Starting yesterday evening, residents along the eastern U.S. coast and much further inland, from Washington D.C. to Chicago, hunkered down and braced for the arrival of Hurricane Sandy, the biggest hurricane (by area) on record. Ever. (Since 1988.)
Scientists have been following and projecting Sandy’s path with all the tools at their disposal: ocean buoys, radar and satellite imagery, and computer modeling. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also gathers information from special reconnaissance aircraft, which fly over hurricanes and can drop instruments into them to measure wind speeds, air pressure, temperature, and altitude.
The storm that is threatening 60 million Americans in the eastern third of the nation in just a couple of days with persistent high winds, drenching rains, extreme tides, flooding and probably snow is much more than just an ordinary weather system. It’s a freakish and unprecedented monster.
Don’t Just Watch Hurricane Coverage on TV….Experience a Tropical Monster for Yourself on ORBIT!
Discover the mighty hurricane by following it through the Caribbean basin. Watch as the threat level increases with every correct answer! Click the image above to get started on your very own Hurricane Hunting expedition!
What forces created this “Frankenstorm”?
Start with Sandy, an ordinary late summer hurricane from the tropics, moving north up the East Coast. Bring in a high pressure ridge of air centered around Greenland that blocks the hurricane’s normal out-to-sea path and forces it west toward land.
Add a wintry cold front moving in from the west and colliding with that storm. Mix in a blast of Arctic air from the north. Add a full moon and its usual effect, pulling in high tides. Factor in immense waves commonly thrashed up by a huge hurricane plus massive gale-force winds. Do all that and you get a stitched-together weather monster expected to unleash its power over 800 square miles, with predictions in some areas of 12 inches of rain, 2 feet of snow and sustained 40- to 50 mph winds.
“The total is greater than the sum of the individual parts” said Louis Uccellini, the environmental prediction chief of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration meteorologists. “That is exactly what’s going on here.” This storm is so dangerous and so unusual because it is coming at the tail end of hurricane season and beginning of winter storm season, “so it’s kind of taking something from both – part hurricane, part nor’easter, all trouble,” Jeff Masters, director of the private service Weather Underground, said Saturday.
With Sandy expected to lose tropical characteristics, NOAA is putting up warnings that aren’t hurricane or tropical for coastal areas north of North Carolina, causing some television meteorologists to complain that it is all too confusing. Nor is it merely a coastal issue anyway. Craig Fugate of the Federal Emergency Management Agency told reporters Saturday: “This is not a coastal threat alone. This is a very large area. This is going to be well inland.”
It’s a topsy-turvy storm, too. The far northern areas of the East, around Maine, should get much warmer weather as the storm hits, practically shirt-sleeve weather for early November, Masters and Uccellini said. Around the Mason-Dixon line, look for much cooler temperatures. West Virginia and even as far south as North Carolina could see snow. Lots of it. It is what NOAA forecaster Jim Cisco meant Thursday when he called it “Frankenstorm” in a forecast, an allusion to Mary Shelley’s gothic creature of synthesized elements.
Check out this real-time wind map to see just how far Sandy can reach: you can see the leading edge of the hurricane pushing into the East Coast. The National Hurricane Center will give you a map of the storm’s projected path, along with some other meteorological projections such as the risk of storm surge.
Google has also put together a map showing the path of the storm. Google’s version has toggles so you can turn cloud cover on and off, show the locations of webcams in the area and chart out the locations of Red Cross shelters.
Learn more about Hurricane Sandy & stay up to date with these resources:
Discover how hurricanes get their names & more FUN hurricane science here!
Handy Maps & apps that keep you connected
Check out more about full moon tides and hurricanes at Bad Astronomy.
Track the latest storm developments, warnings, and alerts on the Discovery News Storm Tracker.