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The Science of Hurricane Sandy–Live Blog

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Welcome to Scientific American‘s Science of Sandy live blog where we are posting continuous updates on the storm and its aftermath, and answering your questions.

If you have pictures, video, audio or questions about this tropical cyclone (categorized as a hurricane and a tropical storm at various times in its progress)—share them with us at sciamsandy@gmail.com, our facebook page, or tweet @sciam with #sciamsandy. You can also follow us on Twitter: Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato @mbloudoff, Marissa Fessenden @marisfessenden, and Daisy Yuhas @daisyyuhas.

 

map of open gas stations in the days after Hurricane Sandy

Gasoline Panic

10:06 am, Sunday, November 4, 2012

Reuters writes: Gas shortages are prompting some angry confrontations among drivers waiting in long lines for the potentially life-saving resource.

Police patrolled gas stations in a city-wide effort to prevent violence as panicked residents waited their turn at the pump. Weather forecasts for this weekend added urgency to the situation—temperatures are projected to decrease over the next few days.

Read more of this story here: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=anger-grows-over-fuel-shortage.

Meanwhile, New Jersey high school students have generated a map to help residents find open gas stations: mappler.net/gasstation/

–Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato

tree down in Brighton Beach due to hurricane sandy

Credit: Tanzilya Mandrikova

The Scene in Brighton Beach

5:13 pm, Saturday, November 3, 2010

Brighton Beach, the historically Russian neighborhood that sits on the Atlantic Ocean in Brooklyn, grappled with heavy flooding and electrical fires in the wake of Sandy. City officials had ordered residents to evacuate before the storm, but few did, citing little damage following last year’s Hurricane Irene. Our babysitter, who lives in the neighborhoood, took these photos Tuesday evening.  They show the beach strewn with debris, including a sofa and a refrigerator. The boardwalk, where residents stroll and gather to play

refrigerator washed onto Brighton Beach by Hurricane Sandy

Credit: Tanzilya Mandrikova

dominoes, was piled high with sand. The tide had lifted up parked cars and set them askew in the streets.  As in many neighborhoods in New York and New Jersey, trees fell and businesses and cars burned; some stores were looted. Many residents talked about how quickly the water had rushed into their homes during the storm. Our sitter, Tanya Mandrikova, who lives on the third floor of an

sand-covered bench at Brighton Beach, due to hurricane Sandy

Credit: Tanzilya Mandrikova

apartment building, began panicking as water rushed down her street and began to rise. “I left my apartment and stood in the hallway in my nightgown” because she couldn’t bear to watch, she said. Once the water began to retreat, a few hours later, her neighbors celebrated. Parts of Brighton Beach lost power and running water after the storm, but electricity has since been restored to many homes. Some buildings remain without heat, however, due to basement flooding. This weekend, temperatures in Brooklyn were expected to fall to a low of 33 degrees Fahrenheit.

–Anna Kuchment

 

Eerily Dark Jersey

7:28 pm, Friday, November 2, 2010

New Jersey shore after Hurricane Sandy

Credit: Michael Battaglia

More than 1.5 million customers still lacked electricity in New Jersey as of Friday, November 2. This photo was taken on Wednesday, October 31, looking north up the Hudson River from Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The black-out zone appears to stretch from Cliffside Park through Edgewater and up to Fort Lee at the end of the fully lit George Washington Bridge. Thanks to Scientific American copy editor Michael Battaglia for this image.

–Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato

 

Battery Tunnel Flooding
3:42 pm, Friday, November 2, 2012

Hurricane andy flooded the Battery Tunnel

Credit: Sergey Gordeev, www.linkedin.com/pub/sergey-gordeev/23/266/aa4

The Battery (Carey) Tunnel on Wednesday night was the scene of storm surges that completely flooded this major transportation artery between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Thanks to journalist Sergey Gordeev for this image.

–Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato


Subways Start to Resume

11:19 pm, Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has issue a Hurricane Sandy recovery map that plots post-storm subway service as of November 1. The full map can be found here: http://bit.ly/SmniuN.

–Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato


Food Safety During Emergencies

10:35 pm, Wednesday, October 31, 2012

With more than 6 million* homes and businesses in 15 states without power as of Wednesday evening as a result of this storm, it’s important to pay attention to food safety and preparation. Refrigerated foods should be thrown away if your household has experience a power outage of four hours or longer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention. Frozen perishable items fare better during power outages, but do not eat foods that have been thawing for more than 48 hours.

Infants and young children are especially susceptible to pathogens. If using formula, make sure to prepare the mixture with bottled or boiled water.

The center also recommends that any foods contaminated by storm waters be discarded.

For more information please go to the Centers for Disease Control: (http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/foodwater/facts.asp)

(*Editor’s note (11:15 pm, 10/31/12): Changed after initial publication to update figure.)

–Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato

 

Transportion Problem-Solver

10:31 pm, Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Movement in and around the greater New York City area is in a state of flux after Monday night’s storm. For more information on transportation options, visit WNYC’s transit tracker: http://www.wnyc.org/articles/wnyc-news/2012/oct/28/transit-tracker/

–Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato

 

Stats of Sandy

7:11pm EDT Wednesday, October 31, 2012

top wind, rain, snowfall and storm surge data for tropical cyclone Sandy

Credit: Accuweather; Jen Christiansen

Accuweather published some data this morning on the highest rainfall totals by state, highest wind gusts by state, highest snowfall by state and top storm surges due to Sandy. The data reveal some of this storm’s hard-won lessons. It was storm surge, not rainfall, that marked the extremes that wrought the most damage in New York City. Snow was an issue in the Mid-Atlantic region, not in the Northeast. Long Island was punished by extreme wind gusts and storm surge, more than by rainfall. Cities and towns along Long Island sound were hammered by the top wind gusts (Eatons Neck, NY, came in No. 1; and Madison, R.I., came in No. 4) and top storm surges (Kings Point, NY, came in No. 1 and New Haven, Conn., came in No. 3). Thanks to Scientific American artist Jen Christiansen for quickly creating this graphic. More details on the Accuweather data can be found here.

 

–Robin Lloyd

 

Space Shuttle Enterprise and Its Shelter Damaged During Sandy

9:12pm EDT Tuesday, October 30, 2012

space shuttle Enterprise on Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in NYC

Credit: Christine Gorman

 

Scientific American editor Christine Gorman snapped this shot above of the space shuttle Enterprise on the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum at 2:30 PM today from 42nd Street near the Hudson River. Enterprise was a full-scale shuttle used to test plans for the fleet of space shuttles that followed and carried astronauts for 135 missions, including one that delivered the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit and others focused on repairing and upgrading the telescope. After long stints in a hangar near Dulles International Airport in Virginia and at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum‘s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles, Enterprise was flown to New York City earlier this year and eventually transported to and hoisted onto the Intrepid, located on a pier in the Hudson River along the West Side of Manhattan. The shuttle’s temporary shelter was damaged during Sandy, and the shuttle sustained some damage to its vertical stabilizer.

–Robin Lloyd

 

Explainer–Flood Waters Pose Health Concerns
5:50pm EDT Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Most of us fear deep water, but even shallow flood waters pose a threat if they are moving, carrying debris or hiding downed electrical wires. In metropolitan areas especially, water can also harbor raw sewage, infectious organisms, gasoline and harmful chemicals. People in areas flooded by Sandy should follow recommendations by FEMA on Ready.gov/floods to avoid flood waters and make sure their water supply is safe to drink. Water-borne diseases such as cholera and typhoid fever and vector-borne diseases such as West Nile can increase after a flood, according to the World Health Organization. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that flood waters can conceal sharp debris. Flood waters tested after Hurricane Katrina held lead, arsenic, chromium and fecal coliform bacteria and other hazards, researchers reported in Environmental Science & Technology in 2005. Contaminant levels were not as high as feared—concentrations were similar to that in typical rainwater runoff—but the sheer volume of water puts more people at risk.

