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Sandy: Destructive Storm From Cuba to Canada

October 27, 2013

By WeatherBug Meteorologist, Chad Merrill


Hurricane Sandy was not only a monster storm for New England and the New Jersey coast, it had far reaching effects from the Caribbean to the Great Lakes. As a matter of fact, Cubans are still trying to get back on their feet a year later.

Sandy Soaks Jamaica

Jamaica is located in a prime spot for tropical activity but surprisingly Sandy was the first hurricane to make landfall in the island nation since Gilbert in 1988.

Hurricane Sandy first pounded Jamaica with heavy rain. It made landfall the afternoon of October 24, 2012, at Bull Bay with maximum sustained winds of 86 mph. This made the storm a Category One Hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. The lowest pressure reported in Jamaica was 972.1 mb at the Kingston Airport when the eye passed over.

Sandy spent less than a day crossing Jamaica, and ended up being more of a rain producer than a wind maker for the island. The highest rainfall total was 28.09 inches at Mill Bank. More than 10 inches drenched the eastern part of the island, with Gran Piedra getting 11.12 inches.

Sandy produced $ 100 million (U.S. dollars) in damage and killed one in Jamaica.

Sandy Wallops Cuba

Only 10 hours after exiting Jamaica, Sandy rapidly intensified in the warm water of the Cayman Trench south of Cuba. It then made landfall 10 miles west of Cuba`s second largest city, Santiago de Cuba early on October 25, 2012. By this time, it was a major Category 3 Hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale with maximum sustained winds of 115 mph as it bore down on a population of at least 400,000. In its 5 -hour journey across Cuba, Sandy became one of the costliest hurricanes in Cuba`s history, with total losses estimated at $2 billion. An estimated 226,600 homes were damaged and 17,000 destroyed. In Santiago, almost 900 schools were damaged. The storm was to blame for 11 deaths in Cuba. A total of 1.3 million people were affected by the storm.

Sandy also changed the geography of Cuba`s coastline. Storm surge came in 50 yards, permanently changing the eastern coastline with many beaches washed away. President Raul Castro visited Santiago following the storm and compared Sandy`s damage to the aftermath left behind by a bomb. Even six months after the storm, international aid groups were still distributing water tanks, purification tablets, mattresses, sheets, towels and other household goods to Cubans.

It`s a no wonder Sandy produced extensive damage in Cuba, with wind gusts measuring Category 2, 4 and 5 strength on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. The peak gust in Cuba was 165 mph in Gran Piedra. Meanwhile, Cabo Lucrecia, Cuba, had a peak gust of 115 mph. The highest wind registered in Santiago de Cuba could have easily exceeded 114 mph but the wind gauge broke during the storm.

Sandy Clips the Southeast U.S.

After Sandy`s stay in Cuba, it then moved across the Bahamas later in the day on October 25, 2012. Two things happened after it moved north of Great Abaco in the Bahamas. The radius of tropical storm force winds doubled in size and Sandy weakened to a tropical storm late on October 26. It didn`t stay a tropical storm for too long though. Early on October 27, Sandy regained hurricane strength and passed a few hundred miles southeast of North Carolina on October 28 and then curved northwest, making landfall late the next day near Brigantine, N.J., as a post-tropical cyclone.

The extensive wind field around Sandy`s circulation center was responsible for beach erosion and damage to the Southeast Atlantic Coastline. Winds 39 to 73 mph whipped around Sandy onto the Southeast Coast as the storm passed by hundreds of miles to the east in the Atlantic. What made matters worse was Sandy`s timing with the fall full moon. The northeast winds wrapping onto the coast combined with the fall full moon to produce the highest tides of the year.

The storm produced moderate to major beach erosion from Miami-Dade County to central Florida. A stretch of Highway A1A in Fort Lauderdale Beach, Fla., was damaged as waves up to 20 feet crashed onto the road. Farther north, erosion damaged the Isle of Palms, S.C., and the sand dunes were completely destroyed. Beach erosion and damage to homes and buildings was estimated at $50 to $75-million in the Southeast with 160,000 people losing power.

The highest storm surge of 4.16 feet was in Duck, N.C. A storm surge of 3.55 feet was measured at Clarendon Planation, S.C., and 2.95 feet at Fernandina Beach, Fla. Storm tide was highest in Hatteras, N.C., with 4.15 feet while most other reports in the Southeast were less than 3 feet. Since the storm was more than 100 miles offshore, rain amounts were manageable with only 1 to 3 inches soaking the Southeast.

Appalachians Dig Out of Heavy, Wet Sandy Snow

Besides its large wind field, Sandy was also rare in that its western flank produced heavy Appalachian snow. Wolf Laurel, N.C., and Richwood, W.Va., got hammered with 3 feet of snow while Redhouse, Md., got 28 inches of snow. The weight of the heavy snow snapped trees and branches across the highest Appalachian peaks. The wind and snow toppled so many Christmas Trees at a western Maryland farm that 70 percent of the tree orders had to be cancelled.

Sandy`s Winds Howl All The Way to the Midwest

Sandy`s gusty winds were much more far-reaching than the East Coast. Power outages were reported as far away as the eastern Great Lakes as Sandy roared ashore late in October.

A total of 200,000 people lost power in Canada. A woman in Toronto died after being struck in the head by a piece of sign that had blown away.

Wind gusts in the Great Lakes had quite a range from 46 to 68 mph. The night Sandy came onshore the New Jersey coast, Cleveland Hopkins Airport clocked a gust to 68 mph. Erie International Airport reported a peak gust to 52 mph with Akron-Canton Airport peaking at 49 mph just after Midnight on October 30. The gusty winds also clocked Detroit with a 46 mph gust. The winds left at least 33,000 people in the dark across southeastern Michigan. Wind gusts exceeding 40 mph were felt as far west as South Bend, Ind., and Chicago.

Sandy sure left its mark from the Caribbean to the Great Lakes. Its large size and tremendous destruction prompted the World Meteorological Organization to retire "Sandy" from the Atlantic Basin tropical cyclone names. Instead, "Sara" will replace "Sandy" in the 2018 list.

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Story Images: Hurricane Sandy roars through Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, ripping the roof from a building. The HMS Bounty gets submerged in the Atlantic Ocean 90 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, N.C. Hurricane Sandy peppers Beckley, W.Va., with heavy snow. (Wilkimedia Commons, Petty Officer 2nd Class Tim Kuklewski, U.S. Coast Guard and Chris Tilley, The Register-Herald).

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