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Tropical Storm Chantal, already moving west-northwestward at a lightning-fast clip, sped up further this morning, racing through the Lesser Antilles islands (where she reportedly caused modest damage) at a forward speed of 29 miles per hour. That’s roughly double the typical speed of a tropical cyclone in the deep tropics. Here’s a look at the storm’s low-level circulation on a Martinique radar loop this morning, courtesy of Eric Holthaus:

Chantal’s maximum sustained winds are now estimated at 65 mph, and her minimum central barometric pressure — after dropping to 1002 millibars overnight, then jumping back to 1010 mb — is at a still rather unimpressive 1006 mb.

The Dominican Republic, which Chantal is forecast to hit tomorrow, has issued a Hurricane Watch. However, as weatherblogger Levi Cowan (@TropicalTidbits) notes, it would be very difficult for Chantal to become a hurricane while moving at its current forward speed. Cowan explains that the strong trade winds which are pushing Chantal rapidly to the WNW are also “taking [the storm's] feet out from under her,” creating “random” or “unstructured” convection (thunderstorm) patterns that are unable to wrap into a coherent mid-level circulation. Joe Bastardi writes that the low-level center, seen in the radar loop above, is “probably not aligned with [the] mid level” circulation.

In a just-published update, Dr. Jeff Masters writes:

Chantal’s winds are unusually high considering the storm’s high central pressure of 1006 mb and disorganized appearance on satellite imagery. Chantal is fighting dry air associated with the Saharan Air Layer (SAL), as seen on water vapor satellite loops. This dry air is creating strong thunderstorm downdrafts that are robbing Chantal of moisture and energy. Visible satellite loops show the outflow boundaries of these thunderstorm downdrafts at the surface, spreading to the northwest of Chantal. Martinique Radar shows a large area of heavy rain that is not well-organized, lying mostly to the west of the Lesser Antilles Islands.

Dr. Masters adds that “a tremendous amount of wind shear” is occurring, which “make[s] it very difficult for a tropical storm to keep the surface center aligned with the upper level center.” He also notes that conflicting measurements from balloon soundings near the storm today “demonstrate[] that there is a lot going on the atmosphere at small scales we cannot see which makes intensity forecasting of tropical cyclones very challenging.”

What next? Analytically, not much has changed since yesterday. The key question remains whether Chantal will survive its forthcoming passage over Hispaniola. (That’s assuming the track doesn’t shift; Cowan notes that some computer models are taking the storm’s center more toward eastern Cuba.) Again quoting Cowan, it’s “hard to draw conclusions about post-Hispaniola until Chantal is actually past Hispaniola.” That’s because “Hispaniola can destroy storms,” but re-strengthening seems a reasonable possibility if the circulation can survive its interaction with those high mountains.

Even if Chantal does survive Hispaniola and then re-strengthen, there isn’t any particular reason to believe it will become a monster. Meteorologist Ryan Maue points to one scenario favored by the latest run of the GFDL computer models, which shows a restrengthened-but-still-weak Chantal hitting the Carolinas this weekend, as a “likely tropical storm — main threat would be rain”:

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CAUTION: That’s just one computer model forecast, 126 hours out, so don’t focus on the details of the track — they’re not remotely reliable at this point. (Myrtle Beach is in no more specific danger right now than anywhere else along the east coast of Florida, Georgia or the Carolinas.) Instead, focus on the general pattern: storm hits Hispaniola, weakens, turns right, moves through the Bahamas, turns back left and re-strengthens. That’s generally what we can expect, if Chantal survives Hispaniola.

Meanwhile, by the time Chantal is potentially impacting the Southeast, we could be looking at Tropical Storm Dorian following in her footsteps. Dr. Maue, posting an image of four recent computer-model forecasts for Sunday evening, tweets:

And “Dorian,” if it comes, could be just the beginning. Historically, Chantal looks like a harbinger of an active season to come. In Cowan‘s words: “If you weren’t prepared for this season, this ought to wake you up. Active Julys usually mean active Aug-Sep too. GFS supporting our ideas.” Meteorologist Michael Watkins tweets: “My [calculations] show since 1952 – seasons w/ July development in the deep tropics run approx 150% of average ACE [Accumulated Cyclone Energy] – vs 85% w/out.” He adds that such seasons “have a 75% chance of seeing ACE >120 for the season.” An ACE above 103 is considered an “above normal” season, and an ACE above 120 would be in the ballpark of the 2011 season (126), most memorable for Hurricane Irene, and the 2012 season (133), most memorable for Isaac and Sandy.

