Weather Watch

Weather analyst Philip Duncan checks the forecast and the story behind the temperatures

Weather Watch: Hurricane Sandy 'the storm of a lifetime'

Rains ahead of Hurricane Sandy blow across the beaches of Sandbridge in Virginia Beach. Photo / AP
Rains ahead of Hurricane Sandy blow across the beaches of Sandbridge in Virginia Beach. Photo / AP

It's the last chance for people to prepare for what could be the "storm of a lifetime" according to forecasters. New York City and much of the US north east is about to be slammed by a storm similar in nature to the one dubbed "the Perfect Storm" over 20 years ago - you may have seen the movie with George Clooney, or read the book.

A perfect storm is when a tropical storm or hurricane combines with a winter storm. This has happened in New Zealand before and it caused the Wahine Disaster. It's a rare event that needs everything to perfectly line up at the right time.

Hurricane Sandy has already killed dozens in the Caribbean - and despite it only being a Cat1 hurricane (shouldn't really say "only" as that is still stronger than Bola was when it hit NZ - however the scale does go up to 5) the storm is about to undergo a major change as it merges with a cold system to become far more intense.

Sandy is expected to devastate an area 1300kms long. Roughly the size of New Zealand.

In a strange twist for me I write this blog from the city of New Orleans. I'm actually heading to CNN and The Weather Channel tomorrow as part of series of meetings that had been organised months ago. I'm in New Orleans to see how the city is doing seven years since Hurricane Katrina. With Sandy now dominating the news across the US I'll save my New Orleans column for another week.

But for me it is a bizarre twist to be here in late October covering what could be a once in a lifetime event.

That's if the storm lives up to the hype. Meteorologists in both government and private forecasters are saying the same thing though - that this is significant.

Evacuations and declarations of emergency are already underway as huge seas push giant waves and king tides up the east coast. While Sandy was weakening the other day it still had enough force to flood coastal highways in Florida - despite the storm being well offshore.

Being at CNN and then the following day The Weather Channel will be quite something.

Sandy is an incredibly late season storm. Because it's so late some forecasters and news outlets didn't expect it to become a major event. With the storm hitting as North America celebrates Halloween the storm was dubbed "Frankenstorm". However the cutesy name downplayed the seriousness of it - and late last week CNN stopped using the name as it became apparent this was no every day storm in the making.

Tens of millions of people are expected to lose power - some may be without power for weeks. The damage will likely be in the billions of dollars. America is again about to be slammed by Mother Nature.

This nation takes storms seriously. No one likes a false alarm but in this case forecasters must warn of the extremes. New York City, Washington DC and Boston are all in the main firing line for flooding, power cuts, major wind damage and significant coastal storm surges. Expect highways to be washed out to sea, houses flattened and, sadly, lives lost. Further east (and only just slightly north of where Ill be in Atlanta) the winter side of the storm will affect the Appalachians dumping heavy snow.

As I was standing in line at security (don't get me started on how long it takes to board domestic flights here) I had plenty of time to listen to two men in front of me discussing Sandy. "My children say they aren't going to ride it out" said the man on the left. "They're going to come to our place, even if it's not as bad as the forecasters say, it's better to be safe". The man next to him agreed "Well with these winds even one tree falling on your home could be dangerous".

As a forecaster I can't think of anything better to hear. Not only are they taking the storm seriously, but also understanding forecasts are just that - predictions.

So as people rush to escape the storm, I'm headed towards it. Thankfully the state of Georgia will only see the winter side of the storm and it doesn't look as though Atlanta will get much.

Over the next few days I'll be blogging about Sandy - and CNN has allowed me special access to their studios and forecast team tomorrow. So check back for my updates over Tuesday and Wednesday.

*Philip Duncan is on the scene in New Orleans

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