GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

October 29, 2012

Confronting Sandy: Worst local hits expected late today

Storm's worst local hits expected late today

By Ray Lamont Editor
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — The first of Hurricane Sandy’s calling cards — mostly in the form of gusty winds — arrived across Cape Ann Sunday night, more than 400 miles from the massive storm’s center.

Today and tomorrow, however, will determine how memorable the rest of Sandy’s visit will be — with residents and officials preparing for the worst while hoping for the best.

With Gov. Deval Patrick already having declared a state of emergency on Saturday, emergency crews were at the ready and residents across Cape Ann and far beyond prepared for Sandy’s approach and pass, which is expected to peak this afternoon and tonight into Tuesday.

As of late Sunday, Sandy was listed as carrying Category 1 strength, packing 75-80 mph winds, with its center some 260 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, N.C.

The storm was moving northeast at 10 mph as of Sunday, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. The storm’s landfall was expected along the New Jersey coast later today or this evening. But the storm’s immense size — so massive it has led some wags to term it a “Frankenstorm” — means its heavy winds, rain and coastal flooding and storm surge means that its hurricane force winds extended 105 miles from its center as of Sunday, while its lesser tropical storm-force winds reached across more than 700 miles.

A revised tracking of the storm posted by NOAA’s National Weather Service Sunday projected that the core of the storm would likely track inland from New Jersey and west of here, up into New York and even parts of Pennsylvania. In our area, meteorologists were anticipating that Sandy will have transitioned from a hurricane to a tropical storm by the time its outward bands reach New England, with sustained winds of up to 40 miles-per-hour today and into Tuesday, and gusts of up to 70 miles per hour by later today and night.

Those winds are expected to bring seas of up to 30 feet, with significant storm surges that could produce coastal flooding today and Tuesday as well, in addition to triggering power outages.

The approach of Sandy carries an especially eerie reminder here on Cape Ann, given that Tuesday marks the 21st anniversary of the so-called “Perfect Storm” of 1991, which caused extensive damage along the coast and claimed the fishing boat Andrea Gail, which went down with six men aboard. By most meteorological counts, Cape Anners can expect to feel more wind than extremely heavy rain from the storm, with up to some 3 inches of rain anticipated overall between Monday and Tuesday, but that could change depending on what specific path the storm takes once it comes ashore and continues to plow its way northward.

To that end, agencies on all fronts say they are prepared to respond.

In Gloucester, city Public Health Director Noreen Burke said the city is poised to set up telephone help lines, with provisions for opening the city’s Emergency Operations Center, based at the former Fuller School and headed by Gloucester Fire Chief Eric Smith (See related story, Page 1).

Burke also posted a series of tips for “residents and businesses in order to ensure that steps are taken to be as prepared as possible in the event the storm has a serious impact on our community,” she said.

Those tips, from the Gloucester Emergency Response Team (CERT), include:

Stay informed by monitoring the storm via the media.

Clear clogged rain gutters. This storm brings the potential for torrential rain. Providing clear drainage will help prevent misdirected flooding.

Secure outdoor items such as lawn furniture, trash barrels, hanging plants, toys and awnings that can be broken or picked up by strong winds and potentially become a projectile.

Elevate articles in your basement that could be damaged from even minor flooding.

Keep your vehicles fully fueled.

Have a certain amount of cash available. If power is lost, ATMs may not be working.

Be sure to have a well-stocked family disaster kit available.

National Grid officials have added 10 percent more personnel to their crews — some 3,000 additional workers — for the storm time frame than they had last year, when the utility giant came under renewed criticism its response times to severe power outages across the region thanks for Tropical Storm Irene.

And Massachusetts Emergency Management teams met Saturday to map their response plans as warnings about the storm’s approach went out across the state – including through electronic messaging boards along Route 128 and the Massachusetts Turnpike.

As Hurricane Sandy approached, Manchester officials were confident that their harbor would be among the best places to be.

“It really is one of the best harbors in this region,” said town Harbormaster Bion Pike. “During a hurricane, this is the spot to be.”

Pike noted that the harbor’s mouth faces southwest, away from open waters, and that Misery Island — whose name may be more appropriate today and tomorrow — is situated just a mile from the mouth of the harbor. Yet Pike has watched boaters double-tie their boats or haul them out of the water over the last few days — some because it’s that time of year, and some wary of the weather.

“Everybody’s concerned,” Pike said. “We have enough bad storms around here so folks know when there’s a bad forecast to prepare.”

Meteorologist Kim Buttrick of the National Weather Service in Taunton said that, depending on any changes in forecast, of course, Cape Ann will likely feel “moderate” impacts, including heavy rain and winds, coastal flooding and beach erosion.

But there remained one major caveat as of Sunday night — the lingering questions over where Sandy may come ashore in New Jersey.

“If the center of the system were to come ashore north of Cape May, “ Buttrick said, “that could cause a really bad situation (for New England).”

We will be updating this story today online at gloucestertimes.com. To have text alerts regarding the storm and other local Breaking News coverage sent to your mobile phone, just sign up for the Times free text-alert service on the gloucestertimes.com home page.

For more up-to-date coverage, follow the Times news team on Facebook and on Twitter.com @gdtnews.

Staff writer Marjorie Nesin contributed to this story.

Some Associated Press material is also included in this story.