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Hurricane Sandy Could Cause Record Breaking Flooding

10-25-12

New Jersey is preparing for what some forecasters are calling “Frankenstorm,” a combination of Hurricane Sandy that is set to come up the coast and another storm that it could meet up with, creating a powerful nor’easter that could cause severe flooding and wind damage. Meteorologist-In-Charge for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Mount Holly Gary Szatkowski discussed the coming storm with NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider.

Szatkowski said the storm scenario is unusual because typically a hurricane coming up the coast travels either parallel to the coast or goes out to sea. “This one we’re looking to curve back in toward the coast and develop into a nor’easter that would be very powerful,” he said.

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Major coastal flooding that could set records are possible, according to Szatkowski, as well as major river flooding inland. While portions of western New York state and western and central Pennsylvania have a risk of snow, he said New Jersey will likely stay warm enough that the storm will remain rain.

Leaves on the trees are still a concern like they were in last year’s October snowstorm, but for a different reason. Szatkowski said fallen leaves and tree branches could clog storm drains and worsen flooding on local streets.

Wind will be another factor if the storm takes the projected path. “Right now the latest track from the National Hurricane Center has the system just off the coast of New Jersey Tuesday morning and it still has sustained winds of 70 miles per hour. That’s just below hurricane force,” Szatkowski explained. “If you have sustained winds of 70, you can easily have wind gusts of 80 or 90 miles per hour. That’s very powerful.”

Sandy is likely to move more slowly than the typical hurricane or tropical storm in the region. “A lot of times one of the advantages here is that they’re accelerating as they come by and so they typically maybe only hit one or two high tide cycles along the coast,” Szatkowski said. Instead, this storm is likely to affect New Jersey from Sunday to Tuesday, through possibly five high tide cycles that could also increase the impact of flooding.

There is still uncertainty about the storm’s path but Szatkowski said the scenario of it traveling out to sea is unlikely. “It’s going to hit somewhere along the East Coast. Right now the highest risk area stretches from southern New England up by Boston down to the Outer Banks of North Carolina,” he said. “The trouble is New Jersey’s kind of right in the middle of that so if you compare this to a dart board, we’re right in the center so we gotta hope it goes one way or the other. Right now we’re kind of in the middle of things.”