With Hurricane Sandy moving over the Atlantic, this is the time where we all become amateur hurricane experts, talking about wind speed and storm surges. But because Sandy is on a path to hit an area not normally affected by storms, it could create more widespread damage, similar to what Hurricane Irene caused throughout the Northeast. And with the Northeast region already gripped by an economic slowdown, a destructive weather event could only collapse the economy further. And Sandy looks much more disruptive than Irene:

With computer models locked in on the eventuality of a punishing blow for East Coast from Hurricane Sandy (with the latest model runs favoring the northern mid-Atlantic), analyses suggest this storm may be unlike anything the region has ever experienced.

Model simulations have consistently simulated minimum pressures below 950 mb, which would be the lowest on record in many areas.

“MODELS SHOW PRESSURE WELL BEYOND WHAT HAS EVER BEEN OBSERVED NEAR THE NJ/NY COAST (EVEN EXCEEDING THE 1938 LONG ISLAND EXPRESS [HURRICANE])”, writes NOAA’s Hydrometeorological Prediction Center (HPC).

The population density in the affected area, which could reach as much as 66 million Americans, plays a role here as well. Right now Hurricane Sandy is a category two hurricane but the weirdness of the barometric readings puts this into uncharted territory. In addition, that strength should increase as it moves up the Atlantic Coast, though what happens when it hits the nor’easters is anyone’s guess.

The New York Times adds.

“It really could be an extremely significant, historic storm,” said Brian McNoldy, a senior research associate at the University of Miami, explaining that conditions are similar to those that created the famous “perfect storm” of 1991.

The chain of events that would make Hurricane Sandy develop into a grave threat to the coast involves a storm system known as a midlatitude trough that is moving across the country from the west. If the systems meet up, as many computer models predict, the storm over land could draw the hurricane in.

“Now you’ve got this giant storm complex with a lot of energy,” Mr. Feltgen said. The combined systems could produce high winds, heavy rains and storm surges that would cause extensive damage.

Regardless of precisely where the storm hits land, the size of it plus the population density affected assures a massive impact. So emergency preparedness is already at a premium. And the region must brace for the economic fallout. We’ve seen natural disasters have a definitive impact on GDP and unemployment rates in the past. A disruptive event in late October in a region with 1/5 of the nation’s population could show up on employment reports and economic indicators. A lot of economic activity washes away in the midst of a catastrophic storm.