Hurricane Sandy — Ready or Not, Here She Comes

Hurricane Irene

Be advised that a hurricane named Sandy is swirling off the coast of Florida and heading north. Sandy will bypass Florida and probably the Carolinas as it follows a north-northeast curve.

Halfway up the coast, Sandy is expected to turn left and take aim straight into the densely populated East Coast of the U.S. Broadcasters and headline writers are  trampling each other in their rush to label Sandy “the perfect storm.”   

At this writing, it’s impossible to know exactly where the Category 2 hurricane will strike. Or even if it will still be a hurricane in two or three days. It could weaken to a mere tropical storm, or become more like a nor’easter off the mid-Atlantic states, possibly even a nor-easter or hurricane with snow, farther north.

Don’t take comfort if Sandy is downgraded from hurricane to tropical storm. Some of our worst memories are from tropical storms and nor’easters. Here in Ocean City, MD, a storm dubbed “Nor’Ida” washed away tons of sand from the beach just a few years ago. Hurricane Agnes was downgraded to a tropical storm before it reached Maryland in 1972. I was living one block from the ocean at the time, and everyone thought I was in mortal danger.

Little did they know that Agnes would spare Ocean City completely. Instead, Agnes went north through central Maryland and Pennsylvania,  wreaking havoc that took years to repair. The seafood industry in the Chesapeake Bay was traumatized by the torrent of fresh water and sediment coming south from Pennsylvania.

DIRECT HIT???

You want to scare yourself half out of your wits? Just Google “NYC hurricane direct hit” or Chesapeake Bay hurricane.” If you live in or near an Atlantic beach town, insert your town’s name before the words “direct hit.”

I clearly remember my parents’ alarm over an Atlantic hurricane approaching the Washington, D.C., area when I was a child. It must have been Hurricane Hazel in 1954.

We lived north of Washington, a long way from water. I had never seen the ocean, and I doubt I’d seen the Chesapeake Bay. I asked why we had to worry about a hurricane way out in the Atlantic Ocean, when we lived far inland.

“This hurricane might come straight up the Chesapeake Bay,” my father said. That was my introduction to the concept of “worst-case scenario.”

More than a half-century (and many hurricanes) later, I have a better understanding of  East Coast geography. The population in harm’s way along the East Coast has increased by millions since 1950. Way too much of the development has been in coastal areas most vulnerable to flooding. Stand by for a “direct hit” coming to a neighborhood near you.

UNPREDICTABLE. Think “Black Swan.”

Today, we have satellite monitoring and computer modeling, but hurricanes are no less capricious than they were in 1954. We know a hurricane is coming nearly a week in advance, but the hurricane’s path remains difficult to chart. Where and how much damage it will inflict is impossible to predict.

I live on the isolated far southeast corner of Maryland. A fragile barrier island separates us from the Atlantic Ocean. Hurricane Irene forced a mandatory evacuation of our area — Ocean City and West Ocean City, Maryland — in late August last year. In the end, Irene passed us by, just a few miles out to sea, with no major damage.

New York City also dodged Irene in 2011. Amazingly, the hurricane ended up causing devastation and misery in Vermont, of all places.

See what I mean about hurricanes being capricious?

The false alarms and near misses by hurricanes make us all complacent. If Sandy takes aim directly at the Delmarva Peninsula, as is entirely possible, another mandatory evacuation of my town will likely  be ordered. If so, I expect considerable grumbling, with some people refusing to leave.

If a hurricane should threaten a direct hit on New York City, I wonder how many of the millions of residents will be able to evacuate?

Starting from the time you wake up Friday morning, you’ll hear continuous reports on the storm’s progress throughout the weekend. Revised predictions about the storm’s strength and path can be expected.

Hurricane Sandy, or Tropical Storm Sandy, will make her presence known on my part of the East Coast no later than Sunday; farther north, by Monday. You will be sick of Sandy by then, but the excitement will only be starting. Regardless of where the center of the storm hits, we can expect rain, wind, and a powerful “storm surge” pretty much everywhere along the coast.

Sunday, Monday and Tuesday will be nasty — and in some places, dangerous — days from Virginia to New England.

— John Hayden

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3 Comments

Filed under History, Life, News

3 responses to “Hurricane Sandy — Ready or Not, Here She Comes

  1. Barbara Bouffard Reilly

    Yup…we’re all bracing as well but no real cries of alarm yet. Thankfully, all of the electrical and phone cables are underground in my part of the state. When we know more on Sunday, I’ll decide whether or not to lug my storm-survival supplies up from the basement. Stay safe!

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  2. Hi Barbara. Not many people know that Rhode Island has the nickname “the Ocean State.” (I think I’m correct on that.) I believe RI has even more ocean exposure than MD. Storm surge and erosion are likely along the entire coastline, from the Chesapeake Bay to Barrington Beach, and beyond.

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  3. Pingback: Ocean City, MD, Hurricane Sandy Advisory « Ocean City Blog

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