The East Coast is bracing for the worst, and hoping for the best as Hurricane Sandy has already started battering the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast this morning. The hurricane, among the largest in terms of geographic size on record, is not expected to come ashore until later tonight or early in the morning hours of Tuesday.
The latest forecast has the storm coming ashore somewhere along the New Jersey coast, but the size of it – with tropical storm force winds extending out nearly 500 mi. from its center, combined with its slow-moving tendency means much of the East Coast, and particularly New Jersey, New York and New England, will feel its effects until Thursday.
Sandy, which has 85 mph sustained winds this morning, is being described as a hybrid storm that is forming as two systems – Hurricane Sandy and a cold front approaching from the West, merge. This storm, dubbed “Frankenstorm” by some, could dump as much as 12 in. of rain or more in some areas and up to 3 ft. of snow in the Appalachian Mountains from West Virginia to Kentucky.
According to Reuters, more than 50 million people are in the path of Sandy.
Several states are urging motorists to stay off the roads – and in some cases imposing driving restrictions – as Hurricane Sandy begins to make landfall.
Delaware Gov. Jack Markell put statewide “Level Two” driving restrictions into effect at 5:00 a.m. today as Hurricane Sandy’s projected 30 mph to 40 mph winds and heavy rains would severely limit visibility for motorists.
According to Delaware law, a “Level 2” driving restriction provides that no person shall operate a motor vehicle on Delaware roadways other than “essential personnel,” which includes those employees necessary to maintain the core functions of government and maintain health and safety by providing utility services, healthcare services, and food and fuel deliveries.
A violation of Level Two driving restriction has a penalty of a fine of up to $115 on first offense, and a fine of up to $200 and up to 30 days in jail for subsequent offenses, Markell noted.
“Traffic managers say traffic signals will be hard to see because of the sustained wind,” The Governor said. “At 40 mph winds, DelDOT [Delaware Department of Transportation] and other responders are not supposed to be out of their vehicles. At 50 miles per hour, which may be reached Monday afternoon, bridges over the Chesapeake and Delaware canal will close.”
In Maryland, Hurricane Sandy is also expected to cause road conditions to deteriorate throughout the day as its “eye” moves closer to landfall.
More than 640 Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) crews are active across Maryland with an additional 1,500 SHA operations personnel prepared to respond to high water, downed trees and traffic signal issues. In addition, a blizzard warning has been issued in Garrett County in far western Maryland Monday night into Tuesday.
"Today is one of those days to follow the advice - don't travel unless you absolutely have to, " said Melinda Peters, SHA’s administrator. "It is worth repeating that a new law enacted Oct. 1 mandates drivers must treat intersections with non-functioning traffic signals as four-way stops. Do not assume you or the other driver has the right-of-way; make eye contact if possible and proceed safely through the intersection."
The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is urging motorists to limit travel on roadways until unsafe weather conditions pass – noting that more than 30 secondary roads mainly in the Fredericksburg and Hampton Roads regions of that state are closed due to flooding.
The agency said about 1,000 crews and contractors will be working throughout the storm to keep the roads as safe as possible and motorists informed of road conditions, removing debris from roadways, which will involve cutting and hauling fallen trees, branches and other obstacles. VDOT added that it will also assist the Virginia Department of Emergency Management and other state agencies, localities and emergency responders with traffic control, detours and road closures.
Crews in the western region of the state are standing by for snow removal as Hurricane Sandy is expected to merge with two other weather systems to cause cold weather and thus produce heavy snow fall in the higher elevations of western Virginia.
In New York, the Metropolitan Transit Authority shut down train service Sunday evening and was planning to close bridges and tunnels on a “case-by-case” basis, said Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Washington, D.C., also halted train service.
Hundreds of thousands of people along shoreline areas were evacuation ahead of the storm – nearly 350,000 people in low-lying areas of New York City alone. Concern for flooding and significant damage from a storm surge that could surpass 11 ft. in some areas was growing on Sunday.
In Connecticut, the major utility was estimating that as many as 800,000 people could be left without power before the storm leaves the area later this week. Millions more from North Carolina up through Maine could be left without power, and officials said that it could several days to a week or more for power to be restored.
Most major airlines have cancelled flights up and down the East Coast and Amtrak suspended service as well. Washington, DC, was essentially shutting down today, telling non-emergency employees to stay home.
“This is a serious and big storm,” President Barack Obama said during a briefing Sunday. “We don’t yet know where it’s going to hit, where we’re going to see the biggest impacts.”
Both presidential campaigns have cancelled or changed campaign stops due to the storm.
Reuters said Phillips 66’s Bayway plant in Linden, NJ, was one of four refineries on the East Coast shutting down or cutting oil production. The plant is the second-largest refinery on the East Coast.
With downed wires and flooding throughout the region, travel is expected to be treacherous for days.