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On October 11, 2012 a tropical wave left the west coast of Africa. As it entered the eastern Caribbean Sea on October 18th it contained only weak winds and some showers. On October 22nd, however, this depression became a tropical storm and was named Sandy. Sandy became a hurricane on October 24th when it was located about 80 nautical miles south of Kingston, Jamaica. By the time Sandy reached Cuba on October 25th, it was a major hurricane with winds of 100 kt (knots). Sandy weakened after striking Cuba but would find a new source of energy.

As Sandy headed north up the eastern coast of the U.S., the Gulf Stream was warmer than usual thus providing energy for Sandy to reintensify. Two days before Sandy struck the New Jersey coast, it developed a system of weather fronts. The storm became what is known as "extratropical," meaning that it was no longer a tropical storm. Sandy now contained some remnants of a tropical storm and those of a nor'easter. In other words, Sandy was now a hybrid storm. Two elements would help Sandy in moving to the northwest toward New Jersey. First, there was a high pressure ridge over Greenland that blocked Sandy's path. Second, a dip in the jet stream and its surface cold front contributed to Sandy's transition into a hybrid. The combination of these two elements would turn Sandy west toward the coast.

In anticipation of the hurricane, New York's subway system shut down; 656 miles of subway track was deserted. New York's mayor ordered evacuation of low-lying areas, yet many people ignored his warning. The storm hit on Monday, Oct 29, 2012 during high tide and a full moon.

Hurricane Sandy was a powerful and huge storm, over 1,000 miles wide! Sandy would cause an estimated $68 billion (2013 USD) in damage; some 286 people in seven countries would lose their lives. An estimated 305,000 housing units were damaged or destroyed in New York alone. The storm impacted 24 states to include the entire eastern seaboard, Appalachian states, Michigan and Wisconsin. Storm names are reused every six years, but the name Sandy has been retired from use in the Atlantic Ocean. This is the 77th time a name has been retired from the Atlantic list since 1954.

You are working as an intern to the Earth to Sky Program. They have asked you to conduct an Earth System Science analysis of Hurricane Sandy. This tasking comes about due to the singular nature of this hurricane and other extreme weather noted during 2012. Be sure to note any connections made between Hurricane Sandy and climate change.


Date: 12/16/2013

Scenario Images:

Earth to Sky Logo
Earth to Sky Project Partners: NASA, NPS and USFWS

Simulation of Hurricane Sandy's Winds
Click here for a simulation of Hurricane Sandy's near surface winds from Oct 26 to Oct 31, 2012. Additional visualizations are located here. Image and animation from NASA Scientific Visualization Studio, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center.

Weather Systems Impacting Sandy's Approach
From Weather Underground: "Jet stream winds at a pressure of 300 mb (millibars) on October 29, 2012, as Hurricane Sandy approached the coast of New Jersey. Note that the wind direction over New Jersey (black arrows) was from the southeast, due to a negatively tilted trough of low pressure ove the Eastern U.S. caused by a strong blocking ridge of high pressure over Greenland." Image credit: NOAA/ESRL.



An Introduction to Earth System Science (Cycle A)
A NASA YouTube video follows Melody Ann Avery, an atmospheric scientist from NASA Langley Research Center.


Feedback Loops (Cycle A)
A YouTube video on feedback loops. From an Earth system standpoint, it is helpful to think about Earth equilibrium or a steady state. Negative feedback loops dampen or buffer changes so that a system has some equilibrium. Positive feedback loops enhance changes so that a system moves away from its state of equilibrium.


Hurricane Sandy: The Science and Impacts of a Superstorm (Cycle A)
From Weatherwise, an overview of Hurricane Sandy addressing the impacts of Hurricane Sandy. (lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere)


Perform an Earth System Analysis (Cycle A)
Hurricane Sandy was one of the most extreme events of 2012. As a hurricane it took an unusual turn to the northeast instead of heading out over the Atlantic. Scientists are still studying the impact of this storm. Your role as interns to the Earth to Sky program is to develop an Earth System Analysis of this storm.


Tutorial on Earth System Science (Cycle A)
This tutorial discusses how to analyze interactions (feedbacks and forcings) taking place in Earth as change occurs.


Why did Hurricane Sandy Take Such a Turn Into New Jersey and New York? (Cycle A)
An analysis of the variables contributing to Hurricane Sandy's unusual turn to the northeast.


Animal Fact Guide (Cycle B)
Impact of Hurricane Sandy on the biosphere.


Did Climate Change Cause Hurricane Sandy? (Cycle B)
The impact of ice melting and the North Atlantic Oscillation impact on hurricanes. (atmosphere, hydrosphere).


