What Are the Facts About Sandy's Damage and Economic Impact?

How Much Damage Did the Second-Worst Hurricane in U.S. History Do?

John Cerone of Shirley, New York celebrates filling his gas containers at a Valero gas station in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, on November 5, 2012 in Mastic, New York. Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Hurricane Sandy did $50 billion in economic damage, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm damaged or destroyed at least 650,000 homes, and 8 million customers lost power. Storm surges were massive: 8 1/2 feet higher than normal at Sandy Hook, New Jersey, and 12 1/2 feet at Kings Point, Long Island. (Source: "Hurricane Sandy Was Second Costliest," Huffington Post, February 12, 2013.)

Sandy closed the NYSE, the first time in 27 years since Hurricane Gloria. Even the electronic exchanges, based in New Jersey, were closed so as not to endanger the workers there. The exchanges were also closed on Tuesday, the first two-day closure due to weather since 1888. Exchange officials hope to open with at least a skeletal crew on Wednesday to prevent further economic chaos. That's because it's the last day of the month, which is when businesses close their books. (Sources:  "Sandy's Trail of Devastation," CNN, October 30, 2012. "What You Need to Know About Sandy," Bloomberg,  October 29, 2012.)

What Made Sandy So Bad?

Sandy hit the Eastern seaboard just in time for Halloween 2012. This monster was dubbed Frankenstorm by the National Weather Service because it combined an end-of-season Category 1 hurricane with a cold front and a second storm, turning torrential rain into snow. Even before hitting land, Sandy was the largest tropical storm in the Atlantic, reaching 900 miles in diameter.

This system, combined with the 150-mph winds of the jet stream, pushed the monster north toward Pennsylvania and New York State.

The storm was pushed into the United States by a third weather pattern known as the North Atlantic Oscillation. As it hit shore, it picked up more moisture from the Gulf Stream.

To make matters even worse, Sandy made landfall just in time for the full moon, making storm surges even higher than normal.

Sandy was a once-in-a-lifetime storm event, putting 50 million people at risk. Tragically, 72 people died directly because of the hurricane, and another 87 deaths occurred from hypothermia due to power outages, carbon monoxide, and accidents during cleanup.

Flooding and Winds Impact

The storm surge hit a 600-mile stretch of the Eastern Seaboard. Lower Manhattan's Battery Park was hit by 14-foot waves, beating Hurricane Donna's 10.02-foot record set in September 1960. More than 80% of Atlantic City was underwater, and some of the Boardwalk was swept away.

All five Great Lakes were warned of gale force winds as the storm headed their way on Tuesday. Waves 20 to 25 feet are possible on the south side of Lake Michigan.

Winds reached a high of 80 mph when Sandy made landfall. That's when the hurricane was downgraded from to a post-tropical storm. Winds were felt as far west as the Great Lakes and into Canada.

Power Outages

Sandy hit power stations hard. More than 8 million people were without power, as stations flooded and trees fell on power lines.

Con Ed said it received the worst damage to its system ever, leaving 780,000 people without power.

This included many hospitals. NYU Langone and Coney Island were evacuated. Lower Manhattan was completely dark. Officials said full power might not be returned for a week, as they were still assessing the damage. Repairmen were literally pumping water out of the electrical tunnels.

New York State requested 4,000 utility workers from as far away as California. At least 90% of Long Island was without power, affecting 800,000 people.

Transportation Grounded

  • More than 15,000 flights into New York and other East Coast airports were canceled. As of Tuesday morning, all three New York airports were closed.
  • New York subways were flooded with seawater and remained closed as of Tuesday morning. This was the worst damage in its 108-year history. All trains had already been moved to yards, and were not damaged.
  • MTA bus systems were shut down. Limited bus service might be restored Tuesday afternoon, and 100 percent reactivated by Wednesday.
  • AMTRAK was closed.
  • Bridges and roadways were closed in Manhattan. East River bridges were open as of Tuesday morning. Cab drivers were allowed to pick up more than one passenger.

Blizzard Impact

As the storm hit the cold front, rain turned to snow, bringing blizzard conditions and dropping two to three feet of snow on West Virginia. Some areas of southwestern Virginia and Kentucky received two feet, while the Appalachians in North Carolina and Tennessee could receive 12 to 18 inches as the storm moves through on Tuesday. (Sources: "Hurricane Sandy Put 50 Million People at Risk," ABC News, October 29, 2012. "Sandy May Push Record Surge Into Manhattan," Bloomberg, October 29, 2012. CNBC broadcast.)

Property Damage

There were more than 20 fires in the greater New York area. The largest was a six-alarm fire in Queens, more than 80 homes were destroyed despite the efforts of more than 200 firefighters who braved the hurricane to put out the fire. (Source: CNBC.)

Impact on Gas and Oil Prices

Gas price futures actually dropped after the storm, despite the closure of some refineries. Oil prices initially fell, since there will temporarily be less demand from closed refineries. (Source: CNBC. "Oil Slides Gasoline Gains as Sandy Nears United States," Bloomberg, October 29, 2012.)

How Does Sandy Compare to Other Big Storms?

Sandy was the second-worst damaging storm. The first was taken by a Category 3 storm known as Hurricane Katrina. It cost the economy at least $108 billion, delivered $80 billion in insured property damage, and left 1,836 people dead. Most of Katrina's damage was due to flooding in New Orleans. Katrina had been a Category 5 when it was still out to sea.

Sandy beat the prior second most expensive hurricane, Hurricane Ike. It was a Category 4 at its peak, and calmed down to a Category 2 when it hit Texas. Even so, it cost the U.S. economy $29.5 billion in 2008. The area had just been devastated by Hurricane Gustav. It hit Louisiana two weeks earlier. Gustav cost $4.6 billion. It had been a Category 4 at its peak, but calmed down to a Category 2 by landfall.)

Hurricane Andrew comes next. It was a Category 5 storm that hit Florida in 1995. It destroyed $26.5 billion in property. It hurled a 16.9 foot storm tide into Biscayne Bay, a record for the southeast Florida peninsula. A storm tide is the sum of the storm surge and astronomical tide.

Number 5 was Hurricane Wilma. This Category 3 storm did $21 billion in damage. It pummeled Florida in 2005 with winds as high as 120 miles per hour. 

Hurricane Irene came next. It was a Category 2 storm when it hit North Carolina on August 26, 2011. It had lost a lot of power as it traveled over land toward New York and Boston, so many people only experienced a bad storm. But it killed at least 20 people, and left 4.5 million people without power, and storm surges in Manhattan were 9 feet high. Property damage was $15.8 billion, while economic impact was $45 billion. (Source: "The Deadliest, Costliest U.S. Tropical Cyclones," Table 3a. Not adjusted for inflation. NOAA Technical Memorandum, August 2011.)

The deadliest hurricane was in 1900, killing 8,000 to 12,000 people in Galveston, Texas.  Sandy was responsible for 159 deaths, worse than Hurricane Agnes , which killed 129 people and caused $1.7 billion in damage ($13 billion in today’s dollars) in June 1972. In October 1954, Hurricane Hazel killed 95 Americans and 81 Canadians. It was a Category 4 hurricane.  (Source: "Economist: Financial Hit From Hurricane Irene Could Top $45 Billion," Fox News Insider, August 29, 2001. "Hurricane Irene's Economic Impact," NPR Nightly Business Report, August 24, 2011.)