Hurricane Sandy looms over the US

By Phil Plait | October 26, 2012 11:16 am

Hurricane Sandy is currently churning up the ocean of the United States’ southeast coast. As the core hit landfall over Cuba yesterday, NASA’s Suomi-NPP satellite took this image of the monster storm in the infrared:

[Click to coriolisenate.]

Holy crap. That’s a big hurricane. It’s being nicknamed Frankenstorm due to it size, and I’m seeing lots of predictions that it’ll be bigger and more damaging even than The Perfect Storm of 1991. This is because Sandy is a hurricane in its own right, but there is also a nor’easter, a low pressure system, off the coast farther north. Together, these two systems can produce a much larger storm capable of dropping a lot of rain and flooding inland areas. On top of that, of course, there’s also high winds.

The system is also slow moving, potentially making things a lot worse. That gives it more time to do damage, of course, but we’re also approaching the full Moon on October 29. It’s not the Moon’s phase that matters, but the position: when it is aligned with the Sun in the sky (either at full or new phase) the tidal force from the Moon aligns with that of the Sun, adding together. The tides from the Sun are about half the strength of the Moon’s, but together (called Spring Tide) they can increase the chance of flooding because high tide is slightly higher than normal.

The storm is expected to strengthen on Monday or Tuesday, and a lot of models show it moving north and then west, over the east coast. I urge everyone to keep your eyes on the news to see what’s what.

Also, I heard an interesting piece of advice that seems sound to me: rake your leaves! Leaves get clogged in drains and can aid flooding. By getting leaves up out of your yard, it lowers the odds of flooding – though by how much I couldn’t say. Still, it sounds like something that can’t hurt, especially given some of the predictions I’ve seen for more than 20 centimeters (8-10 inches) of rain!

Keep safe, everyone.

Image credit: NOAA/NASA


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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Pretty pictures

Comments (29)

  1. thetentman

    We did this last October, only with snow. It blew.

  2. Hand’t even though of the leaf thing, good call! Keeping my fingers crossed that halloween won’t be affected this year.

  3. Infinite123Lifer

    Is that just a reflection on the left hand side there?

    “Still, it sounds like something that can’t hurt, especially given some of the predictions I’ve seen for more than 20 centimeters (8-10 inches) of rain!”

    Are these predictions for rain for Florida?

    Also, I had a question about the picture but I think this answered it.

    http://www.gma.org/surfing/sensing/imagery.html

    And the physics of the tides

    http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/tide.html#mstid

  4. BT

    I thought it was “Frankenstorm” because of the potential for it to merge with TWO separate big weather systems, and not simply because of it’s size?

  5. Wzrd1

    With the predictions here in the Philadelphia area, it’s sounding like come Monday and Tuesday, the response to “What’s it doing outside” would be George Carlin’s 7 words. :/
    As in last year’s Irene would be small potatoes. Assuming the worst path comes to pass.

    One GOOD thing is, we don’t get severe flooding where I am. The creek 100 meters away is 3 meters below grade and we’re at 15.5 meters elevation, the street being two meters below the houses. So, the leaf issue would be minimal for us.
    Compared to the majority of our county (Delaware County).
    Oh well, we’ll probably lose power as tree limbs blow onto the power lines. I have a full box of chem light sticks, two gas lanterns and an AC inverter for refrigerator power.
    And a weather radio.

  6. I believe there is an Arctic Blast coming down into the mix, could be a bit of snow in higher elevations, they are saying. I think Frankenstorm is a weak name, though, I think it should be called the Horrendous Great East Coast Weather Kablooie.

  7. Chris

    @3 BT

    Also it doesn’t hurt that it’ll be hitting near Halloween.

    When it hits it won’t be a tropical cyclone, it’ll be sub topical or extratropical. The distinction is the whether or not the core of the storm is warm or cold.

    Here is some more fun information
    http://moe.met.fsu.edu/cyclonephase/index.html
    http://www.wunderground.com/hurricane/subtropical.asp

  8. David K

    From what I was reading, it’s being called Frankenstorm because it’s a mix of atmospheric conditions we have no history or data to really go from, three major systems all colliding: http://io9.com/5955145/draft-what-you-need-to-know-about-the-upcoming-frankenstorm

  9. This is very scary and, as previously commented, rather ‘kismetish’ that it will still be going on during Hallowe’en.
    Raking leaves? In this slop? I think we passed chore that some time ago!

