The hybridization of hurricane Sandy

by Bob Henson, NCAR News with contributions from Dr. Ryan Maue

Every so often, a quiet corner of research suddenly grabs the spotlight. Such was the case this week when a Category 1 Atlantic hurricane morphed into Superstorm Sandy (note- it wasn’t a hurricane when it made landfall, it was an extratropical cyclone – Anthony), wreaking tens of billions of dollars in damage and taking scores of lives in the eastern United States. 

Satellite image of Hurricane Sandy offshore

While still a hurricane on Sunday afternoon, October 28, Sandy was already beginning to show extratropical characteristics, including strong winds far north of its center and a huge outflow plume stretching from the southeast U.S. coast into eastern Canada. (GOES-13 image courtesy NASA Earth Observatory.)

Sandy’s destiny as a hybrid storm was flagged to the public several days before landfall, when the irresistible name “Frankenstorm”—coined by a NOAA meteorologist—went viral. (Of course, in the original Mary Shelley novel, it was the scientist rather than the monster who was dubbed Frankenstein, as Bay Area meteorologist Jan Null pointed out to me.)

While there have been hybrid storms before, Superstorm Sandy was a creation distinct in meteorological annals, as it pulled together a variety of familiar ingredients in a unique way. Sandy could be the storm that launches a thousand dissertations—or at least a few—and some of its noteworthy aspects have implications for hurricane warning in general. Warning: there’s a bit of unavoidable weather geekery in the material below, although I’ll try to keep it as accessible as possible.

When a hurricane shapeshifts

Extratropical transition is the formal name for what happened in the 12 to 24 hours before Sandy crashed ashore near Atlantic City on Monday evening, 29 October. “Extratropical” means “outside the tropics,” so technically speaking, it would apply to any cyclone (low-pressure center) that’s located in the midlatitudes or polar regions. But there’s a more basic distinction used by meteorologists: whether a low is warm-core or cold-core.

A hallmark of tropical cyclones (known as hurricanes, typhoons, or cyclones in various parts of the world) is that their circulations revolve around a core of warm air. Hurricanes draw energy from oceanic heat and moisture, and they thrive when the surrounding air is uniformly warm and humid and upper-level winds steering the storm are relatively weak.  In contrast, an extratropical low is typically positioned at or near the intersection of a cold front and warm front. Such a low is helped rather than hindered by temperature and moisture contrasts and the accompanying strong winds of the polar jet stream.

Model depiction of the ERICA IOP-4 storm over Atlantic, January 1989
A much-studied storm

One of the strongest extratropical lows in Atlantic history occurred in January 1989 during the ERICA field project. It was one of the most intense wintertime storms ever observed in that region: air pressure at the surface dipped as low as 928 millibars (27.40 inches of mercury), comparable to the pressure in a Category 3 or 4 hurricane.

The graphic above shows winds at the 850 hPa level, about a mile above the sea surface, with a warm seclusion visible as an eye-like feature on the west side of the storm. (Click on image for an enlarged version, including wind speed legend.)

The YouTube visualization linked below illustrates the evolution of this cyclone.

(Image above courtesy Ryan Maue, WeatherBell; visualization below by Mel Shapiro and Alan Norton, NCAR, and Ryan Maue.)

Here are three of the routes that warm- and cold-core systems can take as they evolve:

  • It’s not unusual at all for a tropical cyclone to shift from warm-core to cold-core. In an average year, one or more hurricanes will evolve into extratropical storms in a fairly straightforward manner as they move into the North Atlantic. As colder, drier air intrudes into the warm core, the storm typically loses symmetry and begins tilting toward the coldest upper-level air.
  • It’s also possible for an extratropical cyclone to develop what’s known as a warm seclusion. In this case, a pocket of warm, moist air is drawn into the cold-core circulation, then pinched off through a complicated set of dynamics involving air pulled down from the stratosphere. This is dubbed the Shapiro-Keyser process, after veteran researchers Mel Shapiro (now at NCAR) and Daniel Keyser (University of Albany, State University of New York). Some of the Atlantic’s most intense storms of any type have emerged from warm seclusions (see animation above). These are most common in winter over the far North Atlantic, but rarely do they move onto the mid-Atlantic coast, especially in mid-autumn.
  • Once in a while, an extratropical cyclone will get a boost of energy by absorbing the remnants of a hurricane. Well east of New England, the iconic “perfect storm” of October 1991 was fueled by heat and moisture from the late Hurricane Grace. While it never moved ashore, this great storm still pushed destructive surf into much of the U.S. East Coast.

And then there’s Sandy . . .

Meteorologists are still parsing the maps, but it appears that Sandy may have incorporated elements from all three of the above processes. While Sandy was still a hurricane, the storm’s outer edges began to reveal some aspects of an extratropical cyclone, with an enormous zone of strong surface wind and “a great chimney of upper-level outflow,” as Shapiro puts it (see satellite image.) The storm’s warm core briefly intensified about a day before landfall (see diagram).

Then, a few hours before landfall, Sandy began a sharp curve toward the west, moving toward the heart of the approaching midlatitude trough of low pressure. In Shapiro’s view, this marked an apparent warm seclusion trying to take place on top of the storm’s fast-decaying warm core.

I asked Shapiro how often he’s seen a storm like Sandy. He replied, “Never.”

The one that may come closest in Shapiro’s view is the “Long Island Express” hurricane of 1938, which killed hundreds of New Englanders as it slammed ashore virtually without warning. “There was a dramatic upper trough coming in from Canada, just like there was with Sandy,” says Shapiro. The 1938 storm raced northwards at speeds of close to 70 mph, making it the fastest-moving hurricane on record, and hooked northwest after landfall. While not as much of a speed demon, Sandy did accelerate to a forward motion of nearly 30 mph as it curved west and approached New Jersey. Upper-air observations from the 1930s are sparse, however, so it might not be possible to pin down the commonalities between the two events.

Satellite photo of Sandy's eyewall forming

At 0245 UTC on Monday, 29 November—about a day before Sandy struck New Jersey—the storm began carving out a thin eyewall (indicated by red arrow), a sign of hurricane intensification, even as the outer part of the storm increasingly resembled an extratropical cyclone. (GOES-13 image courtesy U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.)

Two storms in one?

