Friday, November 02, 2012

Superstorm Sandy: From My Perspective

To start, I feel the need to remind everyone that my thoughts and opinions are my own and do not reflect my place of work or the other writers here on this blog.  I’d also like to personally commend the thousands of first responders, electric linesmen and public works crews that have worked tirelessly over the last week and risked their lives to save others and who are working to repair our infrastructure, even when their homes have suffered some of the same fate. I know the storm is over, but I've been sitting on some thoughts for a while. I just wanted to get them out, so thanks for letting me ramble.

Since I was young, I remember historic storms and their perceived effect of me.  One time when I was younger, I remember crying after a tornado hit the Nabisco factory in northeast Philly.  Since then, a lot has changed.  So when a fellow firefighter jokingly asked me about a “super snow-a-cane” coming, I laughed it off.  I never thought, a week later, that’d I’d be seeing pictures of beach towns... decimated.  Places that I used to go as a kid myself - totally gone.  Around my hometown, trees down and blackouts abound.  Even at my parents house, we lost a cherry tree, one that has sat there since I was born.

To me, this was quite a storm.  I dabble in both the weather enterprise and the emergency management community.  I find joy in merging the two worlds (successfully) and operate in the middle-ground of the quintessential Venn diagram.  So when I was asked, last Wednesday, to start writing weather briefings, I was pleased to do it.  My pleasure, though, turned to concern as I saw this storm make a beeline towards the region. However, my concern wasn’t just for us.

I do know that the National Weather Service rides a very thin and fine line between being meteorologically accurate and being socially comprehensive.  Even looking at each of the new forecast tracks from Thursday on, each forecast and each forecast model had different ideas of strength, path and storm classification.  I don’t think I’ve ever explained to more people the difference between a hurricane and a nor’easter, or even simpler, the difference the black dots and the white dots on the NHC forecasts.  So when the National Hurricane Center decided not to extend the tropical-type watches and warnings north - I did understand, meteorologically.  

I was more afraid of was the public perception of the omission of those warnings.  That came to fruition when the Mayor of New York City, said in a televised news conference that he didn’t expect this storm to be as bad as Hurricane Irene.  That was Saturday  Almost immediately, you had every meteorologist from Jim Cantore to James Spann correcting him.  The next day, Sunday, he reversed course and ordered the evacuation of “Zone A” on the NYC flood map.  To me, that’s egregious.  That’s a whole 24-hours lost because of... not ignorance, but just misinformation.  And like I said, I do understand the NHC’s position on it... I just wish there was a better way to convey the information.

I laughed at the idea of a historic and epic proportional storm - and I was wrong.  Whole neighborhoods completely wiped out - either by fire or flood, the financial and social center of the US - out of gas, crippled transit system and thousands of New Yorkers lost everything.  In northern New Jersey - bridges and boardwalks... gone.  In West Virginia - three to five feet of snow and blizzard conditions for hours.  And for many, the idea of “returning to normal”, wiped away with the flood waters.  This storm was also historic here in Philadelphia.  At the airport, the all time lowest pressure ever recorded.  Along the Delaware, record tidal flooding.  Winds of 70 mph recorded in Philadelphia - 76 mph in Bensalem and even 81 mph in Allentown.  

It’s going to take a while to rebuild and repair, but I know we will.  I look forward to going to the shore next summer, as I do every year, and seeing the progress.  While it won’t be the same, it’ll be better... A monument for the coming generations that flock to the Jersey shore.  While I consider myself lucky that my friends and family made it okay, I feel for the ones that didn't fair so well.  While I’m sure we’ll see more storms this year, let this one be a reminder that things can get this bad and worse, and maybe we won’t sweat the smaller stuff.

Thanks for letting me ramble.  Back to your regularly scheduled program, your weekend forecast is coming up.