  10. AGW fan

    this is clearly a sign that humans are ruining the planet

  11. Daniel J. Andrews

    Pedantically speaking, Frankenstorm was the scientist who created the storm… ;) (Darn meddling scientists, put them all in jail, we have precedent thanks to Italy).

  12. Keith Hearn

    So wait, you’re saying that the alignment of the planets, moons and stars will be effecting the lives of millions of of people? Sounds like Astrology to me! Shame on you, Phil! ;)

    (Ok, so it’s only one planet, one moon, and one star, but still…)

  13. I once had a relative from the east coast say something to the effect of”I’d be scared to live in California. All those earthquakes! I feel safer back home.”
    Reeeeeally? Shoot, we had a moderate earthquake the other day that I didn’t even notice. Srsly, I’m thanking my lucky stars that I don’t have to worry about these big storms.

  14. @11 Daniel Andrews: Pedantically speaking, Frankenstorm was the scientist who created the storm… (Darn meddling scientists, put them all in jail, we have precedent thanks to Italy).

    Fine, fine, it’s Dr. Frankenstorm’s Monster. Storm. Monstorm?

  15. Wzrd1

    @Joseph G, we on the East Coast haven’t had highways collapse from the occasional hurricane.
    We *DID* get a small earthquake a while back. At first, I thought something was wrong with me and I was trembling, then I noticed the water in my water bottle moving and figured it out.
    For coastal areas, a hurricane is a big deal due to wind, flooding and wave action. Inland, it’s the phenomenal amount of rain and gale force winds.
    Indeed, it’s a different hazard, but not as hazardous as an earthquake would be here. But, a hurricane would be disastrous in California for the same reason an earthquake would be so in the east.
    Each area builds to protect against the “usual” disasters of that region. Earthquakes in the west, hurricanes in the east.
    The greatest potential problem inland is wind blowing power lines down, flooding and some potential roof damage (as well as the occasional tree downed from wet soil and moderate wind). We might even have a few bridges damaged in the worst case.
    That is a LOT less than the Northridge earthquake!
    And both this level storm, with its additive weather issues and the Northridge earthquake are about the same level of probability of happening. Vanishingly rare.
    In this instance, rare enough that NOAA has zero data on a similar storm.

  16. @Wzrd1: The greatest potential problem inland is wind blowing power lines down, flooding and some potential roof damage (as well as the occasional tree downed from wet soil and moderate wind). We might even have a few bridges damaged in the worst case.
    That is a LOT less than the Northridge earthquake!

    True, but the Northridge quake was the sort of thing that happens maybe every 30 years at the very most. It seems these days that every single year we have at least one fairly destructive hurricane or string of tornados. One nice thing about quakes is that they’re one of the few natural disasters that (as far as we know so far) can’t be exacerbated or made more common by climate change. It’s also one of the few natural disasters where you’re actually safer outside on open flat ground. You couldn’t pay me enough to drive around open farmland chasing tornados like some of those midwest researchers do…

  17. Wzrd1

    @Joseph G, pretty much. Though, earthquakes CAN be exacerbated or potentially caused by human interaction, such as nuclear testing near fault lines, injection of fluid near fault lines, etc. Fortunately, we’ve learned from such things and don’t do THEM.
    But, we sure love to pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and some love to follow their betters orders in disclaiming any science that proves climate change.

    Can’t agree more about storm chasing. I had enough when I had TWO tornadoes, on two separate occasions, try to set down on my head! I steer clear as possible from such storms!
    Fortunately, wind shear kept them from setting down where I was. On both occasions, the storms set down and erased a few farms a mile away from me.
    I’ll be happy seeing a tornado on television only. :)

  18. NeilNZ

    “It’s not the Moon’s phase that matters, but the position: when it is aligned with the Sun in the sky (either at full or new phase) the tidal force from the Moon aligns with that of the Sun, adding together.”

    Surely when the moon is new the Tidal force = Moon force – Sun force, so will result in lower than normal tidal ranges?

