Hurricane Sandy Monday Morning Update

USCG Sailboat storm rescue at sea
A Coast Guard Station Port O’ Connor, Texas’ 41-foot Response Boat rescue crew prepares to tow the 39-foot sailboat Petite Louis III 11 miles south east of the Matagorda jetties, Friday Oct. 26, 2012. While far from the storm center, the boat was one of the first to need rescue from the effects of Hurricane Sandy.

Update: Radar suggest that the center may be moving faster than forecast and will make landfall near Atlantic City sooner than forecast perhaps by late this afternoon or early this evening.

Meanwhile, a NOAA Buoy south of Long Island reporting gusts to 58kt/67mph. Via OceanWeatherServices blog.

(Bloomberg) – With waves of 15-23 feet have been reported near the shores of New York city,  Hurricane Sandy, the Atlantic’s largest-ever tropical storm, is poised to strike the East Coast today or early tomorrow with a life-threatening surge, emptying the streets of the nation’s largest cities and lashing a region of 60 million with gales, rain and even snow.

The storm, 900 miles across, shut the federal government and state administrations from Virginia to Massachusetts. It halted travel, prevented U.S. stock markets from opening and upended the presidential campaign. It may cause more than $6 billion in damage and knock out power to 10 million for a week.

“We have to take this seriously,” PresidentBarack Obama said of what he called “a serious and big storm.”

Sandy packed maximum sustained winds of 90 miles (145 kilometers) per hour, up from 75 mph earlier, the National Hurricane Center said at 11 a.m. New York time. The storm’s eye was about 260 miles south-southeast of New York. It is not expected to weaken before striking at Cape May, New Jersey, the center said. It may bring a surge of nearly 12 feet (3.7 meters) in Manhattan, said Howard Glaser, New York’s director of state operations.

“You can see water lapping up on the west side of New York already,” he said at a news briefing in Manhattan.

The hurricane, blamed for 65 deaths in the Caribbean before it began barreling toward the U.S. East Coast, is expected to converge with two other systems, creating a phenomenon the National Weather Service has dubbed Frankenstorm.

Ship Abandoned

Off North Carolina’s Outer Banks, the crew of the HMS Bounty, a replica of the vessel that was the scene of a 1789 mutiny, abandoned ship when it capsized amid 18-foot seas. The crew took to lifeboats while the Coast Guard hoisted them to safety in helicopters, Kevin Sullivan, a Wilmington, North Carolina-based spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard, said by phone today. Two remained missing after 14 were rescued, the guard said in a statement.

All U.S. equity markets are closed today, including the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq, the Securities and Exchange Commission said late yesterday. Businesses and banks, including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Citigroup Inc., told employees to work from home as some lower Manhattan offices would be closed. The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association recommended that U.S. bond trading end today at noon New York time and said it would be suspended tomorrow.

Getting Wet

The city’s streets were nearly empty of pedestrians and storefronts were dark. In Hoboken, a New Jersey town across the Hudson from Lower Manhattan, the river spilled into parks, onto Sinatra Drive along the waterfront and encircled the Beaux Arts rail terminal. Police used megaphones to tell gawkers to take higher ground.

In New Hyde Park, New York, on high ground between flood zones on the Atlantic Ocean and Long Island Sound, a steady flow of customers lined up at the Dunkin Donuts on Hillside Avenue. Emergency medical technician Widley Jeanmarie parked his ambulance outside and ordered a coffee before what could be a 24-hour shift.

“I know there are going to be a lot of calls,” he said.

Roads on the island were sparsely trafficked about 8:30 a.m., as wind bent treetops and shook cars.

Rising Tide

The Coast Guard station in Atlantic City, New Jersey, was nearly surrounded with water this morning during high tide, and a skeleton crew of about 12 remained before retreating to a more secure casino about 11:15 a.m. The post started receiving distress calls from residents who didn’t evacuate, including one from a woman in a house with three children where water was flowing in, said Petty Officer First Class Paul Vanacore.

In Maryland, there was tidal flooding along the Chesapeake Bay. In Ocean City, a resort on the Atlantic Coast, pounding surf flooded the streets downtown and destroyed about half of the city’s fishing pier, Governor Martin O’Malley said.

“There’s water all over the streets there,” he said.

Sandy’s punch may be felt from Virginia to Massachusetts, said Rick Knabb, the hurricane center’s director. Warnings of gusts as strong as 70 miles per hour stretch from Maine to North Carolina and as far west as Ohio, according to theNational Weather Service.

Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney shifted their campaign schedules and canceled appearances. Obama, who had planned a rally in Orlando this morning, is returning to Washington to monitor the storm, White House spokesman Jay Carney said in an e-mailed statement. Obama called off a trip to Wisconsin tomorrow.

Flights Grounded

Insured losses may exceed $6 billion in the U.S., led by costs in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and New York, according to estimates from Kinetic Analysis Corp. compiled by Bloomberg. As many as 10 million people may lose power, according to Seth Guikema, a Johns Hopkins University engineer whose computer model shows the storm’s potential effects.

