Worst of Sandy expected through Monday evening
University of Massachusetts Amherst first year students Emily Faubert, left, and Gabrielle Dieter were surprised by a gust of wind upon leaving Hampshire Dining Commons Monday afternoon.
KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »
Left, Greg Asher and Brendan Shea, employees of the Northampton DPW, clean off street drains on Woodlawn Ave in Northampton in preparation of the storm Monday morning. Purchase photo reprints »
Downtown Northampton quiet as the storm picked up with most stores closed Monday afternoon. Purchase photo reprints »
Meteorologists are predicting residents in the Valley won’t feel the brunt of Hurricane Sandy’s wrath this week, but that doesn’t mean she won’t bring problems in her wake.
Weather experts are most concerned with wind damage that could cause power failures, with most agreeing that the region can handle the additional 1 to 3 inches of rain the hurricane is expected to bring — unless it changes course.
The National Weather Service on Monday issued a high wind warning for all of western Massachusetts through 6 a.m. today. The service also issued a flood watch for the region through this evening at 8.
Sandy was expected to produce sustained winds of 25 to 35 mph, with gusts up to 55 mph in the Valley. Winds could get up to 60 mph in the Hilltowns and higher elevations.
At those speeds, the wind could knock down tree limbs, whole trees and power lines, which could lead to power outages.
ABC40 meteorologist Dan Brown said most people can walk in 50 mph winds, but that such gusts will certainly toss around lawn furniture and other lighter items people might have unsecured at their homes. It takes wind of up to 75 mph to start throwing objects, he said.
That said, few people will want to be out in the wind if tree limbs are “raining down on us,” said Steve Sauter, a former Gazette columnist who writes about the weather and natural places.
The winds should ease up after midnight Monday, eventually dropping to a breezy 15 to 25 mph by this afternoon.
The weather for today and Wednesday won’t be pretty, but it also shouldn’t be as dangerous, Brown said.
“They will be two nasty days, breezy, cloudy and scattered showers,” he said.
Sauter urges caution with the predictions, noting that nothing is a sure bet. He said anything can happen in the next day or two, both in terms of damage caused by winds and potential flooding issues.
“All of these predictions are simply probabilities,” Sauter said.
He said if the hurricane’s course changes “ever so slightly, we could be under two or three days of rain. It’s really hard to know.”
Should that happen, the 1 to 3 inches of rain weather forecasters are currently predicting for the Valley (more in the Hilltowns) would likely climb to dangerous levels of 5 inches and above, Sauter said. That will cause significant problems to roadways in all communities, as well as individual homeowners.
As of Monday afternoon, though, Brown equated the precipitation to an “old-fashioned rainstorm,” noting that the region should be able to handle that amount of rain. He said there will likely be street and stream flooding in low-lying areas and spots that typically have flooding issues during heavy downpours.
National Weather Service meteorologist Charlie Foley agreed. He said the flooding concerns for Sandy are centered on the coast, and that river levels in the Valley are low enough to accommodate the rain.
As of 7 p.m. Monday, the Connecticut River’s elevation in Northampton was 103.07 feet, well below flood stage of 112 feet, according to National Weather Service. The Mill River in Northampton was at 6.05 — down from earlier in the day — at 7 p.m. Monday, also below flood stage of 11 feet. For comparison, the Mill River was at 16.42 on Aug. 28, when Hurricane Irene hit.
“They are low enough that the water should stay within the banks,” Foley said. “Unlike Irene, you shouldn’t have all that water and flooding.”
Tropical Storm Irene ripped through the region last summer, dumping huge amounts of rain and causing millions in damage, especially in Franklin County. During Irene, the Connecticut River peaked at 117.16 feet, while the Mill River peaked at 16.42 feet.
Sauter said he’ll be interested in seeing if Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge will push water up the Connecticut River in the coming days and what impact that might have.
“The hurricane has picked up an enormous amount of seawater ... we’ll see how much of that pushes up the Connecticut from Long Island Sound,” he said.
Meteorologists say the wind and its ability to cause power failures is a different story.
The eye of Hurricane Sandy was expected to make landfall along the southern New Jersey costs early Monday evening, the National Hurricane Center predicted Monday afternoon.
“We’re watching and waiting right now,” Foley said.