Powerful storm systems stay on collision course
By MARC SANTORA
THE NEW YORK TIMES | October 28,2012
Two powerful storm systems, led by Hurricane Sandy, continued on their collision course Saturday, and with forecasts showing them likely to converge with potentially devastating effect somewhere along the Eastern Seaboard as early as this evening, tens of millions of people began to make preparations as state and local authorities increased the urgency of their warnings.
Several states, including New York, declared states of emergency and urged residents to take precautions. In Philadelphia, the mayor called for voluntary evacuations of low-lying areas as did New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie.
From Plymouth, Maine, to Cape Hatteras, N.C., people boarded up windows, stocked up on water, batteries and food and prepared to hunker down. Airlines encouraged people with flights scheduled in the next few days to change their plans, waving cancellation fees.
In New York City, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg told residents to stay out of city parks starting today, and to stock up on basic supplies. All construction in the city was ordered suspended starting Saturday.
“This is a large, unpredictable storm, so be prepared for possible outages,” Bloomberg said.
The latest computer models tracking the storm showed it likely to make landfall somewhere between Delmarva Peninsula in Delaware and Long Island. But as Hurricane Sandy churned in the Atlantic, it began to spread out, casting tropical-force winds some 450 miles from the center of the storm, which was moving slowly north of the Bahamas about 350 miles from Charleston, S.C.
Forecasters cautioned that predictions could change, but with each passing hour it seemed more likely that the Northeast would be facing a storm of great magnitude.
“There is a growing consensus among the computer models that increases our confidence in the storm’s path,” said Dan Hofmann, a meteorologist at the at the National Weather Service.
Hurricane Sandy weakened overnight Friday into a tropical storm and then strengthened again to hurricane level, with sustained winds of more than 75 mph hour recorded by ocean buoys more than 100 miles from the storm’s center.
Experts cautioned that even if Hurricane Sandy decreased in strength, the storm would likely still be powerful because of the unusual convergence of several weather systems.
As the storm moves ashore, a system known as a midlatitude trough — which often leads to severe winter storms — is moving across the country from the west. It is expected to draw in Hurricane Sandy, giving it added energy. A burst of frigid arctic air is expected to sweep down through the Canadian plains just as those two storms are converging. That could lead to several feet of snow inland in West Virginia, and lighter amounts in parts of Pennsylvania and Ohio, as well as a deluge of rain along the coast.
The full moon Monday could also help cause even greater flooding, with tides at their peak.
In all, the hybrid storm could affect as many as 50 million people.
In many of the states in the storm’s path, there are still fresh memories of a “derecho” storm this summer — with bursts of gale-force winds, tornadoes and lightning storms — that left millions stranded without power for days.
The approaching storm is predicted to be more powerful than Hurricane Irene in 2011. Although New York City was spared a direct hit, that storm caused more than $15 billion in damage across the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, according to federal officials.
Power companies were racing on Saturday to get extra crews in place and implement plans to restore power outages that are expected across the region.
For the past 48 hours, meteorologists on local and national broadcasts exhausted a thesaurus full of superlatives trying to capture the potential magnitude of the unusual storm.
It was compared to the “perfect storm” that struck the northeast in 1991 and it was christened “Frankenstorm.”
But most experts agreed that if the worst-case scenarios play out, it could be the most severe storm to hit the East Coast in a generation.
Even before the storm struck, it disrupted the presidential campaign, forcing candidates to change their schedules and prepare to deal with the fallout from any severe damage.
Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia — where both campaigns canceled events — declared a state of emergency and advised residents in low-lying areas in the eastern part of the state to prepare to evacuate. Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland issued a similar order for all counties in his state and activated the National Guard to assist in emergencies.
On Long Island, there was an added urgency to the preparations as computer models continued to show that the area was within the target zone of where the storm could make landfall. The town of Islip ordered the mandatory evacuation of residents in low-lying areas, including Fire Island by this afternoon.