"Sandy" Series: Luck Was a Lady for Maryland

November 9th, 2012 by CHHS RAs

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By Ben Yelin, CHHS Research Associate

Almost two weeks after Superstorm Sandy made landfall in the Northeast United States, it’s stunning to still see how awful her devastation has made life for millions of people across New York and New Jersey.  As I write this, there are half a million power outages in those two states. Gasoline rationing has begun and patience is way past wearing thin. It should remind those of us living in the Baltimore/Washington area how close we came to all of this. It got me thinking…how lucky did we get?  

First of all, science was on our side. The storm unexpectedly tracked to the north. As the Maryland Weather Blog noted, one key factor was “phasing” which is the process of the “tropical, warm core, system fusing with the cold front/low pressure, cold core, system on the coast.” While phasing was expected, what was not expected was that the storm would hit the gas pedal (no pun intended) and speed up north.

Remember that mid-summer meteorological treat called the “derecho” we received?  As terrible as it was for Maryland and D.C., we can (in a way) thank Mother Nature for it because it helped clear many of the most vulnerable trees and branches in our neighborhoods, which decreased the number that could fall on power lines and cause widespread property damage during Sandy’s 40-60 mph winds.

Let’s not forget that parts of Maryland did get slammed by Sandy. Just look at Ocean City. However, that coastline’s damage is nowhere near the life-changing events that took place a few states to the north. It wasn’t just pure luck that led Maryland to dodge this weather bullet. Both state and local entities took strong preparedness actions. The mayor of Ocean City ordered a mandatory evacuation during the weekend preceding the storm. Despite the flooding and property damage, there was no loss of life. The state closed hazardous bridges to automobile traffic when the storm was at its worst. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake issued an order that only emergency vehicles could be on the road during Sandy’s peak. In terms of power outages, BGE assembled more than 2,000 workers from out-of-state, and set up large remote staging areas as a base for extra crews and vehicles. Furthermore, because the storm was warned well in advance, BGE had time to ready supplies to make relatively quick repairs to downed electric lines in the aftermath.

Of course, preparedness is necessary to weather a monumental storm, but it’s not always sufficient. New York and New Jersey weren’t slammed hardest because they weren’t prepared. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was effective in evacuating vulnerable shore cities, and New York City Mayor Bloomberg was able to evacuate vulnerable areas in Lower Manhattan. Like our neighbors to the north, Maryland prepared for the worst. But unlike New York and New Jersey, we received a little more luck.

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