3 People Killed as Sandy Punishes East Coast with massive storm rains

Sandy’s wicked winds have made landfall about 5 miles southwest of Atlantic City, New Jersey approximately one hour ago and is wreaked havoc across the Mid-Atlantic and northeast. It’s expected to affect millions of Americans as it moves northwest, dumping rain and kicking up winds of up to 80 mph.

The massive storm is presently lashing southern New Jersey with sustained winds of about 140 km/h, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in a statement just released.

The National Hurricane Center officially pronounced the storm a “post-tropical” cyclone Monday evening, as the centre of Sandy perched was 32 miles south of Atlantic City, knocking at the coast’s door. But an hour all this changed as the storm made it entry on land. Nevertheless, it was somewhat downgraded. The change is part of a transition into a more diffuse storm that is bigger and sloppier, even as its force weakened. CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe said that “regardless of classification, this is still a massive storm with massive impacts.”

At least 3 people were killed Monday as Sandy punishes land up and down the East Coast with wicket torrential winds and massive release of storm rains.

  • A 30-year-old man was found dead in Flushing in the New York borough of Queens, apparently after having been trapped beneath a tree that crashed into his home about 7 p.m. ET, police told NBC News.
  • A second person was killed when a car hydroplaned over high water in Montgomery County, Md., in the suburbs of Washington, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley told MSNBC TV.
  • A third person died after a tree fell in Mansfield, Conn., NBC Connecticut reported.

Many areas are already dealing with flooding, including areas along New Jersey’s coast. The storm washed away a section of the Atlantic City boardwalk in New Jersey, and water was splashing over the seawall at the southern tip of Manhattan.

Sandy continues to merge with what was once two cold weather systems already dumping snow in West Virginia, forming what the hurricane center calls post-tropical and others call Frankenstorm or Perfect Storm 2. Whatever name it visits as, it isn’t leaving the Eastern U.S. anytime soon.

The storm lost its status as hurricane because it no longer has a warm core center nor the convection — the upwards air movement in the eye — that traditional hurricanes have, but it is still as dangerous as it was when it was considered a hurricane, according to National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen. It tipped into the post-tropical category because it has become “devoid of thunderstorms near the center,” said Ed Rappaport, deputy director of the NHC.

Sandy already had been among the largest-sized hurricanes with tropical force winds that once extended across 1,000 miles over Open Ocean.

Meteorologist Jeff Masters of Weather Underground said that as a hybrid, Sandy’s wind damage will be even wider. High wind warnings extend from the Canadian border to central Florida and from Chicago to Maine, he said. But those winds will be less intense than those around the eye of a hurricane.

That the storm grew so large Friday, Saturday and Sunday was a sign it was already in the process of merging with the western cold front, experts said.

That should mean a storm that is larger in physical dimensions affecting more people, but with weaker peak winds, meteorologists say.

Its massive girth will extend as far as Chicago, where the National Weather Service already has issued high wind warnings and a lakeshore flood warning for Tuesday and Wednesday. Water may pile up on the south shore of Lake Michigan, Louis Uccellini, director of environmental prediction for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said Monday.

That’s because of the difference in barometric pressure between the hybrid storm and the nicer weather to the west, Uccellini said.

The transition from tropical to wintery won’t affect the massive and life-threatening storm surge expected along the eastern coast, Masters said.

But Sandy hasn’t been easy to label, said Chris Landsea, the hurricane center’s science officer. Meteorologists had expected Sandy to lose its tropical characteristics before Monday afternoon, but it approached the shoreline with the name hurricane attached even if some parts of didn’t act that way.

“It has tropical characteristics right now. It also has extra-tropical characteristics right now,” Uccellini said late Monday. “This is not going to be a clean transition, and I can’t say there’s a textbook explanation for why.”

“It’s a slow process, it morphs,” he said.

Sandy’s wind and rain fields aren’t showing classic hurricane symmetry and instead are lopsided. As an example of how this storm has stymied even the experts, the National Hurricane Center for the first time ever included a whole section about snow in its advisory Monday, Landsea said. But at the same time the energy level in the eye was that of a category 1 hurricane.

“Nature doesn’t really give a darn what we call it,” Landsea said. “The name isn’t crucial, but knowing what the winds may be, what the storm surge may be, what the rainfall may be is.”

One reason Sandy may have stayed tropical so long was the unusually warm waters of the Gulf Stream, a river of warm water that flows from the Caribbean up into the North Atlantic. It was 5 to 9 degrees warmer than normal for this time of year. And as a tropical system, Sandy fed on those warm waters and kept traveling north, Masters said.

That could account for the last-minute boost in speed, too, that Sandy had as it neared shore, accelerating to 28 mph.

But once Sandy speeded up and reached land, it ran into a blocking ridge of air centred over Greenland. That won’t let the hybrid storm go too far too fast. It’s sort of like accelerating on a road to get stuck in a traffic jam. The weakened storm may still be over Maine on Saturday, Masters said.

Mass transit in several cities — including New York — has been shut down, more than 7,000 airline flights are cancelled, schools have closed and the floor of the world’s biggest stock exchange went silent on Monday.

