Hurricane Sandy will probably grow into a “Frankenstorm” that may become the worst to hit the U.S. Northeast in 100 years if current forecasts are correct.
Sandy may combine with a second storm coming out of the Midwest to create a system that would rival the New England hurricane of 1938 in intensity, said Paul Kocin, a National Weather Service meteorologist in College Park, Maryland.
“What we’re seeing in some of our models is a storm at an intensity that we have not seen in this part of the country in the past century,” Kocin said in a telephone interview. “We’re not trying to hype it, this is what we’re seeing in some of our models. It may come in weaker.”
The hybrid storm may strike anywhere from the Delaware- Maryland-Virginia peninsula to southern New England. The current National Hurricane Center track calls for the system to go up Delaware Bay and almost directly over Wilmington, Del., just southwest of Philadelphia, on Oct. 30-31.
The hurricane center warns the track is subject to change.
Slow-moving Sandy, a late season Atlantic storm unlike anything seen in more than two decades, slogged toward the U.S. East Coast on Friday after killing at least 43 people on a trail of destruction across the Caribbean and Bahamas.
Forecasters said the storm, with an expanding wind field already 550 miles wide, had begun merging with a polar air mass over the eastern United States, potentially spawning a "hybrid" super storm that could wreak havoc along the U.S. East Coast.
"Its structure is evolving as we speak because it's interacting with this weather feature at higher levels of the atmosphere," said Todd Kimberlain, a forecaster at the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.
"The models are suggesting that the storm could actually become better organized or intensify a little bit, not due to the normal processes than we would expect for a tropical cyclone but more related this weather feature," Kimberlain said.
In New York City, officials were considering closing down bus and subway lines next week, a step taken only once before — when Hurricane Irene slammed the city last year.
New York, North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland declared states of emergency to free up resources. The District of Columbia also declared a state of emergency as the U.S. capital prepared for a possible hit.
Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell urged residents in coastal areas to prepare to evacuate before the storm hits and advised others in the state to stock up on provisions needed to get through any disaster.
"I encourage all Virginians to gather batteries, blankets, water, canned goods and other necessities prior to the anticipated onset of storm conditions," McDonnell said in a statement. "We could see severe weather lasting for 48 hours or more in the state."
One storm-related death was reported in the Bahamas. Police said said a 66-year-old man died after falling from his roof in upscale Lyford Cay late Thursday while trying to repair a window shutter. Officials at Deltec Bank & Trust identified him as Timothy Fraser-Smith, who became CEO in 2000.
Sandy's driving rains and heavy winds were blamed for several deaths in the Caribbean. One man died in Jamaica when a boulder crashed through his house.
One death was reported in Puerto Rico. Police said a man in his 50s was swept away Friday by a swollen river in the southern town of Juana Diaz, where rain from Sandy's outer bands has been steadily falling.
The Cuban government said Sandy killed 11 people when it barreled across the island on Thursday. They included a 4-month-old boy who was crushed when his home collapsed and an 84-year-old man in Santiago province. Near the city of Guantanamo, two men were killed by falling trees, the Communist Party newspaper Granma reported.
The death toll was still rising in impoverished Haiti, reaching 26 on Friday as word of disasters reached officials and rain continued to fall. Two people were killed in the neighboring Dominican Republic..
The Haitian dead included a family of five in Grand-Goave, west of the capital Port-au-Prince, killed in a landslide that destroyed their home, authorities said. Joseph Edgard Celestin, a spokesman for Haiti's civil protection office, said some people died trying to cross rivers swollen by rains from Sandy's outer reaches.
The Cuban fatalities were unusual for the communist ruled country that has long prided itself on protecting its people from storms by ordering mass evacuations.
Late Friday afternoon, Sandy was about 60 miles north of Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas and 420 miles south-southeast of Charleston, S. It was barely still a hurricane, with maximum sustained winds near 75 mph and was moving north at 7 mph.
Sandy moved past the Bahamas early Friday evening, churning north toward the U.S. coast. Its forward speed had slowed to just 6 mph.
Forecasters said Sandy was expected to come ashore in the northeastern United States late Monday or early Tuesday, and it could still be packing winds that are at or near hurricane force.
Weather trackers said hard-hit areas, prone to storm surge and coastal or inland flooding, could span anywhere from the Carolinas up to Maine, with New York City and Boston both potentially in harm's way.
"There may be hurricane force winds but it would be more like a winter storm than anything else we're used to seeing," said Kimberlain.
He said Sandy was unique because of its integration with the polar trough over the United States.
"We went through this same sort of thing back about 20 years ago around Halloween in 1991 with the 'Perfect Storm,'" he said.
Some forecasters are warning that Sandy could be more destructive than last year's Hurricane Irene, which caused billions of dollars in damage as it battered the Northeast and New England.
"This will then be a catastrophic storm for the Middle Atlantic and Northeast. It will not be a purely tropical system, with a core of powerful winds near the center, but rather more like a Nor'Easter, with strong winds over a larger area," said a forecast report on Friday from AccuWeather.com.
"Damaging winds will affect areas from Virginia up into New York and New England, leading to widespread power outages and property damage," it said.
At $4.3 billion in losses, last year's Irene ranks as one of the 10 costliest hurricanes, adjusted for inflation and excluding federally insured damage, according to the Insurance Information Institute, an industry group.
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