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

How Bad Was Hurricane Sandy?

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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 hit New Jersey on October 29, 2012. It did $71.5 billion in economic damage, according to the National Hurricane Center. It had been a Category 3 storm, but downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it made landfall. (Source: "The Thirty Costliest U.S. Tropical Cyclones," Not adjusted for inflation. NOAA Technical Memorandum, August 2013.)

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 New York Stock Exchange, 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

Since Sandy hit a major travel hub, it severely affected transportation. 

  • More than 15,000 flights into New York and other East Coast airports were canceled. As of the Tuesday following the storm, 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 been moved to yards and were not damaged.
  • MTA bus systems were shut down. Limited bus service was restored Tuesday afternoon, and 100 percent reactivated by the Wednesday following the storm.
  • AMTRAK was closed.
  • Bridges and roadways were closed in Manhattan. East River bridges were open as of Tuesday. Cab drivers were allowed to pick up more than one passenger.

Blizzard Impact

As the storm hit the cold front, rain turned to snow. That brought blizzard conditions and dropped two to three feet of snow on West Virginia. Some areas of southwestern Virginia and Kentucky received two feet of now. The Appalachians in North Carolina and Tennessee received up to 18 inches. (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 dropped after the storm, despite the closure of some refineries. Oil prices initially fell, since there was 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 fourth most damaging hurricane. The worst was Hurricane Katrina, a Category 3 storm. It cost the economy between $108 billion to $250 billion. It left 1,836 people dead. Most of Katrina's damage was due to flooding in New Orleans. 

The second most damaging was Hurricane Harvey. This Category 4 storm hit Texas on August 25, 2017. It cost  $180 billion and killed 70 people.

The third was Hurricane Irma. It was a Category 5 storm that cost the economy $100 billion. Most of the damage occurred after it hit Florida on September 10, 2017. The unofficial death toll is 101 people.

Sandy beat Hurricane Ike. It was a Category 2 storm that hit Texas in 2008. It cost the U.S. economy $29.5 billion. The area had just been devastated by Hurricane Gustav two weeks earlier. 

Hurricane Andrew was a Category 5 storm that hit Florida in 1992. It destroyed $26.5 billion in property.

The worst storm to hit New York before Sandy was Hurricane Floyd in 1999. The Category 2 storm caused $4.5 billion in damage. The most recent storm that hit New York before Sandy was Hurricane Isabel in 2003. This Category 2 storm caused $3.4 billion in damage. (Source: "The Thirty Costliest U.S. Tropical Cyclones," Not adjusted for inflation. NOAA Technical Memorandum, August 2013.)