Dr. Jeff Masters elaborated yesterday on the Chantal-as-harbinger theme:

Chantal’s formation on July 8 is an usually early date for formation of the season’s third storm, which usually occurs on August 13. A large number of early-season named storms is not necessarily a harbinger of an active season, unless one or more of these storms form in the deep tropics, south of 23.5°N. According to Phil Klotzbach and Bill Gray, leaders of Colorado State’s seasonal hurricane forecasting team,

“Most years do not have named storm formations in June and July in the tropical Atlantic (south of 23.5°N); however, if tropical formations do occur, it indicates that a very active hurricane season is likely. For example, the seven years with the most named storm days in the deep tropics in June and July (since 1949) are 1966, 1969, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2005, and 2008. All seven of these seasons were very active. When storms form in the deep tropics in the early part of the hurricane season, it indicates that conditions are already very favorable for TC development. In general, the start of the hurricane season is restricted by thermodynamics (warm SSTs, unstable lapse rates), and therefore deep tropical activity early in the hurricane season implies that the thermodynamics are already quite favorable for tropical cyclone (TC) development.”

Two of this season’s three storms have formed in the deep tropics–Tropical Storm Barry, which formed in the Gulf of Mexico’s Bay of Campeche at a latitude of 19.6°N, and now Tropical Storm Chantal, which formed at a latitude of 9.8°N. With recent runs of the GFS model predicting formation of yet another tropical storm southwest of the Cape Verde Islands early next week, it appears that the Atlantic is primed for an active hurricane season in 2013.

Stay tuned to Weather Nerd for updates on Chantal and any other storms that may threaten the United States. For even more frequent updates, follow me on Twitter (@brendanloy). Another good resource for the latest information is Amy Sweezey’s “Wx Tweeps” Twitter list.

Tropical Storm Chantal formed on Sunday, well east of the Lesser Antilles, and is now (as of late Monday night/early Tuesday morning) barreling to the west-northwest toward the islands at a screaming-fast forward speed of 26 mph. Its top winds are 50 mph winds, with a thus-far unimpressive minimum central pressure of 1010 millibars.

chantal-watervapor

Chantal will pass over the islands Tuesday, probably slowly strengthening in the process, and will then head for a fateful encounter with Hispaniola late Wednesday and early Thursday. Forecasters are uncertain whether the storm will survive its passage over the mountainous island. If it does, we could be looking at a modest threat this weekend or early next week to the southeastern United States. But more on that in a moment.

It’s unusual, as Dr. Jeff Masters notes, to see a “Cape Verde-type” storm (forming far to the east, out between Africa and the Antilles, in the deep tropics) this early in the season. That makes Chantal the most intriguing storm of the season thus far, and the first one to warrant firing up the Weather Nerd blog for 2013. So, welcome!

That said, Chantal isn’t worthy of much, if any, “hype” yet. The circulation remains relatively weak, and the pressure unimpressive. While modest strengthening is expected between now and landfall in Hispaniola, Chantal is unlikely to become a hurricane or develop a tightly wound circulation during that time, in part because of its rapid west-northwestward movement. As Dr. Masters explains:

Working against [short-term] intensification will be the fast forward speed of the storm–tropical storms moving faster than 20 mph in the deep tropics usually have trouble intensifying. In addition, the Eastern Caribbean is an area where the trade winds accelerate, helping drive sinking air that discourages tropical storm intensification. Dry air will also slow down the intensification process.

Specifically, Chantal is dealing with the pesky Saharan Air Layer (SAL), the fickle area of desert-dried air that so often stands between early-stage tropical cyclones and development into major storms. So this isn’t likely to be any sort of juggernaut when it reaches the mountains of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. (Though it could certainly cause some flooding and mudslides on the beleaguered island. Hopefully not a catastrophe, though, thanks in part to the same SAL and associated dry air keeping rainfall totals down.)

Chantal’s strength when it approaches Hispaniola is key, because a weak circulation can more easily be ripped apart by the disruption that those mountains cause. Land interaction “may be able to destroy the storm,” writes Dr. Masters, particularly because “wind shear is also expected to rise to the high range, 20 – 30 knots, Tuesday night through Thursday.” In other words, Chantal will be dealing with land cutting off its fuel source, mountains disrupting its circulation, and heavy upper-level winds interfering with its outflow, all at the same time. Joe Bastardi calls Chantal’s potential for survival during this period (late Wednesday-early Thursday) “iffy.”

If, however, Chantal does manage to survive its passage over Hispaniola — something we won’t know until 48 to 72 hours from now — it looks reasonably likely to threaten somewhere in the southeast U.S. eventually, though the exact location, timing, and intensity are way too early to determine. The general pattern, though, appears reasonably clear from the computer models as of now: a northward turn, followed by a turn back to the west, toward the coast. Here’s a “spaghetti map” of various computer model tracks, via @HurricaneModels:

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Tropical Tidbits explains the scenario:

In 72-96 hours, a longwave trough will dig into the eastern U.S. and help turn Chantal more towards the north, possibly clearing the Bahamas. In 96-120 hours, all of the models agree that a trough-split will occur, with the base of the longwave trough splitting away over the north gulf coast, allowing ridging to build back in to the northeast of Chantal. This is likely to force the storm back towards the southeastern U.S. coastline near the end of the forecast period. Exactly where this turn occurs will largely depend on the timing of the arrival of both the longwave trough and Chantal herself, and uncertainty is large at this time frame. However, a turn towards the SE US appears likely.