Chris Davis, head of NCAR’s Advanced Study Program, has carried out extensive research on how warm- and cold-core processes interrelate. Like Shapiro, Davis finds Sandy an intriguing case. “It seems to have had a remnant inner core that was somewhat tropical, embedded in a much larger nontropical structure,” says Davis. He notes other cases where a remnant warm core can persist well into a storm’s extratropical life. “You end up with two definable structures at once,” he says. “There was a point where you had a huge arc of cloud over land, but you also had a complete eyewall surrounding the inner core.”

Sandy’s vast wind field provides more evidence for the warm-within-cold theory. Along with a small central core of winds near hurricane force, focused on Sandy’s south side, there was a second maximum of high wind well to the north. It pounded portions of New England with wind gusts as high as 86 mph in Rhode Island. This outer wind band later moved into Long Island and New York City.

This dual wind structure isn’t a common occurrence with hurricanes. Fortunately, computer models predicted the unusual outer band of high wind more than a day ahead of time. And upper-air observations caught its development several thousand feet above ground a few hours before the winds mixed down to the surface. As a result, the National Weather Service provided a specific “nowcast,” putting people in the New York area—especially those in skyscrapers—on alert that dangerous hurricane-force gusts could occur in a window of several hours on Monday evening. Gusts reached 90 mph at Islip, in central Long Island, and 79 mph at John F. Kennedy International Airport, in Brooklyn.

There’s still much to digest about the physics of this remarkable weather event, not to mention the host of societal issues it’s raised. What’s heartening to researchers is that computer models, by and large, predicted many of Sandy’s most unusual features days ahead of time. That gave forecasters confidence in predicting unprecedented impacts to the most densely populated part of the nation, regardless of whether Sandy was dubbed a hurricane, an extratropical storm, a hybrid, or—in the label that now seems to be winning out—a “superstorm.”

Sandy’s circuitous life: This “phase diagram” from Robert Hart (Florida State University) shows how the storm’s characteristics changed from point A (0000 UTC on October 22, when Sandy was forming in the Caribbean Sea) to point C (1200 UTC on October 31, when Sandy’s remnant low had moved near Lake Erie). Dots are indicated every six hours; warmer colors denote lower pressure and thus a stronger system. Beginning at point A with the structure of a typical hurricane (symmetric warm-core), Sandy became asymmetric as it grew in size. The storm quickly became an asymmetric cold-core low near landfall and a symmetric cold-core low as it decayed. The kink in the curve at upper right corresponds to the strengthening of Sandy’s inner core about a day before landfall. Click on image to see the full diagram. The phase diagrams are explained in a 2003 article in Monthly Weather Review. Find more background and other phase diagram examples here. (Image courtesy Robert Hart, FSU.)

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79 thoughts on “The hybridization of hurricane Sandy

  1. Interesting but may be only noticed because Sandy pivoted back westward. I’m sure many other hurricanes have done similar things but nobody cared because they were out in the Atlantic. Sandy’s characteristics came from the related cold front, the storm drank a huge amount of dry air after the cold front passed through Florida. That eventually formed a dry slot that completely encircled the core so even while the core was tropical, the rest of the convection was spreading out and widening the storm.

    While the warm gulf stream was a factor in the strengthening a day before landfall, the bigger factor was the baroclinic forcing from the collision with the cold air. We never got out of the 40’s in my part of Virginia despite being just a few miles from the storm track.

  2. For the record. In the neighbourhood of the beautiful storm model animation, Youtube had this video narrated by “NCAR scientist Jerry Meehl” explaining how CO2 is the steroids of the climate system. It’s kind of skeptical sicence/ George Soros level science communication. Just so you know what your stimulus dollars buy you.

  3. There is an obvious fact about Sandy that appears to have been ignored in this article. Northern Hemispheric hurricanes and Typhoons general have their strongest winds and most intense storm surges in their right forward quadrant. Normal hurricane trajectories in the Atlantic have hurricanes starting in Tropical waters and moving westerly. As they approach the Carribean they tend to follow the gulf stream and move northerly ( some continue westerly ). As they get to higher latitudes they tend to continue northerly or move notheasterly.
    That trajectory keeps the right, forward wuadrant facing seaward and sheilds the US northeast coast from the most damaging effects. The unusual thing about Sandy was that it took a sharp westerly turn (for whatever reason).. That turn caused that right forward quadrant, with its most intense winds and storm surge, to impact directly on the shoreline at right angle to it. For normal trajectoires of such hurricanes, storm surges and high winds come from the west quadrants, and give only a glancing blow to the shore. The turn to the west for Sandy resulted in a direct, full frontal impact of the high winds and intense storm surge on the coast line.
    That is what made Sandy so anomalous and damaging. There is no evidence whatever that human emission of C)2 played any role in the formation of that hurricane or in determining its trajectory.

    Dr Martin Hertzberg
    coauthor of “Slaying the Sky Dragon….”, Stairway Press, 2011

  4. “That gave forecasters confidence in predicting unprecedented impacts to the most densely populated part of the nation,”

    Ok, we were doing great until we got to there…. Sure that isn’t supposed to read, “That gave forecasters unprecedented confidence in predicting impacts …”

    I wish… I do, I really do, that scientific and pseudo-scientific types would lose the “unprecedented” schtick… We have, and are developing the capacity further, to observe weather phenomena in a timeline, scale and complexity that we have never had before recent times. Historical note-writers often give anecdotal glimpses of prior weather experiences, but these are simply anecdotal mostly, relative to modern technological observation, and often written by street or sea savvy individuals who still remain scientifically naive, in the modern context.

    We can’t even say, with any accuracy, that the current use of the word “unprecedented” is, in fact, unprecedented. Enough, already.

  5. vukcevic says: Attribution to the CO2 increase has no convincing evidence,

    Main linkage would seem to be the natural variation in AMO, with some room to hypothesise the increase in the height of the current peak as a AGW signal.

    Though I would agree that would not on it’s own constitute convincing evidence, it is interesting and may give a more realistic idea of the proportion of any AGW effects.

  6. “Sandy … took a sharp westerly turn (for whatever reason)” The reason was simply in the right place to be pivoted west by the short wave rounding the base of the upper jet. Pure coincidence.