–Marissa Fessenden

 

Scenes from Sandy–8th Avenue, New York, New York, 7:30am EDT
5:31pm EDT Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Building in Manhattan after Sandy

Apartment building on 8th Avenue between 14th and 15th Street. Credit: Gilad Lotan, @gilgul

 

 

Power Outages–An Infographic by Scientific American’s Jen Christiansen

5:11 pm EDT Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The U.S. Department of Energy posted an emergency situation report (pdf) on Sandy’s impact in each affected state. As of 9 A.M. this morning, more than 8 million people had lost power. New Jersey was particularly hard-hit—the state shut down two nuclear power units and 62 percent of the state’s population is without electricity. Scientific American artist Jen Christiansen created this infographic to illustrate the situation.

U.S. Department of Energy report on Sandy’s impact on power in each affected state

Credit: U.S. Department of Energy; Jen Christiansen, Scientific American

 

–Robin Lloyd

 

List of Sandy-Related Disaster Resources
4:40pm EDT Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath has left millions without power, started a fire in Queens, N.Y. and others throughout the city, toppled trees, damaged and destroyed homes and property and endangered lives. Potentially dozens of people in the U.S. and at least 69 in the Caribbean have been killed during the storm.

Resources
For housing, the Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends searching for open shelters by texting SHELTER and a Zip Code to 43362 (4FEMA) Ex: Shelter 01234 (std rates apply). FEMA also has a disaster assistance program to provide financial aid for those in need of temporary housing, repair and replacement for destroyed homes.

Google has pulled together a crisis map that includes power outage information, shelters, weather radar and more.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommendations including how to deal with and prevent illness and injury in a disaster and tips for food and water safety. Their Disaster Distress Helpline provides 24/7 crisis counseling and support. Call 1-800-985-5990 (TTY for deaf/hearing impaired: 1-800-846-8517) or text TalkWithUs to 66746.

A public Twitter list here contains updates from utilities companies in the area. FoodSafety.gov has charts about which frozen and refrigerated foods to keep or trash following a power outage.

The Federal Communications Commission has tips for communicating during an emergency.

The New York City Fire Department provides links for what to do after a fire.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is keeping tabs on the storm’s status through the National Hurricane Center.

County and state governments up and down the East Coast have declared a state of emergency. Individual state websites have more information: Conn., Del., Mass., Md., Maine, N.C., N.H., N.J., N.Y., Pa., Va., Vt., W.Va.

Rx Response, a project started by the pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, has a map showing pharmacies open in the disaster area.

The New York Times has a useful interactive detailing the damage in New York City here.

The Metropolitan Transport Authority reported that seven subway tunnels in New York City have been flooded. As of this posting, MTA service is suspended but limited bus service will resume at 5pm today. Later today Amtrak will announce when they will resume limited service in affected areas. All Port Authority of New York and New Jersey train stations and services are shut down until further notice. WNYC has a transit tracker with more information.

The Long Island Power Authority has updates on power outages.

–Marissa Fessenden

 

Scenes from Sandy–A personal account of the storm
4:19pm EDT Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The following is journalist Brian Patrick Eha‘s experience of Tropical Storm Sandy, in his own words.

What’s that Mark Twain quote people like to share about throwing off the bowlines, sailing away from the safe harbor and exploring? It’s a scientific fact that the best place to be in a hurricane is somewhere else, but if you’re willing to risk the wind and rain and flying debris, a storm like Sandy does give you a chance to see your city in a way you’ve never seen it before.

All night I’d been glued to my Twitter feed, watching with mounting disbelief as the reports poured in: lower Manhattan was blacked out; Brooklyn Bridge Park was underwater; the New York University hospital was being evacuated. In my Harlem apartment, I still had power, which seemed unfair. I needed to experience what was happening firsthand.

At 10:30 pm I began heading south on Broadway from 151st Street, then cut over to Riverside Drive, intent on reaching the Hudson River, which had, I’d heard, been rising steadily at both ends. The rain had abated momentarily but the gusting winds remained strong.

The main gate to the park at 145th Street was closed, so I doubled back to 148th, where I descended a winding stone staircase slippery with leaves. Crossing an elevated walkway over railroad tracks I came upon a group of young men and women who were mugging for a handheld camera, giving a fake news broadcast about the storm. They hadn’t yet mustered up the courage to descend.

