Meteorologists are bracing for the potential impact of
Hurricane Sandy as the storm, which may be the most severe October storm the
East Coast has seen in decades, barrels through the Caribbean toward Florida.
Sandy is not expected to reach the mid- to upper-Atlantic until Tuesday, according to the latest projections from the National Hurricane Center. The storm, whenever it strikes, will almost certainly pack gale-force winds and bring long stretches of intense rain. But precisely where it will land will determine how hard, or if, it will strike the Capital Region, meteorologists said.
Because Sandy is still more than five days away from hitting the coast, meteorologists here were wary Thursday of projecting any potential rainfall totals or flooding. But they are not ruling out the possibility that Sandy could have a severe impact on the region. The storm has already whipped Jamaica, Haiti and Cuba with 90 mph winds and heavy rain, claiming at least four lives, according to The Associated Press.
The latest projections from the National Hurricane Center show the edge of Sandy drenching eastern Florida on Saturday morning, drifting back out to sea and then not touching land until around 2 a.m. Tuesday. But the hurricane center's projections show a wide range of where the storm could hit first. Sandy could land as far south as Delaware or Maryland, or as far north as Maine.
"The latest model runs do have some kind of an impact here, it just depends where (Sandy) ends up going," said Luigi Meccariello, meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Albany office. "It's still all over the place."
Meccariello said the weather service will have a better handle on Sandy's path in the coming days. Meccariello said current projections do not have Sandy on a track similar to Hurricane Irene. The Aug. 28, 2011, storm whirled through the Capital Region as a tropical storm, but eviscerated previous record rainfall totals across local communities that are still reeling from the crushing floods.
But Sandy's track is changing by the hour, meaning that the storm could shift at any time. Irene tracked in from Long Island.
"That could happen here," Meccariello said. "It's just so far out right now; we really don't know."
Once Sandy lands, it will move swiftly. There will be at least a gap of several hours from when the storm makes landfall until its rain reaches the Capital Region, Meccariello said. Sandy could hit the Albany area as early as Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.
Though propelled by a warm, moist core, Sandy's rainfall could morph to snow or sleet when the tail end of the storm moves out of the Northeast, Meccariello said. That scenario could be particularly devastating if wet, thick flakes stick to tree limbs still covered with colorful leaves. Last year, a Halloween snowstorm broke snowfall records around the Albany area. Portions of Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut that absorbed the strongest blows were crippled, as roads were closed and hundreds of thousands of homes were without power for weeks. Dozens of deaths were attributed to the snowstorm.
Earlier projections from various forecasters had Sandy's impact being exacerbated in the Northeast by other looming storms.
Those projections had Sandy possibly colliding here with another westbound winter storm and a chill of arctic air moving down from Canada. That scenario had some meteorologists talking of a repeat of the infamous "Perfect Storm" of 1991 that battered New England just before Halloween, causing $200 million in damages and later becoming the subject of a movie of the same name.
"The Perfect Storm only did $200 million of damage and I'm thinking a billion," Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private service Weather Underground, told the AP on Wednesday. "Yeah, it will be worse."
James Franklin, the hurricane center's chief hurricane specialist, told the AP on Wednesday that the threat of the three systems converging was increasing, and that it could have "a major impact in the Northeast, New York area. In fact it would be such a big storm that it would affect all of the Northeast."
Thursday, however, Meccariello downplayed that scenario, saying more recent projections show the eastbound winter storm likely blowing through the Northeast and off the coast by the time Sandy arrives.
Utilities and governments along the East Coast are working to head off long-term power failures.
Power companies from the Southeast to New England are telling independent contractors to be ready to help fix storm damage quickly and are asking employees to cancel vacations and work longer hours.
In New Jersey, Jersey Central Power & Light has told employees to be prepared for extended shifts. The utility was criticized for its response to Irene.
In Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick has given utilities until Friday to submit plans for the storm. When asked during Thursday on WTKK-FM whether utilities would be ready, Patrick responded, "They'd better be."
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Thursday noted some uncertainty in the forecasts and said the city was striking a tone of calm preparedness.
"What we are doing is we are taking the kind of precautions you should expect us to do, and I don't think anyone should panic," Bloomberg said. The city has opened an emergency situation room and activated its coastal storm plan.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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