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One Year Later: A Look Back At Hurricane Sandy

October 27, 2013

By WeatherBug's Luke Paris

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Hurricane Sandy was a powerful storm of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season that wreaked havoc along the East Coast of the U.S. Millions of people were affected by Sandy`s record-breaking size and devastating fury, but few were prepared for its unusual trajectory towards the East Coast, resulting in widespread catastrophic damage.

On October 22, 2012, an organized low pressure system formed into Tropical Depression 18 in the Caribbean Sea. With conditions being optimal for strengthening, Tropical Storm Sandy quickly formed later the same day. On October 24, Tropical Storm Sandy intensified to Hurricane Sandy, with maximum sustained winds reaching 80 mph. Tropical storm and hurricane watches and warnings were issues throughout the Caribbean.

Sandy made its first landfall near Kingston, Jamaica, on October 24. Sandy`s intensity peaked at a category three hurricane as it raced through the Caribbean, but eventually weakened as an upper-level disturbance steered it northwestward into open Atlantic waters. Although Sandy dwindled back to a tropical storm, it grew tremendously in size, spanning 1,100 miles in diameter, shattering the previous record set by Hurricane Igor in 2010. By October 27, Sandy regained and maintained its hurricane status through its journey along the East Coast. On October 29, Sandy made its notorious sharp turn to the west, smashing into the New Jersey coast.

Damages caused by Hurricane Sandy were very extensive and many lost their lives due to the storm. Deaths attributed directly to Sandy were estimated at 147, caused by storm surge, flooding and falling trees. Another 87 people died from indirect causes, including hypothermia and carbon monoxide poisoning. Other deaths were attributed to incidents with debris and car accidents during the clean-up efforts. Thousands of houses and buildings were damaged or completely obliterated and millions were without electricity for weeks. Total damage estimates caused by Sandy exceeded $50 billion, ranking it as the second costliest U.S. hurricane in history, but still far behind Hurricane Katrina. Katrina`s price tag was two and a half times greater than Sandy`s, totaling in at $125 billion.

Hurricane Sandy was a very noteworthy storm, not only for the damages it caused and the lives it took, but for the unique meteorological circumstances that brought it ashore the U.S. coast. As Sandy stewed in Atlantic waters off the coast of the U.S., it was abruptly steered towards the west, which is an unusual trajectory for a hurricane to make.

This sudden change in direction was caused by two key elements. First, a strong high pressure over the North Atlantic Ocean blocked Sandy from making a traditional northeast curve off the New England Coast. Since Sandy was unable to move towards the northeast, it remained just off the East Coast of the U.S., allowing the second key element, a negatively tilted trough, to steer Sandy to the west, effectively slamming the storm into the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast coast. This trough in the jet stream acted as a steering current as Sandy approached. The clockwise movement of air around the high pressure and the orientation of the jet stream worked in tandem to steer Sandy into the northern Mid-Atlantic Coast. As Sandy made landfall, it maintained its large wind field, but interacted with a low to the west, prompting it to be classified as an extratropical before it made landfall, which is why Sandy is colloquially called a "Superstorm".

The rare path Sandy took and the interference of the trough from the west brought an interesting concoction of weather to the Eastern U.S. Aside from typical downpours, high winds and occasional thunderstorms, Sandy also brought heavy snowfall to locations in the Appalachian Mountains. The cold air teamed up with Atlantic moisture wrapping around the storm center to squeeze out heavy, wet snow in the colder Appalachians. More than two feet crested the Allegheny Mountains in western Maryland and West Virginia while a few mountain peaks saw almost three feet of snow.

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Story Image Source: NASA via Wikimedia

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