Friday, October 26, 2012

Hurricane Santa

The hurricane that threatens the U.S. East Coast, with landfall expected Monday night or Tuesday, is the “S” storm, which means it is farther down on the list of tropical cyclone names than we usually go.

The hurricane’s name officially is Sandy, but I like to refer to it as “Santa,” in recognition of the Bah & the Humbugs song “Hurricane Santa.” That’s a song that depicts a late-season monster hurricane that, like Santa Claus, gets into houses via the roof. The song itself is a measure of the expansion in the hurricane season we have seen recently. Songwriter Paul Nordquist noted on Twitter:

When @thehumbugs first sang "Hurricane Santa" in 1994, it was preposterous to imagine the hurricane alphabet getting up to 'S.'

Back in 1994, everyone knew hurricane names came from the first half of the alphabet. Hurricane "Santa" was a joke.

But this weekend’s “Hurricane Santa” is no joke. Meteorologists have never seen anything like it, particularly when it comes to what all the forecast models agree the storm will do on Sunday. The hurricane is expected to merge with an Arctic storm (another reason why the “Santa” name fits) to form a massive hybrid hurricane-northeaster that could have tropical-storm force winds stretching from North Carolina to Maine. We don’t really know if the forecast models are right since, as I mentioned, meteorologists have never seen this situation before. But if the forecasts are approximately right, this could be the most damaging hurricane of the season, mainly because of the risk of tidal flooding and inland flooding from heavy rains (and possibly lake effect snow). The latest National Hurricane Center forecast puts the center of the storm at the Delaware-Maryland border late Monday night, but winds and waves will be affecting the coast well before then, and already, half of the East Coast is under tropical storm watches and warnings. Where I live in Pennsylvania, tomorrow will be the day people make preparations (which includes supplies like water and batteries), assuming the forecast holds up. By Sunday, the tropical-polar rain bands might already be here.