Just in case

Published 10:13 pm Monday, October 22, 2012

In case you needed a reminder that the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season still has a bit of life left in it, here’s a name that could become distressingly familiar by this time next week: Sandy.

On a day in which two different tropical depressions formed in the Atlantic Basin, one of those, Tropical Depression 18 strengthened enough to be upgraded to a tropical storm. Tropical Storm Sandy, as it is now called, could intensify to hurricane strength as it approaches Jamaica on Wednesday, forecasters say, and its path from there will take it generally to the north-northeast.

But a few degrees of change to either side of the long-term projections could make all the difference to the East Coast. Some computer models show the storm taking a course that would generally spare the U.S. mainland after delivering fierce winds and life-threatening rainfall to Jamaica and the Bahamas between now and the weekend.

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One reputable model shows the storm heading a bit more northwest and tracking the coast from Florida to the Carolinas before heading inland. In the worst version of that nightmare scenario, Sandy’s storm surge would wreak havoc along the coast, and its rain would cause heavy flooding inland along the mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Even the Appalachian Mountains might not be spared in that scenario, as heavy, wet snow could account for the majority of the precipitation on the storm’s western edge.

Any storm that’s still more than 1,000 miles away is too far away for panic — which, frankly, is never a good reaction, anyway. But a healthy dose of respect is always appropriate, along with a good emergency plan and a moderate dose of advanced preparation.

It’s easy to forget that many of the worst hurricanes and tropical storms to lash Virginia through the years have blown through after Labor Day. Hurricane Hazel, the 1954 storm that caused severe flooding in the Blue Ridge region and whose winds were clocked gusting at 108 mph in Suffolk, hit Virginia on Oct. 15, 1954. And Hurricane Juan brought severe flooding along the Chesapeake Bay and in Northern Virginia and West Virginia on Nov. 4-5, 1985. In 1925, a hurricane tracked past Virginia as late as Dec. 2.

With the new school year in full swing, plans being made for the coming holidays and everyone tuned in to — or trying to avoid — the looming elections, it would also be easy to ignore the need to prepare for the worst. Fortunately, there are some pretty good resources available to Virginians who want to be ready, just in case. A good place to start is www.vaemergency.gov, where you’ll find a variety of maps, guides and lists to get you started.

No matter what her final path, Sandy will not strike Virginia without warning. Take advantage of that warning and make a few preparations, just in case.