Hurricane Sandy will probably grow into a “Frankenstorm” that may become the worst to hit the U.S. Northeast in 100 years if current forecasts are correct.
Sandy may combine with a second storm coming out of the Midwest to create a system that would rival the New England Hurricane of 1938 in intensity, said Paul Kocin, a National Weather Service meteorologist in College Park, Maryland.
“What we’re seeing in some of our models is a storm at an intensity that we have not seen in this part of the country in the past century,” Kocin said in a telephone interview. “We’re not trying to hype it, this is what we’re seeing in some of our models. It may come in weaker.”
The hybrid storm may strike anywhere from the Delaware- Maryland-Virginia peninsula to southern New England. The current National Hurricane Center track calls for the system to go ashore in New Jersey on Oct. 30, although landfall predictions often change as storms get closer to shore.
“If the storm follows the current hurricane center forecast, we are looking at over $5 billion in damage,” said Chuck Watson, director of research and development at Kinetic Analysis Corp. in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Watson said the track may change quite a bit between now and early next week. An accurate assessment of potential damage from wind and rain probably can’t be made until late this week.
As of 8 p.m. New York time, Sandy was located 35 miles (55 kilometers) southeast of Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas, with top winds of 100 miles per hour, a Category 2 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, according to the hurricane center in Miami. It was moving north-northwest at 17 mph.
The 1938 hurricane killed more than 500 people after crossing Long Island and going on to batter Connecticut and Rhode Island.
“We can say even now our worst fears may be realized,” Kocin said. “If we were seeing what we’re seeing today one day out, we would really be shouting the alarms.”
Governments along the East Coast are preparing for Sandy’s impact. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo directed state agencies to monitor the storm and Massachusetts’s Emergency Management Agency warned residents to expect the worst.
New York City has a 55 percent chance of winds of at least 39 mph by Oct. 30, according to estimates by Tropical Storm Risk, a consortium of experts on insurance, risk management and climate supported by the U.K. government.
The center’s track predicts landfall between Atlantic City and Toms River, New Jersey.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city was taking routine precautions at this stage.
“A good message to everybody is you should always have a ‘go’ plan,” he said at a news conference. “Particularly if you live near the water in a low area, you may have to be evacuated. I wouldn’t plan on it today. Listen to the radio and if necessary follow the instructions.”
The mayor is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.
Utilities along the East Coast were monitoring the storm. Nine mid-Atlantic power companies held their first conference call yesterday to discuss how crews will be dispatched to the hardest-hit areas, Myra Oppel, a spokeswoman for Pepco, Washington’s electric utility, said today in an interview.
Pepco retained 400 contractors already working on its system so they’d be available if the storm hits that area, Oppel said. New Jersey’s Public Service Electric & Gas Co. prepared sandbags to protect substations.
Exelon Corp.’s Baltimore Gas & Electric urged its 1.2 million power customers in central Maryland to prepare for power failures and flooding. “We’re taking this extremely seriously,” Robert Gould, a utility spokesman, said today in an interview.
The system crossed Jamaica yesterday and Cuba early today, tracking north to the central Bahamas, where a hurricane watch was posted for many of the islands. A tropical storm watch has been issued for Florida’s east coast from north of Flagler Beach to Fernandina Beach, as well as the upper Keys from Ocean Reef to Craig Key. The watch also extends to Florida Bay.
Winds of at least 74 mph extend 35 miles from Sandy’s core, while winds of 39 mph reach out 205 miles. The distance from Freeport, Bahamas, to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is 94 miles.
“Sandy is expected to grow larger in size during the next couple of days,” the hurricane center said. “Some weakening is forecast during the next 48 hours but Sandy is expected to remain a hurricane for the next couple of days.”
On Jamaica, 70 percent of the island lost power, roofs were torn from homes and roads were blocked by downed trees and floods as Sandy roared ashore, according to Air Worldwide.
Buckeye Partners LP suspended operations at the BORCO terminal in the Bahamas, Kevin Goodwin, a company spokesman, said. The terminal can hold 21.6 million barrels of crude, fuel oil and other refined products.
The amount of damage the East Coast is going to absorb is hard to estimate because the storm’s track is in flux, said Tom Larsen, senior vice president and product architect at Eqecat Inc., a risk modeler in Oakland, California.
Larsen said he doesn’t expect Sandy to be worse than Irene, which struck the East Coast in August 2011, killing at least 45 people and causing at least $15.8 billion in damage, according to the hurricane center.
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