More than 9,500 flights were canceled in the U.S. through tomorrow, according to FlightAware, a Houston-based tracking company, and mass transit stopped in New York, New Jersey, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington.

Crude oil fell for the first time in three days in New York while gasoline prices rose as refineries curbed operations. Phillips 66, NuStar Energy LP (NS) and Hess Corp. (HES) shut or reduced output at New Jersey refineries ahead of the storm’s landfall.

Battle for Manhattan

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, issued evacuation orders for 375,000 people and opened 72 shelters before the 7 p.m. closing yesterday of the city’s mass-transit system. The Battery and Holland tunnels will close at 2 p.m. today because of flood risks, Glaser said, restricting access to the city’s most densely populated borough.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said at the briefing that the National Guard is doubling its complement of troops deployed in the state, to total 2,000, and were loading sandbags at the World Trade Center site, which runs a flood risk from the Hudson River.

Connecticut’s Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy ordered evacuation of areas home to 363,000 people as the storm threatened to pile up water in Long Island Sound, the state’s southern shoreline.

NYC Storm Surge

Tonight’s storm surge in New York’s Battery, if it hits at high tide, may top the 10.02-foot record set by Hurricane Donna in September 1960, said Sean Potter, a spokesman for the weather service in Upton, New York. It would be 2 feet higher than the surge Hurricane Irene threw ashore in August 2011.

Normal high tides generally just top 5 feet, according to data from the U.S. Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service. Flood stage is 6.7 feet. Storm surges may exceed 8 feet from Ocean City, Maryland to Rhode Island, according to the center.

“It couldn’t be a worse scenario with the storm coming around with a full moon,” said Mark Hoekzema, chief meteorologist at Earth Networks in Germantown, Maryland. “The full moon with the high tides are going to add another 1 to 2 feet and then there is wave action on top of that.”

As much as 3 feet of snow may fall in West Virginia.

The hurricane center’s five-day track shows the system turning north over Pennsylvania at tropical-storm strength before weakening as it crosses into New York State, over Lake Ontario and into Canada and western Maine.

As it passes, temperatures will drop in interior West Virginia and the Appalachians to around 20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 7 Celsius) and into the 30s and 40s throughout much of the rest of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states, which could lead to problems for people without power, said Rick Knabb, director of the hurricane center.

Going It Alone

In New Jersey, Republican Governor Chris Christie ordered coastal barrier islands and casinos in Atlantic City evacuated.

On the island of Brigantine, connected to Atlantic City by one bridge, about 70 percent of the town’s 9,500 residents remained, said James Bennett, director of its office of emergency management.

“We’ve basically been told to expect to survive on our own for a while if we get cut off,” he said in an interview yesterday at the police station.

The storm is also affecting the Nov. 6 elections. Maryland’s O’Malley said the state would cancel early voting today, and polling stations will be open Nov. 2 instead. Virginia’s Board of Elections is open for extended hours to handle absentee voting driven by the storm, Republican Governor Bob McDonnell said. Connecticut extended its voter-registration deadline by two days, to Nov. 1.

Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia said the weather would “throw havoc” into the race, and Republican pollster Whit Ayres said it might change its course.

US Presidential Election

Unlike many late-breaking developments of U.S. presidential elections past, neither side is certain which candidate, if either, will be helped or hurt.What’s clear for both President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney is that the superstorm brewing off the East Coast is shaking up an already hard-to-predict contest as it enters its final week, upending campaign schedules and interfering with the rivals’ ability to communicate with voters as they make their closing arguments.

Far from the projected storm path, Sandy claimed its latest political casualty this morning when Obama canceled an appearance at a rally in Orlando, Florida, that had been his last remaining chance for face time with voters in a politically competitive state before the tempest hits. He returned to the White House.

The president also canceled a campaign event scheduled for tomorrow in Green Bay, Wisconsin, to “closely monitor the impact of and response to Hurricane Sandy,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.

Romney too was reshuffling his schedule to maximize his presence in battleground states while staying away from the storm-threatened areas. The Republican nominee planned events in Ohio and Iowa to start a week that both candidates were using to make final public pushes before voters, even as advisers fretted about the weather’s potential impact on their bids.

Let’s Eat

Residents along the East Coast had more mundane concerns.

In Washington, no eggs or milk could be found on grocery shelves when Lavonda Golden, 51, went shopping this morning.

“People had carts and carts full of stuff like it was going to be doomsday,” she said, while stopping at Ben’s Chili Bowl, a restaurant on U Street.

Golden, a teacher whose school was closed, said most of her students, “are gonna be very, very glad for the weather.”

As for herself, Golden said, she was looking forward to going back to bed.

By Brian K. Sullivan, Esme E. Deprez, Henry Goldman and Julie Hirschfeld Davis ©2012 BLOOMBERG