Does Hurricane Sandy Have a Silver Lining? (Cycle B)
Impact of open three breaches in the barrier island system along the south shore of Long Island, NY allowing waters high in nutrients to flow directly to the ocean. (biosphere, hydrosphere)


From National Park Service: Hurricane Sandy, What's Happening On Fire Island? (Cycle B)
Long Island's South Shore beaches experienced several overwashes and breaches. (hydrosphere, lithosphere)


The Hybridization of Hurricane Sandy (Cycle B)
"...there have been hybrid storms before, Superstorm Sandy was a creation distinct in meteorological annals, as it pulled together a variety of familiar ingredients in a unique way." (atmosphere, hydrosphere)


The Long Road to Recovery: Environmental Health Impacts of Hurricane Sandy (Cycle B)
From Environmental Health Perspectives: Environmental Health -- fire, sewage, mold, water surge, nuclear plants, wind, building destruction. (biosphere, anthrosphere)


The Why Files: Sandy Strikes Eastern Seaboard (Cycle B)
A quick overview of hurricanes in general, with data from Hurricane Sandy.


What will Ice-Free Arctic Summers Bring? (Cycle B)
The impact of ice melting and the North Atlantic Oscillation impact on hurricanes. (atmosphere, hydrosphere).


Explaining Hurricane Sandy from a Climate Perspective (Cycle C)
An analysis of the impact of climate change causing extreme events of 2012. See pages S2 and S17 for discussion about Hurricane Sandy.


Extreme Events of 2012 (Cycle C)
From Drought, cold, and massive storms were among the devastating climate-related events that struck the United States in 2012.


The Most Detailed Visuals of Hurricane Sandy (Cycle C)
Scientists developed awe-inspiring visualizations of Hurricane Sandy, which devastated the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states in 2012.


Sample Investigations:


Hurricanes Lessons and Demos (Cycle A)
From the Challenger Space Centers: lessons and activities that could be used to demonstrate hurricane interactions with Earth spheres from an Earth system perspective.
Difficulty: beginner


Tropical Cyclone Report: Hurricane Sandy (Anthrosphere) (Cycle A)
A detailed report on the storm's impact from NOAA's National Hurricane Center.
Difficulty: beginner


Hurricane Sandy: The Documentary (Cycle B)
A dramatic coverage with interviews starting with the formation of the hurricane and following through the landfall on the east coast. 29:16 See also 2012 HURRICANE Sandy -- Super Storm NY: What Really Happened. this video contains questions about global climate change. 44:58
Difficulty: beginner


Resources for Teaching a Workshop on Earth System Science (Cycle B)
Using these resources, a workshop of up to one day can be conducted. From SERC Carleton's EarthLabs.
Difficulty: beginner


Teaching Hurricane Sandy: Ideas and Resources (Cycle C)
From the New York Times Learning Network. Using these resources, instructors can engage students from multiple perspectives.
Difficulty: beginner




  • Science
    National Science Education Standards - Science Content Standards The science content standards outline what students should know, understand, and be able to do in the natural sciences over the course of K-12 education.
      The understandings and abilities associated with the following concepts and processes need to be developed throughout a student's educational experiences:
      • Systems, order, and organization
      • Constancy, change, and measurement
      • Science as Inquiry (Std A)
        • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
      • Physical Science (Std B)
        • Motions and forces
        • Transfer of energy
      • Earth and Space Science (Std D)
        • Structure of the earth system
      • Science as Inquiry (Std A)
        • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
      • Physical Science (Std B)
        • Motions and forces
        • Interactions of energy and matter
      • Earth and Space Science (Std D)
        • Energy in the earth system
  • Mathematics
    Principles and Standards for School Mathematics, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), 2000 This set of Standards proposes the mathematics concepts that all students should have the opportunity to learn. Each of these ten Standards applies across all grades, prekindergarten through grade 12. Even though each of these ten Standards applies to all grades, emphases and expectations will vary both within and between the grade bands (K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12). For instance, the emphasis on number is greatest in prekindergarten through grade 2, and by grades 9-12, number receives less instructional attention. Also the total time for mathematical instruction will be divided differently according to particular needs in each grade band - for example, in the middle grades, the majority of instructional time would address algebra and geometry.
      Mathematics instructional programs should use communication to foster understanding of mathematics so that all students—
      • organize and consolidate their mathematical thinking to communicate with others;
  • Geography
    Geography for Life: National Geography Standards, 1994
      Geography studies the relationships between people, places, and environments by mapping information about them into a spatial context. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
      • How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools and technologies to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective
      Physical processes shape Earth’s surface and interact with plant and animal life to create, sustain, and modify ecosystems. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
      • The physical processes that shape the patterns of Earth’s surface
  • Technology
    The International Society for Technology Education From and
      • Students use technology tools to enhance learning, increase productivity, and promote creativity.
      • Students use technology resources for solving problems and making informed decisions.
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