More than 1.5 million people have been hit by power outages, The Associated Press reported, with many more expected to lose power as high winds lash the coast.

State and city officials across the affected area issued warnings and recommendations for people in the path of the powerful storm.

“This storm is causing a great deal of damage. Especially on the New Jersey coastline,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said on Twitter earlier in the evening.

Christie said he spoke with U.S. President Barack Obama earlier in the day to discuss the state’s needs as the storm approached.

In a news conference, Christie expressed concern that some people in coastal areas had not followed orders to evacuate.

“I hope and pray there will not be a loss of life because of people’s decisions to stay,” he said on Twitter.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in an early evening news conference that “the most severe” part of the storm is beginning.

“The city is still very much within the danger zone,” he said, noting that already strong winds were expected to strengthen through the evening.”

He said the greatest danger posed by Sandy is the storm surge and the coastal flooding it will produce, and he reminded people to stay away from beaches, boardwalks, seawalls and roads along the water.

“Conditions are going to be very dangerous outside,” he warned, noting that winds and storm surges were expected to get worse before they get better.

In Manhattan, a crane partially collapsed. The CBC’s David Common estimated about 150 firefighters were on the scene. People in surrounding buildings were initially ordered to stay in their buildings, but the mayor later said they’d been moved out.

In Delaware, Gov. Jack Markell said an emergency response plan was in place to help people affected by the storm.

In all, roughly 50 million people are threatened as Hurricane Sandy is expected to make landfall along the New Jersey coast and then collide with two other weather systems.

That’s anticipated to create a superstorm in the most heavily populated corridor of the U.S., with the potential for havoc over an area stretching more than 1,250 kilometres from the East Coast to the Great Lakes.

“The biggest threats to life in the U.S. northeast will be first the surge, with coastal flooding, then the wind — loss of power for millions — followed by inland flooding from rain and, just west of the Appalachians, heavy snow,” CBC meteorologist Jay Scotland said.

Scotland said what’s particularly troublesome about Hurricane Sandy is its immense size, the number of people it will affect and a mass of cold air that could enhance precipitation.

Already the storm has caused flooding from North Carolina up the coast to eastern Long Island, N.Y. In Virginia Beach and Norfolk, Va., streets were inundated, marooning cars in more than half a metre of water. The surging Atlantic Ocean overwhelmed a highway on Hatteras Island in North Carolina and washed over the main street in Sea Bright, N.J.

The crew of a Nova Scotia-built replica tall ship HMS Bounty abandoned the vessel as it sank off the coast of North Carolina after getting caught in the high seas brought on by Hurricane Sandy. The U.S. Coast Guard rescued 14 people.

The U.S. Coast Guard said Monday it had recovered the body of a woman near Hatteras, N.C, but she was later reported to be in critical condition. The Canadian Press said the ship’s captain is still missing.

There was also road flooding in the New York City borough of Queens, as well as floodwater coursing through neighborhoods and gushing into homes on Fenwick Island.

Forecasters are warning that the New York area could get the worst of it — a three-metre wall of water.

New York, Philadelphia, Washington and Baltimore have shut down their subways, buses and trains, and schools are closed. Boston also called off school. And all non-essential government offices are closed in Washington, D.C.

Those who stayed in New York had few ways to get out. New York’s subways, which serve five million people a day, were shut down. The Holland Tunnel connecting New York to New Jersey was closed, as was a tunnel between Brooklyn and Manhattan, and the city planned to shut down the Brooklyn Bridge, the George Washington Bridge, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and several other spans because of high winds.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said another major concern is floodwaters entering the New York City subway, where the salt water from the Atlantic Ocean could cause corrosion to train brakes, track control systems and power lines.

“Citizens have a duty in this too,” Cuomo said. “They need to be smart, they need to use common sense. Citizens do not need to be on the road — they need to leave the roads free” for emergency vehicles, he added.

The New York Stock Exchange was shut down for Monday, including electronic trading. Nasdaq shut the Nasdaq Stock Market and other U.S. exchanges and markets it owns, although its exchanges outside the U.S. operated as scheduled.

Several companies have postponed reporting their earnings as a result, including Pfizer Inc. and Thomson Reuters.

As rain from the leading edges of the monster hurricane began to fall over the U.S. northeast, hundreds of thousands of people from Maryland to Connecticut were ordered to evacuate low-lying coastal areas, including at least 375,000 in lower Manhattan and other parts of New York City, 50,000 in Delaware and 30,000 in Atlantic City, N.J., where the city’s 12 casinos were forced to shut down for only the fourth time ever.

“I think this one’s going to do us in,” said Mark Palazzolo, who boarded up his bait-and-tackle shop in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., with the same wood he used in past storms, crossing out the names of Hurricanes Isaac and Irene and spray-painting “Sandy” next to them.

“The size of this alone, affecting a heavily populated area, is going to be history-making,” said Jeff Masters, a hurricane specialist for Weather Underground.

An immediate concern was beach erosion because Sandy was hitting during a full moon, which could lead to record flooding, NBC News meteorologist Al Roker said.

“It’s the worst possible time,” Roker said. “We’re not even at the highest of high tides, and we’ve lost about 150 feet of beach.”

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