Hurricane Sandy hits the USA

Costly hurricane season in 2012

19 August 2012 00:00 UTC-29 October 00:00 UTC

Hurricane Sandy hits the USA
Hurricane Sandy hits the USA

Hurricane season in 2012 was one of the costliest in US history, due to Hurricane Sandy, featured here with three other cases.

Last Updated

24 March 2023

Published on

02 March 2023


20 Aug, Azores
By Jochen Kerkmann, Nuno Moreira

Tropical storm Gordon passed through Santa Maria island on 20 August with a sea level pressure of 980hPa, hours before becoming extratropical.

Although Gordon passed directly over the easternmost islands in the Azores, there was little damage.

Hurricane Gordon hits eastern Azores islands
Figure 1: Meteosat-9 Airmass RGB, 19 August 2012 00:00 UTC
Figure 2: Meteosat-9 Airmass RGB animation, 19 August 2012 00:00 UTC-20 August 07:30 UTC


29 Aug, New Orleans
By HansPeter Roesli

On the 7th anniversary of the day Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Hurricane Isaac hit the city. Unlike Katrina, which, at its peak, was a devastating Category 5 hurricane, Isaac is a Category 1 hurricane with wind speeds of around 80mph (130km/h).

While Isaac was moving ashore in Louisiana, it produced a high storm surge that reached 11.0ft (3.4m) in Shell Beach. Five people died and at least 901,000 homes lost electricity during the passage of Isaac in Louisiana.

Hurricane Isaac hits New Orleans
Figure 3: Metop-A AVHRR, 29 August 2012 03:01 UTC

Leslie and Michael

8-9 Sep, Cabo Verde
By HansPeter Roesli

Tropical Storm Leslie (West) and Hurricane Michael (East) were more or less stationary during the 24 hours of the image sequence.

Michael grew into a category-2 storm developing a fine eye. Just west of Cabo Verde cloud structures might have led to another tropical storm.

Figure 4: Meteosat-9 Airmass, 8 September 2012 12:00 UTC-9 September 12:00 UTC


22-29 Oct, Bahamas, Canada, Caribbean Sea, Cuba, Jamaica, Greenland, USA
By Joanne Camp, James Cotton and Julian Heming (Met Office)

Sandy was the 18th tropical storm and the 10th hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic season and became one of the most significant storms in northeast US history. The storm resulted in 185 fatalities (at least 65 of those in the Caribbean) and caused over $50 billion in damage, making it the second most costly hurricane in US history, behind Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Sandy made landfall on the eastern seaboard of the USA, bringing strong winds, torrential rain, blizzards and a significant storm surge along the mid-Atlantic and northeast coasts. The most notable aspect of the storm was its size, which resulted in widespread destruction affecting 24 US states.

During its lifecycle, Hurricane Sandy was closely monitored by geostationary satellites operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and also from several polar orbiting satellites operated by NOAA, EUMETSAT and other space agencies.

Hurricane Sandy hits the USA
Figure 5: Metop-A, AVHRR, 28 October 2012 14:37 UTC

Tropical Storm Sandy developed from an area of low pressure in the Caribbean Sea to the south of Jamaica on Monday 22 October 2012. The storm rapidly intensified over warm waters and in a region of low wind shear and was upgraded to a category 1 hurricane (Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale) on Wednesday 24 October. Hurricane Sandy was observed by NOAA's GOES-13 satellite (see Figure 1 in this report, 24 October 2012, 14:45 UTC) showing the formation of an eye shortly before making landfall near Kingston, Jamaica, with winds of 80mph.

After leaving Jamaica, Sandy started to strengthen and on Thursday 25 October made a second landfall in Santiago de Cuba, in eastern Cuba, as a category 2 hurricane with winds of 110mph. The passage of Hurricane Sandy as it crossed Cuba was captured by NASA's Suomi NPP satellite (see Figure 2 in report, 25 October 2012) revealing areas of deep convection around the eye.

Sandy then tracked slowly northwards, passing through the Bahamas. During this time Sandy started to encounter more unfavourable conditions and briefly weakened to a tropical storm before re-intensifying back up to a category 1 hurricane. Even by this stage, the wind field from Sandy was starting to expand and tropical-storm force winds (39–73mph) were being recorded up to 450m from the storms centre (NHC, 2012). The huge size of Hurricane Sandy was captured by GOES-13 (Figure 3 in report, 26 October 2012, 14:15 UTC). A well-defined band of cloud can be seen approaching from the west, marking a powerful cold front later to merge with Hurricane Sandy.

By Saturday 27 October, Sandy had started to track to the northeast, steered by the upper-level low over the eastern US. The wider view from GOES-13 (see Figure 4 in report, 28 October 2012, 17:45 UTC) shows the outer circulation of Hurricane Sandy already interacting with the long line of cloud associated with the cold front. A close-up view of Sandy off the southeast coast of the US were captured by NASA's Terra satellite (see Figure 5 in report, 28 October 2012, 16:00 UTC). The intense outer bands were already reaching the mid-Atlantic coast, causing gusty wind and heavy rain across North Carolina and parts of Virginia.

Sandy continued tracking north-eastward until it encountered a ridge of high pressure situated over Greenland/Atlantic Canada, which gave the storm an unusual turn to the left and accelerated it toward the US coast.

As Sandy approached the northeast coast of the USA, the warm moist air circulating within the hurricane met the cold air spreading south into the north-eastern USA from Canada. The interaction with the cold air gave the storm additional energy, allowing it to strengthen and expand even further. Sandy was now transitioning from a warm core to a cold core system (a post-tropical storm) more akin to a Nor'easter.