Moreover, Chantal could potentially re-intensify if she reaches the Bahamas & environs relatively intact, as conditions are expected to become more favorable for development on Thursday and Friday. Bastardi writes that “if this survives Caribbean (not favorable for July development) & Hispaniola, then [it will be in a] more favorable area [from] Bahamas to SE coast.” How favorable? Well, the intensity models (which are, I must caution, notoriously unreliable, far moreso than track models) aren’t predicting anything too extreme, though a few models do expect Chantal to become a weak hurricane within 5 days:

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Again quoting Tropical Tidbits:

[A]s the trough-split occurs over the SE US [in 96-120 hours], the resulting upper low over the north gulf coast will begin backing westward away from Chantal, placing the storm in a region of light upper winds in between the aforementioned upper low to the west and another one to the east. This would be a favorable outflow pattern, and Chantal is expected to restrengthen during this time as it makes a turn towards the SE US coast. Exactly how much strengthening occurs is an uncertain question, as this is still about 5 days away, and the setup then may not be exactly as it is forecasted to be now. Regardless, the Bahamas and SE US should closely monitor Chantal’s progress.

Chantal is nothing to fear, or to hype, at this point. There’s no reason yet to cancel any weekend travel plans to Florida, Savannah or Charleston. Just keep an eye on it. I will be. (Follow me at @brendanloy for more frequent updates.)

That potential follow-up coastal storm that I mentioned on Friday — not a tropical system, and nowhere near as intense as Hurricane Sandy, but still a quite strong and colossally ill-timed Nor’easter — is looking more and more like a significant threat for later this week in some of the same areas hit hardest by Sandy. With each successive set of computer model runs, the storm looks stronger, and the likelihood of a hard coastal hit greater. Check out the latest European model, courtesy Ryan Maue:

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That’s the model’s forecast for Wednesday evening. Some models bring its strongest impacts ashore 12 hours earlier, Wednesday morning. (Mercifully, it appears that the storm will not move fast enough to seriously disrupt the election Tuesday.) Those orange and red zones on the map represent hurricane-force winds in the upper atmosphere. Down at the surface, the wind speeds won’t get that high — but we could potentially be looking at winds as high as 25-50+ mph along the coast, maybe with higher gusts. It depends on the exact track and intensity. (Some models now expect the system to “bomb out” and have its barometric pressure drop into the 970mb range, maybe even the high 960s. Certainly the low-to-mid 980s seems like a safe bet. The lower the pressure goes, the higher the winds can potentially get.)

And yes, there is a coastal flooding threat in New Jersey:

AccuWeather.com Meteorologists are concerned that a storm system riding up the East Coast could lead to a devastating water rise along the New Jersey coast on Tuesday Night into Wednesday. … [thanks] to a prolonged period of northeasterly, onshore winds for the New Jersey coastline.

A couple of things to keep in mind when it comes to this event. Had Hurricane Sandy not occurred earlier this week, we would be talking about a typical nor’easter with minor coastal flooding and a minor rise in water.

But, because of the destruction and erosion to the New Jersey coast that occurred, AccuWeather.com Expert Senior Meteorologist Bernie Rayno is concerned this could be a moderate to severe coastal flooding event.

The concern comes because of the fact that the protective dunes along the coast were basically wiped out from Atlantic City, N.J. on northward. This in turn, allows for any water rise to have free reign to flow into coastal communities with no barriers.

Though we aren’t at a time of astronomical high tide due to the phase of the moon, a more typical high tide is expected along the New Jersey coast after midnight Tuesday night and again Wednesday afternoon. And that could be the time when coastal flooding is at its worst.

Right now, if the track holds and the storm rides up the Eastern Seaboard and into southern New England, residents along the New Jersey coast can expect a water rise of 2-4 feet, which is on top of the normal tide cycles.

That means during high tide, Wednesday afternoon, water levels could reach upwards of 8-9 feet. While not as severe as during Hurricane Sandy, a rise like this could once again flood coastal communities with no dunes to protect it.

New York City should be in better shape because of the wind direction, which won’t pile water into New York Harbor the way Sandy did. That said, the rough weather will add insult to injury, particularly in Staten Island. Meanwhile, along the northern coast of Long Island and southern Connecticut, “minor coastal flooding” is possible. But the big coastal flooding concern will be for Sandy-devastated New Jersey.

Here is a National Weather Service graphic summarizing the storm’s potential impacts:

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The Weather Channel — which may name the system “Winter Storm Athena,” although they haven’t done so yet — adds:

If the low tracks close to the coast as our current forecast maps show, we will be dealing with a very windy, rainy and cold Wednesday into Thursday along the Northeast I-95 corridor. The strength and duration of the winds would be dictated by the exact track and strength of the low. The winds will kick up high surf along the coast that could lead to additional coastal flooding.

Across the interior Northeast or New England, there may be enough cold air for snow to go along with the windy conditions, particularly from the Poconos to the Catskills, Upstate New York and interior New England.

The snow zone could move further east, perhaps even impacting the major coastal cities, if the storm’s center is a bit further offshore, as some models suggest. On the bright side, that could lessen the wind/surge threat a bit, though regardless, this isn’t going to be pleasant for folks in its path, particularly those without power and whatnot.

