Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Storm Is Expected to Be Less Powerful, and Less Drenching, as It Moves Inland

The monster storm that has battered and drenched the coastline of the northeastern United States is likely to become less monstrous as it moves inland. Hurricanes and tropical storms generally lose strength once they move over land, and this storm should be no exception, said Brian McNoldy, a senior research associate at the University of Miami.

Robert Stolarik for The New York Times
People on a jetty in the Rockaways area of Queens. Hurricane Sandy was predicted to go through Pennsylvania and upstate New York before turning northeast and into Canada.

That is one reason Vermont’s governor, Peter Shumlin, seemed to be anticipating the storm with an air of imperturbability, even though much of his state was devastated last year by the remnants of Hurricane Irene.
“This is not Irene revisited,” he said in a telephone interview Monday. “We’ve been preparing for this for the last five days, and we’re ready to rock.”

Forecasters project that this storm’s path will take it up through Pennsylvania and upstate New York before making a turn to the northeast and speeding into Canada and, eventually, the North Atlantic. Along the way, the winds will bring down branches and trees that will snare power lines, but the potential for widespread flooding is low, Mr. McNoldy said, because even though Hurricane Sandy covers a lot of territory, “this storm is not a gigantic rainmaker — it’s not going to have the rainfall total that we saw in Irene.”

The storm will still pack a punch, Mr. Shumlin said. “This time, the wind will be our enemy,” he said, with the worst gusts reaching 80 miles per hour in some areas Tuesday morning. Mr. Shumlin said the state had prepared for power failures by recruiting extra line crews from Hydro-Quebec.

Alex Sosnowski, senior meteorologist at AccuWeather, said, “We are expecting damaging wind gusts from Illinois to the Carolinas and eastward to Maine” on Tuesday with enough force to knock out power. Luckily, he noted, the rivers have been low, so the rain from this storm is unlikely to cause hazardous rises in water levels. “That’s going to be a big help,” he said.

Flooding could still be a problem, Mr. McNoldy said. Even though the amount of rain predicted in some areas is relatively low, like the three inches of rainfall expected here in the Wilkes-Barre area, storms do not drop their rain in a uniform way, he said. So while residents in northeastern Pennsylvania are reassured that the mighty Susquehanna River will not flood this time around, emergency officials say they remain worried about the potential for flash floods. Gene Dziak, the emergency management official for Pennsylvania’s largely rural Wyoming County, said that “people who live next to creeks and streams need to keep vigilant, with their heads on a swivel,” and get to the county’s shelter if they see signs of trouble.

At G.A.R. Memorial Junior-Senior High School in Wilkes-Barre (the abbreviation stands for “Grand Army of the Republic”), the principal, Colleen Robatin, was waiting by the gymnasium on Monday afternoon for the Red Cross to set up a shelter. Last year’s flooding brought hundreds of people into the gym, but “some people are thinking they won’t need to be here this time.”

In Prattsville, N.Y., fear of flash floods ran high at Beth’s Cafe on Main Street. The owner, Beth Ballard, who was serving blueberry pancakes and burgers to a dozen people Monday, said most of the residents who had rebuilt homes devastated by Irene evacuated them this time, and many swore not to return if it happened again. “I had 22 inches in here,” she said. “I opened up with paper plates just to get people food. If it comes in the restaurant, I’m done. I’m 56 — that’s too old to do it again.”

Michael and Jennifer Traver and their two children were holed up in a Hampton Inn in Oneonta, N.Y., anxiously waiting to hear whether the Schoharie Creek had swept back into their Prattsville home, which was devastated by last year’s inland flood. “We all thought we were going to die,” Mrs. Traver said. “For six hours we prayed in that upstairs bedroom. We saw neighbors’ houses float by.” The Travers are still rebuilding, and if they are flooded again, she said, “mortgage or not, we’re not going back.”

In Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick said, “All in all, we’re holding our own.” The governor, at the state’s emergency bunker in Framingham, said that shelters for more than 10,000 people had opened, but as of Monday afternoon, only about two dozen had made use of them. The weather picture showed fierce winds continuing, with especially heavy gusts and waves topping six feet along Cape Cod. Nearly half a million people in Massachusetts had lost power by late Monday afternoon, but that and a few road closings were the only noteworthy effects. “It’s going well,” Mr. Patrick said, “but it’s nature — and it can change in a minute.”

NY Times

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