In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, a Delaware geography professor analyzes the storm

What made Hurricane Sandy so unique? How does it compare to other major East Coast storms? And, what can we learn from the experience?


In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, many questions remain regarding the unique storm.

While residents across the Eastern Seaboard were preparing their homes and families for a potential disaster, storm trackers were working around the clock, trying to predict where Sandy was going to make landfall.

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Early on, the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center predicted that the hurricane would make a rare left turn and head for the East Coast, rather than moving east and winding down over the Atlantic Ocean.

David Legates, professor of geography at the University of Delaware, explained that meteorologists were, for the most part, right on point.

“It went almost as predicted,” said Legates. “Early on, they were saying it was coming up over Delaware and it actually wound up going over southern Jersey. It was more fortunate for us because it puts us in the left quadrant, which means the winds were off shore. We had winds turn to the west fairly early which meant the winds blowing off shore didn’t give us as much driving force as they got in northern Jersey and New York City.”

According to Legates, Sandy was rare because of a combination of four weather conditions; a hurricane, a blocking high that kept the storm from going out to sea, a low pressure system moving through a front and abnormally high tide conditions.

“There were a number of things that happened,” said Legates. “We had a hurricane come up from the Caribbean, from Jamaica and over Cuba and it was blocked by a large high pressure system near Iceland and up in the Northern Atlantic. So, the storm was moving fairly slow and at the same time have a lot of cold air coming down from Canada, coming down from the west and so the storm essentially made a left turn. Coupling all that is the fact that we had an astronomically high tide on top of everything.”

Getting those weather conditions together at the same time is something rarely seen by experts, and while Sandy had similarities to the storm if 1962 and the Perfect Storm in 1991, Legates said Sandy was one of a kind.

“It’s sort of on its own,” said Legates. “It is more like the Perfect Storm in that a number of things came together at the same time. The storm of 62’ was a straight nor’easter, just slow moving and here for about five tidal cycles. This one hung around for four tidal cycles so we had a lot of costal flooding and a lot of costal battering as a result of it.”

While Delaware escaped Sandy’s destruction with minimal damage, our northern neighbors in New Jersey and New York weren’t as lucky and many can’t help but ask “what would have happened if Delaware took the direct hit?”

According to Legates, if Sandy would have made landfall further south, the Delaware coastline would look similar to the Jersey Shore.

“If it would have hit, essentially if it would have gone up the Chesapeake Bay, what you would have seen was Delaware would have been in the right front quadrant and we would have been seeing damage probably like what they’re seeing in New Jersey,” said Legates. “It’s just the fact that it moved further north. It spared us but it didn’t spare New Jersey and New York and they’re getting the brunt of what the storm produced.”

Since the storm was predicted ahead of time, residents and emergency officials had time to take precautions ahead of the storm. Legates said one thing we can learn from Sandy is you can never be too prepared.

“Take precautions when you’re supposed to, evacuate when you’re supposed to because in this case, the National Weather Service was right on.”

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