Dr. Jeff Masters notes:

The storm is still four days away, and four-day forecasts of the path and intensity of Nor’easters usually have large errors. Nevertheless, residents and relief workers in the region hit by Sandy should anticipate the possibility of the arrival on Wednesday of a moderate-strength Nor’easter with heavy rain, accompanied by high winds capable of driving a 1-2 foot storm surge with battering waves. The surge and waves will potentially cause moderate to severe erosion on New Jersey coast, where Hurricane Sandy pulverized the protective beach dunes.

Joe Bastardi, on the premium WeatherBell site, calls the nor’easter a monster in its own right:

The Saga of Sandy continues as we are left with an exposed population in coastal areas with a powerful storm in its own right coming. Let me be clear, this is not tropical but will develop a warm core within the cold pool it’s embedded in … The development of the warm core in a colder pool means that there will be an area of high winds focused fairly close to the center with an eye-like structure likely off the mid atlantic coast by Wednesday night and Thursday morning. This is important since it means not only will there be fetch induced water backup but even a bit of the process that produces a “surge”…higher winds closer to the center rather than well removed.

Connecticut meteorologist Geoff Fox points out:

Unlike Hurricane Sandy there’s nothing really unusual about this storm. Weather patterns have begun their shift toward winter. This is a type of storm New England and the Northeast get often.

It just seems unfair it’s coming now!

Indeed.

After Sandy … Athena?

November 2nd, 2012 - 11:47 am

As you may have heard, it appears another coastal storm — more of a garden-variety November nor’easter this time — could impact the Northeast sometime in the middle of next week. Initially, this looked like an Election Day threat, but now it appears that it will hold off until Wednesday or Thursday before having its biggest impact. Here’s the current European model forecast for Wednesday evening, courtesy of Ryan Maue:

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The storm, which could be (unofficially) named “Athena” pursuant to The Weather Channel’s decision to name winter storms this year, will be nowhere near as intense or damaging as Sandy, but it could bring rain, snow and wind — perhaps as high as 40 mph — to an area that surely doesn’t need any more weather-related misery right now. Already it’s getting colder, making the widespread power outages more and more of a problem. They don’t need snow and wind, too.

As the National Weather Service’s Hydrometeorological Prediction Center puts it:

THE GLOBAL NUMERICAL MODELS SUGGEST NO REST FOR THE WEARY ACROSS THE UNITED STATES, WITH…THE POSSIBILITY OF ANOTHER SLOW-MOVING CYCLONE ALONG THE MID ATLANTIC AND NORTHEAST COASTS. THE EAST COAST SYSTEM WOULD BE A MORE TYPICAL NOR’EASTER, WITH THE SAME SET OF [COMPUTER MOEDL] GUIDANCE SUPPORTING ITS GENESIS AT DAYS 5 AND 6 AS WITH THIS WEEK’S SPRAWLING HYBRID STORM… ANY SYSTEM THAT PRODUCES SIGNIFICANT WIND AND
PRECIPITATION IN THE MID ATLANTIC AND NORTHEAST IS OF NOTE IN LIGHT OF THE CONTINUED RECOVERY FROM SANDY AND ITS POST-TROPICAL TRANSFORMATION.

The Wall Street Journal’s Weather Journal has more.

Meanwhile, the death toll from Hurricane Sandy continues to rise. It’s now at 98 in the U.S., with 40 of those in New York City. Hardest hit, it’s increasingly clear, is the “forgotten borough” of Staten Island where — even as the city’s failed mayor preps for an unnecessary marathon that should obviously be postponed — the situation remains dire:

The residents of Staten Island are pleading for help from elected officials, begging for gasoline, food and clothing three days after Sandy slammed the New York City borough.

“We’re going to die! We’re going to freeze! We got 90-year-old people!” Donna Solli told visiting officials. “You don’t understand. You gotta get your trucks down here on the corner now. It’s been three days!” …

One of the devastated neighborhoods was overwhelmed by a violent surge of water. Residents described a super-sized wave as high as 20 feet, with water rushing into the streets like rapids. …

Staten Island officials sounded increasingly desperate today, asking when supplies will arrive. They blasted the Red Cross for not being there when it counted.

“This is America, not a third world nation. We need food, we need clothing,” Staten Island Borough President Jim Molinaro said today. …

Molinaro urged New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg Wednesday to cancel Sunday’s New York City Marathon. The race’s staging area is on Staten Island and Molinaro said it would be “crazy, asinine,” to have the race after what has happened.

“My God. What we have here is terrible, a disaster,” Molinaro said Wednesday. “If they want to race, let them race with themselves. This is no time for a parade. A marathon is a parade. Now is the time to put your shoulder to the wheel. If they want to prepare for something, let them prepare for the election, not a marathon.”

“Do you realize how many police officers you need for a marathon?” he asked. “There are people looting stores on Midland Avenue. There is looting taking place in the homes on the South Shore that were destroyed. That is where we need the police.”