  7. I find it amusing that folks are so astonished by Sandy turning left.
    News flash folks! — there have been occasions where hurricanes and large storms have gone in full loops coming back over the same area more than once, and reversed course. Although tropical storms and hurricanes tend to follow certain families of tracks they can literally do most anything and turn in just about any direction. Nothing unusual only a bit less common than other motions.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_Elena

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tropical_Storm_Danielle_%281992%29

    Hurricane Alex turned both right and then left in the gulf where they typically turn right into the southern U.S.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_Alex_%282010%29

    Larry

  8. There are the common storms, the 100-year storms, the 1,000-year storms, so doe not this imply the possibility of the 10,000-year storm? One much stronger than any ever known to have been observed?
    It would be most interesting to see a model of the strongest possible storm arising from the most extreme instances of known influences, and it’s impact on landfall in the worst possible place.
    Good article, and much will be learned here.

  9. This could certainly explain what I witnessed while monitoring the radar the night the storm came ashore. As I indicated in that post, a distinct eye appeared on the precipitation map due east of Philadelphia, about 30 minutes after the “center” of the storm was reported as coming ashore in south Jersey, with a projected path supposedly passing south of the city. It was during the next hour that most of the tree/power damage occurred north of Philadelphia.

  10. I note that some posters are still reacting disproportionately term ‘unprecedented’.

    In this case the author has explained why, to the best of his knowledge, no other known hurricane has had all the attributes of Sandy. In his opinion, it is without precedent. He also points out that there may have been precedents but it is difficult to say because not all like-for-like measurements were taken at at time when the most likely similar hurricane occurred some time before World War Two.

    If posters want to argue the toss about ‘unprecedented’, they would have to demonstrate that there are other hurricanes which have had the same qualities as Sandy.

    Failing that, on the evidence available, Hurricane Sandy is an unprecedented hurricane.

    What that ‘means’ is a whole other conversation.

    It is just as well that the author did not mention the dread phrase ‘carbon dioxide’ or the stimulus-response auto function would have gone into the usual manic overdrive.

  11. LL

    I find it amusing that folks are so astonished by Sandy turning left.

    Which scientists have expressed ‘astonishment’?

    Or are you doing strawman for your own amusement?

  12. @ Paul Coppin – I wish… I do, I really do, that scientific and pseudo-scientific types would lose the “unprecedented” schtick…

    +1

  13. Howskepticalment says:

    “I note that some posters are still reacting disproportionately term ‘unprecedented’.”

    That is because we are tired of the lies. There is nothing “unprecedented” in climate statistics. Every climate parameter currently observed has been exceeded repeatedly, and to a much greater degree throughout the Holocene and before.

    Get up to speed on the climate Null Hypothesis, which has never been falsified. Today’s climate is truly a very mild “Goldilocks” climate, and it has been very beneficial to the biosphere over the past century and a half.

    Mendaciously arm-waving over a local storm — which has been greatly exceeded, even within the past century — is not honest. Worse storms have happened regularly, when CO2 was far lower. There goes your “unprecedented” conjecture. It is falsified. So quit spreading lies.

  14. The NCAR simulation is fantastic and very instructive on what happens to a tropical hurricane as it gets advected into a cold upper trough, thus collapsing the warm core and unspooling the surface pressure gradients. The modeling handled this storm very well. In the morning on the day of the storm, I used the 12Z GFS run 12 hour prognosis ( 00Z universal time or 8 PM EDT ) which had the center making landfall near Atlantic City NJ, and calculated the gradient wind speed from that projection. It was 84 MPH, almost dead on to peak wind gusts observed. So in terms of speed, it was a CAT 1 event, but the storm surge went over the hydrological projections of 7-9 ft that had even the lunar high tide factored in. I was looking for the best explanation of why this would be, and I think Dr. Hertzberg’s explanation above isexcellent. It would make sense that the strongest storm surge would pile up in the right front quadrant in these types of northward moving storms as the Coriolis force gets stronger and wants to deflect the gulf stream current at an increasing right angle to a southeasterly wind, thus building the wave height and storm surge.

    I also completely agree with Dr. Hetzberg’s claim that CO2 emissions and global warming had nothing to do with this storms intensity because for starters , it has no historical perspective of being a stronger storm than many of the others that occured during the last cold phase PDO which warms the Atlantic. I heard an estimate today that total damage is now near $ 50 Billion. So for fun I dug up two tropical hurricanes during the last cold phase PDO. Those were Hazel in October of 1954 and Camille in August of 1969. Hazel was a CAT 3 storm, peak winds way over Sandy’s between 120-150 MPH with a storm surge greater than 15 ft. Damage in 1954 dollars was $ 136 million. Factored for inflation to 2012 dollars that becomes $ 1.16 billion. The per capita income for New York in 2010 was $ 48,021.00. In North Carolina in 154 it was $ 1,196.00 or 40 times less than New Yorks. Factor this in and Hazel’s true loss in 2012 dollars was really $ 48 billion, and that would be more with the equivalent New York real estate parked on its shore. Camille was a catastrophic CAT 5 storm with winds between 160-200 MPH. It completely destroyed Biloxi Mississippi at landfall. The storm surge was greater than 25 ft. Total damage in 1969 dollars was at $ 1.42 billion. Factored for inlation, that is $ 8.9 billion. Per capita income in Mississippi in 1969 was $ 1,925.00 or 25 times less than New York’s. Factored in, the real loss for Camille in 2012 New York dollars was $ 222.5 billion. And obviuosly more for the same real estate parked in Biloxi.

    The usual nauseating climate alarmists began the fever pitch of climate hysteria about Sandy in the aftermath. This nonsense was pedaled from the same people, namely Bill McKibbon, Algore and Brenda Ekwurzel, from the Union of Concerned Scientists. I am thankful and greatful that Meteorologist Joe Bastardi successfully attacked their nonsense and rubbish on the O’Reilly Factor on Fox News last Wednesday. He did a terrific job, and it was great to see Joe come aut swinging and hitting these jerks right where it counts with that hard cold facts about these tropical Atlantic Hurricanes and their true source of energy, the PDO shift.

    Chuck Wiese
    Meteorologist

  15. @ DirkH says:
    November 3, 2012 at 10:29 am
    “Re: Steroids, baseball, and climate change”
    _____________________________________________________________________________
    Thanks for posting this gem. What a deceitful little analogy. My comments below are based on a quick scan of internet literature (yes – some wikipedia). It could use some enhancement by someone with a bit more actual knowledge, but heck, if NCAR scientist Jerry Meehl can play with literary devices, why cant I do a little human endocrinology? He took English 100 at school and I Biology 100 (I had a wee bit of organic chem too) so I think we should both be at the same level of expertise.

