Weather forecasters warned yesterday that Hurricane Sandy will affect a large area of the US east coast, but said it was too early to pinpoint where the storm, which has the potential to be the biggest to hit the mainland US, would make landfall.
Government officials in several states in Sandy’s path faced tough decisions on emergency plans, including mandatory evacuations in vulnerable coastal areas, and residents scrambled to buy supplies before the storm arrives tonight.
On its current projected track, Sandy is most likely to make US landfall between Delaware and the New York/New Jersey area, forecasters said. However, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said it could not yet predict the precise point.
“It is still too soon to focus on the exact track ... both because of forecast uncertainty and because the impacts are going to cover such a large area away from the center,” the NHC said in an advisory.
While Sandy’s winds were not overwhelming for a hurricane, its width was what made it exceptional. Hurricane force winds extended 165km from its center while its lesser tropical storm-force winds reached across 1,125km.
Sandy could have a brutal impact on major cities in the target zone. In New York, city officials discussed whether to shut the subway system yesterday in advance of the storm, which could bring the country’s financial nerve center to a standstill.
The storm could also cause the worst flooding Connecticut has seen in more than 70 years, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy said.
Sandy was located about 420km south-southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, with top sustained winds of 120kph early yesterday, the NHC said.
The storm was moving over the Atlantic parallel to the US coast at 20kph, but was forecast to make a tight westerly turn toward the US coast last night.
Tropical storm conditions were spreading across the coast of North Carolina yesterday morning and gale force winds were forecast to begin affecting the New York area and southern New England by this morning, the NHC added.
Sandy could be the largest storm to hit the US, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Web site.
“The size of this alone, affecting a heavily populated area, is going to be history making,” said Jeff Masters, a hurricane specialist who writes a blog posted on the Weather Underground.
Sandy could hit Boston, New York, Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia, one of the most densely populated regions of the country and home to tens of millions of people.
Forecasters said Sandy was a rare, hybrid “super storm” created by an Arctic jet stream wrapping itself around a tropical storm, possibly bringing up to 30cm of rain in some areas, as well as heavy snowfall inland.
Sandy killed at least 66 people as it made its way through the Caribbean islands, including 51 in Haiti, mostly from flash flooding and mudslides, according to authorities.
The approaching storm forced a change of plans for both presidential candidates ahead of the Nov. 6 election. The White House said US President Barack Obama canceled a campaign appearance in Virginia scheduled for today and another stop in Colorado for tomorrow, and will instead monitor the storm from Washington.
Republican US presidential candidate Mitt Romney rescheduled campaign events planned for Virginia yesterday and was flying to Ohio instead.