More here on the situation in Staten Island. Money quote: “We are in a post-apocalyptic state. … Looting, oil spills, floods, the whole city is underwater and there is no help on its way.” There’s also a reference to “hundreds still missing,” which is entirely unconfirmed, though it matches my fear that “the eventual death toll may shock some people.” I’m not sure we really have any idea yet how bad it is.

On the subject of looting, and human suffering in general (particularly in places like Staten Island and Hoboken, where the flood isn’t over yet) it’s always hard to separate the truth from the Fog of War — remember New Orleans in that regard — but a series of tweets last night by National Review‘s John Podhoretz expresses my sense of foreboding as well:

[More after the jump.]

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No time for a full storm aftermath update right now, but as I read this article from tomorrow’s New York Times about the devastation in New Jersey, I am struck by a parallel to Hurricane Katrina. New York is playing the role of New Orleans — the big city hogging all the attention (and, yes, this blog is as guilty as anyone) — while New Jersey plays the role of Mississippi, as the state where Sandy’s greatest impacts were felt, and the most severe destruction directly caused by the storm occurred. Excerpt from the Times:

Though the storm raged up the East Coast, it has become increasingly apparent that New Jersey took the brunt of it. Officials estimated that the state suffered many billions of dollars in property damage. About a quarter of the state’s population — more than two million people — remained without power on Wednesday, and more than 6,000 were still in shelters, state emergency officials said.

At least eight people died, and officials expressed deep concerns that the toll would rise as more searches of homes were carried out. …

One of the most pressing crises was unfolding here in Hoboken, a city of 50,000 that is directly across the Hudson River from Manhattan.

“This is flooding like we’ve never seen,” said Mayor Dawn Zimmer of Hoboken, where National Guard troops on Wednesday were trying to rescue thousands of residents trapped by sewage-laced floodwaters.

“It filled the city like a bathtub,” she said.

There’s a lot of talk about power outages and transportation inconveniences, the latter mostly in NYC, and those are certainly important angles to this story. But let’s not forget that many lives have been lost — now 74 and counting nationwide — and more remain at stake (in New Jersey but also in Lower Manhattan and other places). That human toll has still got to be the headline nationally — not when the subway will be back online.

Speaking of which, I have some concerns about Staten Island, itself overshadowed within New York City by coverage of the other boroughs. Yet Staten Island is the borough with the highest proportion of low-lying “Zone A” territory, and I’m picking up a vague sense, bubbling up from Twitter, that the eventual death toll there may shock some people. (I have the same concern about New Jersey.) I don’t know this to be true, and I certainly hope I’m wrong — and also, I am cognizant of the need to take unconfirmed reports about possible death tolls with heapings of salt, recalling those “10,000 body bags” after Katrina. Still, I’m worried. I fear we don’t really have a good handle on Sandy’s human toll yet, and I worry that it may be worse than most of us suspect.

Sandy’s Surge Was NOT Unexpectedly High

October 31st, 2012 - 12:31 pm

An Associated Press story this morning propagates a total falsehood that’s gaining in currency:

With all the planning, and all the predictions, planning big was not big enough. Superstorm Sandy went bigger [than previous storms] — a surge of 14 feet.

“Nobody predicted it would be that high,” said ConEd spokesman Allan Drury.

[FRIDAY UPDATE: Mayor Bloomberg has now repeated the same claim, asserting that "no one expected" a surge as high as what occurred.]

THIS IS UTTERLY, COMPLETELY AND DEMONSTRABLY FALSE. The Associated Press must issue a correction and retraction immediately (as basically the entire story is premised on the falsehood), and the journalistic repetition of this factually incorrect statement needs to stop NOW.

First of all, Sandy’s “surge” in NYC was not 14 feet; it was 9 feet. 14 feet was level of surge + tide. More on that in a moment.

Secondly, the storm surge that occurred — 9 feet — was predicted, well in advance, by the computer models and the National Weather Service and countless others. In fact, you need look no further than this blog’s wee-hours Saturday morning update, titled in part “NYC In Peril”:

[W]e could be looking at a 6-10 foot storm surge in NYC, plus astronomical high tide — as opposed to the 3-5 foot surge in Irene — if Sandy slams New Jersey from the east.

Did you get that? A 6-10 foot storm surge plus high tide? That’s what I wrote at 1:08 AM Saturday, more than 64 hours before landfall.

The “plus high tide” part is critical. To explain why, let’s go over some terminology. Here are NOAA’s definitions of the terms storm surge and storm tide:

Storm Surge: An abnormal rise in sea level accompanying a hurricane or other intense storm, whose height is the difference between the observed level of the sea surface and the level that would have occurred in the absence of the cyclone. Storm surge is usually estimated by subtracting the normal or astronomic tide from the observed storm tide.

Storm Tide: The actual level of sea water resulting from the astronomic tide combined with the storm surge. Most NWS flood statements, watches, or warnings quantifying above-normal tides will report the Storm Tide.

To repeat: the “storm tide” is the total water level, caused by the “storm surge” plus the regular (“astronomic”) tide.

