Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The day has come ... for some ...

During the night, the storm known as "Sandy" has slammed its core onto the New Jersey coast.  It's not yet known the extent of the damage and casualties.  Likely the damage toll will be enormous.  Hopefully, evacuations have limited the casualities.

For meteorologists, and selected others, we've known that a storm like this was coming.  Not just days in advance, but years!  Be it a "tropical cyclone" or a "nor'easter" or a hybrid cyclone, like Sandy has been becoming, it doesn't matter what we call it.  Strong winds and low pressure produce a "storm surge" that spreads death and destruction over wide areas.  The winds topple trees, shred low-quality housing, and fan fires that can start from downed electrical lines.  Such storms put at risk any one and any property close to the coast, regardless of the names we give them.

For decades, now, the humming machine of "development" has been busy, putting lives and property at risk by building in zones that would be at peril from such a storm.  Some people have warned against this very occurrence, but because they couldn't say precisely where or when it would happen, those warnings have gone unheeded.  Various amendments to infrastructure that could minimize the damage and casualties have been given low priorities by politicians and the general public - "Oh, we can't afford those improvements, now!  Maybe later!"

Well, the time for such has come and gone.  The ticking clock has wound down and the alarm has already gone off.  We will see over the next several days just what has happened as a result of Sandy.  Those who argued against development along the eastern coasts have been vindicated, and the disbelievers have learned that the forecasts of gloom and doom were not paranoid delusions but solid predictions based on a knowledge of the past and the inevitability of the future.

The same nay-sayers who acted as if this day would never come, now will start searching for someone to blame for their misfortunes resulting from the storm.  In reality, they mostly have themselves to blame - they were too ignorant to learn about the very real hazards they confronted, too short-sighted to imagine they would ever become victims.  What resources they saved by making storm preparations low priority will be swamped by the bill for the storm damage.  As the old advert saying went, "Pay me now - or pay me much more, later!"  Yes, preparations can be costly, but the damage will be even more so.  It's your choice ...

For many, the storm known as Sandy will be seared into their memories, some even suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder for decades.  But the memory will eventually pass, likely before the next big storm hits over the same areas affected by Sandy.  The terror and tragedy will be mostly forgotten within one generation, and nearly gone within two.   In sixty years, the collective memory of this night will have passed into the vague recesses of the past.

Most areas along the east coast of the USA will not have experienced this sort of devastation.  How many will grasp the significance of Sandy for themselves?  Likely far too few.  Their complacency will be reinforced - "I was right - bad things always happen to someone else!  For me, such an experience is not possible, so I need do nothing to examine my situation and prepare for such an event."  For them, the clock is still ticking, but the inexorable passage of time will make disaster inevitable for many of them.  Will they be ready?  Will they heed the warning to abandon developments that put lives and property at risk?  Probably not.

NOTE added:  As bad as Sandy has been, it is far from the worst sort of event that is possible.  It's good to hear that evacuations saved many lives, unlike the Hurricane Katrina disaster.  But Sandy is well short of the worst possible storm making landfall on the east coast.  The media make Sandy seem to be of epic proportions, but nature has more powerful punches it can throw at us.  And the threat goes into states on the Gulf Coast as well as the Atlantic Coast, so people should be thankful they were spared, and more willing than ever to begin preparations ... now!


Felix Welzenbach said...

Unusual high SST east of New York and the extratropical transition process should have contributed mainly to the rapid deepening of Sandy before landfall.

The tropical storm was exposed to strong upper-level shear and increasingly dry surroundings before the transition process started. This was also evident from satellite imagery revealing a quite asymmetric visual appearance (asymmetry is confirmed by cyclone phase diagrams).

Thus, for me, it is astonishing that Sandy became such a strong (post-tropical) storm in this ill-defined environment (shear + entrainment), and the extratropical transition played a prominent role here which seems to be neglected in many media reports.

Chuck Doswell said...

I think the truly important aspect of this isn't what category in which we put this storm, but the processes that produced such an intense cyclone. Strong winds, low pressure, and storm surge are the result irrespective of any labels we might choose to use (or not use).

I'm confident we'll see more than one paper published about this event and the processes that produced it!

Felix Welzenbach said...

Bob Maddox kindly answered me a link to a draft paper on its blog:


A detailed analysis of SANDY is on my personal website (in german, english version is planned):


I think positive SST anomalies boosted the storm but dry intrusion processes are involved, too, considering the water vapour image loop:


Looks like sort of rapid cyclogenesis with a tropical storm... weird things happened there culminating in an extraordinarily deepening cyclone.