Sunday, October 28, 2012

Before the Big Storm

The first clouds from Hurricane Sandy arrived in Pennsylvania before dawn yesterday, and today it is raining. These affects have come from a storm that is still far away, east of Florida yesterday and South Carolina this morning. It is a big storm, already one of the largest hurricanes ever seen on radar off the U.S. East Coast and getting larger as it absorbs a storm system on land.

When it reaches land, it will affect a wide area that includes several major cities, and this is one of the most distinctive aspects of the response to the weather event. If things get really bad in New York City, it may have to call in reinforcements from Kentucky. The nearby states and provinces will have problems of their own.

There is a chance of real trouble in New York, with forecast models estimating a 1 in 10 chance of storm surge and waves high enough to flood electric and rail tunnels in parts of Manhattan. Some forecasters are putting that chance closer to 1 in 3. If the area of tropical storm force winds is an indication of the storm surge, then the New Jersey coast, New York Harbor, and Long Island Sound may be in for record-setting coastal flooding.

Here is one hopeful sign: trees here have dropped most of their leaves in the last four days, and will surely lose more as the first wind gusts arrive. With few leaves, tree branches are not so easily damaged by wind gusts, and this may reduce the tree damage and power outages. There is another side to this, of course: leaves on the ground tend to clog storm drains and will worsen street flooding. For my part, though, I would rather have power on the day after the storm than be able to go anywhere.

Already today, many people are just staying home, and most people will expect to stay put from Monday afternoon to Tuesday afternoon. The reduction in demand for fuel for transportation may just match the loss of production as refineries limit operations for high winds.