Sandy’s storm tide (or total water level) was 14 feet because the 9-foot storm surge peaked at high tide — and Monday’s high tide at Battery Park was to be 5 feet even without any surge. Now, remember those definitions. 5 feet is “the level that would have occurred in the absence of the cyclone.” 14 feet is “the astronomic tide combined with the storm surge.” 9 feet is the storm surge alone. 9 + 5 = 14.

This is no mere semantic distinction. It completely obliterates the entire notion that Con Edison, or Mayor Bloomberg or anyone else, can reasonably claim they were unprepared for a “14-foot surge” that was higher than anyone predicted. Here’s what the National Weather Service predicted at 11:23 PM Saturday, almost 48 hours before the storm hit:

TIDAL DEPARTURES…1 TO 1 1/2 FT ABOVE ASTRONOMICAL TIDES SUNDAY NIGHT…2 TO 4 FT ABOVE ASTRONOMICAL TIDES MONDAY MORNING…AND POTENTIAL FOR 5 TO 10 FT ABOVE MONDAY NIGHT INTO TUESDAY MORNING. THE HIGHER END OF THE RANGE RELEGATED TO THE MOST FLOOD PRONE COASTAL LOCATIONS.

So the National Weather Service predicted, as of Saturday night, a storm surge of 5 to 10 feet “above astronomical tides,” with the higher end of the range (closer to 10 feet) quite possible in New York Harbor specifically. Since astronomical high tide is 5′, that means NWS was necessarily predicting a potential storm tide of 10 to 15′ if the surge happened to arrive at high tide, which was obviously possible. (Hence the widespread pre-storm concern about “astronomical high tides” making matters worse.)

The NWS forecast was revised upward at 1:29 PM Sunday:

TIDAL DEPARTURES…BETWEEN 2 TO 3 FT ABOVE ASTRONOMICAL TIDES [SUNDAY NIGHT] DURING HIGH TIDE WITH LOCALLY HIGHER VALUES…3 TO 4.5 FT ABOVE ASTRONOMICAL TIDES MONDAY MORNING…AND POTENTIAL FOR 6 TO 11 FT ABOVE MONDAY NIGHT INTO TUESDAY MORNING. THE HIGHER END OF THE RANGE RELEGATED TO THE NEW YORK HARBOR…WESTERN LONG ISLAND SOUND AND THE LONG ISLAND SOUTH SHORE BACK BAYS.

So, roughly 30 hours before landfall, that’s a prediction of a storm surge 6 to 11 feet “above astronomical tides,” again with the higher end of the range (closer to 11 feet) possible in New York Harbor.

To review:

New York Harbor got a storm surge 9 feet above astronomical tides.

Forecasters predicted a storm surge 6 to 11 feet above astronomical tides, leaning toward the higher end of the range (i.e., 9 to 11 feet) in New York Harbor specifically.

And these people have the audacity to claim “nobody predicted” the surge that occurred?!?

Any public official who says the surge was “unexpected” or higher than predicted is either criminally incompetent, or blatantly lying, or both.

(More information and outrage after the jump.)

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With These Hands

October 30th, 2012 - 12:14 pm

Superstorm Sandy

The photo is by Frank Franklin II of the AP, found on Twitter via Chris Heller this morning. It shows Breezy Point in the Rockaways section of Queens, ravaged by a fire last night that reportedly destroyed as many as 80 homes. Devastating. (Colorado sympathizes.) Mayor Bloomberg says there were 23 blazes across New York City, as Sandy’s aftermath made fires difficult to reach and difficult to fight. We often forget that it’s the second-order effects of these disasters that can sometimes be the worst parts — like in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, when fires did far more damage than the quake itself. Thankfully, it appears no one was hurt in the devastating Breezy Point blaze.

10 people are already reported dead in New York, though, and Mayor Bloomberg says, Tragically we expect that number to go up.” As I said last night, I have no sense for how high it’s likely to go. We can only hope and pray it remains relatively low. There were also, if I have this right, at least 5 deaths elsewhere in New York state, 3 in New Jersey, 2 each in Maryland, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, 1 in West Virginia, and 1 on the HMS Bounty, for a total of 26 U.S. deaths so far. Along with the 67 deaths in the Caribbean and 1 in Canada, that’s 94 deaths total — and counting, I’m afraid.

Meanwhile, here’s another remarkable photo, which I didn’t publish last night because I was concerned it might be fake, but now The Atlantic appears to have confirmed it. It’s a shot of flooding last night in Manhattan’s East Village, apparently taken by jesseandgreg on Instagram (or posted on them, anyway):

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Yikes. That’s gonna take a while to clean up.

It kind of feels like a good day to watch this video:

I’ll leave you again with a donation link for the American Red Cross. Please help the victims of this tragedy if you can.

Oh, and follow me on Twitter for my latest updates.

On Bloomberg

October 30th, 2012 - 11:31 am

InstaPundit is heavily pushing a number of my tweets, including this one and this one, which bash Michael Bloomberg for his indefensible (as I said at the time) pre-storm comments and actions. So I imagine I’ll get some questions about them. That’s fair, and I stand by what I said last night on Twitter, when I went on quite a tear about the issue.

