WASHINGTON - Another messy - and wintry - storm may cause post-Election Day problems for an already weather-weary East Coast, forecasters say.
But meteorologists add that it's six days out, so that's rather early to get too worried. The forecast could change before it hits late next week.
The National Weather Service's forecast center in College Park, Md., which watches winter storms, put out a long-range notice Thursday saying a nor'easter was possible for mid-Atlantic and New England states by Election Day through next Thursday.
Forecaster Bruce Sullivan said it wouldn't be as bad as Superstorm Sandy and isn't tropical. But it could include snow in interior New England and New York, beach erosion and high winds for areas hit by Sandy and moderate or heavier rainfall. Winds could be about 30 to 40 mph.
"I wouldn't get too alarmed yet," Sullivan said. "But it's something we're going to be watching over the next few days and fine-tuning. Anything that could hamper clean-up efforts is something that could be watched."
Meanwhile, widespread power outages and subway shutdowns may wind up making Sandy the second most expensive storm in U.S. history, according to the forecasting firm Eqecat. That would rank it right behind Hurricane Katrina.
In 16 states and Washington, D.C., 52,000 homeowners have filed insurance claims, including nearly 10,000 in New Jersey, CBS News reports.
The same European computer model that first noticed and correctly called Sandy a week in advance has forecast this potential nor'easter to come along the East Coast and then hit, Sullivan said. Another computer model also said the same thing, but then lessened that chance, he said.
Unlike Sandy, this doesn't have a tropical component. This would be a normal wet storm coming through land in the Southeast U.S. and going into the water, combining with cold air coming south from the Great Lakes and then curving back into the mid-Atlantic, Sullivan said.
The same high pressure system that blocked then-Hurricane Sandy from heading north and east out to sea like most tropical systems is likely to be part of the steering system that would take this storm inland to the same area Sandy struck, said Jeff Masters, meteorology director for the private service Weather Underground.
The fact that it's six days out means "there's room for optimism," Masters said, but he added: "From what I'm Iooking at, there's a concern."
Eqecat said Thursday that the damage from Sandy will likely be far worse than it previously predicted, largely a result of the storm hitting the most densely populated area in the country.
The firm doubled its previous estimate for the total bill and now says Sandy may have caused between $30 billion and $50 billion in economic losses, including property damage, lost business and extra living expenses. The cost to insurance companies could run as low as $10 billion and as high as $20 billion.
The new numbers square with an earlier estimate from IHS Global Insight. IHS said Sandy could cause about $20 billion in property damages and between $10 billion and $30 billion in lost business.
The firm pointed to two reasons that Sandy will leave a bigger bill than it first thought. Power outages are more widespread than in a typical Category 1 storm, Eqecat said. Sandy knocked out electricity for more homes and businesses than any other storm in history, according to the Department of Energy.
The lack of subway service in New York City and blocked roadways will also push the total cost higher, Eqecat said.
Before the storm hit, Eqecat had estimated that total economic losses from Sandy could range as high as $20 billion and that losses to insurance companies could reach $10 billion. Payouts for insurance claims are typically a fraction of the overall cost to the economy.
If the damages hit $50 billion, it would make Sandy the second-costliest U.S. storm after Katrina in 2005. Katrina's overall costs were $108 billion. Taking inflation into account, that works out to $128 billion today.
Even after adjusting for inflation, the high end of Eqecat's damage estimates for Sandy would be higher than those caused by previous major storms. Andrew, which struck in 1992, cost $44 billion in today's dollars, and the Ike storm of 2008 cost $32 billion.
Another major firm that calculates the cost of catastrophes, RMS, is gathering information before it makes its first estimate. RMS said Thursday that it has two reconnaissance teams out surveying the damage. The firm has offices in Hoboken, N.J., where floodwaters stranded thousands of people.
Eqecat's estimates only cover private losses, not costs covered by the government through the National Flood Insurance Program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Max Mayfield, the hurricane center director during Katrina, said the costs to FEMA can be $2 to $2.50 for every dollar of losses covered by private insurance.
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