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Weather Nerd

Get The Hell Out

October 27th, 2012 - 8:35 pm

[NOTE: This post was written and published Saturday night, 48 hours before New York City was inundated. It's now getting some retrospective attention, driven in part by my subsequent criticisms of Mayor Bloomberg (which this post proves are not based on unfair 20/20 hindsight). So I've tacked on a "POST-STORM UPDATE" to the end of this post, adding context, trying to fully elucidate my position, and explaining why the fact that Bloomberg did, finally, order a belated Zone A evacuation on Sunday isn't enough to insulate him from the criticisms I made on Saturday. Please read the post-storm update before you start an argument with me about how I'm wrong, because the update most likely addresses the point you were thinking of making. Better yet, instead of arguing with me, donate to the Red Cross. I'm going to go do that now.

And now, for the original post, as written Saturday...]

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Being up in Wyoming with my older girls, away from my computer, I have limited information about Sandy right now. But from what I’m seeing on Twitter, it appears: 1) the computer models indicate that the threat of a catastrophic storm surge in New York City has increased, and is a VERY real (though, of course, not certain) threat; and 2) Mayor Bloomberg has affirmatively decided NOT to evacuate even the most low-lying areas of his vulnerable city, nor even to close the city government or schools Monday.

If I have all of that right, it makes no damn sense at all.

Bloomberg’s error here could be even worse than that of Ray Nagin, who merely delayed too long, but who at least did ultimately give the obviously necessary evacuation order. It’s also hard to square Bloomberg’s inaction with his proactive — and correct — actions in advance of Irene. Perhaps he’s now gun-shy because of ignorant hindsight 20/20 criticisms of that “unnecessary” evacuation. If so, he’s a damn fool, along with those who criticized him then for an evacuation that was fully justified by contemporaneous information.

In any case, if I lived in a “Zone A” or “Zone B” area of NYC, I’d get the hell out, tonight. (Or tomorrow, if I could easily travel by foot to my non-flood-prone destination.) It’s not even a close call. Same goes for any other location in the cone of uncertainty that’s vulnerable to a potential (not certain–it’s never certain–but realistic potential) storm surge of 6-10 feet, plus very high surf on top of that, at astronomical high tide.

Ugh.

If I’m missing or misunderstanding something here, let me know. (For what it’s worth, I’m seeing plenty of meteorologists on Twitter saying the same thing. They’re baffled by Bloomberg’s decision. So am I.)

UPDATE: I’ve now seen and read Bloomberg’s statement. It’s even worse than I thought. He said:

We are not ordering any evacuations as of this time for any parts of the city. We’re making that decision based on the nature of this storm. Although we’re expecting a large surge of water, it is not expected to be a tropical storm or hurricane-type surge. With this storm, we’ll likely see a slow pileup of water rather than a sudden surge, which is what you would expect from a hurricane, and which we saw with Irene 14 months ago.

So it will be less dangerous – but make no mistake about it, there will be a lot of water and low-lying areas will experience flooding. The City’s Departments of Transportation and Environmental Protection will be deployed throughout the city to address flooding conditions.

Let me be clear: I have literally no f***ing idea what Bloomberg is talking about. As closely as I’ve been following Sandy, I have not seen anyone else — literally not a single meteorologist or any other person — suggest that Sandy will produce a “slow pile up of water” rather than a typical “sudden” storm surge. On the contrary, AccuWeather’s Mike Smith writes:

“So it will be less dangerous.” We don’t know that to be the case. The latest barometric pressure associated with Sandy is 960 mb. It is forecast to drop to 937 mb when it is south of NYC (see posting below from 11:40pm CDT). With a pressure that low the winds and surge could be very comparable to a hurricane. It would be an all-time record low for the region, hurricane or not.

All storm surges are, in their initial stages, somewhat slow, gradual pile-ups of water … which then rapidly peak when the storm’s center moves ashore. That’s exactly what’s to be expected here. Bloomberg’s idea of a uniquely slow drip-drip-drip surge doesn’t even make logical sense, and has no scientific basis that I’ve heard anyone articulate. Is he high? Has he lost is mind? I am simply stunned and baffled by this ignorant pronouncement, which will cause people to become complacent, and thus endanger lives.

Can New Jersey please annex New York City so we can get Chris Christie in there to fix this? Good lord.

Perhaps Bloomberg is confused by the National Hurricane Center’s hotly debated nomenclature decision to not use the terms “Hurricane Warning” and “Tropical Storm Warning” north of the Virginia/North Carolina border, choosing instead to use “High Wind Warning” because they expect Sandy to transition to an extratropical storm just before landfall — even though Sandy is a hurricane now and will be bringing hurricane-like conditions to the shore. (If you can’t tell, I disagree with the decision. Almost everyone in the meteorological and weather-nerd community seems to.)

Whatever Bloomberg’s rationale, he’s just absolutely dead wrong, as noted by The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore and Bryan Norcross (who calls Bloomberg’s press conference “incomprehensibly inexplicable”), The Wall Street Journal’s Eric Holthaus, New York Fox 5′s Nick Gregory, WeatherBell’s Ryan Maue (“Bloomberg has baffled everyone with his bizarre press conference”), and many others.

Indeed, let me quote Norcross a little more extensively, to fully explain the problem here:

[Norcross & more after the jump.]

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