Sandy was the strongest hurricane on record to strike the United States north of North Carolina. There was a belief by some meteorologists at the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center that the storm would transition into a extratropical feature, while moving northward in the Atlantic Ocean. This caused great debate within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the days prior to the expected landfall as to which branch of government would handle the storm and most effectively send the appropriate message to local officials and offices of emergency management.
The track of Sandy was well forecast by the government and commercial weather companies, including AccuWeather.com. However, the failure to issue official National Hurricane Center (NHC) Hurricane Warnings north of North Carolina resulted in confusion prior to Sandy's arrival among the average public as to what sort of storm was heading their way.
In the wake of the devastation, confusion continued within NOAA pertaining to the Sandy Service Assessment Team (a group of experts assigned to evaluate the damage and performance of NOAA forecasts), as well as how and when changes in Hurricane Warning policy would take place.
Below is a timeline of the major events that have occurred prior to, during and after Sandy's arrival.
Oct. 22: A tropical depression forms over the southwestern Caribbean Sea before strengthening into Tropical Storm Sandy around 5:00 p.m. The NHC expects it to become a hurricane by Wednesday, Oct. 24.
Oct. 24: At 2:00 a.m., the NHC reports that Sandy continues to strengthen as it heads northward to Jamaica. At 5 a.m., a tropical storm watch is issued for southeast Florida and the upper Keys. Sandy makes landfall in southeastern Jamaica at 3:20 p.m. Later in the evening, the eye of Sandy is approaching the coast of southeastern Cuba and could become a Category 2 hurricane before landfall.
Oct. 27: The NHC issues a statement that there will be no advisories issued for Sandy north of North Carolina.
Mayor Mike Bloomberg tells New Yorkers in a pre-storm press conference to prepare for the arrival of Sandy by staying indoors and avoiding low-lying areas. He adds that parks will be closed by 5 p.m. on Sunday and that MTA shut downs are possible by 7 p.m. Sunday.
Oct. 28: In the early morning, Sandy continues to move parallel to the southeast U.S. coast and is still expected to bring strong winds and a significant storm surge to the mid-Atlantic states and southern New England. By 8:00 a.m., Sandy is expected to bring life-threatening storm surge flooding to the mid-Atlantic coast, including Long Island Sound and New York Harbor. Winds are expected to be near hurricane force at landfall. By the evening, the NHC warns of coastal hurricane winds and heavy Appalachian snow.
CEO of AccuWeather.com, Barry Myers, urges the NHC to reverse its decision not to issue hurricane or tropical storm warnings north of North Carolina.
Oct. 29: Landfall is still expected early this evening accompanied by life-threatening storm surge and hurricane-force winds. At 7:00 p.m., the NHC declares Sandy has become post-tropical, with the center expected to make landfall within the next hour. At 8:00 p.m., post-tropical cyclone Sandy makes landfall along the coast of southern New Jersey. Hurricane-force wind gusts are reported over Long Island and the New York metropolitan areas. The NHC continues to issue statements on Post-Tropical Cyclone Sandy through 11 p.m. before discontinuing warnings and stating that the next public advisory will be issued by the Hydrometeorological Prediction Center.
Whitehall Subway Station overwhelmed by Sandy's floodwaters on Oct. 30, 2012. Flicker photo from Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Nov. 2: Mike Smith, Senior Vice President of AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions, blogs urging the NWS to seek an independent investigation of their performance before and during Hurricane Sandy, seeking answers to many questions, including why hurricane warnings were not issued north of North Carolina.
Meanwhile, Bob Henson of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) releases a story on AtmosNews, "The Hybridization of Sandy."
Within the article, a phase diagram produced by Florida State University Associate Professor Bob Hart reveals that Sandy was an asymmetrical warm-core system (a partially tropical system) at landfall and through central Pennsylvania.
Nov. 7: David Caldwell, Director of the Office of Climate, Water and Weather Services for NOAA invites Mike Smith to join the Sandy Service Assessment as the first-ever non-governmental co-chair. Smith accepts.
Nov. 13: Assessment team is slated to begin working on the evaluation of the NWS handling before and during Sandy.
Nov. 15: NOAA terminates Sandy Service Assessment, later citing that the charter for the team was never signed and approved. Members of the meteorological community speak out against the termination of the assessment team. Mike Smith, proposed co-chair, blogs that the statement from the NWS is untrue and that "the team was approved and we had begun work."
Nov. 20: Representative Paul Broun writes a letter to NOAA Administrator Dr. Lubchenco stating his concern over the terminated Sandy Service Assessment team and requests that Lubchenco reply to several questions for clarification of the NWS's intent by Dec. 14.
Nov. 29: NOAA Spokesperson Susan Buchanan issues a statement indicating that NOAA will proceed with a Hurricane Sandy assessment and that a new assessment team will be formed.
Dec. 5: Chris Landsea speaks at AccuWeather and reveals reasons for not issuing Hurricane Warnings north of North Carolina and a change to the NHC's definition of a hurricane warning.
In the evening, the National Weather Service tells AccuWeather.com the information is inaccurate and that the policy change is only a proposal.
Dec. 11: NOAA releases information regarding the official commissioned Sandy Service Assessment team, stating that it will be multi-disciplinary but will not include any non-governmental leaders. The team is slated to begin field work on Jan. 6, 2013. This information was also provided to Chairman Paul Broun in response to his inquiry from Nov. 20, 2012.
Dec. 12: NOAA confirms reports that Administrator Jane Lubchenco is to step down at the end of February 2013.
Dec. 13: Laura Furgione, Acting Assistant Administrator for the National Weather Service, publishes a piece with USA Today, attesting that 'Sandy warnings were clear and effective.'
Dec. 19: Chairman Paul Broun writes follow-up letter to Jane Lubchenco, thanking her for her timely reply, but citing that he was disappointed she had 'elected not to answer' many of his questions. Broun's follow-up letter explains that he is concerned with two issues in particular: What the new assessment team plans to address versus what the terminated team had planned, and the decision to prohibit external team advisors because of FACA. Click here for the full letter. Broun requests a response by January 4, 2013.
Jan. 7, 2013: Director of the National Hurricane Center, Rick Knabb, tweets:
His tweet linked to an official NOAA document, which detailed the information Chris Landsea told AccuWeather.com in an exclusive interview on Dec. 5, though Knabb maintained that the information was merely proposed.
April 4, 2013: The National Weather Service announced that, starting June 1, the definitions of hurricane and tropical storm watches and warnings will be broadened.
At this time, it is still not known what NOAA's operating budget will be beyond the first quarter of 2013 due to fallout from the Fiscal Cliff.
NOAA relies on approximately 12,000 personnel and cross-communication in the National Weather Service, NHC, the Hydrological Prediction Center and the Oceanic Prediction Center, as well as cutting-edge technology to issue timely official weather forecasts with not only major storms, but also everyday weather occurrences. The problems that have resulted because of Sandy raise questions to the operation of this large government weather machine.
Content contributed by AccuWeather Meteorologists Alex Sosnowski and Meghan Evans.