When I reached the riverbank, I found that someone had gotten there first. His name was Will…This human contact where I had expected none took me by surprise; we fell into a fragmented conversation like two survivors at the end of all things. New Jersey was in darkness, and from time to time an unearthly green glow lit the clouds on the horizon.

“Did you see the video of that transformer blowing up?” I asked Will. He hadn’t.

Wind lashed us, harrying leaves to the water. The trees overhead, still wearing autumn foliage, streamed out like banners. Here and there on the swollen waters, which lay in a blue haze, were the floodlamps of search-and-rescue boats. Time and again, the lampposts in the park died down to sodium-yellow cat’s eyes, then gradually flared to life again.

After Will departed, I headed south along the river and soon reached an empty stretch of grass by the water’s edge with an unobstructed view of the farther shore. To my left was the pedestrian walkway, still lighted, that leads from 145th Street to Riverbank State Park, and the concrete superstructure that supports its playground and boardwalk.

I found a large rock and sat down by the water, exposed to the elements. Disaster updates were still lighting up my cell phone, but Sandy was lessening. Alone, I nevertheless felt myself bound in a common fate with the millions in darkness. On my rock, I kept a kind of vigil. Gradually I watched the storm subside.

–Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato

 

News Update—Department of Energy Reports on Power Outages
11:56am EDT, Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The U.S. Department of Energy has posted an emergency situation report (pdf) on Sandy’s impact in each affected state. As of 9am this morning, more than 8 million people have lost power. New Jersey has been particularly hard hit—the state has shut down two nuclear power units and 62 percent of the state’s population is without electricity. The report also describes current efforts to restore power. We’re working on a graphic to show the outages in each state.

–Daisy Yuhas

 

Scenes from Sandy–Croton-Harmon Station, Croton-on-Hudson, New York
11:21am EDT Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Metro-North Railroad's Croton-Harmon station, Croton-Harmon New York. Posted 9:32am EDT. Credit: MTA, @MTAInsider

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scenes from Sandy–Washington Park Street, Brooklyn, New York, 9:15am EDT
11:01am EDT Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A fallen tree across Washington Park Street between Willoughby Avenue and Myrtle Avenue. Credit: Ferris Jabr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

–Daisy Yuhas

 

Message from the Raleigh Bureau
11:01pm EDT Monday, October 29, 2012

The Raleigh Bureau is turning in for the night but we’ll continue our coverage tomorrow morning. Stay safe everyone!

 

Weird Weather– Hurricane Sandy Is Weird
10:54pm EDT Monday, October 29, 2012

Sandy has got some pretty peculiar characteristics. Scientific American spoke with Philip Bedient, a hydrologist at Rice University to explore a few of Sandy’s many oddities.

Sandy is a late bloomer: “What’s unusual is that it’s hitting this late in the season. It’s a real surprise to a lot of folks.”

Sandy is speedy: “These things form very quickly, and this thing’s moving about 28 mph. That’s actually very fast for a hurricane.”

Sandy is tough: “I think the storm surge gets the people off guard. It’s much higher than I’ve ever seen. This may be the worst flooding from a hurricane for a long, long time.”

For more coverage of the storm, follow Scientific American online at @sciam.

–Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato

 

My First Storm– Kat Overland
10:45pm EDT Monday, October 29, 2012

Houston treats hurricanes how northern cities treat snow — it has to be a pretty significant amount of precipitation for people to worry. That means that getting the day off of school meant some pretty severe weather was on its way.

I was in 2nd grade when Hurricane Allison was on its way, but my best friend and I were mostly excited about having the day off of school. She came over and we spent most of the day playing “hurricane emergency” in my bathroom, the only room in my house without windows (we were kind of weird kids). Her mom had to pick her up before the water got too high, though.

My dad went to bed, because he can sleep through anything, but mom and I were kept up by the winds and the heavy rain. I live in an area fairly vulnerable to flooding — about forty minutes out from Galveston beach, but downtown ended up getting hit the hardest. Mom and I watched the news early in the morning the next day.

The image that sticks in my mind the most was watching people garbage bags and bins floating down the street, though luckily the water only came right up to the front door and not inside the house. –Kat Overland

 

Explainer–How animals survive storms
10:08 pm EDT Monday, October 29, 2012

Credit: Thomas Hawk

Humans take shelter and stock up on supplies during hurricanes, but how do wild critters of the land, air and sea deal with extreme weather?

