Storm produces some shock and awe

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No longer a hurricane but a “sub-tropical cyclone” – a deadly Nor’easter, Sandy roared ashore south of Atlantic City, N.J. about 8 p.m. Monday, bringing with it 80 mph winds, a massive ocean surge and even snow, living up to its reputation as a “Frankenstorm” – one that defies easy categorization.

Forming in the lower Caribbean as a tropical depression, Sandy strengthened into a Category 2 hurricane that pummeled Cuba, Jamaica and the Bahamas with 105 mph winds, leaving 66 dead. Wind shear dampened Sandy’s winds as it churned north off the East Coast, but the storm still grew in size until its tropical-force winds spanned an area of 940 miles, its 12-foot seas ranging over an incredible 1,560 miles.

At one point Tuesday, high wind warnings from Sandy were posted from Northern Michigan to Lake Okeechobee, Fla. and from Chicago to Maine.

Sandy’s massive size alone ensured that it would leave “the highest water levels recorded in over a century of record keeping” in parts of the Northeast, as Weather Underground meteorologist Jeffrey Masters described it. But there was also a full moon and seasonal high tides coinciding with Sandy’s landfall that contributed to massive coastal flooding.

A 13-foot surge pushed its way inland over sea walls in The Battery in New York City, flooding subway, traffic tunnels and the New York Stock Exchange, which remained closed for the second straight day. The Exchange has been closed two straight days just once before, after a blizzard in 1888. At least 17 were reported dead as the storm lashed the Northeast.

Other factors also worked to transformed Sandy into a hybrid hurricane-winter storm-Nor’easter. An early blast of arctic air dipping down into the northern U.S. on the jetstream turned Sandy’s rain into snow in parts of Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky, where an accumulation of as much as two feet was predicted. As Sandy arrived in the Northeast, it collided with a trough of low pressure from Canada and the cold air, generating yet more storm energy – more rain and wind – that spread its misery north and west from the Mid-Atlantic into the Northeast, Midwest and Great Lakes.

After all is said and done, Masters predicted, “Frankenstorm” would generate a “multibillion-dollar” loss and spread its misery from the Mid-Atlantic into the Northeast into the Midwest and Great Lakes, also affecting the U.S. economy.