GOWANUS, NEW YORK CITY--The winds continue to increase here, howling past windows and splattering the rain. Tiny beads of water almost feel like sand when you step outside thanks to the strong gusts. Such is Hurricane Sandy as it speeds into the New York metropolitan region and prepares to turn and slam in slow motion into the southern coast of New Jersey tonight.
At the same time, the storm will be merging with other weather systems to form what's known as a "post-tropical cyclone," or Frankenstorm as some meteorologists have called it in honor of the approaching Halloween holiday. And this Frankenstorm will be capable of dropping as much as three feet of snow in the mountains of West Virginia while dumping rain as far east as Rhode Island.
In fact, Hurricane Sandy stretches more than 1,000 miles, exposing a vast swath of the U.S. Eastern Seaboard and inland to hurricane force winds of as much as 90 miles-per-hour. Winds are being affected from Maine to Florida and inland as far west as the Mississippi River. And the storm won't stop for a few days.
Already, sea levels are elevated from North Carolina up through Long Island, New York. These high water levels will rise an extra foot or two thanks to an assist from the full moon, a lunar high tide tonight that will repeat over the next few days as the tide cycles in and out every 12 hours or so. "It's going to take until Tuesday or Wednesday for the onshore flow [from Hurricane Sandy] to stop and the water to get back to normal levels," said National Hurricane Center Director Rick Knabb. In fact, locations like New York City's harbor, which are expected to bear the largest storm surge, may see water levels rise nearly 12 feet above normal—or roughly three times as high as the surge from last year's Hurricane Irene. It's unclear how far that water will penetrate into the five boroughs, but New York City has already ordered residents living along much of the 600 miles of coastline in the city and in low-lying areas, like the Gowanus neighborhood in Brooklyn, to evacuate. That's where I live and it's a canal flowing through filled-in swampland—and one of the nation's newest Superfund sites thanks to a legacy of industrial pollution and sewage overflows.
And then there's rain, which is already falling steadily. In some places more than a foot of rain may fall, giving rise to the possibility of flash floods and, in coming days, river flooding like that seen in upstate New York and Vermont after Hurricane Irene. Here in Gowanus, the biggest threat may be storm surge paired with the kind of heavy rain that requires the sewer system to discharge directly into the harbor. If those discharge pipes are underwater, the sewer system may back up and overflow back into shower drains and toilets.
One thing that will certainly be underwater here is the subway system, which requires electrical pumps to keep it dry even when it isn't raining. "The subway system and saltwater do not mix," noted New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo in his own press conference today. As a precaution, the subway system has been shut down, forcing would-be evacuees to rely on buses or whatever transport they can find.
Evacuation is critical, said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, because firemen, police, Coast Guard and other first responders will be put in harm's way attempting to rescue those who decided to shelter in place and ignore the warnings. President Barack Obama urged those of us in affected areas to heed such warnings in his own comments on Hurricane Sandy. Yet, federal postal workers remained out on the streets delivering mail here today and New York City workers were not given the day off, as residents need them working overtime, according to Bloomberg.
"Time is running out for preparations, especially as conditions deteriorate before landfall tonight," Knabb added. If you haven't already, batten down those hatches, get ready to lose power and lay in food, water and batteries for the long haul. Or as Mayor Bloomberg warned earlier today at a press conference: "You can look out the window and say: 'That's not bad.' That's correct. But it will be."
Image: Courtesy NASA GOES Project