In what has become a familiar prediction for more than 48 hours, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center continue to predict Hurricane Sandy will take a path toward the Jersey Shore, though the final site of its potential landfall is still up in the air.
Forecast data from early Saturday morning shows the large storm system beginning to take on more characteristics of a nor'easter, forecasters said.
Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center said the predicted track of the storm had shifted slightly northward up the coast from Delaware toward New Jersey, but essentially stayed the same as previous predictions from Friday. A forecast discussion released by the hurricane center said Sandy will mostly likely weaken over the next 36 hours.
Sustained winds from Sandy were at 75 mph on Saturday morning as the storm moved away from the Bahamas. Some restrengthening is possible before the storm makes its westward turn sometime Monday afternoon or evening, according to the National Weather Service.
As that strengthening occurs, the forecast said, Sandy will lose some of its tropical characteristics. That does not mean local residents are off the hook.
"Regardless of the exact structure at landfall, Sandy is expected to be a large and powerful cyclone," the hurricane center said.
A forecast cone centered the storm's potential landfall just north Delaware, but potential landfall sites for early Tuesday morning stretched from southern Virginia to New England.
Ocean City, all Cape May County island barrier town, and Brigantine have called for voluntary evacuations on Saturday and mandatory evacuations on Sunday.
The northern edge of the storm is expected to bring the strongest winds and the greatest potential for storm surge.
In a 10:30 a.m. briefing on Friday to emergency management officials throughout the region (see attached PDF), Gary Szatkowski of the NOAA’s National Weather Service Philadelphia/Mt. Holly Forecast Office warned of the possibility of record flooding in some scenarios and a three-day storm of major impact in any case.
"A hurricane or strong tropical storm will affect the Mid-Atlantic region late this weekend into early next week," Szatkowski said.
He said the storm will bring multiple dangers to our area:
- Strong damaging sustained winds up to or exceeding hurricane strength (74 mph) over a prolonged period of time (24 to 48 hours). Gusts will be higher.
- Extremely heavy rainfall.
- Major flooding along streams and rivers.
- Major coastal flooding. "The full moon on October 29 just makes things worse," he said.
"The eventual track of this storm will determine the area which is impacted. While Sandy could still track a little further to our north, or a little further to our south, we will be feeling her effects one way or the other starting late this weekend (Sunday), continuing into Tuesday of next week," Szatkowski said.
While Sandy is currently a Category 1 hurricane (with winds of 74-95 mph) with some further weakening possible, it is expected to remain a hurricane for the next several days, according to Szatkowski.
"Major coastal flooding is expected based on the current track forecast," he said. "Record coastal flooding is possible."
"A ten-foot storm tide (surge plus astronomical tide) is possible along the Atlantic Coast and in the Delaware Bay based on where the storm center comes ashore," he said. "This would result in record coastal flooding in some areas."
He said the storm will be slow-moving — worsening tidal flooding along the ocean and back bays as water builds up over multiple high-tide cycles. The slow- moving storm also worsens the potential for heavy rainfall inland.
High tides at the Ninth Street Bridge in Ocean City occur at 8:27 a.m. and 8:46 p.m. on Monday (Oct. 29) then at 9:02 a.m. on Tuesday (Oct. 30).