Yes, I’m angry at “Hizzoner.” Not for failing to prevent an act of nature, but for failing to do his damn job properly — and, worse, grossly misleading the public — during the run-up to this extremely well-forecasted storm. Yes, I think a public accounting of his gross errors is required, at a bare minimum.

But I also don’t want to keep obsessing endlessly about this right now. I’ve made my point. I’ve made it firmly. And I will keep calling out any dishonest CYA statements by public officials about storm “expectations,” like this one by Bloomberg (see also here). I think it’s critical to do that in real time, lest inaccurate memes take hold in the public consciousness. At the same time, I don’t want to be perceived as grandstanding, and as having an axe to grind against Bloomberg in particular, while people are suffering. Certainly, I am not trying to beat my chest and brag about having been “right.” I wish I’d been “wrong” (in the sense that NYC had lucked out). This isn’t about me; what I said was obvious and unremarkable, in my view. It’s about Bloomberg. But anyway, y’all know where I stand; I don’t need to keep repeating it.

For the record, though, I did add a lengthy “update” last night to the bottom of my “Get The Hell Out.” I knew that post would get some attention in retrospect, and I wanted to flesh out my position a bit, and address the obvious counterarguments, in the body of the post. I’ll reprint that update here, after the jump, for those who are interested. And that’s all I’ll have to say about the matter in this space, at least for the moment.

UPDATE: Okay, so Kathleen Parker forced me to say a little bit more…

Okay… now for that “update” to my earlier post, reposted after the jump:

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[NOTE: Follow me on Twitter for my latest updates.]

LES flood

You all don’t need me to tell you what happened tonight; you’ve all seen the pictures by now, and watched the live TV reports, and heard the accounts. Hurricane Sandy, precisely as feared, brought a 9-foot storm surge — well within the predicted 6- to 11-foot range — into New York Harbor, which combined with the 5-foot astronomical high tide to create a record-shattering water level of 13.88 feet at Battery Park.

The water level was above 10 feet — the approximate threshold for major NYC flooding — for more than 5 consecutive hours. The results, of course, were devastating. Neighborhoods submerged; cars floating in the streets; the subway system flooded; a major hospital forced to evacuate; raging fires all over the city, with limited ability to fight them; and on and on. And it’s not over yet.

At the peak of the flood, Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan looked like this:

Ground Zero flooded

We’re going to wake up Tuesday to a terribly changed and damaged New York. I fear we may also wake up to more deaths than any of us can bear, as someone once said on another terrible day in the city’s history — although I confess I really have no idea what to expect in terms of death toll. We can only hope and pray it’s relatively low.

Of course, Sandy didn’t just hit one city. Eight years ago, a friend of mine commented on the movie The Day After Tomorrow: “Once again, the whole world is endangered, and to us that means…New York.” It felt a bit that way on Monday, as the Big Apple’s troubles overshadowed the equally calamitous impact that Sandy had along the New Jersey shore, where places like Atlantic City and Ocean City were hugely devastated by the surge. Long Island and Connecticut was also very hard-hit. We’ll learn more about the extent of damage in the coming days, but it’s clear this storm was very much the monster we feared, and that its impact was widely felt.

On that note, don’t forget what I wrote earlier, and reiterated tonight in a tweet RTd almost 500 times now: I do not want to hear any government or civic official saying that Sandy “caught us off guard,” or that it was “unexpected,” or that its impacts were “worse than we expected,” or anything like that. Such statements are blatantly false. Sandy was an extraordinarily well-forecasted storm (and thank goodness for that), and what it did yesterday is precisely what has been forecast for many days now by the computer models. There was absolutely no reason for anyone to be surprised, and you should not tolerate CYA excuses that claim otherwise. That includes claims about the “surprising” surge, which, as I mentioned, was not 14 feet in New York, but rather 9 feet, well within the 6-11′ forecast range (high tide provided the other 5′ of the 14′ total water level). I would view any “caught us off guard” statement by any public official as, effectively, a letter of resignation.

Relatedly, anyone who did not realize how much damage a 6-11′ surge on top of a 5′ high tide could do to New York City simply has not been paying attention, because this scenario has been discussed ad nauseum for years. What we saw on TV out of the Big Apple last night was distressing and horrifying, but it was not, by any stretch of the imagination, surprising. Rather, like Katrina in New Orleans, it was a long-feared nightmare come true.

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Anyway… I’m beat, folks. I’ve had some long days of almost nonstop blogging and tweeting about this storm, as it became clear what a threat it was — I think I slept a combined total of six hours the last two nights, and while I could do that sort of thing more easily during Katrina at age 23, I just don’t have the stamina for it anymore, at age 30 (er, 31…today, post-midnight, is my birthday). So I don’t have time to put together a comprehensive summary right now, and my coverage Tuesday will probably be a lot lighter, too. Really, with the exception of some Great Lakes winds and some Appalachian snows, plus the ever-present threat of inland flooding, we’re mostly past the “Weather Nerd”-geared part of this story now, anyway. I’m your guy for obsessive tidal-gauge analysis, one-stop landfall data shopping, and wildly premature hurricane-related election speculation, but there are countless other, better sources for the more ordinary task of reporting or aggregating news about storm damage now that it’s happened. Even so, I will probably do a wrap-up post at some point, once we know more, and I will certainly keep updating my Twitter with some regularity. But I will be gradually winding down my Weather Nerd coverage of Sandy. Thanks for reading, everyone.

