As it lumbers slowly northward, Hurricane Sandy is officially rated as "only" a Category One storm, based on wind speed. But wind speed is only one aspect of a storm. In breadth, Sandy is huge. Hurricane expert Jeff Masters explained Sunday on a Weather Underground blog post ("Massive Hurricane Sandy building a huge and destructive storm surge"): "At 8 am EDT, Sandy's tropical storm-force winds extended northeastwards 520 miles from the center, and twelve-foot high seas covered a diameter of ocean 1,030 miles across. Since records of storm size began in 1988, no tropical storm or hurricane has been larger ... Sandy has put a colossal volume of ocean water in motion with its widespread and powerful winds, and the hurricane's massive storm surge is already impacting the coast."
That surge is already hitting hard, long before the storm's landfall. Says Masters: "Huge, 10 - 15 foot-high battering waves on top of the storm surge have washed over Highway 12 connecting North Carolina's Outer Banks to the mainland at South Nags Head this morning. The highway is now impassable, and has been closed... In Delaware, the coastal highway Route 1 between Dewey Beach and Bethany Beach has been closed due to high water."
Start Spreading the News
If the surge is high enough, New York City, some 100 miles north of the storm's currently predicted landfall, could be severely impacted. Masters writes: "On August 28, 2011, Tropical Storm Irene brought a storm surge of 4.13' to Battery Park on the south side of Manhattan. The waters poured over the floodwalls into Lower Manhattan, but came 8 - 12" shy of being able to flood the New York City subway system. According to the latest storm surge forecast for NYC from NHC, Sandy's storm surge is expected to be several feet higher than Irene's. If the peak surge arrives near Monday evening's high tide at 9 pm EDT, a portion of New York City's subway system could flood, resulting in billions of dollars in damage. I give a 50% chance that Sandy's storm surge will end up flooding a portion of the New York City subway system."
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has already ordered subway and bus lines to cease operating Sunday evening, the New York Daily News reports ("Hurricane Sandy moves in: New York City braces for storm with mandatory evacuations as Gov. Cuomo orders MTA to suspend subway, bus, rail service"). Low-lying residents have been ordered to evacuate.
New York City is 100 miles or more north of the storm's currently predicted landfall late Monday on the southern New Jersey or northern Delaware shore. But as Rehoboth Beach, Del., builder and remodeler Patricia McDaniel, who owns Boardwalk Builders, says, "You're looking at that cone of uncertainty, but keep in mind, the storm is like four times wider than the cone. So it kind of doesn't matter where it goes — because it's so freaking big."
When Coastal Connection spoke with McDaniel on Saturday, she said, "Today it just looks like a cloudy day. I have one person we're going to meet today to get their house ready for the storm; we spent most of yesterday getting houses ready."
What does "ready" look like? McDaniel says, "Mostly we're putting up storm shutters. Most of our clients have actual shutters — we aren't putting up plywood." Although the projected storm track runs right over McDaniel's town, she says, "The wind isn't supposed to be horribly bad — like only 65 miles an hour." But there's more to this storm than wind. "The projection is that we're going to get ten inches of rain, and that the whole storm is going to sit on us for a couple of days."
The effects, like the storm, could be huge. Says McDaniel: "A storm that sits on you can take away the beach, and a storm that big tends to push a lot of water in front of it. So there is a fairly high level of certainty that we are going to get wet."
Then there's the power. "Because the storm is so big, so many people will lose power that there won't be any capacity to restore power. If we have a bad storm and you don't, you send me your people. But if we take out the whole mid-Atlantic and New England region, there's not going to be the capacity to restore power."
"A Deluge of Damage"
The aftermath of the storm is sure to bring disruption as well as opportunity for contractors like McDaniel. For advice, she says, she has turned to Virginia remodeler Robert Criner. Criner Remodeling serves the Tidewater communities of York County, Poquoson, Newport News, Hampton, James City County, and Williamsburg, and he remembers when Hurricane Isabel rolled over his area in 2003. In some ways, Criner says, he was ready for Isabel; in other ways, the experience caught him by surprise.
"There were some things we did that were good," he said. "One, we filled an old freezer in our shop full of bottled water and we froze it before the power went out — or that is, before everybody else's power went out. We had a generator. But in the aftermath, a day or two later, a frozen bottle of water is gold. You have people lining up a half mile to a mile, just to get ice. But to get ice and fresh water at the same time had a value that you couldn't place on it."
Other things Criner didn't do, but wished that he had. "If you are in the path and you see it coming," he recommends, "be the first to go down to your rental agency and start renting all the equipment you might possibly need. Because once the storm hits, you won't be able to get your hands on any."
Once the weather passes, established remodelers are going to be busy — too busy. Criner says the wave of phone calls was tough to manage. "When I started out answering the phone," he remembers, "I thought I was doing a great job saying 'Listen, we're only going to work for past clients.' Well within 20 minutes, I'm only working with past clients within ten miles. Another 20 minutes, it's within five miles. And by the end of the first couple hours, we were just giving advice to people. Because you just couldn't handle it — it's a volume that is just beyond your control."
But in the wake of a hurricane, advice, like ice, has a value that's hard to estimate, says Criner. "The one thing that is most reassuring to people is a voice on the other end of the phone to give them advice. To tell them what to do, how to dry it out, how to open it up, advice for their insurance company..."
The flood of insurance work can quickly overwhelm a community's local remodelers, says Criner. "What's going to happen is there's going to be a big deluge of damage, and the insurance companies are going to come in there with a thousand adjusters. Every adjuster is going to say 'go out there and get three estimates.' But nobody is there to help the contractors giving the estimates. So it's set up for a poor situation. So you have to kind of pick and choose who you are going to help. And again, you will make the biggest impression if you make sure someone is answering that phone, and someone is there to give advice — even if you can't get there."