By Monday 29 October, Sandy had intensified into a strong category 1 hurricane with winds of 90mph and the wind field measured over 1,000 nautical miles in diameter. The storm had been given the nickname 'Superstorm Sandy'. As Sandy approached the US East coast it was observed by EUMETSAT's Metop-A polar orbiting satellite (see Figure 6 and Figure 7 in report, 29 October 2012, 14:16 UTC). The Advanced Scatterometer (ASCAT) instrument on Metop-A can be used to retrieve estimates of 10m ocean surface winds and at this time the most intense winds were found to be south/southeast of the storm centre, with average wind speeds of just over 30m/s (67mph). The low level circulation around the storm is also clearly captured.

Sandy was classified as a post-tropical storm just shortly before landfall near Atlantic City, New Jersey, on Tuesday 30 October. The large size of the storm, which covered 1.8 million square miles, from the Mid-Atlantic to the Ohio Valley, into Canada and New England (NASA 2012a), was captured by GOES-13 (Figure 8 in report, 30 October 2012, 10:02 UTC).

After landfall Sandy rapidly weakened as it headed west across Pennsylvania and was declared a remnant low by Wednesday 31 October. The remains of the storm over the Great Lakes, New England and Canada were observed by GOES-13 satellite a day later (Figure 9 in report, 1 November 2012, 05:31 UTC).

Impact of Hurricane Sandy in the Caribbean

Hurricane Sandy caused widespread devastation across the Caribbean islands of Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba and the Dominican Republic — thousands of farms were damaged and large areas of staple crops were destroyed. In Haiti alone, 1,000 acres of crops were lost and 20in of rain caused widespread flooding which killed livestock and left around 200,000 people homeless (British Red Cross, 2012).

The intensity of rainfall across the Caribbean was captured by NASA's TRMM (Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission) satellite (see Figure 10 in report, 25 October 2012, 1425 UTC). Rainfall rates of up to 20–40mm per hour (coloured in green and blue) were recorded close to the centre of the storm and in an intense rainband crossing Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The heaviest rainfall (>50mm (2in) per hour) was occurring in the Dominican Republic (coloured in red) at the time the image was taken.

Impact of Sandy on the east coast of the US

Sandy brought torrential rain, strong winds, blizzard conditions and a record storm surge to many areas along the Mid-Atlantic and northeast coast of the US, with the greatest damage to New York City and northeast New Jersey.

Overall, over 50 million people were thought to be affected by the storm (BBC, 2012a). In New York City 375,000 people were evacuated from low-lying areas and the New York Stock Exchange was closed due to 'adverse weather' for the first time in 27 years (BBC, 2012b). Along the US east coast, an estimated 15,000 flights were cancelled and many airports were closed (BBC, 2012a). A state of emergency was declared in nine US states.

The greatest impact from Sandy was the storm surge, which rose to over 14ft (4.3m) at Bergen Point, New Jersey. Much of the coastline was inundated with seawater (BBC, 2012e) and many houses along the barrier island were damaged or washed away (NASA, 2012b). An aerial view of the town of Mantoloking, located just to the north of where Sandy made landfall, was provided by NOAA's Remote Sensing Division (see Figure 11 in report, 31 October 2012). The main bridge, which connects the island to the mainland, is partially underwater and an entire section of Route 35 (Ocean Boulevard) has been washed away (NASA, 2012b).

Sandy also caused a record surge of seawater in New York City (BBC, 2012e), flooding many of the low-lying streets and part of the subway system. Winds of over 80mph also brought down trees and caused major damage to buildings (BBC, 2012c). In the borough of Queens, more than 100 homes were damaged or burnt down as fires broke out due to ruptured gas pipes (BBC, 2012c).

Another significant impact from Sandy was the loss of power which occurred as floodwaters rose and flying debris and falling trees knocked down power lines. The scale of the blackouts in New York City, particularly in lower Manhattan and the town of Rockaway Beach, Long Island was captured by NASA's Suomi NPP satellite (see Figure 12 in report, 1 November 2012, 06:52 UTC). The coast of New Jersey, including the town of Mantoloking as shown in Figure 11, is shrouded in darkness. It is estimated that 8.5 million people from Maine to South Carolina, and as far west as Ohio, lost power because of the storm (NASA, 2012c).

Other images

Metop-A AVHRR RGB Image (29 Oct 14:16 UTC)
Suomi NPP VIIRS DNB Image (28 Oct 06:42 UTC, source:
NASA Earth Observatory: Overnight view of hurricane Sandy )
Blended Total Precipitable Water (TPW) Product (29 Oct 17:00 UTC,
source: NOAA NESDIS)
Animation GOES-13 IR (28 Oct 18:15 UTC - 20 Oct 16:45 UTC,
source: HansPeter Roesli)
Animation GOES-13 IR and weather radar (29 Oct, 11:10 - 23:10 UTC, animated
source: HansPeter Roesli and Don Murray)

The full text and the figures are provided in this report.


BBC (2012a). US flights cancelled by storm.
BBC (2012b). Hurricane Sandy to close US markets for a second day.
BBC (2012c). New York devastation mapped.
BBC (2012d). Sandy: New Jersey before and after images.
BBC (2012e). Storm Sandy causes severe flooding in eastern US.
British Red Cross (2012). Hurricane Sandy: why it was so damaging for Caribbean communities.
NASA (2012a): Hurricane Sandy (Atlantic Ocean).
NASA (2012b). A changed coastline in Jersey.
NASA (2012c). Suomi NPP Satellite Captures Hurricane Sandy's Mid-Atlantic Blackout.
NHC (2012). Tropical Storm Sandy advisory number 20.