Mid-Atlantic and Northeast coastal states are on alert this weekend, watching out for a late-season storm strike by Hurricane Sandy, forecast to make landfall late Monday or early Tuesday near the Delaware-New Jersey border. Sandy's track, while still uncertain, is looking more and more likely to bring the storm center over the south Jersey coast. Harder to forecast, but perhaps more troubling, are other unknowns: How big a storm surge will Sandy bring, how widespread will the storm's effects be, how much rain will it bring, and how long will the rain and wind linger? The answers to those questions will determine how much damage Sandy does — and so far, it's not looking good.
Hurricane expert Jeff Masters is following Sandy on his Weather Underground blog. In a Friday post, Masters estimated that the hurricane could easily do a billion dollars in damage ("Hurricane Sandy kills 21, heads towards the U.S.").
Writes Masters, "Sandy's expected landfall along the mid-Atlantic coast is likely to be a billion-dollar disaster. Sandy should bring sustained winds of 50 - 60 mph with gusts over hurricane force to a large section of coast, and the storm may be moving slowly enough that these conditions will persist for a full 24 hours. With most of the trees still in leaf, there will be widespread power outages due to downed trees. Sandy is expected to have tropical storm-force winds that extend out more than 400 miles from the center, which will drive a much larger storm surge than its winds would ordinarily suggest. The full moon is on Monday, which means astronomical tides will be at their peak for the month, increasing potential storm surge flooding."
From Boston to Washington, weather watchers are keeping tabs on Sandy. The Boston Globe's David Epstein writes in the Weather Wisdom blog ("Hurricane Sandy forecast to strike southern New Jersey next week"): "Monday night and Tuesday will be stormy but if the projected track holds not a bad storm. I would say expect this to feel like a strong nor'easter without the snow. The trees will bend a lot and some may fall especially the closer to the storm's landfall you are located. Coastal areas are going to see beach erosion and some homes could end up damaged significantly, again closer to the system. Rainfall will be heavy in the order of 2-5" and that is enough to cause urban street and basement flooding. I still think the power could go out for many of us and it could be days before some areas see their power turned back on."
Battening Down the Hatches in DC
To the south of the likely landfall zone, the Washinton Post's "Capital Weather Gang" is also on the case with this post by University of Miami expert Brian McNoldy ("Hurricane Sandy on collision course with mid-Atlantic and Northeast"). "All forecast models are now clustering on a landfall between the Delmarva peninsula and Cape Cod," the Post reports. "The official forecast from the National Hurricane Center forecasts the center to move over the Delaware Bay with the cone of uncertainty spanning from Cape Hatteras up to eastern Long Island."
The Post continues, "In addition to the coastal flooding and beach erosion caused by the storm surge and large waves, inland flooding due to heavy rainfall is an extremely high threat. Day after day of heavy rain will not only cause streams and rivers to top their banks, but also soften up the ground allowing the strong winds to uproot trees and bring down power lines."
In the D.C. area, remodeling firm BOWA is making active preparations. Coastal Connection talked with BOWA V.P. Doug Horgan on Friday. Horgan says the storm's predicted rainfall is "significant, but not overwhelming. Right now they're forecasting 8 inches of rain for our area, over several days," says Horgan. We've had 8 inches in 24 hours before. We've had 13 inches in 24 hours — that was overwhelming."
High winds will knock down trees and take out power lines, said Horgan. "Once you get a lot of lines down, there aren't enough people or equipment to fix them all quickly, so people can lose power for three or four days, a week, or longer. And we have a lot of high-end houses out there that we have equipped with generators. So we're sending emails out to everyone to give their generator a test, and call us if it's not working."
BOWA is also concerned about water management, says Horgan. "We have some houses where big eaves dump out on flat roofs or areaways, and so we are running around checking on those right now. That's where I'm going right now — to meet a roofer on a job and make sure we have that flat roof in as good shape as we can."
"A Big Wet Hurricane"
Far to the north in Belfast, Maine, builder Chris Corson is working on a custom house. "We just set trusses and there's no sheathing on the roof yet," he said. "I just spent $600 on tarps, and we're going to spend today tarping the whole thing in, hoping to keep the lumber dry. But we're hoping that it misses us."
In Bergen County, N.J., remodeler Greg DiBernardo sees a rerun coming of last fall's Hurricane Irene, which brought severe flooding to the state. "A lot of things were undermined, a lot of buildings got unstable," he says. DiBernardo's company has made a move into foundation underpinning with helical piers in recent years, so the storm will probably bring him some opportunity: "Just like high winds bring work to the tree guys, we may pick up a little bit extra because of this."
DiBernardo's not worrying. "I have a generator, and I'm getting it ready. But my own house is not in a flood plain, so I'm just going to wait and see. I tend to be casual about this stuff." But around the area, he says, there's a lot of concern: "The buzz on Facebook is insane right now."
New Jersey contractor David Festa has been working on a house that may suffer when Sandy hits. The building's story is already long and troubled: when the building inspector noticed an illegal second-story addition, the contractor "just left," says Festa. "He was working with no license, no insurance, and no permits."
The town condemned the structure "because of the weight," says Festa. "It had no foundation at all — just built on gravel on the ground — and this guy was adding a second story." The homeowners moved out, the bank foreclosed, and a new buyer purchased the house at auction, with the understanding that the addition would be torn off and a foundation added. The new owner hired Festa to provide a foundation, repair some framing, and add sheathing; but another contractor hired by the client to side the building hasn't completed the dry-in — and now there's a big, wet hurricane coming.
"It's right on the water anyway," says Festa. "It will probably end up getting flooded."