26 Oct 2012

Hurricane Sandy heading for US east coast early next week

Hurricane Sandy has already ploughed through the Caribbean causing flash floods and loss of life in Jamaica, Cuba and Haiti, with torrential rain and damaging winds.

As of Friday lunchtime, Sandy is a category one storm and sitting over the Bahamas, with sustained winds of 80mph and stronger gusts.

With the storm now growing in size, rain from the periphery of the sprawling storm is affecting eastern parts of Florida, along with tropical storm force winds.

Although Sandy has already caused significant problems, the worst may be yet to come, with the storm predicted to directly hit the east coast of the US early next week.

NASA video taken from the International Space Station showing hurricane Sandy over the Caribbean.

At the moment, there is a large amount of uncertainty as to exactly where the hurricane will make landfall, but when it does hit, the impacts are likely to be significant, if not major.

Current predictions have a range of possible landfall points, ranging from North Carolina to Long Island, New York.

With this part of the US being densely populated, the cost of the storm and the potential danger it poses to live and property are high.

Even though the precise point of landfall is unclear, the possible impacts are.

Torrential rain

As a storm that is tropical, Sandy contains a lot of moisture that has been drawn up from the warm ocean waters in the Caribbean.

Wherever the storm ends up going, large amounts of rainfall can be expected within a few hundreds miles of its path.

The five-day rainfall forecast from NOAA (below) issued on Friday suggests that states from the mid-Atlantic to the eastern Great Lakes could widely see 2-6 inches of rain, with the worst affected areas seeing 12 inches.

This amount of rain falling in just a few days, especially in urban areas will give a significant risk of surface water flooding.

In addition, as colder air tucks in around the western side of the storm, rain could turn to heavy snowfall and blizzards across the Appalachian Mountains in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Damaging winds

Recent forecasts from the National Hurricane Center in Miami keep Sandy as a category one hurricane as it makes landfall, somewhere along the east coast of the US early next week.

Sustained winds upon landfall are expected to be 70-80mph close to the centre of the storm, but winds of 40-60mph are possible across a wide area, with even stronger gusts.

This strength of wind could blow down trees and power lines, potentially leaving millions of homes without electricity.

Transport disruption is also highly likely, with poor conditions on roads and flights subject to delays or even cancellations.

Coastal storm surge

When the storm makes landfall, there’s going to be a storm surge along coastal areas on its northern side caused by onshore hurricane-force winds pushing water onto the coastline.

With a full moon expected early next week, high tides will occur, which will only add to the water levels along the coastline.

These factors combined would cause coastal flooding – especially for low-lying areas. This will be in addition to heavy rainfall that will exacerbate the problem further.

Where can the latest forecast be found?

Given the large amount of uncertainty with the exact track of hurricane Sandy, it is definitely worth keeping an eye on the latest forecast.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami produces numerous updates each day that give the latest predicted path and impacts of the storm which can be found here.

I’ll be keeping an eye on developments through the weekend and tweeting occasional updates from @liamdutton

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