With its winds, rain and clouds blanketing South Florida, Category 2 Hurricane Sandy struck the southern Bahamas on Thursday afternoon.
The projected path continues to keep the core clear of Florida, but much of the state can expect gusty winds and potentially heavy rains, with the worst conditions arriving Thursday night and continuing through the day on Friday.
At 5 p.m. EDT Thursday, Sandy was in the Atlantic about 125 miles southeast of Nassau, sprinting north at 20 mph with sustained winds of 105 mph.
A tropical storm warning has been posted for most of Florida's east coast, now extending from Flagler Beach south to Ocean Reef.
Because Sandy's forward progress has increased, the system is expected to be about 250 miles east of Miami in the early morning hours of Friday, earlier than previously forecast.
At that point, it is predicted to have sustained winds of about 100 mph and make its closest approach to the state.
South Florida can expect sustained winds of 25 to 30 mph today, increasing to about 35 to 40 mph tonight and Friday, with gusts up to 50 mph. The region also should see 1 to 2 inches of rain with higher amounts possible.
Central Florida also should see a windy day, with gusts to 30 mph inland and to about 45 at the coast. The region also can expect scattered showers today and Friday.
After Sandy moves north of the Bahamas, it is projected to make a gentle turn northeast into the Atlantic.
The long-range forecast now has Sandy bending back toward the U.S. coastline, possibly taking aim at New Jersey or New York on Tuesday.
The system also is expected to gradually weaken as it moves north, the result of encountering wind shear. It is expected to lose tropical characteristics by Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Sandy lashed Jamaica with howling winds and heavy rains, damaging shantytowns, stranding travelers and causing power outages.
The system also has left two dead: An elderly man was killed in Jamaica when he was crushed by a boulder that rolled onto his clapboard house, and a woman in Haiti was swept away by a rushing river she was trying to cross, The Associated Press reported.
After plowing over Jamaica, Sandy intensified to Category 2 status and hit the eastern Cuba on Wednesday night, ripping roofs off homes, leaving residents without power and damaging coffee and tomato crops. But it caused no fatalities on the island, according to Fox News Latino.
About 5,000 tourists at beach resorts as well as 10,200 residents in Holguin were evacuated ahead of the storm. Also, 3,000 people in Las Tunas moved to higher ground. After the storm passed, residents awoke Thursday to find roads strewn with palm trees and electric poles, according to state-run media.
Despite plowing over mountainous regions, which tend to weaken tropical systems, Sandy maintained its strength. "It crossed the entire eastern region practically without losing intensity or structure," Jose Rubiera, the island's chief meteorologist, told Fox News Latino.
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