The Five-Year Anniversary
of Hurricane Sandy

by Mark McGinnis
Late October 2012. Five years ago, Hurricane Sandy was moving from the Caribbean through the western Atlantic Ocean. In the span of 10 days, Sandy hit Jamaica, Cuba, the Bahamas and the United States. In those 10 days, 142 people directly lost their lives. Seventy-two people in the United States perished, and over $50 billion dollars in damages occurred. According to the National Hurricane Center Cyclone Report on Sandy, it was the deadliest hurricane to hit the northern United States since Hurricane Agnes in 1972.

Hurricane Sandy: Formation and Track

Sandy developed into a tropical depression in the western Caribbean Sea on Oct. 22. It started to move north and gained strength. On Oct. 23, Sandy was a tropical storm. It became a hurricane Oct. 24 and hit eastern Jamaica with winds of 85 mph. By midnight Oct. 24, Sandy made a second landfall in Cuba with winds of 115 mph — a major hurricane. On the 25th and 26th, a slightly weaker Sandy moved over the southern, central and northern Bahamas. By Oct. 27, Sandy was off the southeastern coast of the United States and two days away from making a final landfall over Brigantine, N.J., just north of Atlantic City. On Oct. 30, Sandy was a nontropical — or post-tropical — storm weakening over western Pennsylvania.

Hurricane Sandy path
Figure 1: Hurricane Sandy’s path. (Source: National Hurricane Center Sandy Report via the National Weather Service.)

Post-Tropical Sandy: The Impact

Technically, Sandy was not a hurricane when it made landfall in New Jersey. It was instead a post-tropical storm. That change in title may have falsely assured people that Sandy was weakening. It wasn’t. It remained dangerous even though its designation changed. Sandy was a large storm when it made landfall in New Jersey. The wind field was expansive, and the highest wind speeds focused on the most densly populated area of the United States. Figure 2 represents observed wind gusts over northeastern New Jersey, New York City, Long Island and Connecticut. Seventy- to 90-mph gusts were common over Long Island, New York City, coastal Connecticut and northeastern New Jersey. The wind damage was significant. However, the expansive wind field meant wind gusts over 60 mph were also recorded in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. 

Figure 2: Peak wind gusts around New York City (Source: the National Weather Service)
Figure 3: Maximum wind gusts in knots. (Source: the National Weather Service)

The effect of the wind was impressive. Tree damage and power outages were widepread. Millions were without power — some for several weeks. Water was another devastating part of the storm. Water levels from North Carolina to Massachusetts were well above normal. In and around New York City, the water reached record levels. This meant areas of Long Island, New York City and New Jersey saw water in places it had never been before. In some places, it was six to eight feet above what is normally dry ground. Beyond flooding and damaging homes and buildings, the high water levels knocked out underground utilities and mass transit.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Sandy dumped snow — heavy snow, in fact — in the central and southern Appalachian Mountains. Several hundred thousand people lost power due to heavy, wet snow breaking branches and bringing down power lines. The mountains of West Virginia experienced the most snow, but snow fell as far south as the mountains of northern Georgia, as seen in Figure 4. Satellite analysis showed that a maximum depth of 36.5 in. of snow fell in eastern Kentucky, southern Ohio, east into Virginia and north into Pennsylvania.

Figure 4: Hurricane Sandy snowfall, Oct. 31, 2012 (Source: National Weather Service, National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center)

Sandy: Gone but Not Forgotten

Sandy was an incredibly large and dangerous storm, and it hit the most densly populated areas of the United States. Millions lost power and heat. This was a rare storm that combined a tropical origin with a large wind field, cold air and storm surge to devastate a large area of the Eastern United States. To say that Sandy will not be forgotten any time soon is a profound understatement.

Mark McGinnis

Mark McGinnis

Mark McGinnis is a Certified Consulting Meteorologist, Certified Broadcast Meteorologist and owner of Fair Skies Consulting. He has over 20 years of experience protecting people from weather, with extensive experience forecasting severe weather, hurricanes, blizzards, heat waves and arctic cold.