    The main issue I have with his analogy is that anabolic steroids are not the same chemical composition as their natural human cousin – human testorene. Similar but not the same. C02 is, well, C02. The whole thing falls apart right there.

    But the use of analogy does have some merit, but not how Jerry applied the facts. “Normal” male testosterone levels in the blood operate in a range from 160 to 880 ng/dl, although the lower ranges can be problematic for normal physiological function. Higher levels are generally “better”, with “healthy” averages being in the 600 to 700 ng/dl range.

    I find it a rather interesting coincidence that the nominal values for human male testosterone bracket the current nominal value for the earth’s C02 at 400 ppm and that there’s all indications that mother earth’s plant life would probably be quite healthy – if not healthier – at nominal values between 600 and 700 ppm.

    My version of the video could use the same premise but with a twist on the plot. Just like testosterone is critical to human physiology – male and female – it can have a wide range and still be “normal” and that higher numbers are less worrisome than low.

  16. D

    ‘Quit spreading lies’ and ‘mendacious arm waving’. Tsk tsk. How unscientificment!

    The discussion in this string is not about ‘worst’ storms as such.

    It is about the physical structure and dynamics of Hurricane Sandy, which, according to the author, are unprecedented.

    I do hope you are not applying your term ‘mendacious’ to him?

    If so, you would need to demonstrate that other hurricanes had a similar physical structure and set of dynamics to Hurricane Sandy and then demonstrate that he is deliberately seeking to hide the truth by lying.

    Hurricane Sandy is unprecedented.

  17. All of Sandy’s effects have precedent (e.g. 1893). Hybrid storms like Sandy have precedent many times a season in the Atlantic. Who cares if a hybrid storm never took this same path or not? Only someone trying to score points with the word “unprecedented”.

  18. In terms of magnitude, how does the hurricane which destroyed Galveston in 1900 measure up to Sandy?

  19. “Unprecedented” is not mentioned in the article, which states:

    The 1938 storm raced northwards at speeds of close to 70 mph, making it the fastest-moving hurricane on record, and hooked northwest after landfall. While not as much of a speed demon, Sandy did accelerate to a forward motion of nearly 30 mph as it curved west and approached New Jersey.

    The 1938 storm was a true hurricane, not a tropical storm. It was a monster storm with cat-3 winds of 120 mph, and it far exceeded the parameters of tropical storm Sandy. Thus, Sandy is not “unprecedented”, and labeling it as such is mendacious and self-serving climate alarmism.

  20. e

    What you need to do is to demonstrate that, in the terms described by the author, there have been storms with the same structure as Hurricane Sandy.

    In the context of that discussion, the ‘effects’ are irrelevant, the ‘magnitude’ is irrelevant, the ‘hybrid’ nature of the storm is irrelevant and the ‘same path’ is irrelevant. It is useless to try and score points by cobbling together a list of red herrings.

    There is absolutely no need for people to get hung up about the use of the term ‘unprecendented’ when it is the best that science can do with the available information.

    As I noted above, what the unprecedented nature of Hurricane Sandy ‘means’ is a whole other conversation.

  21. The cheese eating surrender monkey says:

    “What you need to do is to demonstrate that, in the terms described by the author, there have been storms with the same structure as Hurricane Sandy.”

    Wrong. That is like a Martian landing on a city street, and seeing a man pass by. Then he sees a woman pass by, and thinks to himself: “They have different structures. Therefore, they must be different species!”

    Claiming that Sandy was ‘unprecedented’ is plain dishonest. And the onus is on those who make the assertion that Sandy was “unprecedented” to prove their point. Good luck with that.

  22. DB

    “Unprecedented” is not mentioned in the article,…’

    Things are getting fairly desperate when you are reduced to engaging in sophistry rather than science.

    The article states:

    ‘While there have been hybrid storms before, Superstorm Sandy was a creation distinct in meteorological annals, as it pulled together a variety of familiar ingredients in a unique way.’

    ‘Unique’ means one of a kind, which means there has been no other one like it, which means that it is ‘unprecedented’.

    Rather than getting hung up about Hurricane Sandy being unprecedented, people would be advised to ask, ‘Why is Hurricane Sandy unprecedented’?

  23. DB

    The cheese eating surrender monkey says: …menadacious… dishonest…

    When people descend to personal abuse I know that they have given up on the science…

  24. CESM:

    Speaking of science, “unprecedented” is an untestable conjecture, and as such it is only an opinion.

    Try to stick to science, instead of issuing untestable and unfalsifiable conjectures, which are only pseudo-science — a staple of the alarmist crowd.

  25. Now you are just parsing words. All storms are unique combinations of familiar ingredients. “People” are motivated to ask why other people are so eager to declare unique weather events to be “unprecedented” knowing full well that the word has connotations to people less familiar with the history of storms and storm effects in NYC. The main connotation is that it could never happen without added CO2.

    If you do insist on using the word “unprecedented”, please clearly state what specific structure or process or effect of the storm is or are unprecedented so we can evaluate each claim.

  26. e

    If you do insist on using the word “unprecedented”, please clearly state what specific structure or process or effect of the storm is or are unprecedented so we can evaluate each claim.

    This has already been done in the article. It is all there. Go for it.

    Hurricane Sandy is unprecendented.

  27. DB
    I am ready to resume a reasonable dialogue with you when you withdraw your vicious and baseless personal allegations.

  28. eric1skeptic,

    Correct, as usual. The use of “unprecedented” is a complete misnomer. It implies that we know all the parameters of past hurricanes. If the phrase used was “unprecedented since 1938″ or something similar, that would be acceptable. But then the alarmist crowd would sound even sillier than they usuallly do.

  29. Every individual thing possible will be unprecedented once, when it first appears.

    But much like the first appearance of 12.7×6.35mm precision-cut home fries made from Minnesotan red skin potatoes deep fried in fresh Welsh lamb lard and sprinkled with Moroccan sea salt that was finely crushed between rollers made from authentic Maine speckled granite, the use of “unprecedented” comes with an impression of undeniable uniqueness and specialness that may be far from deserved.

