The big storm of 2012 (at least, we hope it’s the biggest we’ll see this year) is approaching the New York City area, and though no one can predict in detail how bad it will be and for whom, there’s no question that with so much energy to play with, post-tropical quasi-hurricane quasi-nor’easter Sandy (also called “Frankenstorm” in honor of the Halloween holiday) is going to hit some of us very hard in the northeastern United States. Not that it will be a disaster everywhere in the region. With hurricane Irene last year, some areas just had a bit of wind and rain, while others had tremendous flooding that wiped out towns and roads and houses and history… and a few dozen lives, too. It will likely be the same this time.
How unusual is this storm? Several weather forecasters have been quoted as saying that their supercomputer-based forecasting tools, which predicted Sandy to strengthen and become a monster in size, were doing things they’d never previously seen them do. Right now, all you have to do is look at the weather map — the fact that there are tropical force winds extending over several hundreds of miles, and at the fact that the pressure of the atmosphere at the core of this storm is around 946 millibars and falling — to know there’s a lot of energy in this system that has to go somewhere, and is going to be taken out on somebody. Although this is a Category 1 hurricane in terms of its fastest winds, 946 millibars is what one expects for a strong Category 3 hurricane; 1000 is average atmospheric pressure, and the mid-800s is about as low as it ever gets. By comparison, the great blizzard of 1993 had a central pressure of about 960 millibars. The Perfect Storm of 1991 (also a nor’easter-hurricane hybrid, like Sandy) had a central pressure of 972 millibars. Anyone who thinks Sandy isn’t a dangerous storm hasn’t read enough history.