National Hurricane Center issues Tropical Cyclone Report for Hurricane Sandy

Sandy leaves government officials seeking improvements in public warning procedures

By Eric Braate - Weather Executive Producer
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HOUSTON - The National Hurricane Center (NHC) issued its Tropical Cyclone Report for Hurricane Sandy on Tuesday. 

The storm caused $50 billion in U.S. damages, making it the second most costly cyclone on record, officials said.  Hurricane Katrina is the only hurricane to cause more damage monetarily.

Sandy is directly responsible for 147 deaths, 72 of which occurred in the U.S., according to the report. Direct fatalities are those resulting from storm-related phenomena, including storm surge, inland flooding, wind and falling trees. Storm surge caused the vast majority (41) of the U.S. fatalities.

The report states that there were 87 indirect fatalities from the storm, too.  Most of those were due to power outages, which led to hypothermia, people falling in the dark and carbon monoxide poisoning from improper use of generators or cooking devices.

Overall, 650,000 houses in the U.S. were damaged or destroyed in the storm, according to the report. As with the human toll, the vast majority of the damage to homes was from storm surge.

Sandy was an unusual storm in several ways. Most notably, it was gigantic in its areal expanse and it hit the most populated part of the nation. That's a bad combination.

Sandy transitioned from a tropical cyclone to a post-tropical storm before it hit the northeast coast, which resulted in a dangerous discontinuity in issuing warnings for the storm. The National Hurricane Center issued warnings while Sandy was tropical and the National Weather Service took over issuing warnings and advisories when it turned post-tropical. This led to confusion and sub-optimal communication between emergency management and the public and, possibly, led to an increase in casualties, according to the report.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which oversees both the NHC and the National Weather Service, is in the process of improving its protocol for similar situations in the future.  There are two proposals in the works.

First, the National Weather Service is looking to change its warning system, allowing the NHC to continue issuing advisories and warnings if, after a storm turns post-tropical, it poses a significant threat to the U.S. coast.

Second, NOAA is targeting 2015 to implement explicit storm surge watches and warnings for coastal areas in the path of tropical cyclones. The vast majority of fatalities and structural damage from Sandy came from storm surge. The same statistic has held true for most of the storms to batter the Texas coast over the years and decades. Storm surge turns out to be, by far, the biggest threat to life and property. So, to be able to warn the public very clearly of the specific threat that surge will have on their homes and communities will significantly improve public awareness and hopefully save many more lives.

While Sandy was a devastating storm that hit the heart of the east coast, there are some positive things to come from it. We, as a nation, have learned valuable lessons from Sandy and, as a result, we will meet future hurricanes that threaten our shores with more caution and better preparedness. Ultimately, we hope more lives will be saved because of our lessons from Sandy.

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