Was Megastorm Sandy a freak combination of weather systems? Or are hurricanes increasing in intensity due to a warming climate? How did this perfect storm make search and rescue so dangerous? "Inside the Megastorm" takes viewers moment by moment through Sandy, its impacts, and the future of storm protection. Through first person accounts from those who survived, and from experts and scientists, "Inside the Megastorm" gives scientific context to a new breed of storms.
Hurricane Sandy at peak intensity on October 25, 2012
Inside The Megastorm (Part 1)
Hurricane Sandy (unofficially referred to as "Superstorm Sandy") was the deadliest and most destructive hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, and the second-costliest hurricane in United States history. Classified as the eighteenth named storm, tenth hurricane and second major hurricane of the year, Sandy was a Category 3 storm at its peak intensity when it made landfall in Cuba. While it was a Category 2 storm off the coast of the Northeastern United States, the storm became the largest Atlantic hurricane on record (as measured by diameter, with winds spanning 1,100 miles (1,800 km)). Estimates as of 2015 assessed damage to have been about $75 billion (2012 USD), a total surpassed only by Hurricane Katrina. At least 233 people were killed along the path of the storm in eight countries.
Sandy developed from a tropical wave in the western Caribbean Sea on October 22, quickly strengthened, and was upgraded to Tropical Storm Sandy six hours later. Sandy moved slowly northward toward the Greater Antilles and gradually intensified. On October 24, Sandy became a hurricane, made landfall near Kingston, Jamaica, re-emerged a few hours later into the Caribbean Sea and strengthened into a Category 2 hurricane. On October 25, Sandy hit Cuba as a Category 3 hurricane, then weakened to a Category 1 hurricane. Early on October 26, Sandy moved through the Bahamas. On October 27, Sandy briefly weakened to a tropical storm and then restrengthened to a Category 1 hurricane. Early on October 29, Sandy curved west-northwest (the "left turn" or "left hook") and then moved ashore near Brigantine, New Jersey, just to the northeast of Atlantic City, as a post-tropical cyclone with hurricane-force winds.
In Jamaica, winds left 70% of residents without electricity, blew roofs off buildings, killed one, and caused about $100 million (2012 USD) in damage. Sandy's outer bands brought flooding to Haiti, killing at least 54, causing food shortages, and leaving about 200,000 homeless; the hurricane also caused two deaths in the Dominican Republic. In Puerto Rico, one man was swept away by a swollen river. In Cuba, there was extensive coastal flooding and wind damage inland, destroying some 15,000 homes, killing 11, and causing $2 billion (2012 USD) in damage. Sandy caused two deaths and damage estimated at $700 million (2012 USD) in The Bahamas. In Canada, two were killed in Ontario and an estimated $100 million (2012 CAD) in damage was caused throughout Ontario and Quebec.
In the United States, Hurricane Sandy affected 24 states, including the entire eastern seaboard from Florida to Maine and west across the Appalachian Mountains to Michigan and Wisconsin, with particularly severe damage in New Jersey and New York. Its storm surge hit New York City on October 29, flooding streets, tunnels and subway lines and cutting power in and around the city. Damage in the United States amounted to $71.4 billion (2013 USD)
Inside The Megastorm (Part 2)
Homes destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in Jeremie, Haiti, October 6, 2016.
Hurricane Matthew is currently a strong tropical cyclone that impacted Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, and The Bahamas, and is moving along the east coast of the southeastern United States, especially Florida, as well as Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. It was the first Category 5 Atlantic hurricane since Hurricane Felix in 2007. The fourteenth tropical cyclone, thirteenth storm, fifth hurricane and second major hurricane of the annual hurricane season, Matthew formed from a vigorous tropical wave that moved off the African coast on September 22, progressing on a westward track until it developed into a tropical storm while it was situated just to the east of the Leeward Islands on September 28. A day later, it became a hurricane while west of the Leeward Islands, and rapidly strengthened into a Category 5 hurricane.
At least 887 deaths have been attributed to the storm, including 877 in Haiti, making it the deadliest Atlantic hurricane since Stan in 2005, which killed more than 1,600 in Central America and Mexico.
On October 6, U.S. President Barack Obama declared a federal state of emergency for Florida. The federal disaster declaration was later extended to include Georgia and South Carolina.
(CNN)As Hurricane Matthew continues to churn through the Atlantic, leaving more than 260 dead in the Caribbean and threatening the Florida coast, the focus must be on public safety. People in the storm's path must seek refuge, as Florida's governor has implored. And those in the Caribbean likely will need assistance as they mourn their dead and clean up the wreckage.
But as the impact of the storm becomes clear, there's an uncomfortable truth the rest of us should wrestle with: Hurricane Matthew looks a lot like future climate change. And if we want to stop storms like this from getting even more intense, we need to do everything we can to rid the economy of fossil fuels.
"We expect to see more high-intensity events, Category 4 and 5 events, that are around 13% of total hurricanes but do a disproportionate amount of damage," Kerry Emanuel, a professor of atmospheric science at MIT, told The Guardian. "The theory is robust and there are hints that we are already beginning to see it in nature."
"Last year was the warmest our oceans have ever been on record. And that's critical context," Michael Mann, a professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University, told Democracy Now. "It's that warmth that provides the energy that intensifies these storms. And it isn't a coincidence that we've seen the strongest hurricane in both hemispheres within the last year."
Emanuel, the MIT professor, told me it's not possible to say Hurricane Matthew was caused by climate change. We just don't know that. But we do know that by burning coal, natural gas and oil we are heating up the atmosphere and oceans, and that's expected to strengthen hurricanes like this over time.
By 2100, tropical hurricanes are expected to be 2% to 11% more intense because of global warming, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric administration, citing UN data.
Global warming also is expected to make hurricanes produce about 20% more rain near the eye of the storm, according to a US government report. That's critical because freshwater flooding is the second deadliest feature of hurricanes, Emanuel told me.
The top killer is storm surge, he said, and that also will be shaped by our fossil fuel addiction.
As the planet heats up, the ocean is expanding and ice sheets are melting from the land into the sea. That's causing already noticeable increases in tide lines, leading to sunny-day flooding in Miami and Norfolk, Virginia, for example, as tides spill into streets and yards. Rising tides make hurricane storm surges even higher, causing greater risks for people living on the coast.
"Within the next 15 years, higher sea levels combined with storm surge will likely increase the average annual cost of coastal storms along the Eastern Seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico by $2 billion to $3.5 billion," a 2014 report from the Risky Business Project, chaired by Michael Bloomberg, Henry Paulson, and Tom Steyer, found. "Adding in potential changes in hurricane activity, the likely increase in average annual losses grows to up to $7.3 billion, bringing the total annual price tag for hurricanes and other coastal storms to $35 billion."
The decisions we make about our energy use today will define how deadly and costly hurricanes like Matthew will be for many generations to come. We ignore these warnings at our peril.