A close call with Sandy

Published 9:36 pm Monday, October 29, 2012

As Hurricane Sandy passed by the coast of Virginia from 8 a.m. to noon or so on Monday, the water level rose in rivers and streams all around Hampton Roads. It was the strongest evidence yet that there was a massive storm off to the east, headed for a catastrophic impact with the northeast coast of the United States.

For two days, Suffolk joined the rest of Hampton Roads in hunkering down, tying down and keeping our heads down while the monster of a storm churned up the coast. The local weather effects had begun on Saturday, while the center of this hurricane was still off the coast of South Carolina.

Those effects — moderately strong winds and intermittent rain — were generally light, and they stayed that way with occasional exceptions even as the hurricane passed Virginia.

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In fact, Sandy’s strongest winds and hardest rains weren’t recorded by the National Weather Service’s Suffolk Executive Airport monitoring station until late Monday afternoon, after the hurricane had made its turn west, heading for the coast of New Jersey. The turn actually put more of Virginia into the tropical-storm-strength wind field than had been in that position when Sandy passed the Virginia-North Carolina border.

Downtown Suffolk was something of a ghost town at that point of the day on Monday. The city’s normally bustling streets and sidewalks were being drenched with rain from the storm’s outer bands, and much of the city’s population was inside, watching the news, sleeping in or posting hurricane status updates on Facebook and Twitter.

That left streets and sidewalks all but empty, according to Suffolk News-Herald Publisher Steve Stewart.
“In two hours, I saw exactly two human beings on downtown sidewalks: a UPS driver, delivering through the proverbial hell or high water, and one of equal diligence, Mr. Downtown himself, Andy Damiani, umbrella in tow, rounding Saratoga on to West Washington,” he said in an email.

Once again, Andy Damiani proves that you just can’t keep a good man down.

But even as conditions worsened locally throughout the day on Monday, folks in Suffolk joined others around the nation in watching the drama unfold. Images from North Carolina’s Outer Banks hinted at the destruction that could accompany Sandy’s storm surge. And flooding in Hampton Roads and then Maryland confirmed there was reason to worry about what was heading for the Northeast.

Here in Suffolk, as the tide moved up the Nansemond River, things turned bad once again at Harbor Side Restaurant, which has seen flooding during hurricanes and nor’easters and was the victim of an unusually high tide resulting from Sandy’s passage.

Drawing on their unfortunate experience in the matter, though, owners were taking care of the situation with determination and optimism, predicting they’ll be open again in a month, despite two feet of water inside the building on Monday.

Things could have been a lot worse, they seemed to be saying. It was the same sentiment of people all around Hampton Roads — especially those who had their eyes on the weather radar images showing a monstrous, strong Category 1 hurricane plowing directly into the coast of New Jersey.