weather Service did not issue tropical warnings north of North Carolina by rule, choosing to go with a high wind warning instead of a tropical storm and hurricane warning. Critics said this led people in the impact area to not take the storm as seriously as they would have if hurricane warnings had been issued.

Another problem was that New Yorkers still had the memory of Hurricane Irene from the previous year fresh in their minds. Despite dire warnings and forecasts, the high-profile storm had little impact on the Big Apple.

Dubbed Superstorm Sandy by The Weather Channel, the Category 1 hurricane slammed headlong into the New Jersey coast on the evening of October 29, 2012, bringing with it a storm surge equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane. Tropical storm force winds covered an area 900 miles in diameter.

New Jersey and the New York area were the hardest hit. By mid-afternoon, the Mecca of gambling was almost completely underwater. The tide reached 13.88 feet at the Battery, three feet higher than ever before, resulting in flooding of parts of Lower Manhattan. The result was flooded subway and rail tunnels and flooding further into neighborhoods in all five boroughs than anyone could remember.

A last-minute mandatory evacuation announced by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for Zone A in the Big Apple the morning after his arrival helped get thousands of people out of the way, though many refused to leave, perhaps remembering the overreaction to Hurricane Irene.

In addition to high winds and coastal flooding, very heavy rain fell in eastern North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, southern New Jersey, and southern Pennsylvania, with widespread 8-13 inches recorded.

Sandy also caused significant problems outside the main impact zone. Blizzard conditions occurred in western Maryland and West Virginia, with up to three feet of snow falling in cold air on the western side of the power system. Twenty-foot waves lashed Lake Chicago as strong winds formed between an intense low (940 mb) and high pressure to the northwest.

When Sandy’s rampage was done, over 100 people were killed in New York and New Jersey and the total damage exceeded $68 billion, making it the second costliest hurricane in the US. But to make matters worse, Sandy isn’t New York’s worst case scenario. It’s hard to imagine, but the 1938 Long Island Express had peak winds of 120 mph, making it a Category 3 hurricane at landfall. Had Sandy been this strong, the impact would have been much more devastating to the Big Apple. And that’s not even the rest of the story.

There is one more element to our story. Guess what the emergency planners called that practice storm in 1997. The fictitious hurricane was called: wait for it……Sandy. You don’t make these things up.

And now you know the rest of the story. Bringing this week in weather history…

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Category: ALL POSTS, Current Affairs, Met 101/Weather History

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