Sunday, October 28, 2012


I am going to refer to what most people call Sandy as Frankenstorm, and not for a cute Halloween reason. The name is not simply for the holiday, and it was first coined in a discussion by the Hydrometeorological Prediction Center because of what this is - an incredible and unbelievably monstrous storm that has been pieced together into something we have never seen before. "Sandy" is not going to be a hurricane or tropical storm at landfall as she loses her warm core and other tropical components, ending up without most of what we define as a tropical cyclone. She will be pulled in and actually strengthened while moving north because of a cold front moving in from the west, and the so-called "jets" in the upper atmosphere will be aligned in stunning way to feed the storm incredible amounts of energy.

However, the system will still have winds in excess of hurricane force, which is why most are still going to refer to it as Sandy (and why there should be hurricane and tropical storm watches and warnings on our coastline even if it is not the definition of one, a colossal failure in my opinion by the National Weather Service). These watches and warnings help the public take the storm much more seriously and initiate safety processes and various procedures on local levels that should be started in this scenario.

I cannot stress enough in the most emphatic terms that there has never been a storm like this one in recorded history, and that no storm of this magnitude has ever moved in on the angle of attack that it is projected to make landfall in New Jersey. Taking a very wide northwest swing, with Frankenstorm coming in from the southeast, is putting us in a perilous position.

Imagine the storm spinning around in a counter-clockwise direction as it moves up towards us, banking to New Jersey, and the right-front quadrant (or northeast) part of the storm moving over us. The winds will be howling out of the north, then northeast, and finally really crank up from the east, gusting to 70 or 80 MPH or more, as we move through the day on Monday into Monday night. Now think of how Long Island Sound is crafted, and imagine all of the water that this far-reaching system will be able to push into the Sound. The water will build and build up until we hit a high tide Monday night. This is the Bridgeport tidal prediction as of now at around 9AM on Sunday morning.

Check out that peak with a water level of nearly 16 feet! This would result in greater flooding than any ever recorded in Bridgeport and many points in the western Sound. I believe the total water level record is 12.3 feet from the 1938 Long Island Express, and the totals it left in our record books are going to fall across the area. The storm surge on that graph is projected to be "only" a little over eight feet, but it could very well end up past ten feet in the worst-case scenario. Major damage far in excess of Irene caused will likely occur on the Connecticut coastline as a result of Frankenstorm, and dramatic changes will be wrought that last for a considerable time. If you live close to the Sound near sea-level you should evacuate immediately.

Another aspect of the hybrid Frankenstorm is that it will have a wind field far beyond what one would expect with a tropical cyclone. The effects will not be limited to the landfall area. Hurricane force wind gusts could be expected hundreds of miles away from the center, and the overall size and scope of the storm means an enormous part of the Mid-Atlantic and New England will be feeling much more than they expect for a storm plowing into New Jersey. In the right-front quadrant, we can expect the worst of the winds, though likely less of the rain, with "only" two or five inches in many areas. Inland flooding may not be an issue, though again, the storm surge and coastal flooding could be catastrophic.

When it comes to birds, I would say that we could expect to see anything and everything because of the uniqueness of the situation. While the center of Frankenstorm is going to be to our southwest, we will be in the northeast part of it where the most are usually found (with the most wind). It is staying offshore for the most part, but again, the tropical storm and hurricane force wind field is much larger than usual, and I think it could suck up birds from thousands of miles in any direction. We are dealing with something we have never seen before, and everyone needs to put their safety first before any birding or heading out of the house. Expect to be unable to access the coast for days, and to have no power for a week or more, with possibly contaminated water supplies. When the storm does clear, likely on Tuesday, be aware power lines and trees will be down across the area, and that Connecticut will not be back to "normal" for weeks. If you do get out immediately after the storm I would suggest focusing in on inland lakes, reservoirs, and rivers, minimizing travel and avoiding the coastline. Please get the word out on rare birds as soon as you can on the CT Birds listserv (charge your cell phone!). There will be birds departing as the storm does (Sooty Terns anyone?) and birds possibly put down here for days (shorebirds and long-legged waders and more).

Take this storm seriously and be as cautious as you can be at all times. I will post rarities and photos to this blog once I am able to (I anticipate having no power at home or the office for a considerable time). Good luck, but be safe!

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician


  1. I have seen the comment (elsewhere) that all the models agree on the storm's future path. Yet, as you point out, there is no precedent for this storm, so the past behaviors that the various models are built around did not include this combination of events. That makes me suspect the models, which have to be extrapolating far more than usual. Perhaps they all agree because, out beyond the data points in their history, they all make the same assumptions? Assumptions that have never been tested in this way? All of which is another way of saying, don't be surprised if the storm does not act as expected.

  2. Just what I wanted to read, great article. I am wondering what's going to happen to all the birds out there. I live in the northeast and we can see species like red breasted robins trying to hang on with all their might in the dense thickets. I feel bad for them!

  3. The models don't work in that way. They use observed weather data from the field and input to project the conditions based on what we have right now and other programmed information. They're all very different though in terms of what they are meant to do (short-term, long-term, specific tropical, etc.) and amazingly the big ones all nailed this storm more than any other system of this magnitude ever. It was a classic coup with stunning accuracy. Go scientists/science.

    The birds seek cover like you allude to, Tiffany, and fight it out in their own way. They're tough and can hang on better than we can in many ways.