As there is no modern equivalent in which to model the precise path or destructive force of Hurricane Sandy, the northeast is in for one Hel (Norse deity of the underworld) of a turbulent ride.
Why is that? Why in the age of big data, numbering crunching, the power of the Web, social graph, and supercomputers all the NASA, NOAA and weather scientists can tell us with any kind of accuracy is that the storm will make a "hard left" somewhere over the mid Atlantic?
In a word, variables. Tons of them. A chain of events, big and small with too many moving parts that will be weaved and unraveled in real time with escalating velocity.
The size of the storm is one thing that scares meteorologists. But it's the confluence of all its myriad bits, pieces and systems that unnerves them and state governments, too.
'Frankenstorm' is an apt name for this killer storm. Not merely because it's making landfall on the eve of Halloween, but because it's a hybrid storm with many elements pushing and pulling with dark spheres of influence. The mix is more unpredictable than putting a defective brain in the head of Mary Shelly's monster.
Sandy is on a collision course with another storm system and cold front -- the Wolfman, anyone? -- barreling in from the west. Yes, we could have Hel on earth.
Millennia before "Frankenstein" vexed a legion of readers, Norse mythology gave the inverse story of Shelly's classic. In the 'Great Gap' from which the universe was born out of fire and ice, Odin and his brothers could no longer tolerate living alongside the voraciously growing giant, Ymir. So they did what the Vikings once lived for. They slew Ymir.
From destruction came creation.
The ancient Norse gods fashioned the world of man -- 'Mid Earth' -- out of the world giant's body parts. The bones became the mountains and the flesh formed the land. The giant's blood filled the oceans, lakes and rivers, while the hair made the forests and jungles. It was his skull that formed the sky, but the brains that when cast to the wind became the clouds that today howl, whistle, and whisper the tales of the storms of yore.
The Full Power of the Moon
On Monday night there's a full moon. Throw in its torquing effect on the tide cycles that could amplify the storm surge, the dry air mass on the starboard side of the storm -- it's late October, no longer the humid waters of summer -- and the hard left into the east coast somewhere between Delaware and New York City, and Frankenstorm should make Hurricane Irene look like "Goldie Locks."
Add the second storm system, with its snow-producing band from West Virginia into central Pennsylvania, and the amounts of rain and the sustainable shearing effect of the winds over a two-day period, spell trouble indeed.
People have heard this hype before. But all the experts can do is forecast for potential. And with no previous model or historical data pinning down the details will be hard to do. Toss in the elements of those forces with the fourth dimension of temperature, the invisible power of the wind, and the (bad) karma of timing and they are right to sound the alarm.
And what if the two systems stall when they collide? What if that produces a third day of torrential rain and storm surge?
If that happens, the one billion dollar guestimate on the damaged caused by the storm could be pocket change.
Iceland Hurricane 1992
The best way to grasp the power and unpredictability of a hurricane is not to fly over one, chase one, watch one, or listen to the experts, but to climb, trek, and hike through one up a mountain and out a valley as I did.
Twenty years ago in September 1992, when I flew with my high school pal for a week to Reykjavik, Iceland, it was a trip to explore my Nordic roots and taste a little of the old myth. (Ja, I am a first generation Norwegian-American).
Knowing that the weekend was coming, and with it the end of vacation, my friend took a plane into a storm to the Westman Islands to visit the volcanic outcropping; I aimed might sights across 'Smokey Bay' (Reykjavik) at Mount Esja.
On a clear, calm day the 3,000-foot high mountain ridge is a climb most hikers can do in half a day. But by the time I reached the base, the storm turned into hurricane force and followed -- no, blew me -- up a rockslide onto the summit.
It was on top of Esja, lost in a dense, shape-shifting fog with a cliff overhang behind me and a full gale sandblasting me with the brittle grains of volcanic rock that I knew I was trapped, in for a long day. I would be lucky to find my way off the mountaintop safely, luckier still to make it down to the road by dark.
Forced to go down the backside of the mountain, I began to search for a way out. Only after the wind briefly cleared out a patch of mist that allowed the sun to reveal a saddle slope with a waterfall did I find that path. Hel the 'Concealer' was no longer giving me false guidance. I trudged to the cascade and peered down the low slab ceiling of clouds out a long U-shaped valley that stretched for miles to the road by the fjord.
As I slid down the snow-covered slope, and picked my way around the boulders, I came across a flock of sheep. Upon seeing a stranger in their land, the sheep broke up and scampered to the far slope of the valley. In the midst of that dispersed flock stood a trio of ornery rams that eyed me with intent to injure. They would have charged me had it not been for the gorge cut by the river that separated us down the middle of the valley.
I trekked on with the rams shadowing me, and the sheep marching single file along the far slope as if to show me the way out. It felt like a scene out of The Bible: Storm and then peace.
As the 66 million Americans bunker down for Hurricane Sandy, they would be wise to prepare for the worst, but hope and wish for the best.
Frankenstorm will leave its debris field just like Shelly's monster did in her classic tale.