Hurricane Sandy Was A 'Once Every 700 Years' Occurrence, Study Says

By iScienceTimes Staff on July 17, 2013 3:07 PM EDT

sandy
Hurricane Sandy was a once-ever-700-years storm, says a new study published in Geophysical Research Letters. (Photo: Reuters)

Hurricane Sandy was a weather phenomenon only likely to hit once every 700 years, according to a new study published in Geophysical Research Letters.

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A number of factors combined to make Hurricane Sandy unique, according to Timothy Hall of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, a co-author of the study. Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast at a perpendicular angle, which is unusual. A region of high pressure pushed Hurricane Sandy into land at the perpendicular angle -- instead of out to sea -- which caused particularly severe flooding. There was also a full moon when Hurricane Sandy struck, raising tides by 20 percent.  

"The particular shape of Sandy's trajectory is very peculiar, and that's very rare, on the order of once every 700 years," said Hall.

Put another way, the chance of a Hurricane Sandy type storm happening is just 0.14 percent in any given year.

Hall, along with Columbia University mathematician Adam Sobel, created computer models to test out the likelihood of another Hurricane Sandy. Their statistical model generated millions of computer-model hurricanes, with Hall and Sobel focusing on hurricanes that originated as tropical storms, as Hurricane Sandy was when it originated.  

In their computer simulations, Hall and Sobel saw most of their hurricane models touch the coast before hooking out into the ocean. Hurricane Sandy, rather uniquely, hit the East Coast at just 17 degrees from being perfectly perpendicular, which Hall and Sobel found to be an extremely rare occurrence.

Hall told LiveScience that the point of his study wasn't to make people think a Hurricane Sandy can't happen again anytime soon.

"We don't want to lead with the misimpression that we don't have to worry, [that] it's going to be 700 years until we have another surge," Hall said. "That's not true."

Hurricane Sandy was one of the deadliest hurricanes to ever hit the northeastern United States, claiming 72 U.S. lives. With damage costs estimated at $50 billion, Hurricane Sandy is the second most costly hurricane to hit the U.S., after Hurricane Katrina.

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