EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 25, 2012

Hurricane Sandy could hit region next week

By Jo-Anne MacKenzie jmackenzie@eagletribune.com
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Local residents are keeping their eyes on two very different forecasts, which could converge in a “perfect storm” that no one wants to see.

With campaigns bearing down on Nov. 6, Hurricane Sandy also may be heading for the region, which could knock out power — and vote-seekers — early next week.

It’s too soon to predict — the election results and what the weather may be on Monday and Tuesday.

But experts say it’s not too early to prepare for a significant storm on the first-year anniversary Monday of the snowstorm that blanketed the region with more than 2 feet of heavy snow. Tuesday marks the 21-year anniversary of a monster storm that slammed the Eastern Seaboard, sank the Andrea Gail and was dubbed the “perfect storm” by the National Weather Service.

Clashes between air masses can be a bit more extreme in late October, sometimes resulting in significant and “very strong” storms, NWS meteorologist John Jensenius said from Gray, Maine, yesterday.

“We’re still into the season with tropical air moving up the East Coast and, at same time, cold air masses moving down from Canada, which can increase the amount of energy in the atmosphere,” he said.

For now, it’s just too soon to tell what Sandy will do, Jensenius said.

“It’s very early as far as the actual storm, a lot will depend on the actual track,” he said.

He outlined two of the more likely scenarios, based on models meteorologists are studying now.

The first has Sandy tracking north-northeast off the coast of North Carolina and staying out at sea. Even so, under that model, there’s the potential for heavy rain, he said, with several inches within the realm of possibility.

Under the second scenario, the storm could track north off North Carolina, but then do a “left hook” and head straight into the Northeast coast, anywhere from New Jersey to Maine, he said.

Typically, in a storm like that, Jensenius said, those on the east side of the storm would see more wind and those to the west would see more rain.

But, he cautioned, “every storm is different.”

“At this point, there’s so much uncertainty associated with this storm, we would advise people to stay tuned,” he said. “We’re not even sure when it would hit, maybe Monday or as late as Tuesday. And, once the storm is here —if it is —depending on its track, it may stay around for a while.”

Atkinson resident Ryan Breton, now a freshman studying meteorology at Penn State, urges residents to stay abreast of the forecast.

Earlier in the week, models showed Sandy likely to track east, but that changed yesterday, he said.

“The trend with Wednesday’s computer models was overwhelmingly westward,” he said, “meaning that the chance of Sandy making landfall on the East Coast is much higher.”

Breton said he expected a better understanding of the storm’s likely track today and tomorrow.

“At this point, I recommend that everyone in the Merrimack Valley and Southern New Hampshire keep a close eye on Sandy and on the forecast over the next few days,” he said yesterday. “A significant storm is more than possible. At least some power outages will occur if the storm tracks close enough to us.”

That’s something utilities and emergency management experts are thinking about, too.

The state division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management had its first conference call with the weather service yesterday morning, according to James Van Dongen.

“It’s one of these weird things where it’s coming north and it’s either going to be something or nothing,” he said. “The state will be as ready as we can be. It could literally be nothing it or could be a serious situation.”

Utilities, too, are getting ready.

“We are watching it very, very closely,” said Alec O’Meara, a spokesman for Unitil. “Right now, we’re making calls, taking stock of available third-party resources. There’s a lot of variability with regard to the forecast, but we’re taking nothing for granted at this time.”

A year ago, Unitil had “more than 1,000 bodies” working on power restoration following the freak early snowstorm, O’Meara said.

Snow isn’t in anyone’s forecast with this storm, but high wind, heavy rain and coastal storm surges are.

Public Service of New Hampshire issued a press release yesterday regarding that utility’s preparedness for the storm season ahead.

“We are monitoring the weather forecast in regards to Sandy. There’s no certainty yet on what our region can expect,” PSNH spokesman Martin Murray said. “In the meantime, our crews are well prepared and equipped to deal with outages should they occur.”

Last year’s freak snowstorm knocked out power to some 237,000 PSNH customers.

Should the storm hit, it could knock out more than power.

Political campaigns, from the presidential race down to local House races, plan a big push in the final days before voters cast ballots.

But if Sandy strikes, voters would have more pressing issues to deal with than politicians and their quest for votes, said Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire.

“If it hits and it’s bad, I think you’re basically looking at campaigns being on forced hiatus for a couple of days,” he said yesterday.

Contacting voters could be a problem and many residents wouldn’t want to be bothered with election issues if their basements were under water or trees were down across their driveway, he said.

“This isn’t good,” Scala said.

In the meantime, Van Dongen advises residents to “pay attention.”