  30. k

    Every individual thing possible will be unprecedented once, when it first appears.

    Agreed, within the limits of known measurements.

    The real issue is not that Hurricane Sandy is unprecedented to the best of our knowledge. That is not an ‘impression’. Nor is it ‘alarmism’ whatever that means.

    The real issue is, what does the unprecedented nature of Hurricane Sandy ‘mean’?

  31. For those determined to make this a global warming event, the tropical cyclone itself was below hurricane strength before landfall and its encounter with a COLD FRONT made it a super storm. We may see more of this in a cooling climate where cold fronts like this, reaching down this far, this early can contribute to a storm like this. Note the most fearsome October hurricanes to hit the East coast and travel northwest and north numbered 6 between 1954 and 1960 – gee wasn’t that a cold period, back when we were worrying about the coming ice age (probably with 95% confidence).

  32. Just as the phrase “think of the children” already has, the word “unprecedented” is rapidly approaching joke status.

    Carry on.

  33. philincalifornia says:

    “Just as the phrase ‘think of the children’ already has, the word ‘unprecedented’ is rapidly approaching joke status.”

    Yes, the use of “unprecedented” is a joke, and those like the CESM who continue to use it are merely amusing; they are being anti-science. “Unprecedented” in this context is unfalsifiable and untestable. Therefore the CESM is spouting pure pseudo-science. When you eliminate the pseudo-science from the alarmist crowd’s arguments, all that is left is their wild-eyed Belief.

  34. Look, every time a backwoods town somewhere — or New York city for that matter — has a record low or high temperature for some date, it is by definition unprecedented. This just means that it has not been seen or known before. Yet everybody takes the continuing generation of these “unprecedented” record lows and highs in stride because everyone knows that statistically speaking they just keep on happening due to the random nature of weather and the relatively short period of time temperature has been exactly recorded. These storms have been thoroughly and exactly recorded for an even shorter period of time than temperatures, so the “unprecedented” label — while it may technically be true — means even less.

    Heck, the first time scientists start measuring anything new about the weather, there very first dataset will by definition almost always contain measurements that are “unprecedented” in one way or another, and so what.

    Unfortunately one thing that isn’t unprecedented is con artists trying to separate us from our money by claiming they can control the weather (like “superstorm” Sandy). A hundred years from now I suspect that the idea of reducing the number of Sandy-type storms by reducing atmospheric CO2 will seem as quaint and fraudulent as tales of 19th century con men descending on farming communities and offering — for a hefty fee, naturally — to set off massive fire works or repeatedly fire cannons in order to break a damaging drought.

  35. No other known hurrican has ever had all the known attributes of any other hurricane. They are all different. In that, this one was no different.

  36. Howskepticalment keeps asking “The real issue is, what does the unprecedented nature of Hurricane Sandy ‘mean’?”

    Noting that he/she won’t tell us what is unprecedented or even define a time period as DB suggests, I will attempt to answer that question. If by unprecedented he means the surge never happened before, then he is wrong, but the answer is simple. For less than the cleanup cost of Sandy, NYC could build a barrier across the Verrazano Narrows (plus two other cheaper barriers). Here’s a link: http://biotech.law.lsu.edu/climate/ocean-rise/against-the-deluge/15-verrazano_narrows_barrier.pdf Even the alarmist hero Masters admits that a barrier makes sense (while not admitting it makes a ton more sense than whining about gigatonnes of carbon as a “solution”.

    If by unprecedented he means a hybrid storm, then he is simply does not track hurricanes. Earlier this year Leslie hit Newfoundland as large and powerful post tropical low and stayed powerful for days in the North Atlantic. Hybrid storms are common up there, not as common at our latitude.

    If by unprecedented he means the lowest barometric pressure of a non tropical cyclone, he would be close. Sandy did have 28.01 pressure at Atlantic City at landfall and 28.21 was the prior record. However the record is sparse before this century since barometric pressures were not measured. Also as others have pointed out the 1938 hurricane had lower pressure and Sandy was arguably still tropical at landfall.

    I’d welcome a definition of what is unprecedented about Sandy. Perhaps he means a combination of structure and effects, but that defines uniqueness not unprecedentedness. So far my answer is “nothing” since Sandy is not unprecedented.

  37. D Böehm says:
    November 3, 2012 at 5:30 pm
    +++++++++++++++++++

    Yes, other worldwide joke phrases and words now include:

    Polar bears
    Global warming
    Climate change
    Climate crisis
    Hockey stick
    Trenberth ….

    ….. I’m gonna stop there as I don’t have the twelve hours to complete the list. I have a beautiful Saturday evening to enjoy, well removed from the people who can’t get real jobs.

  38. e
    Howskepticalment keeps asking “The real issue is, what does the unprecedented nature of Hurricane Sandy ‘mean’?”

    Noting that he/she won’t tell us what is unprecedented or even define a time period as DB suggests, I will attempt to answer that question.

    You have transmuted your red herrings into strawmen and knock them down.

    Read the Henson post above and then refute Henson’s claim that Hurricane Sandy was ‘unique’, aka, unprecendented.

    Until you can, you will just have to go along with Hurricane Sandy being unprecedented.

  39. mg

    No other known hurrican has ever had all the known attributes of any other hurricane. They are all different. In that, this one was no different.

    The first point is valid, IMHO. If you read Henson’s post carefully you will discover that Hurricane Sandy was unprecedented in a quite specific way.

  40. D Cohen

    Good post, IMHO, on what the unprecedented nature of Hurricane Sandy might mean, until you leave the science and venture into what, in the absence of evidence, can only be construed as conspiracy theory.

    I trust you are not saying that Henson is a con artist because he has demonstrated that Hurricane Sandy is unique, aka unprecedented?

    Unfortunately one thing that isn’t unprecedented is con artists trying to separate us from our money by claiming they can control the weather (like “superstorm” Sandy).

    Please provide a citation which demonstrates that any scientists are claiming to be able to ‘control weather’.

    A hundred years from now I suspect that the idea of reducing the number of Sandy-type storms by reducing atmospheric CO2 will seem as quaint and fraudulent…

    Suspicions? I thought this was a science blog.

  41. philincalifornia

    Just as the phrase “think of the children” already has, the word “unprecedented” is rapidly approaching joke status.

    In relation to the term ‘unprecendented’, it is not all that funny that people prefer sarcasm, logical fallacies, personal abuse and sophistry to rational discussion.

