Island awaits Sandy’s winds, storm surge; Code Red warning issued

We hope the predicted worse-than-usual hurricane season won't get this bad: this satellite image shows Hurricane Sandy as it barreled up the coast off the Carolinas. — Photo courtesy of NOAA

A Code Red announcement using the Islandwide telephone/email emergency notification system was issued at 5 pm, Sunday, describing Sandy as a large and dangerous system.

“We will experience damaging winds, and widespread power outages over an unusually long period of time,” the message, printed in its entirety below, delivered to Island residents said. “South facing beaches will be especially hazardous due to high energy surf generated by this storm, as well as due to severe beach erosion, and potentially severe coastal flooding.”

In anticipation of the effects from Hurricane Sandy, Superintendent of School James Weiss ordered Island schools closed Monday and Tuesday. Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and Tisbury officials said town offices will be closed. More towns are expected to follow suit.

The Chilmark Community Center will open at 6 pm to provide emergency shelter for people threatened by coastal flooding. It will close at noon, Tuesday.

The VTA will continue to operate “until it is no longer safe to do so,” Angela Grant, VTA director, said.

Residents are asked to stay off the roads on Monday.

Due to the current weather situation, Governor deval Patrick directed that non-emergency employees working in executive branch agencies should not report to their workplaces on Monday.

Although the massive storm is predicted to make landfall south of New York City, Island emergency management officials are preparing for power outages, coastal flooding, fallen tress and significant coastal erosion that could reshape coast lines.

Martha’s Vineyard officials met Sunday afternoon to coordinate preparations for the arrival of Hurricane Sandy generated wind, rain and storm surge. The meeting in the Dukes County administration building began with a Mass Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) conference call attended by Governor Deval Patrick and more than 450 callers from across the state.

“I think it is fair to say it is more a wind event than a rain event, but it is a serious wind event, or at least potentially so,” Governor Patrick said. “We will begin to feel the effects later tonight and through the day tomorrow, and with the strength of some of the gusts it is going to be a public safety hazard to be out on the roads and out and about.”

Bob Thompson and Glen Field of the National Weather Service provided the Island officials an update on what south facing communities could expect.

“This is a very, very big storm,” Glen Field said.

Mr. Field said the critical part of the forecast hurricane track is a sharp left turn into central or northern New Jersey.

Mr. Field said the storm’s barometric pressure is 28 and expected to drop to 27, extremely low pressure for a storm this far north, he said, and possibly a sign it is intensifying.

He said hurricane force winds are expected between Virginia and Chatham. “Whether these are sustained or in gusts, they are expected and they will cause a lot of damage,” he said.

Mr. Field said there are three forecast concerns.

The widespread power outages that will occur due to falling trees and limbs, far worse than Irene, due to the duration of the storm.

In the case of Irene, the wind bursts lasted a few hours. “What we are looking for is 12 to perhaps 18 continuous hours of winds that are gusting to 50, 60 or even higher, 60 to 80 along the coast.

The timing of the wind gusts is also a factor. The gusting winds are expected to reach the coast about 2 am Monday and continue to pick up throughout the day.

Mr. Thompson said storm surge coupled with tide cycles is expected to create moderate to major coastal flooding during the afternoon high tide Monday.

Mr. Thompson said beach erosion is likely to be severe.

“It would not be surprising if come Tuesday morning some of our coastline actually looks a little bit different in a few spots,” he said. “This is the type of storm that could create new inlets or just reshape some of our sand barriers along our coastline.”

Code Red text

Island emergency management officials issued the following Code Red message Sunday.

“This is a public safety message concerning hurricane Sandy. Sandy is now a large and dangerous system. We will experience damaging winds, and wide-spread power outages over an unusually long period of time. South facing beaches will be especially hazardous due to high energy surf generated by this storm, as well as due to severe beach erosion, and potentially severe coastal flooding.

“We expect these conditions to begin early tomorrow, Monday, October 29, with a good chance of lasting well into Tuesday and possibly Wednesday.

“All Vineyard Public Schools will be closed Monday and Tuesday. All town halls will be closed Monday and possibly Tuesday. The Steamship Authority is suspending operations beginning Monday.

“If your property is prone to flooding, consider locating to higher ground. A shelter will be opened at the Chilmark Community Center starting at 6pm today Sunday, October 28.

“Take precautions now to protect yourself, your family, and your property. By now you should have assembled non-persishable food, water, flashlight and batteries, portable battery-powered radio, and have secured all loose items in your yard.

“Please stay off the roads during the storm and afterwards to allow clean-up crews to do their work unimpeded. Some roads may be impassable.

“Check your town and local webpages for updates.

“Thank you, and stay safe.”