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Hurricane Sandy: No hurricane warning for what could be the most expensive storm in history

November 1, 2012

By Henry Margusity
Expert Senior Meteorologist, AccuWeather.com

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — AccuWeather.com reports Hurricane Sandy may turn out to be the most expensive storm to hit the U.S. — causing damage to 15 states and power outages to more than 8 million people — yet the National Hurricane Center did not issue hurricane warnings north of North Carolina.

Typically, hurricane watches are announced 48 hours in advance of the expected onset of tropical storm-force winds. Hurricane warnings are usually issued 36 hours in advance. The National Hurricane Center issued a statement Saturday, Oct. 27, that there would be no advisories issued for Sandy to the north of North Carolina.

The following is an excerpt from the NHC statement:

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) issues advisories, forecasts, and warnings on tropical cyclones — the generic term for hurricanes, tropical storms, and tropical depressions. Sometime prior to making landfall, Hurricane Sandy is expected to lose its characteristics as a tropical cyclone and take on the structure of a wintertime low-pressure area. Because the National Hurricane Center only issues advisories on tropical cyclones, there will be changes in the flow of information coming out of the NWS when this transition occurs.

Hours before landfall, AccuWeather CEO Barry Myers urged the NHC to reverse its decision to not issue hurricane or tropical storm warnings for Sandy north of North Carolina.

To indicate that there is a landfalling hurricane, and to issue warnings about it, is the most effective thing that can be done to warn the public,” Myers said.

There were no hurricane watches or warnings issued by the National Hurricane Center for New Jersey ahead of Hurricane Sandy’s landfall near Atlantic City Monday evening, Oct. 29.

What we have is a hurricane becoming embedded in a winter storm. It’s clearly unprecedented,” Myers said. “But to refuse to issue hurricane warnings clearly can cause confusion.”

According to Myers, not issuing such warnings led to mixed signals for both public safety officials and the public.

Mayor Bloomberg was confused at one point over the weekend whether Sandy was a hurricane,” Myers said. “If the mayor of the biggest city in the United States was confused, emergency management and others certainly can be confused” as well.

Without hurricane warnings from the NHC, the National Weather Service (NWS) organization changed what products they issued. According to the normal procedures for issuance of Tropical Cyclone Products, once the NWS puts out a tropical storm/hurricane watch/warning, the local NWS offices can issue Hurricane Local Statements. Instead, the Philadelphia and New York City NWS offices put out a multitude of watches and warnings, which included the following:

• Coastal Flood Warnings

• High Wind Warnings

• Flash Flood Watches

• Coastal Flood Watches

• Hurricane-Force Wind Warnings

• Public Information Statements

• Special Weather Statements

• Marine Storm Warnings

It changed a little bit because of the type of product we issue,” Al Cope, a meteorologist for the NWS in Philadelphia, said. “For a hurricane warning or a watch, we issue a product called the ‘Hurricane Local Statement.’ That covers a lot of things. It covers the winds, the effects of the winds, the wave, the tidal surge and other threats in a tropical system. In this case, we handled it with a different set of products.”

According to Cope, when meteorologists brief government officials, emergency management and the media, the type of product doesn’t matter so much as the seriousness of the storm impacts that they convey. The name of the product doesn’t matter so much as when the winds from the storm are going to start or when the highest storm surge is going to be.

As far as I could tell, the severity of the situation was pretty well conveyed, even though there wasn’t a hurricane watch in effect,” Cope said. “[Sandy] was bigger than just a hurricane. It was a hurricane combined with a nor’easter. We felt that if we had hurricane warnings out and suddenly they disappeared [when Sandy lost hurricane status], that would create a lot of confusion. We thought the public would better served with a consistent set of products” through the storm.

Posted Nov. 1, 2012

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