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Hurricane Sandy: ‘Worse Than The Perfect Storm’?

October 25th, 2012 - 6:46 pm

[NOTE: For my latest updates on Sandy, follow me on Twitter.]
 
 
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Above: the latest GFS model forecast for Tuesday morning, hot off the presses (or rather the Twitters). That track and intensity — a Category 4-like 940 mb, albeit in a spread-out hybrid storm such that the winds would not be Cat. 4 level (and the model may be overdoing the intensity a bit anyway) — would be bad, bad, bad news for New York City and environs, if it were to occur. But remember, this is just one model run, the forecast is very uncertain, the computer models are still shifting around a lot, and Hurricane Sandy is, in any event, huge and growing — so it will impact a very wide area. Everyone from North Carolina to Maine is potentially at risk, and needs to watch this closely.

The Washington Post‘s Capital Weather Gang has another excellent roundup of information about Sandy. Perhaps the most important takeaway is this quote from Charlotte meteorologist Brad Panovich:

It’s very rare to see a strong tropical system merge with such a strong winter-like trough of low pressure. Throw in a full moon and the potential is there for a significant storm. This system is 1 part Hurricane, 1 part Nor’easter and 1 part Blizzard potentially. Impacts of all 3 types of storms are possible depending on location.

For those on the coast don’t let the Category of the storm or whether it’s “just” a Nor’easter dictate your response. Your personal memories of previous storms are no use in this unique situation.

One of the biggest mistakes people make when a storm threatens is to assume “I’ll be fine because I was fine in [prior storm X].” If this storm has you in its sights, don’t make that mistake. Prepare in the manner that’s prudent based on the forecasts and warnings for this storm, not some earlier storm. Every storm is unique — and this one has uniquely damaging potential. It could be worse than the so-called “Perfect Storm,” writes Will Komaromi, a University of Miami researcher:

The odds of a potentially historic meteorological event occurring in the vicinity of the northeastern United States next week are increasing. The players on the field are as follows: Hurricane Sandy traveling northward along the east coast of the U.S., a warmer-than-average Gulf Stream, a very deep upper-level trough over the central U.S. currently bringing snow to Colorado, and unusually strong high-latitude blocking … An increasing number of model forecasts are now “phasing” Sandy with the mid-latitude trough, and given the amount of upper-level jet energy available in this setup, this could become a particularly powerful phasing event.

Something similar happened in late October through early November 1991. It was known as “the Perfect Storm”, resulting in 13 fatalities and causing > $200 million in damages to the northeastern U.S. and fishing and shipping interests. In the Perfect Storm, northward-moving Hurricane Grace phased with a mid-latitude trough, similar to the one over the Central U.S. today. Normally a hurricane weakens as it moves northward, as it encounters an increasingly unfavorable environment. This means greater wind shear, drier air, and lower sea surface temperatures. However, with phasing events, the tropical system merges with the mid-latitude system in such a way that baroclinic instability (arising from sharp air temperature/density gradients) and extremely divergent air at the upper-levels more than compensates for a decreasingly favorable environment for tropical systems. The Perfect Storm deepened to 972 mb, and was at its strongest while out over the open ocean (but still whipping the coast with strong winds and heavy surf). …

Most of the models now indicate even stronger jet dynamics will occur next week than occurred during for the Perfect Storm, and that today’s storm could potentially deepen to well below 960 mb or even below 950 mb. The fact that the Gulf Stream is anomalously warm for this time of year means that Sandy will weaken less as a tropical system than it otherwise would have prior to the phase. Also, a very strong blocking scenario (very negative NAO) has developed over the north Atlantic means that the cyclone will be very slow moving, and is likely to retrograde westward into the northeastern U.S. rather than continue out to sea like most recurving extratropical cyclones do. While it is too early to pin-down exact impacts from the system at this time, it is likely that portions of the coastal Northeast will experience a damaging storm surge, significant beach erosion, and a prolonged severe wind and heavy rain event. Meanwhile, interior regions of western Pennsylvania into Ohio may simultaneously be experiencing heavy snowfall. Stay tuned!

By the way, about that “very deep upper-level trough over the central U.S. currently bringing snow to Colorado” … it so happens I live in Colorado, and here’s what it looked like this morning, along the route from my house to my middle daughter’s preschool:

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Apologies for the Obama sign, fair PJM readers. :) There aren’t very many Romney signs in this deep-blue city. Another shot, with no political signs, after the jump…

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