Sharks and fish may sense pressure changes and take refuge in deeper water, researchers reported in a 2003 edition Journal of Fish Biology after tracking black-tipped sharks during Tropical Storm Gabrielle. Sperm whale clicks recorded by buoys have suggested that whales move away from the storm, according to research presented at the American Institute of Physics conference in 2004.

On land, the most resilient species are those that can find food even in a storm-torn environment. In the wake of Hurricane Dean (a Category 5 storm), Mexican and Canadian researchers recorded animal signs (digging marks, hair, feathers, feces) and tracks in the months before and after the storm. Indeed, omnivores including armadillos rebounded quicker than herbivores such as white-tailed deer. The researchers reported their findings in 2011 in the journal Biotropica.

Birds are sometimes blown astray, but many have a strategy. Breeding colonies in the Pearl River basin lost habitat after Hurricane Katrina but researchers noted in the journal Forest Ecology and Management that those bird numbers didn’t decline, suggesting that the resident populations know how to deal with hurricanes. Some birds are especially adept: Scientists at the Center for Conservation Biology tracked a migratory shorebird, a whimbrel, as it flew through Hurricane Irene in 2011.
–Marissa Fessenden

 

 

Explainer—The consequences of downgrading Sandy
9:48pm EDT Monday, October 29, 2012

Sandy is still packing a punch, clocking in with wind speeds of 80 mph, but the National Hurricane Center has downgraded the wild weather from hurricane to “tropical storm.”

Why the switch? The center uses a sliding scale called “Saffir-Simpson” to categorize storms. The scale is based solely on windspeed so when Sandy lost power, it also lost its hurricane status.

The lesser label is a problem for scientists who study storm surges and public officials who have to evacuate entire populations because of flooding. Just because a hurricane is downgraded to a storm, doesn’t mean it’s any less deadly, said Noah Diffenbaugh a climate scientist at Stanford University.

“We have plenty of examples of lower category storms that cause a greater level of damage and higher category storms that cause a lower level of damage,” he added.

That’s because storms are gradually getting worse, said Philip Bedient, a hydrologist at Rice University. Half a century ago, wind speed was an accurate measurement of storm intensity. Now, as storms grow larger and more intense, their impacts might have outgrown the scale.

“We’re getting these really huge storms,” Rice said. “They can have enormous storm surge effects compared to what we saw back in the ’50s and ’60s.”

The meteorological community has proposed other forms of measurement, but some researchers stand in staunch support of Saffir-Simpson. Scientific American previously covered the Saffir-Simpson debate in “Are Category 6 Hurricanes Coming Soon?
–Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato

 

 

Hurricane Fact or Fiction—Crack a window during the storm?
9:05 pm EDT Monday, October 29, 2012

There’s an urban legend that suggests keeping windows shut during a hurricane causes pressure to build up in a home until the building’s roof pops off. The logic goes that you should open your window just a smidge, to “equalize pressure.”

Snopes.com offers argues against this home remedy and suggests that opening a window could cause worse damage. Those high winds may not only break your prize china, they could push against structural weak points which could compromise your home.

However, Rice University hydrologist Philip Bedient disagrees. He explains that as hurricanes move into an area, atmospheric pressure can plummet by nearly 10 percent. Generally, the pressure outside your house is lower than the pressure inside your house, but when there’s a sudden drop in outside pressure there can be problems. “It could basically blow out your windows,” Bedient says. “It happens all the time.” Bedient also acknowledges that opening your window is a risk– allowing 90 mile per hour winds into your home is not the best strategy either.