  42. Would it be “unprecedented” if Sandy caused a storm surge of 5 feet over the expected high tide level that included the effect the full moon? How will that affect the discussion? Someone has the details, I’m sure.

  43. Howskepticalment,

    You need to get up to speed on the scientific method. The hypothesis conjecture is that Sandy was “unprecedented”. But by the standards cited, most storms are ‘unprecedented’. And since the information we have on previous storms is limited, your conjecture is untestable and unfalsifiable. Thus, it is not science.

    The real question is: why do you keep using inappropriate terms? What is the matter with you?

  44. Howskepticalment says:
    November 3, 2012 at 6:37 pm
    ++++++++++++

    I’ll have a rational discussion with you just as soon as you present any scientific evidence (from the purported overwhelming evidence, ha f***ing ha) that you, and the rest of you liars can never actually present.

  45. eyesonu
    There is another string in WUWT on that topic which has some very good discussions about the question you raise.

  46. D B
    To repeat: I will not engage with you in discussion again until you have withdrawn your vicious and baseless personal attacks.

  47. Howskepticalment says:
    November 3, 2012 at 6:37 pm
    philincalifornia

    Just as the phrase “think of the children” already has, the word “unprecedented” is rapidly approaching joke status.

    In relation to the term ‘unprecendented’, it is not all that funny that people prefer sarcasm, logical fallacies, personal abuse and sophistry to rational discussion.
    +++++++++++

    You’re right, it’s not funny at all. People are dying because of idiots like you.

    Show some evidence

    ……

    tick tock

  48. philincalifornia says to howskepticalment:

    “People are dying because of idiots like you.”

    Be careful, Phil. Even though you’re right, Mr S can’t take criticism like that. He’s new here, so he doesn’t understand that I and others have been called a lot worse things by alarmist commenters. But then I’m not a thin-skinned crybaby, and I don’t let things like that give me an excuse to dodge answering.

    Finally, Mr S seems afraid to make his own arguments, instead always referring to the author — who we can’t seem to question. If S made his own case instead of handing the ball off, I would have some respect for him. But then he would have to defend his position with logic, and answer questions. If he did that, pretty soon he would be tied up like a pretzel.

  49. philincalifornia

    First you say it is a ‘joke’ then you say it is ‘not funny’. That is inconsistent. The use of personal abuse by way of name calling further undermines your claim to any credibility.

    You ask for evidence. If you read Henson’s post at the start of the string you will see evidence that demonstrates that Hurricane Sandy is unprecedented.

    I can understand why some people might want to deny that this term is appropriate. But, if they do want to deny it, they will have to demolish in detail the evidence and the arguments put forward by Henson in the post above.

    No poster on this string has bothered to even try.

  50. B.S. NCAR has been filled with psychotic bull ever since Trenberth (Trenberth-Mann) arrived!

    The extinction of the Cyclops Trenberth-Mann is coming soon! Good for us all that we survived and Trenberth-Mann will lie in a bloody pile of goo and puss at the bottom of a 6-foot deep hole.

    XD

  51. Apparently someone had a tachyon radar in operation; the caption of the image near the “Two Storms in One?” heading refers to Monday 29 November. However, 29 November will be a Thursday.
    ?? ;) ??

  52. Hopefully Bronco Bamma will be re-elected. He can order a congressional committee to regulate storms. Unprecedented storms which do not conform to government structural standards will be banned by statute. He can appoint an Examiner of Storms to make sure it never happens again. That will make this senseless argument unnecessary.
    /sarc?

  53. p

    [You’re on the wrong site dude

    Why, because Hurricane Sandy is unprecedented, within the limits of our knowledge, and you don’t like the fact?

    I trust that you are not trying to censor me or that your are saying that there is something wrong about the site?

    Not one of my posts has failed moderation. I abide by the rules of the site. i do not post personal abuse. At times I have had to change my views on this site because of explanations that people have made. It is an interesting site in the sense that I have yet to see anyone acknowledging that they have changed their minds about anything to do with AGW. Does everyone here know it all already?

    Nevertheless, at times I may have got it right because some posters resort to personal abuse and ever more extreme logical fallacies rather than discussing the issues rationally.

    BTW, it is clear to me that no-one in this string has laid a glove on Henson’s post.

  54. Howskepticalment…

    …does not even understand that his ridiculous parroting of “unprecedented” is anti-science, because the Null Hypothesis has never been falsified. I doubt that H even understands the concept of the Null Hypothesis. He is clearly an alarmist tool who misuses words, and he still runs from trying to argue his case, instead constantly passing the ball to the absent Henson.

    Note to Howskepticalment: There is no empirical evidence supporting AGW. None. If you disagree, I challenge you to post your testable, falsifiable evidence right here. Otherwise, you are nothing but an alarmist chump, posting debunked talking points. You have not a clue about anything ‘unprecedented’.

    Run along now back to your alarmist echo chamber blogs, where they gobble up your spoon-fed propaganda nonsense. You need some new talking points, because you have posted nothing here that amounts to any testable scientific evidence. Instead, you only emit your easily debunked propaganda, misusing words as your lame argument. This is the internet’s “Best Science” site, and your pathetic nonsense has been deconstructed by everyone else. Troll away with your fake ‘unprecedented’ if you must, but the rest of us know what you’re doing. And it is not science.

  55. Sandy is not unprecidented for being a hurricane evolving into a very
    damaging extratropical cyclone.

    I would like to mention Hurricane Hazel of October 1954, which landfell
    near Myrtle Beach, SC as a Cat-4 hurricane.

    Hazel was next getting caught-up with a frontal boundary, in an area that
    is infamous for spawning Nor’Easters. Hazel transitioned to an extratropical
    cyclone inland, no later than crossing the NC-VA border. And Hazel did so
    with Cat-2-qualifying winds in Virginia.

    And next, Hazel moved very fast, with convection assisted by tropical heat
    and moisture assisting connectivity to the polar front jet stream. Hazel
    achieved hurricane-qualifying winds in Philadelphia, probably from the south
    or southeast.

    What next – Hazel was 1954’s Frankenstorm – delivering hurricane-
    qualifying winds in Toronto (especially its East York and Scarboro sections)
    and 70 miles north of Toronto, as well as heavy rain causing still-standing
    record flooding of the Humber River.

