I apologize if this is a bit rough.
Hurricane Sandy, late October, 2012: late season storm, picks up energy from widespread warm ocean surface temperature (SST), achieves areal extent across hundreds of miles, blocked from staying out at sea by a Greenland high, and drawn inland by a low. After doing a lot of damage with storm surge, wind, and flooding, smacked into an Arctic cold front and dropped several feet of snow in the Appalachians and westward.
Hurricane Hazel, mid-October 1954: late season storm, turns landward as a Category III hurricane striking North Carolina, and moved northward through mid-Atlantic states until it too smacked into an Arctic cold front, in that case over Toronto, Ontario.
Hurricane Hazel appeared part way through a period of drought in the mid-continental US, as did Sandy, so that should be scrutinized. What were the Atlantic SSTs in 1954?
What is most obviously different between them is that Sandy covered more surface area than Hazel, with more wind and more suspended moisture. This is like the oft-repeated metaphor for climate change, the baseball player on steroids, who is doing something bigger-oftener because of the push.
A similarity is that the two storms were both nudged northward and inland by other weather patterns. However, even that should be double checked. The research of Dr Jennifer Francis's team at Rutgers has found a relationship between the melting Arctic and the development of more persistent blocking patterns.
Hurricane Irene turned inland, but earlier in the hurricane season, so the combo of Irene and Sandy may be a sign of things to come.
Instead of a gap of 57 years between 1954 and 2011-2012, we may have more frequent occurrences of late season hurricanes making landfall in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states.
Joan Savage, 11-3-2012