 

 

Scenes from Sandy–Bayville, New York
8:55pm EDT Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy New York

Credit: Oliver Rich

 

 

Weird Weather–What can Sandy tell us about climate change?
8:42pm EDT Monday, October 29, 2012

“A lot of the (hurricane) damage is a function of the human response, whether they evacuate and whether they’re prepared. We learn a lot about the vulnerability of people for these types of events. Those insights are very relevant for understanding how people may respond to a changing climate.”
Noah Diffenbaugh, climate scientist at Stanford University

 

Scenes from Sandy–Watertown, Massachusetts 3:00pm EDT
8:36pm EDT Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy in Massachusetts

Credit: Alyssa Van Thoen

 

News Update—Sandy has landed
8:22 pm EDT Monday, October 29, 2012

The eye of Post-Tropical Cyclone Sandy made landfall just past 8pm this evening in Southern New Jersey. Winds remain at 80 miles per hour.

 

News Update—Sandy becomes a Post-Tropical Storm
8:10 pm EDT Monday, October 29, 2012

The National Hurricane Center has announced that Sandy is transforming from a hurricane into a post-tropical cyclone. As they explain in their release, a hurricane’s energy comes from the ocean and heat release above the storm center. A post-tropical storm’s energy comes from shifts in temperature in the atmosphere. CBS news covers the transition, observing that Sandy’s winds and storm surge are still strong.

 

 

News Update—Coastal Transformation
6:56pm EDT Monday, October 29, 2012

Florida beaches

Credit: Gerard Marrone

How will the storm re-shape the shore? The USGS released a statement this morning that as much as 93 percent of the coastline in Long Island and 98 percent in New Jersey could experience dune erosion. As the waves erode dunes they leave the beach vulnerable to further erosion. The beaches stretching south from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware along Maryland and Virginia may face the most significant changes.

 

 

 

Scenes from Sandy–Marblehead, Massachussetts 1:30pm EDT
6:02pm EDT Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandr

Credit: Brian Birke

 

 

 

 

News Update—Preparing for the storm
5:49pm EDT Monday, October 29, 2012

Tonight, probably after 8pm EDT, Sandy’s center will reach land. As the storm approaches, it’s critical for people in affected areas to follow local instructions regarding evacuations and preparedness. Scientific American’s David Biello describes the situation in New York City.

 

Explainer–Anatomy of a Hurricane
5:33 pm EDT Monday, October 29, 2012

Credit: The COMET Program Steven Deyo / USGS Betsy Boynton Researchers

Not all hurricanes are the same —Sandy, for example, is more than a thousand miles in diameter— but they share a common structure. Surrounding the calm eye of the storm, a hurricane’s eyewall harbors the most violent winds and intense precipitation. Eyewalls of long-lived storms can contract and a new eyewall may form. Hurricane Andrew ratcheted up to Category 5 as it hit land in 1992 and built a new eyewall.

Researchers based at the University of Rhode Island developed an online resource covering hurricane science, which includes this explanation of hurricane structure and contributions from middle and high school teachers.
–Marissa Fessenden

 

 

Weird Weather– Hurricane Sandy is weird.
5:17pm EDT Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy has an asymmetrical wind field, which means its most powerful winds are located in the left-rear quadrant. Most storms of Sandy’s caliber are strongest in the front, right quadrant.

“What’s interesting about the storm is it’s undergoing an extra-tropical transition,” said Forrest Masters, a wind engineer at the University of Florida. “Sandy’s a slightly different animal than we’ve been looking at in the past.”

The switch makes it difficult for Masters’ team to track the storm as it heads toward their southern New Jersey base. It also means that when Sandy first hits land, East Coast residents are only experiencing partial wind load and might misjudge the severity of the storm.*

–Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato

*Correction 5:30 EDT pm, October 29, 2012: Duplicate sentence deleted.

 

News Update—Which reactors will shut down?
5:11pm EDT Monday, October 29, 2012

This evening, Hurricane Sandy is expected to make landfall in southeast New Jersey. Reuters reports that at least two New Jersey nuclear power plants in the storm’s path will likely be shut down. Monitoring of the situation is ongoing—but the shut down would knock out about 19 percent of the state’s electricity.

 

Hurricane Fact or Fiction– Do hurricanes induce labor?
4:39 pm EDT Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy’s potency comes in part from the storm’s unusually low barometric pressure. As noted in The Christian Science Monitor, there’s a theory that suggests low pressure might cause the amniotic sac to break—inducing labor.