    Both Toronto and Philadelphia have yet to be hit by hurricane-qualifying
    winds by any means after October 1954.

  56. Howskepticalment says:
    November 3, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    In a stochastic/chaotic system, many seemingly unusual (from a human time scale perspective) weather phenomena may seem ‘unprecedented’, given the +billion year history of our planets weather and climate changes.

    We have a very limited understanding of it all, supported at best by +100 years of marginally acceptable empirical data. What part of this do you object to?
    MtK

  57. The NY power grid was not upgraded partially because they have been spending all their money trying to meet the 29% renewable energy standards there. Imagine that NY city can not help themselves because of unions and green mandates. Oh – and we won’t learn from the left media that unions turned trucks around back to Alabama who were going to help get transmission lines back up in running – because they were not union. Sorry about the political attacks here, but thought it was close to the topic of this catastrophe caused by the liberals.

    .

  58. Sandy is “highly unique” … it may even be “unprecedented” once it has been studied. It is fair to say it is “close to unprecedented.” There have at best only been one or two storms in the region that were close to the characteristics of Sandy.

    That said I think its silly to argue semantics over words like unprecedented. It is one thing when the word is purposely tortured and twisted, when the evidence doesn’t come close to meeting that standard. It’s another altogether here w/Sandy where were if wrong, unprecedented isn’t wrong by much.

    I think there are many more interesting and important things to argue about regarding Sandy, than use of a term, that if inaccurate is barely so.

    I think this post is excellent – and intriguing as to the dynamics of this storm. I still believe there was sufficient data to have called it a CAT 1 Hurricane at landfall.

    Even if it had reached that level, or higher (the pressures are indicative of up to a CAT 3 as some have said) however, the NWS apparently would still not have called it a hurricane.

    That is troubling – for a number of reasons.

    I believe – and NWS has acknowledged – the confusion this automatic dropping of the term hurricane apparently regardless of strength, when it progressed to a certain point.

    There is legitimate and serious concern that people may well have thought they could ride out the storm because it was no longer called a hurricane – thinking that “dropping” the “hurricane” status in favor of “extra-tropical low” – even though winds were gusting well into the 70-90mph range in wide areas – was the same as “downgrading” the storms strength – which the renaming did not necessary mean.

    This is a serious issue – it could have adversely affected a myriad of issues and decisions. Some people will always be stupid and try to ride out the storm. Others though may have become complacent or had a false sense of security with what they thought was a downgrading of danger. Some lives may have been saved with the perceived “downgrade” of the storms severity and danger.

    Additionally disaster planning could easily been affected. Many on the recovery side are laypeople when it comes to weather science. FRom FEMA failing to even put out bottled water bids until Friday!! – and now having none until Mon at earliest, to Con Ed’s recovery planning and a myriad of other similar instances – all might have acted differently had there not been a possible false sense of security from the “downgrade” to extra-tropical storm status, despite still packing hurricane force winds.

    Also – by NOT being called a hurricane at landfall Gov. Cuomo – despite the massive destruction, and against a good body of evidence that hurricane force sustained and wind gusts did exist at and after landfall – has used this as excuse to tell everyone they don’t have to pay their hurricane deductibles – 1% to 5% of insured amounts.

    This is plain out stupid and ignorant. Setting aside he doesn’t likely have the right – if he prevails it will provide a minor short term benefit to those in this event – and a great political “soundbite” for the election, but both the current people who might benefit and everyone else across the country with similar policies will pay a much higher premiums in the future because of the risk a silly Governor or other public official can render their policy terms meaningless.

    The use of the term “extra-tropical low” in place of “hurricane” regardless of the strength and structure of the storm, clearly has serious implications – some financial and some life threatening. It IS something that needs to be addressed it would seem asap.

    Clearly “one size fits all” for rating the disaster potential – death, injury and loss of property likelihood – no longer works. What would be a strong breeze for Florida, with generally lower density, and being more knowledgeable and prepared, has been shown to have massive disaster effect in NY/NJ and the region.

    .

  59. A. Scott says:
    November 4, 2012 at 2:29 am

    The use of the term “extra-tropical low” in place of “hurricane” regardless of the strength and structure of the storm, clearly has serious implications – some financial and some life threatening. It IS something that needs to be addressed it would seem asap.

    Clearly “one size fits all” for rating the disaster potential – death, injury and loss of property likelihood – no longer works. What would be a strong breeze for Florida, with generally lower density, and being more knowledgeable and prepared, has been shown to have massive disaster effect in NY/NJ and the region.

    I agree it’s misleading to use wind-speed measures as though they were a proxy for threat-to-the-public, which results in the public being complacent about “mere” Tropical Storms. But that’s not a justification for “boosting” or hyping speeds to motivate preparedness (this will amount to crying wolf, which will fuel cynicism the next time around, as happened in the aftermath of Irene in NYC) or an indictment of “one size fits all” for rating disaster potential. What’s needed is a more sophisticated one size fits all measure–and/or the separation of threat measures into different tracks. Here’s what I wrote after Irene:
    —————-

    I don’t think we critics of the NHC are implicitly calling for less “alarm” on the part of the public. The public could have been warned repeatedly by the media that a large tropical storm will drop lots of rain, leading to flooding, and that its winds can drop lots of trees, particularly since there’s been no similarly large windstorms for years, meaning that weak, vulnerable trees near power lines haven’t been thinned. There could be an in-depth explanation of why evacuation is a good policy, even if ones home isn’t vulnerable to flooding or tree-fall: because electricity and phone service can be lost for many days, causing a crisis situation in unreachable isolated homes if emergency service (e.g., medical, fire) is needed by them.

    There is plenty of time available on the media for this sort of educational material—a fraction of the time they spent on Irene. I suggest the government prepare a half-hour educational video for TV stations–and make it available on the Internet as well. (It should contain hints that local power companies should thin trees near their power lines as routine maintenance.)
    ………………

    I suggest that the NHC categorize storms on two scales: wind speed and damage potential. The latter would take into account factors like:

    * Storm surge potential (is it approaching land rapidly? perpendicularly? at high tide?)
    * Tree knock-down and electric outage potential (is the ground saturated? does the storm cover a wide area? is it moving slowly? are the trees in full leaf? have there been few recent big windstorms (to thin weak trees)? have the electric utilities been lackadaisical about trimming branches over their power lines?)
    * Flood potential (is the ground saturated? does the storm cover a wide area? is it moving slowly? are the rivers high? are the dams full?)

