Why Sandy Has Meteorologists Scared in 4 Images

The Atlantic

She's huge. She's strong and might get stronger. She's strange. She's directing the might of her storm surge right at New York City.

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Hurricane Sandy has already caused her first damage in New York: the subway system will be shut as of 7pm tonight. Meteorologists are scared, so city planners are scared.

For many, the hullabaloo raises memories of Irene, which despite causing $15.6 billion worth of damages in the United States, did not live up to its pre-arrival hype.

By almost all measures, this storm looks like it could be worse: higher winds, a path through a more populated area, worse storm surge, and a greater chance it'll linger. The atmospherics, you might say, all point to this being the worst storm in recent history. 

I've been watching weather nerds freak out about a few different graphs over the last several days, which they've sent around like sports fans would tweet a particularly vicious hit in the NFL. You don't want to look, but you also can't help it.

Ryan Maue, who runs a weather modeling firm, put out this animated GIF of the storm's approach yesterday. "This is unprecedented --absolutely stunning upper-level configuration pinwheeling #Sandy on-shore like ping-pong ball," he tweeted. It shows how cold air to the north and west of the storm spin Sandy into the mid-atlantic coastline. (Nota bene: his models also show very high winds at skyscraper altitudes.)

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This morning, the Wall Street Journal's Eric Holthaus (@WSJweather), tweeted the following map. "Oh my.... I have never seen so much purple on this graphic. By far. Never," he said. "Folks, please take this storm seriously." The storm is strong *and* huge. And when it encounters the cold air from the north and west, it will develop renewed strength thanks to that interaction, a process known as "baroclinic enhancement."

 

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"According to the latest storm surge forecast for NYC from NHC, Sandy's storm surge is expected to be several feet higher than Irene's. If the peak surge arrives near Monday evening's high tide at 9 pm EDT, a portion of New York City's subway system could flood, resulting in billions of dollars in damage," Masters concluded. "I give a 50% chance that Sandy's storm surge will end up flooding a portion of the New York City subway system."






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