A quick search through the scientific literature suggests the claim isn’t new (see this 1985 study in The Journal of Reproductive Medicine) but it is contentious. In 2007, a study in the Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics suggested that deliveries might increase on days with a marked change in barometric pressure. But exactly how that relationship worked was unclear. A 2005 study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, however, found no relationship between atmospheric conditions and birth rate.

While the jury may be out on this—there’s more obvious (and scientifically defensible) worries about hurricanes and pregnant women. Stress is a big one, as is dehydration. The CDC offers a fact sheet on disaster preparedness for expecting mothers that touches on a few of these points.

–Daisy Yuhas

 

 

Q&A– a wind engineer, “Storms don’t have to cause damage”
4:15 pm EDT Monday, October 29, 2012

crane collapse, Hurricane Sandy

Credit: Christine Gorman, Scientific American

University of Florida wind engineer Forrest Masters has been in 25 major storms since 1999. He’s built a career on measuring the metrics of hurricanes, planting his equipment in the path of oncoming super storms to learn more about how they function. Masters has a team of researchers stationed in southern New Jersey, waiting for Hurricane Sandy. Scientific American interviewed Masters about his contributions to the field.

[An edited transcript follows]

Q: You go into the path of oncoming storms to take measurements. How does that work?
We deploy rugged weather stations to measure surface level turbulence in suburban communities with the objective of basically measuring important properties that affect building performance.

We’re trying to quantify how the wind varies with time. That’s important because damage to residential buildings is an issue. The U.S. has experienced more than $110 billion in insured loss because of inadequate building performance, and we need to get a handle on how we characterize pressure loads on structures.

Q: How do you use the data you collect?
Ultimately these data give us a better baseline on the environmental conditions during hurricanes.

We use this information to make better decisions about building communities. We’re trying to make communities more resilient and in order to do that we have to have more accurate information.

Q: What’s the biggest misconception about hurricanes?
The biggest myth is that damage caused in hurricanes is unavoidable. We have the means and the technologies to prevent significant losses in hurricanes. We haven’t realized that yet. A lot of people assume that hurricanes are acts of god.

Q: What is it like being outside in a hurricane?
I’ve done it enough times that it’s not a rush. It’s work. It’s overwhelming.

Being in the storm is one thing but actually seeing the effects of the storm, being there in the aftermath, how people’s lives are affected — that affects me far more than the storm itself.
–Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato

 

 

News Update– Sandy v. Irene Visual
3:40 pm EDT Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy is massive

Credit: NASA

How does Sandy stack up to previous hurricanes? Scientific American’s Mark Fischetti has the numbers for Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Sandy. Over at The Wall Street Journal, they’ve set up a visual comparison of Sandy and 2011’s Hurricane Irene—which they report cost more than $15 billion in damages.

 

 

 

 

My First Storm– Marissa Fessenden
3:24pm EDT Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy is on track to make history, but some weather sticks with you for more personal reasons.

My first storm is also my first memory. It was September and my parents were half an hour away, at their alma mater’s homecoming, leaving my brother and I in the capable hands of our favorite babysitter. I was two years old, so this memory is more constructed than true. A fearsome thunderstorm, not uncommon during summers in Upstate New York took out the power. I remember it was dark and the babysitter held my baby brother and I on the blue couch in our living room. Cracks of thunder shook the house.

That’s all I remember. I must have been terrified for this experience to stamp itself on to my mind. My mom tells me that our babysitter took us into the basement when a branch fell on the power transformer across the road. Arcing and sparks threatened to start a fire. Wind ripped one of the doors off a barn on the family dairy farm. Forage wagons, used to harvest corn or hay, blew across a field and into our back yard.

I also remember a blizzard in 1993 that struck late in the season. My mom reminded me that my dad and uncle worked for 36 hours, caring for and milking about 500 cows every 12 hours by themselves. My uncle drove a tractor through the seven-foot drifts in our driveway to pick up my dad. The milk truck came just in time to empty the bulk tank–they were an hour away from dumping milk down the drain. I remember sledding down the piles of snow. School was closed for a week. I measure all winters against that one and have been disappointed ever since. –Marissa Fessenden


About the Author: Daisy Yuhas is an associate editor at Scientific American Mind. You can follow her on Twitter, @daisyyuhas

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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