The term “superstorm” has no formal definition, but the word comes up often when severe weather conditions cause extensive damage and fatalities. Generally speaking, a superstorm is a huge, harsh, and powerful storm usually causing damage over a large area. These storms are unusually intense and do not always fit into a particular category.
The National Weather Service introduced the word “superstorm” in 1993 to define massive and destructive storms. The expressions “perfect storm” and “storm of the century” have also been used to describe unusual storms like these.
Hurricane vs. Superstorm
A key difference between a superstorm and a hurricane is the weather involved. A superstorm often involves cold, non-tropical weather, while a hurricane can only occur in warm, tropical conditions. Superstorms are typically extratropical cyclones and they do not occur frequently – usually only once every few decades. The extratropical cyclones making up superstorms tend to be much larger than the tropical cyclones we call hurricanes. The term is most frequently used to describe a weather pattern that is as destructive as a hurricane, but which exhibits the cold-weather patterns of a winter storm.
One of the most well-known superstorms was Sandy, at one time called a hurricane but known in the aftermath as Superstorm Sandy. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Sandy affected 24 states and all of the eastern seaboard. Causing an estimated $70.2 billion in damages, it was the fourth-costliest U.S. storm behind Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and hurricanes Harvey and Maria in 2017, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Sandy was initially considered a 100-year storm, but for New York, the probability of another extreme flooding event increases every year.
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