NASA satellite image of Hurricane Sandy - October 29, 2012
Hurricane Sandy has been the result of a hurricane colliding with a winter storm (and some extra-high tides caused by the full moon), creating a super-system initially dubbed a "Frankenstorm." Of even greater issue was Sandy's path: instead of approaching the U.S. East Coast from the south, like most hurricanes, Sandy made a sharp turn west to settle directly over highly-populated areas of New York and New Jersey. Property damage will run in the billions, millions are left without power -- and over forty people have lost their lives.
The damage and tragedy left in Hurricane Sandy's wake is not to be underestimated. But this "Frankenstorm" is hardly the first weather disaster in human history. Read on to find out more about these other "perfect storms:"
-- 1888: The Great Blizzard of '88
Downed power lines during the Great Blizzard of 1888
This "Great White Hurricane" lasted from March 11th-14th in 1888, dropping 40-50 inches of snow onto areas of New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. Winds gusting at over 45 mph created snow drifts in some places that were 50 feet high; Boston alone had nine inches of slush in the streets. With railways down, and power lines sagging from their telephone poles, people were confined inside their homes for a week. (Mark Twain, in New York City at the time, was trapped in his hotel for several days.) The damage was estimated at over $25 million -- quite a hefty sum for 1888!
One interesting fact? The downed railways (which left 15,000 people stranded in NYC elevated trains) were a major force behind the creation of the New York subway system.
-- 1900: Galveston Hurricane ("The Great Storm")
19th Street, Galveston, Texas -- after the storm
September 8, 1900, saw the greatest natural disaster to ever hit the United States, killing at least 6,000 people in only a few hours. Galveston Island, located along the Gulf of Mexico, is a sandy island thirty miles long but only three miles wide (narrowing to as little as one and a half miles wide in some places). The city of Galveston, Texas was known in 1900 as "the jewel of Texas." (It was the center of cotton trade and was also the largest city in the state.) Despite the city's prominence and importance, however, a seawall had not been built to protect the town. When a Category 4 hurricane struck, the entire island was eventually submerged. After the waters receded, over 10,000 people had been left homeless.
(Read more about the Great Storm in Erik Larson's fantastic book, Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History.)
-- 1928: Okeechobee Hurricane
Storm wreckage in Okeechobee
The biggest tragedy of Okeechobee Hurricane? Residents nearly avoided it. Although many Florida locals evacuated the area, when the hurricane failed to strike at the expected time, most returned to their homes -- thinking the storm had passed them by. The storm eventually hit the evening of September 16th, blasting the area with sustained 140 mph winds. The force broke one of Okeechobee Lake's dikes, and the ensuing weeks of flooding cost 2,500 lives.
-- 1987/1990: The Great Storm of 1987 & The Burns' Day Storm
Aftermath of the Great Storm of 1987
In October 1987, Southern England was slammed by a storm unprecedented in nearly 300 years. Not unlike Hurricane Sandy, the Great Storm was formed by multiple weather systems colliding -- in this case, a cold front from the Bay of Biscay merging with cold Arctic air against a blast of warm air from Africa. Winds blasted up to 115 mph, leaving 18 people dead, uprooting over 15 million trees, and costing billions in damages.
Only three years later, the Burns' Day Storm struck the UK on January 25. With similar wind speeds to the previous storm, and this storm affecting a larger area, 47 lives were lost.
-- 1991: The Perfect Storm ("The Halloween Nor'easter of 1991")
Bob Case, a retired NOAA meteorologist, gave the Halloween Nor'easter of 1991 its more well-known name in reference to the "perfect" set of weather conditions that gave rise to this early-winter storm. With most of the north-eastern United States cooling down with the approach of the colder months, the Atlantic waters remained warmer (ocean water has a higher heat capacity than landmasses). Cold continental air masses often meet warmer maritime air masses to create nor'easters -- but in the case of the Perfect Storm, a high pressure system collided with a low pressure system and the last traces of Hurricane Grace. While this "Halloween Storm" did batter the East Coast, the biggest dangers were for those out at sea, with 40-foot seas and 70-knot (80 mph) winds. U.S. Coast Guard ships like the Tamaroa were dispatched to rescue sailors and fishermen trapped out at sea.
(Read more in Sebastian Junger's The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea. Or check out the film!)
Honorable Mention: the Johnstown Flood ("Great Flood of 1889")
Read all about this famous Pennsylvania flood in our blog entry here.
-- Post by Ms. B