With Hurricane Sandy bearing down on the Atlantic coast, here are the costliest hurricanes to hit the U.S. since 1980. Costs for hurricanes prior to 2011 are adjusted for inflation. (Source: NOAA data)
Hurricane Sandy could be the worst storm to hit the eastern U.S. in nearly 100 years, and making for a true Halloween trick, one forecaster for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said no modern precedents exist for the kind of weather the models suggest for the powerful storm set to make landfall early next week.
Adding insult to injury, when it comes to the storm’s economic impact, the dollar figure is likely to be in the billions, according to NOAA.
Sandy earned the nickname “Frankenstorm” because of its close-to-Halloween timing. But the storm could prove its ferocity if the weather conditions predicted hold true by the time the storm reaches the U.S. Kevin Sharp, a risk modeling analyst for iCAT Damage Estimator, a tool that uses past storms to determine the potential impact of Sandy, says it won't be pretty.
“We’re calling for this to be of hurricane force as it makes landfall,” he said. “For this, you’d expect top winds to be more widespread than Irene because with this storm, energy will be transferred to the storm front moving toward the East Coast, which will cause more widespread tropical storm force winds. Rainfall will be a huge threat.”
The National Hurricane Center predicts more than ten inches of rain in some areas along the coast, and snowfall further north. It also predicts five to ten inches of rain inland with the duration of wind and rain lasting for two to three days due to the storm’s slow movement caused by a loss of energy as it makes its way north.
Aside from meteorological effects, local economies along the eastern edge of the U.S. are likely to take a beating as well.
“There will be a big impact to local economies because of closures. Businesses will shut down from the wind and flood damage, flash flooding, and the surge which will be worse because it’s happening during a full moon which means tides are higher than usual. There will be a business interruption from the need to shut down,” Sharp said.
NOAA Hurricane Center expects Sandy to have a much bigger impact than Hurricane Irene which hit the east coast last year, which resulted in $4.3 billion in damage from violent winds and flooding. In his model, Sharp says a better comparison for Sandy is Hurricane Agnes of 1972.
“Hurricane Agnes…made landfall with 85 mph sustained winds near New York City and would cause an estimated $19 billion in damage today,” he said. “As it approached New England, the storm strengthened as it underwent extratropical transition, which is also expected to occur with Hurricane Sandy.”
With all but guaranteed widespread power outages, utility companies are preparing for the worst case scenario as well – which could prove costly in the long run. Edison Electric Institution said depending on the severity of the storm, customers could experience sustained outages lasting between seven to10 days.
“With Hurricane Sandy predicted to strike as early as this weekend, that could devastate the electric system for days,” Brian Wolff, Edison Electric Institution vice president said in a statement. “Many of our member companies have already begun the process of pre-mobilizing thousands of storm and field personnel, and calling upon extra workers and resources all across the country to assist in order to restore service as quickly and safely as possible.”
But the cost of ramping up relief efforts isn’t the only concern. Though Sandy’s direct impact is likely to only be seen on the east coast, the rest of the nation could feel the storm’s aftermath in the form of gas and oil prices.
Stephen Schork, editor of the Schork Report, told FOX Business five refineries between Delaware and New York Harbor are likely in Sandy’s line of fire. He said with already low refinery capacity and low stocks of gas and diesel fuel, any hit to those five refineries could have big negative effects.
“If you get any sort of prolonged knockout to any one of these -- just one -- of these refineries, because of a power outage, flooding, and it stays offline for a week, we could see a very violent albeit short-lived reaction in the markets to prices higher,” he said.
He added if those refineries were hit, the nation could look to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico, and cross-Atlantic trade between refineries in Northwest Europe and New York Harbor.