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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


A super long wait for a super storm

Last year’s Hurricane Sandy decimated parts of Long Island, New York City and New Jersey. (STATESMAN STOCK PHOTO)


Windows shook and trees fell. Power was out and streets flooded. Just under one year ago, that was the state of Long Island, New York City and New Jersey.

Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New Jersey on Oct. 29, 2012. It dumped massive amounts of water in NJ, NYC and LI flooding not only streets, but homes, cars and subways. Long Island residents lost power for days.  The Statesman reported that even the SBU campus had lost power for 37 minutes the night Sandy hit.

Stony Brook canceled classes for a week. Students were stranded both on and off campus. Other Long Island colleges such as Hofstra University, Suffolk County Community College and Adelphi University also had disrupted schedules due to Sandy, The Statesman reported.

Trees were uprooted all over campus and a balcony collapsed at Chapin Apartments.

Now, as the one year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy approaches, some are trying to predict if there will be a repeat of the devastating storm.

Sandy, which was barely a Category 1 storm by the time it made landfall, had a huge impact on Long Island. This is because several factors came together to make one unusual and exceedingly rare circumstance: Sandy was so rare that it may not happen again for another 714 years.

Professor Brian Colle, a faculty member of Stony Brook’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SOMAS), said that estimates for storms can be given and updated for any given season. “It’s impossible to know if we’ll get one [Sandy-like storm] this year or next year,” Colle said.

According to “Superstorm Sandy–How did it happen and are we prepared for the future?” by Malcolm J. Bowman, there were three factors that made Sandy the catastrophic and rare event that it was.

The first was the formation of extra-tropical characteristics. There was “a larger and more asymmetric wind field, with enormous dimensions–some 1,110 miles in diameter,” Bowman said in his paper. This means that the size of the storm increased.

Another factor was Sandy’s timing. The storm hit at high tide. It also was not just any high tide, it was a spring tide. A spring tide occurs twice a month and it is the sun and moon working together on top of a typical tide, Colle said. The high tide paired with the storm surge, 9 feet according to Bowman’s paper, lead to extremely high water levels.

The surrounding pressure systems also contributed to making Sandy a rarity. Colle said that in the cases of the 1938 hurricane that struck Long Island and Hurricane Gloria, which hit Long Island in 1985, the storms traveled up the East Coast. These storms then combined with a low-pressure trough that came in from the west. In the low-pressure trough, instead of winds blowing directly out to sea, they curve up to the northeast.  Then they combine with the storm and push it to Long Island.

Sandy followed this path and would have been pushed into the Atlantic Ocean if not for one other feature. This was the added factor of a blocking high. A blocking high is a high-pressure system that sits in the northeast Atlantic. As Sandy was about to move off-shore, the blocking high swooped in and pushed Sandy straight into New Jersey.

The combination of the magnitude, high tide and blocking high made Sandy an exceedingly atypical storm. A recent study by NASA states that it would be 600–700 years before conditions would be right for another Sandy-like storm. Timothy M. Hall and Adam H. Sobel, authors of the paper, “On the impact angle of Hurricane Sandy’s New Jersey landfall,” which gives the results of the NASA study, state “our best estimate of the return period is 714 years…for landfall by a hurricane of at least Sandy’s intensity.”

This does not mean that Long Island cannot see back-to-back storms, according to Colle. However, Colle also said that Long Island is due for a hurricane. The last hurricane to actually make landfall on Long Island was Gloria. The probability of a hurricane making landfall is “one in 20 years” and the probability of a tropical storm making landfall is “one in five to 10  years,” Colle said.

So far, hurricane season has been “slow this year,” Colle said, due to strong winds and dry air blowing into the Atlantic from Africa. However, the winds are lessening as is the dry air, so it is likely that more storms will be seen soon.

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