Uncertainty swells amid forecasts of downpours, snow throughout region
October 27, 2012 8:00 AM
Mary Altaffer/Associated Press
Metropolitan Transportation Authority workers cover subway ventilation grates with plywood Friday to help prevent flooding at South Ferry in New York.
By Ashley Halsey III The Washington Post
WASHINGTON -- Faced with the growing inevitability of the most forceful October storms in at least a generation, people from North Carolina to New England, and as far west as Ohio, did all they could Friday to get ready.
Emergencies were declared, line crews were summoned, shelters were prepared and command centers opened. People stockpiled food, bought generators and chain saws, taped windows against the wind's blast, and prepared to hunker down as Hurricane Sandy conspired with the jet stream and a nor'easter to deliver several days of misery and destruction to the most populated section of the nation.
The two big weather models that track storms came to a consensus Friday that the storm would turn inland somewhere to the east of the Chesapeake Bay and drench at least eight states as it drives across the Great Lakes into Canada. It is expected to turn into a blizzard before it gets there, dropping as much as a foot of snow.
Although Sandy's top winds diminished to 80 mph Friday, that loss of power was seen as temporary. "That absolutely does not mean the threat to the eastern U.S. has decreased," said Brian McNoldy of The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang. "Quite the opposite, in fact. It is forecast to reorganize and strengthen on its inevitable approach to the East Coast."
Rain is expected to spread over much of the region Sunday afternoon, as the storm's leading edge advances toward land, and people with events planned then and in days to follow said they were pondering canceling them.
Governors throughout the Eastern Seaboard declared official states of emergency. Highway crews prepared to clear debris from roads. The region's utility providers called on companies outside the area to send in as much help as possible.
In Pennsylvania, emergency management authorities on Friday urged residents to prepare for a potentially dangerous superstorm that could pound the state with damaging winds, several inches of rain and maybe snow, possibly leading to widespread power outages.
As Gov. Tom Corbett declared a disaster emergency, residents were told to stock their homes with enough batteries, water and food for three days in light of the monstrous, slow-moving mayhem predicted for early next week.
The brewing weather system involving Hurricane Sandy is expected to pummel the East Coast harder than Hurricane Irene, which last year left hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians without power and eventually led to historic flooding.
On Friday evening, the governor activated the state Emergency Operations Center and authorized transfer of $5 million in surplus funds to pay for disaster-related expenses. The disaster declaration also allows the Pennsylvania National Guard to be activated, if needed.
The move came just hours after Mr. Corbett toured an automotive carpeting plant in Bloomsburg, a central Pennsylvania town devastated last year by flooding spawned by Irene and the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee.
The line for generators, more than 100 strong, snaked into the parking lot Friday evening at the Cabela's superstore along Interstate 78 in Central Pennsylvania, not far from areas hit hard by Irene last year.
Alvin Henderson, acting chief of Allegheny County Emergency Services, including for Pittsburgh and 130 surrounding municipalities, said the biggest question is not knowing what to prepare for. The storm track remains unclear. "One thing's for sure: We have a lot of uncertainty," he said.
With the full force of Sandy expected to arrive sometime Monday, school schedules were in jeopardy. Although school officials have a window that lets them delay their decision making, the rest of the officials and populace did not.
In Philadelphia, Mayor Michael Nutter told residents of flood-prone neighborhoods to make plans to stay with family or friends and be packed and ready to go by Sunday afternoon. "Do not wait until Monday to try to figure out what to do," he warned.
"This is a dangerous storm on many levels. Trees could be damaged by heavy rains and high winds, making them susceptible to falling," said Melinda B. Peters, head of the Maryland State Highway Administration. "During the storm, travel conditions will be hazardous, and motorists should expect that there could be delays and detours for days after, as crews clean up."
Sandy has all the size and power of a major hurricane, but it's about to run headlong into a trap set by two rivals that may keep its wrath focused on the region for 48 hours. The meteorological trap has been set by the jet stream, which is snaking south from Canada to hem in Sandy from the west, and a strong nor'easter standing in the way of the normal track that delivers hurricanes to a relatively harmless death in the North Atlantic.
A slow hurricane will provide more sustained rainfall, resulting in more flooding.
Also preparing for a shock were mass-transit systems and airports, and airlines recognized they were facing a situation that could snarl aviation for days after the storm had passed.