University officials used the Brown Alert system at approximately 7:30pm to notify the community that Monday classes would be canceled and administrative offices closed due to the projected effects of Sandy, a Category 1 hurricane packing 75 mile-per-hour winds and currently moving up the East Coast. Normal operations are set to resume Tuesday. Sandy’s fury is expected to affect tens of millions along the coast with wind damage, extended power outages, coastal erosion and flooding.
Rhode Island residents can expect to see the greatest impact beginning Monday morning and into the evening hours, said Lance Franck, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Taunton, Mass. Currently, the greatest concerns for the Ocean State are high winds and flooding, and experts are predicting sustained winds of 30 to 40 miles per hour and gusts of up to 80 miles per hour, he said.
Administrators have been keeping a close eye on the developing storm throughout the week and made the decision to cancel classes and other University functions this evening, said Stephen Morin, director of the University’s risk management team.
“We decided it was in everyone’s best interest not to have students and staff walking around campus,” Morin told The Herald last night. High winds and falling tree limbs pose particular concerns. “Essential staff,” including some Facilities Management, Dining Services and Department of Public Safety workers, will still be reporting, he said.
“Food and water will be available for students,” Morin wrote in an email to The Herald. ”If there is a loss of power, these efforts will be coordinated primarily at the (Sharpe) Refectory, and communications will be sent as necessary. Flashlights should be used during a power outage and not candles, and I encourage everyone to have a flashlight.”
Students and staff should check their emails and the Brown home page for updates. Officials will also use the text messaging system for further important communications, Morin said.
Other pertinent information is also available through the University Hurricane Plan, available on Brown’s website.
Morin was unsure of the last time classes were canceled due to inclement weather, but he said it’s “happened a fair amount” over the last 20 years. Usually, the offending weather system is heavy snow.
Morin also urged community members to remain indoors tomorrow and to avoid the temptation to storm-watch at beaches. “If you can, stay inside,” he said.
Most students said they plan to ride out the storm with some last-minute homework for company. Opinions about Sandy’s actual severity ran the gamut.
Sydney Peak ’15 said she thought the University’s call for cancellations were made too last-minute and could cause unfair difficulties for staff. “Brown should have made the decision in concordance with the city of Providence,” she said. Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14 declared a state of emergency yesterday, joining the ranks of 10 other states and expressing concerns about coastal flooding at a press conference.
Student preparations for the storm have not been particularly intensive, as most placed their trust in the University.
“I feel safe,” said Hannah Cole ’16. “The University probably knows what they’re doing in terms of power generation, and we’re obviously not going to starve.”
Mandatory evacuations are in effect for residents in low-lying areas of Westerly and Narragansett. The Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency opened 10 emergency shelters across the state yesterday to accommodate displaced persons, including an ice rink in Warwick that will be used specifically for pets.
All state public school districts announced closures yesterday. In a press release last night, Chafee ordered Monday classes at the Community College of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island, to be canceled. The Rhode Island School of Design, Salve Regina University, Roger Williams University, Providence College and Bryant University have also canceled classes.
As the storm looms over the Atlantic, officials are still unable to predict the exact path or total damages it may cause. But one thing is for certain – the aptly-named “Frankenstorm” is anything but average.
Sandy is a unique system because it is in the process of transforming from a hurricane into an extratropical cyclone, Franck explained. Because it is merging with a variety of systems, the storm is taking on some of the characteristics of a Nor’easter – a storm that gets its power from the difference between a cold mass of air and warm Gulf Stream water.
But Franck warned that the categorization could be confusing. People think, “‘Okay, it’s going from tropical to extratropical, it’s weakening,’” he said. “It’s actually strengthening.”
Weather experts are currently projecting Sandy will make landfall in New Jersey tonight, and most models keep the Ocean State out of the storm’s direct path. But experts are urging everyone to remain vigilant.
“You can’t just focus on the center and let your guard down in that sense, because the strong and damaging winds will extend well north and east of the center,” Franck said. “In that way, it’s much larger than your typical storm.”
The storm’s potential for damage is being compared to Hurricane Bob in 1991 and the Patriot’s Day Nor’easter in 2007, Franck said. Bob, a Category 2 hurricane, left $680 million in damages across Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Franck described Sandy, which has received a variety of Halloween-themed nicknames and drawn references to the “Perfect Storm,” as “multi-faceted.” The north and east sides of the storm are packing heavy winds, with the south and west bringing flooding rains, he said. Parts of the Appalachian mountains could see up to two feet of snow.
“It’s a tale of two storms in that sense,” Franck said.
Rhode Island’s last hit came from Category 1 Hurricane Irene in September 2011, which left nearly 300,000 residents without power and caused millions of dollars of damage. Sandy is expected to be even more costly.
“In Rhode Island particularly, the storm surge flooding will be worse, wind damage will be worse,” Franck said. “We expect it to be a greater impact than Irene.”
As stores are stripped of water, flashlights, bread and milk, officials and experts are advising residents to stay put.
“Hunker down. Prepare to stay in place for a little while,” Franck said. “(Monday) is going to be pretty dangerous with the increasing winds.”