KENSINGTON, Md. — The projected storm surge from Hurricane Sandy is a "worst-case scenario" with devastating waves and tides predicted for the highly populated New York City metro area, government forecasters said Sunday.
The more they observe it, the more the experts worry about the water — which usually kills and does more damage than winds in hurricanes.
In this case, seas will be amped up by giant waves and full-moon-powered high tides. That will combine with drenching rains, triggering inland flooding as the hurricane merges with a winter storm system that will worsen it and hold it in place for days.
Louis Uccellini, environmental prediction chief for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told the Associated Press that given Sandy's due east-to-west track into New Jersey, that puts the worst of the storm surge just north in New York City, Long Island and northern New Jersey. "Yes, this is the worst-case scenario," he said.
In a measurement of pure kinetic energy, NOAA's hurricane research division on Sunday ranked the surge and wave "destruction potential" for Sandy — just the hurricane, not the hybrid storm it will eventually become — at 5.8 on a 0 to 6 scale.
The damage expected from winds will be far less, experts said. Weather Underground meteorologist Jeff Masters said that surge destruction potential number is a record and it's due to the storm's massive size.
National Hurricane Center director Rick Knabb said Sandy's size means some coastal parts of New York and New Jersey may see water rise from 6 to 11 feet from surge and waves. The rest of the coast north of Virginia can expect 4 to 8 feet of surge.
The full moon today will add 2 to 3 inches to the storm surge in New York, Masters said.
"If the forecasts hold true in terms of the amount of rainfall and the amount of coastal flooding, that's going to be what drives up the losses and that's what's going to hurt," said Susan Cutter, director of the hazards and vulnerability research institute at the University of South Carolina.
Cutter said she worries about coastal infrastructure, especially the New York subways, which were shutting down Sunday.
Knabb said millions of people may be harmed by inland flooding.
A NOAA map of inland and coastal flood watches covers practically the entire Northeast: all of Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware, and Connecticut; most of Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts and Vermont, and parts of northeastern Ohio, eastern Virginia, North Carolina, and western New Hampshire.