I’ll leave you with a donation link for the American Red Cross.

Major New York City Flood Appears Imminent

October 29th, 2012 - 3:52 pm

[NOTE: Follow me on Twitter for my very latest updates on Hurricane Sandy. To track live data, including tidal gauges, buoys, satellite and radar, go to my "One-Stop Shop" landfall tracking post.]

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If my reading of the Battery Park tidal gauges (charts here and here; raw data here) is correct … and if my understanding is right that a water level (i.e., the red line on the charts) higher than 10 to 10.5 feet would cause a major flooding event in New York City that would inundate the subways and swamp low-lying areas of the city … it appears to me that, unless the storm surge (i.e., the green line on the charts) slows down from its current pace of increasing approximately 1 foot per hour, a significant New York City flooding event will begin sometime in the 5:00 to 6:00 PM hour local time, probably closer to 5:30 or 5:40 PM, but in any event well before the 9:00 PM high tide (and thus, presumably, continuing unabated for several hours).

Tidal Gauge at The Battery, New York, NY:

Caveat: I’m neither a meteorologist nor a hydrologist. But I can do arithmetic, and this is what I’m seeing.

If you are in a flood-prone area in New York City, and you are reading this, and you can get safely to higher ground, DO SO IMMEDIATELY!!!

I hope and pray that everyone who needs to be on higher ground is already there, and that this is solely a property damage event, with no loss of life.

The same goes, of course, for New Jersey and Long Island and Connecticut and everywhere else. I’m just focusing on New York City here because, well, it’s New York City. But the suffering is going to be widespread.

UPDATE, 4:21 PM: Literally as I was publishing this, the surge’s acceleration slowed down from ~1 foot of additional surge per hour, to ~1/2 foot of additional surge per hour. (That’s on top of the normal increase in water level due to the tide coming in, i.e., the blue line.) But this deceleration only delays the inevitable. Unless the storm surge (green line) not only slows its increase, but reverses itself and begins going down — which presumably won’t happen until the winds from Sandy shift, which does not appear imminent — the NYC flood will begin no later than 7:00 PM, and likely sooner.

UPDATE, 5:15 PM: Knock furiously on wood, but it appears that the storm surge stopped rising at 4:40 PM, and may now be very slowly decreasing. (The overall water level is still going up, but the storm surge — the difference between a “normal” tide and the surge-driven tide — is now stalling or dropping.) This is probably related to Hurricane Sandy’s acceleration toward the coast; the storm made a further left turn, and is about to make landfall. It is now possible that NYC will be spared the major flood that appeared imminent 90 minutes ago. However, it is going to be a very, VERY close-run thing, and a significant flood is still entirely possible. As it stands now, the current 6.6-foot storm surge would, without any further increase, be enough at high tide (which would be 4.74′ today with no surge) to push total water levels to 11.34′. So we need the surge to drop somewhere between 1 and 1.5 feet in the next few hours.

UPDATE, 5:44 PM: The surge is plateauing, not dropping, so for now, we’re still on course for the water level to reach 10 feet around 6:30 PM, and 10.5 feet around 7:00 PM, peaking at 11.4 feet just before 9:00 PM — if the surge doesn’t start to drop by then. That timing assumes the surge holds steady at 6.7 feet; the projected water level rise is due solely to the “normal” tide coming in.

New York City may well still flood, but at a minimum, if this trend holds, the flood will be less severe and less long-lasting than if the surge had kept accelerating, as it likely would have if Sandy hadn’t taken the left turn and sped up toward the coast.

UPDATE, 6:16 PM: It now appears the surge (green line) has resumed increasing, albeit at a much slower rate: 0.02′ per 6-minute update on the tidal data, or 0.2′ per hour. If that continues, the total water level will top 10′ very shortly — at around 6:20 PM — and will top 10.5′ at around 6:45 PM.

UPDATE, 6:36 PM: The water level at the Battery has topped 10 feet and will soon reach 10.5 feet, with 2 1/2 hours until high tide. I assume that the flood is underway, though I haven’t seen confirmation of that yet.

UPDATE, 7:10 PM: Parts of New York City are, indeed, flooding. Here are two photos by Julian Ehrhardt, apparently in Brooklyn:

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Parts of Lower Manhattan are reportedly flooding, too, and power has been shut off because of the flooding. See my Twitter feed for the latest.

UPDATE, 7:49 PM: The surge is accelerating again, increasing at a pace of more than 1.5 feet per hour over the last 30 minutes. Surge is now 8.41′, water level is 12.75′. If this surge pace continues, the water level will be above 15′ by high tide, more than 10′ of it from the surge alone.

Again, see my Twitter feed for the latest.