Hurricane Sandy: Where are the tropical watches and warnings?

For the better part of a week we have been telling you about the potential for Hurricane Sandy to strike the Northeast United States. As my forecast has gone from probably not to maybe to probably to highly likely, you would expect to see the National Hurricane Center issuing Tropical Storm and Hurricane Watches for the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast with the storm’s impacts arriving in about 36 hours. Well, they’re not up yet, and to paraphrase former Celtics and Providence College Coach Rick Pitino “Hurricane Watch and Tropical Storm Watch are not walking through that door!” The National Hurricane Center  and National Weather Service have made the decision to not issue tropical-related warnings for areas north of where Hurricane Sandy is making landfall.

Frankenstorm nature of Sandy causes watch/warning change

As you know, Sandy is not your typical hurricane, some have taken to calling it Frankenstorm because it is expected to transition from a hurricane to a post-tropical / extra-tropical storm when it interacts with the jet stream (which will strengthen it, by the way) and gets drawn to the north then west. As a result, the brain trust at NHC thought it best to not “confuse the public” by issuing tropical storm and hurricane warnings for a storm that was not going to be purely tropical when making landfall. So, instead, we’re going to see a cut and dried combination of High Wind Watches/Warnings, Coastal Flood Advisories/Watches/Warnings, Gale Watches, Storm Watches, Flood Watches, High Surf Advisories, and Tropical Storm Warnings and Hurricane Force Wind Watches/Warnings – but those will only be over the water.

That map makes sense to you, right?
That map makes sense to you, right?

In a situation like this, some of those watches and warnings would be issued in addition to the hurricane and tropical storm watches and warnings, but, without the headline grabbing “Hurricane Watch” or “Tropical Storm Warning”, I fear that people will not take this storm seriously, or, at a minimum, just be thoroughly confused about what to expect. I think the NWS and NHC is asking too much of the general public to try and decipher what all the different warnings mean. I’m sure that you, like most of us, have a lot going on, and hearing Hurricane Watch or Tropical Storm Watch instead of High Wind Watch is more likely to make you pay attention to what is coming next. We have High Wind Watches/Warnings several times a year, in my opinion, it doesn’t quite grasp the gravity of the situation. I think the NHC would have been much better off to put their PhDs in the desk drawer, forget about the science lesson, and do something for the benefit of safety and effective communication at the expense of perfectly sound science and adhering to a policy that probably needs a little tweaking at this point.

The bottom line is this. We have a strong tropical storm or hurricane coming. Prepare for this storm the same way you did, or wish you did, for Hurricane Irene. If you live near the coast, this storm will likely be worse in terms of wind and flooding than Irene was. For those who say “If you’re going to use tropical warnings for this storm, why not issue them for every massive Nor’ester with 50-70 mph winds?”, I say that’s taking your argument a little too far. The storm has been referred to as Sandy for a week now, everyone knows it as a hurricane. Hoisting hurricane or tropical storm watches and warnings just makes sense to the tens of millions of people in the path of the storm. It’s a unique storm that calls for bending the rules.

Fred Campagna

President and Chief Meteorologist - Right Weather LLC AMS Certified Consulting Meteorologist #756 AMS Certified Broadcast Meteorologist #126

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  1. Yeah, I’m not convinced everyone is taking it serious. Seems to be a lot of “business as usual” goin’ on. I also feel like RI is the only state that hasn’t declared a state of emergency thus far ahead of the storm so far…or did I just miss that somewhere?

  2. I understand your frustration Fred, just like i’m frustrated that we’re the only State that hasn’t declared a State of Emergency! As long as we all stay safe!

  3. Great article Fred!! I, for one, am thoroughly confused about what to expect from this storm and YES, without issuing a warning for tropical/hurricane weather..I have come to find myself saying “It’s not a big deal”. I may not follow all the different “models” you use (from pure lack of understanding) but I have always followed you on the news, on facebook and now on this. You have never steered me wrong. That said, I will finalize my preparations tomorrow, hunker down and ride out the storm. Thank you for your dedication and diligence when ever any potentially hazardous system heads our way.

  4. I agree with you Fred! What the NWS and NHC is doing is dangerous. I know many people who are just going to go about their business as usual because they think a high wind watch is no big deal.

  5. have RI emergency management and few other states liked on fb,however I het NO updates from the RI emergency site, same was with Irene and feel like you are the only one I can “listen” too. Thank you all your info, I really wish I could pay the $ for your site, but we are so tight, and don’t even have tv to get updates so please keep them coming on fb. thank you

  6. Honestly, I still don’t know what to expect. The TV keeps saying for us to be careful and be prepared, but the warnings are confusing me. My fear is that no one will take it seriously and we’ll be in huge trouble in the next couple of days.

  7. Our esteemed Governor (whom I voted for!) will wait until the last minute to declare a State of Emergency, as he is believes he is being judicious with federal and state funds. It’s just the way he is.

    And yes, thank you Fred, for being the voice of reason!

  8. For Hurricane Irene, it was a Sunday morning like this that I got called into work early, because my company wasn’t going to allow people to drive in after a certain time, due to expected high winds.

    The Hurricane Evacuation routes were on my mind that morning. There are three main ways out of town. And I was on one, when I realized that the main way evacuation route, Route 136, is only normally only 2 Feet above high tide, at Belcher’s Cove, Warren.

    The other two ways involve multiple bridges, one of which might be closed due to high winds in a Hurricane.

    There’s no way Bristol and Warren would ever be anything but an island in the case of a “real” storm that had a 5 foot storm surge, or any wave action. Heavy rains take out Hope Street in Bristol. Traffic’s a standstill on Metacom as a result frequently. Route 103 towards Swansea is only a few feet above the Kickemuit.

    Growing up in RI, you see the pictures from Hurricane Carol and the big 1938 one and you think you’re OK if you’re not on the water. But when I was in Fran in 1996, 100 miles inland, I realized when brick buildings are condemned because the big trees crushed them, and the weather stations don’t have a windspeed measurement because they all lost power and generators, hurricanes are nothing to mess with. I hope Sandy passes us by. And I hope our preparations improve.

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