    The public should be warned primarily on the basis of the damage potential estimate, not current wind speed. It could easily be educated into taking this figure more seriously than the hurricane category. (For instance, the public already has been educated to take warnings of “black ice” seriously, even though it isn’t something that can be based on any particular number.)

    I suggest that the NFC call it the Threat Index, on a scale of 1 to 5, paralleling hurricane categories. An Index like that would not contaminate the wind speed classification; such contamination will lead to cynicism and disregard of their crying-wolf in the future.

    Such dual-mode measurement are already commonly used: i.e., the wind-chill factor and the discomfort index (I’m guessing about the name, but it includes both heat and humidity). The public takes these measurements seriously. A third one is needed for these cyclones.

  60. Howskepticalment says “people prefer sarcasm, logical fallacies, personal abuse and sophistry to rational discussion.”

    I asked Howskepticalment what was unprecedented about Sandy. His answer was: “Read the Henson post above and then refute Henson’s claim that Hurricane Sandy was ‘unique’, aka, unprecendented.”

    How is that answer not sophistry? Howskepticalment has yet to make a single statement in support of Sandy being unprecedented other than pulling the word unique out of context and equating it with unprecedented and insisting that is the correct interpretation of the word.

    Earlier Howskepticalment said “It is just as well that the author did not mention the dread phrase ‘carbon dioxide’ or the stimulus-response auto function would have gone into the usual manic overdrive.”

    How is that statement not sarcasm?

    The author of the post said “That gave forecasters confidence in predicting unprecedented impacts to the most densely populated part of the nation” for which he was quickly and rightfully criticized. The impacts of Sandy were forecast as “unprecedented” which ended up saving many lives.

    Then Howskepticalment decided unilaterally that “It is about the physical structure and dynamics of Hurricane Sandy, which, according to the author, are unprecedented.”

    He apparently believes that Sandy is “unprecedented” due to this statement by the author: “While there have been hybrid storms before, Superstorm Sandy was a creation distinct in meteorological annals, as it pulled together a variety of familiar ingredients in a unique way.”

    It’s now been pointed out many times that all storms are unique and that does not make them unprecedented either in structure or effects. It’s been shown that Sandy was not unprecedented in structure or effects.

    It is long past time for Howskepticalment to stop smearing this forum and its participants and give direct answers to the questions put to him.

  61. A. Scott says “It’s another altogether here w/Sandy where were if wrong, unprecedented isn’t wrong by much.”

    Unprecedented is wrong. Sandy type storms happen every season in the Atlantic (see Leslie earlier this year). Sandy surge, wind and all other effects have happened to NYC before. It is pure myopia to think that Sandy is anything more than a weather coincidence.

  62. Regarding the discussion over warnings and effects. The NHC would have been required to drop hurricane warnings if Sandy transitioned out at sea regardless of the threat to land. Therefore they chose not to issue hurricane watches and warnings even though they should have. The solutions suggested by A. Scott (call it a hurricane) and Roger Knights (determine a threat index) are both good.

    But both posters have misdiagnosed the problem, it was simple and repeated in every single NHC discussion after a certain point in time: “AS NOTED IN PREVIOUS ADVISORIES…TO AVOID A HIGHLY DISRUPTIVE CHANGE FROM TROPICAL TO NON-TROPICAL WARNINGS WHEN SANDY BECOMES POST-TROPICAL…THE WIND HAZARD NORTH OF THE TROPICAL STORM WARNING AREA WILL CONTINUE TO BE CONVEYED THROUGH HIGH WIND WATCHES AND WARNINGS ISSUED BY LOCAL NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE OFFICES.”

  63. The “hybridization” is why the storm moved westward. Without cold air situated just to the north (and blocking it from moving north), it would have acted like any other tropical system & continued northeast.

    So the westward movement & vast elongation was caused by interaction w/cold, adjacent Canadian air.

  64. Partly correct, a cold blocking high stopped Sandy from moving north. The reason it rapidly moved west was the Fujiwhara effect (pivoting) from the short wave diving SE into the Carolinas.

  65. A. Scott says:
    November 4, 2012 at 2:29 am

    “in the region”
    ——————————

    Please don’t give the idiot any ammunition. He will conveniently forget those three words.

  66. Howskepticalment says:
    November 3, 2012 at 9:09 pm
    p

    You’re on the wrong site dude

    Why, because Hurricane Sandy is unprecedented, within the limits of our knowledge, and you don’t like the fact?

    I trust that you are not trying to censor me or that your are saying that there is something wrong about the site?
    ———————-

    I’m resting my case.

    The word “unprecedented”, and its use by people like you is going to consign it to the joke-bin of the English language. Carry on.

    ….. and while we’re having this cordial discussion, let me remind you that the other joke-bin phrase “save the children” has come to be a joke because, thanks to the internet, the majority of rational folk are saving their children by avoiding idiots like you.

  67. Oh and by the way, haven’t your troupe of clowns been taxing people for what, five or ten years to mitigate these kinds of problems?

    Why aren’t you claiming this as a success story ?

  68. Despite a rather robust round of personal abuse not one poster has spent time explaining why is Sandy is not unprecedented. I provide the following two quotes from Henson’s post:

    [While there have been hybrid storms before, Superstorm Sandy was a creation distinct in meteorological annals, as it pulled together a variety of familiar ingredients in a unique way.]

    [I asked Shapiro how often he’s seen a storm like Sandy. He replied, “Never.”]

    Henson’s post provides the detailed justifications for these statements so I won’t bother to repeat them. They seem logical to me.

  69. Howskepticalment says:
    November 5, 2012 at 12:52 am

    By that definition EVERY storm is “unprecedented”, as every single one has some unique feature. Now go away, you really are just a tiresome bore.

  70. j a e

    Now go away, you really are just a tiresome bore.

    So all those who are claiming that Sandy is unprecedented are wrong?

    REPLY: Yes, lookup Hazel, among others that hit the NE. They were actual hurricanes when making landfall. Sandy wasn’t, it was a post tropical cyclone with less than Cat1 winds. Any “unprecedented” argument is baseless. Even the storm surge/high tide coincidence was preceded with Hazel.- Anthony

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