Hurricane Sandy Causes Concern in the Upper Atlantic Coast

On October 22, a “tropical wave” was spotted in the western Caribbean Sea. After gaining speed and strength, it officially became Hurricane Sandy on October 24. Hitting landfall in Jamaica, the storm moved through Cuba and the Bahamas, wreaking havoc in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

Eventually it curved northwest and approached the East Coast of the United States. Sandy made landfall around Atlantic City, New Jersey. Because of its combination of tropical and winter conditions, combined with a full moon, Sandy was the largest tropical storm system recorded in the Atlantic region. The storm had winds up to 85 mph at its center, 39 mph winds that spanned 485 miles. It stretching for 1,100 miles in diameter. Its effects were felt across the states of New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Washington DC, and parts of North Carolina.

The Good News

The National Hurricane Center, a division of the United States National Weather Service (a bureau of the U.S. government), is responsible for tracking and predicted weather systems in the northern Atlantic Ocean. Because storms can be tracked days in advance, many precautions are able to be taken. New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg suspended subway, bus and train services the day before. Schools were closed and approximately 6800 flights were canceled. The New York Stock Exchange was closed on Monday, evacuation shelters were set up at 76 public schools, and 500 National Guard members were deployed on Manhattan and its surrounding boroughs.

In New Jersey, Chris Christie issued mandatory evacuations, including the casinos in Atlantic City and affecting all of the civil servants of the state. Residents and businesses covered their windows with plywood and tape to avoid as much damage as possible. Charter buses carried those evacuated to shelters outside the danger zone.

The Bad News

Despite these preparations, as well as fast actions of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Hurricane Sandy caused massive damage to the upper East Coast. There were 124 deaths in all, as well as billions of dollars in water and wind damage along with a loss of economic activity. As predicted, New Jersey took the brunt of the storm, causing catastrophic flooding, knocking down large numbers of trees and power lines, and destroying the iconic boardwalks of Atlantic City’s tourism area. Millions of people were left without power. In Manhattan, water gushed into underground subway systems and landfills were turned to swampland. In an attempt to restore order, local officials have imposed gas-rationing systems as well as curfews to keep people from looting.

What’s Next?

The increase of the frequency and intensity of storms in the past few years have caused many to argue that this these storms are the result of global warming. Other scientists suggest that this is a complicated issue, as extreme weather is not a new phenomenon. One thing that is clear is that humans impose a huge influence on the climate. Global warming is thought to be result of a build-up of greenhouse gases, produced by the burning fossil fuels and forests.

Discussing the possibility of global warming and its effects on future storm systems is also tied to opinions on the broader political context of this issue. Debating what actions to take that minimize the likelihood of future extreme weather will challenge world leaders for years to come.

Dig Deeper

Use the Internet or library resources to research weather patterns for the last 100 years. Take a look at the most devastating storms on record. Make a chart comparing at least five, noting their location, conditions, characteristics (wind speed, wave height, etc), recovery and lasting effects. Notice changes in technology in predicting or warning the public.