  19. Steve Ruble

    NeilNZ,

    I have a hard time remembering exactly how tides work; it’s just not intuitive for me. But I’ve found that a good way for me to check whether I’m thinking about them correctly in a particular case is to see if I’m able to explain why there are two tides a day. I think that would be hard to explain if “Tidal force = Moon force – Sun force”, so I suspect there’s something you aren’t considering.

  20. NeilNZ

    Steve, I have just read the Wiki page on tides. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tide
    Seems that I was wrong. The high tide bulge is formed on both sides of the planet and the sun does have an additive effect. I also learned a new word – sysygy.

  21. It is kind of funny the election voting is going on or soon will be going on with certain states, the comment about humans controlling the weather , put the election and the weather together and what do u get ? I have a lot of ideas what do u guys think?

  22. VinceRN

    Amazing picture. You guys in it’s path stay safe.

  23. Reidh

    I think, as do others I’m certain, that they called it FrankenStorm because its a freak storm due to hit on Halloween!

  24. Infinite123Lifer

    “Are these predictions for rain for Florida?”

    After a stew . . . I googled nasa hurricane weather report … ( I know right, of all things ) and in the National Hurricane Center Rainfall Expectations section are the expectations.

    http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/hurricanes/archives/2012/h2012_Sandy.html

    So if I have this right last night there was a mega storm brewing off Florida a 7.7 struck just above our heads here in Washington and a tsunami was headed for Hawaii. I wonder if that’s just a typical night for the Earth.

  25. Donovan

    When hurricane Floyd hit Philadelphia, leaves and trash clogged the gutters all up the hill from my appt. I got three feet of water in my place. I was single at the time, so just went to the bar and then crashed at a friend’s house. Most of my stuff was in storage, since I was there temporarily, but it still sucked.

  26. Nigel Depledge

    Joseph G (16) said:

    One nice thing about quakes is that they’re one of the few natural disasters that (as far as we know so far) can’t be exacerbated or made more common by climate change.

    You know, it’s funny you should mention it, but I recall reading somewhere that as land-based ice sheets melt, earthquakes will become more common in the vicinity as the earth that was previously beneath the ice “rebounds”, having had several million tons of ice removed from on top of it.

  27. Nigel Depledge

    Neil NZ (18) said:

    Surely when the moon is new the Tidal force = Moon force – Sun force, so will result in lower than normal tidal ranges?

    No.

    How it works is along these lines:

    Every tidal force arises as the result of the gravitational force from one object (let’s call it A) declining with distance. If another object (let’s call it B) nearby is large enough, the difference in gravitational attraction caused by A from the proximal side to the distal side of B means that B gets stretched by the gradient in A’s gravity. Thus, if Earthly tides were caused by the moon only, we’d always have tides the same height, and there’d always be a high tide on the side of Earth facing the moon, and a high tide on the side of Earth opposite the moon, with low tides in regions that are facing 90° away from the Earth-Moon line.

    With the sun’s gravity in the mix too, we have tides from both the moon and the sun at the same time. This means that, when the moon and sun are at right angles in the sky from our perspective (i.e. waxing or waning quarter moon), we have smaller tides. These are Neap tides. When the sun and moon fall on the same line through the Earth, whether it is new or full moon, we get larger tides as the tidal forces add up. These are called Spring tides, and they occur roughly twice each month, around the time of both full and new moon.

    To add to the effect of waves and tides, hurricanes tend also to generate a large storm surge – an upward bulge of water caused by the reduced pressure of the air at the centre of the storm. It was a combination of strong winds (and thus large waves), Spring tides and a massive storm surge that caused so much flooding around the North Sea (mainly the Netherlands and East Anglia) in 1953. There’s even a wikipedia entry about it.

    Edited to add – D’oh, I just saw your post #20, so you don’t need all this stuff now.

  28. @26 Nigel Depledge: You know, it’s funny you should mention it, but I recall reading somewhere that as land-based ice sheets melt, earthquakes will become more common in the vicinity as the earth that was previously beneath the ice “rebounds”, having had several million tons of ice removed from on top of it.

    Great, just when we thought we at least had a handle on how bad things could get…

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