See the latest NASA footage of Sandy's path. Photo courtesy of NASA." data-pin-do="buttonBookmark">
This image, captured by cameras aboard the International Space Station, shows Hurricane Sandy, one of the most potent storms in U.S. history, as it passed Florida on its way up the East Coast on Friday. See the latest NASA footage of Sandy's path. Photo courtesy of NASA. Image: NASA
As Hurricane Sandy bears down on the East Coast, federal forecasters are warning that the massive storm could bring "life-threatening" storm surges, flooding, hurricane-force winds, heavy rain and even blizzardlike snowfall over an area stretching from the Carolinas to Canada, and west to Ohio.
The slow-moving storm, a rare and powerful hybrid of hurricane and nor'easter fueled by an influx of Arctic air, is expected to make landfall in New Jersey later today. Officials say 50 million to 60 million people lie in the storm's likely path, leaving one of the most densely populated areas of the country vulnerable to destructive floods and multi-day power outages.
"We're confident, unfortunately, at this point there is no avoiding a significant storm surge event over a large area," said Rick Knabb, director of NOAA's National Hurricane Center, on Saturday. "We can't just pinpoint who's going to get the worst of it."
NOAA's latest forecasts warn of the potential for hurricane-force winds from the northern Delmarva Peninsula to Cape Cod, Mass., and well inland, with rainfall totals topping 12 inches in some areas. Storm surge will also pose a major threat to public safety, with high tides projected to rise 6 to 11 feet above ground level in Long Island Sound, New York Harbor and New Jersey's Raritan Bay, and 4 to 8 feet over a broader area from Ocean City, Md., to southern New England.
"We're dealing with categories here we don't normally see," Louis Uccellini, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Centers for Environmental Prediction, told reporters Friday.
Sandy is also expected to dump 2 to 3 feet of snow in West Virginia's mountains, with smaller but still significant accumulation in eastern Kentucky, western Virginia and even North Carolina, along the Appalachian Range. And officials are warning that the storm could cause severe river flooding that could linger after Sandy exits those areas.
Adding to the pain, officials say, is the likelihood Sandy's northward movement will slow once the storm makes landfall today, making it a two-day -- or more -- event in many affected areas.
"The large size of this system is why it is so capable of producing a life-threatening storm surge for so many areas," Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Craig Fugate said during a call with reporters yesterday morning. "We're currently seeing tropical storm conditions in North Carolina even though the center of circulation is 250 miles to the southeast."
Flights and trains canceled, disaster teams dispatched
Sandy's vast breadth stopped Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) in her tracks yesterday as she toured NOAA's forecast operations center in College Park, Md. "This is creepy," Mikulski said, peering at a live satellite image of the storm. "This is like a Spielberg movie."
The storm has already prompted a flurry of preparations, closures and cancellations up and down the East Coast.
FEMA has positioned disaster response teams throughout the region, Fugate said. And the agency has been conducting daily briefings for President Obama, who also met yesterday with the director of the National Hurricane Center, officials from the Defense and Energy departments, and -- by phone -- with governors and city officials from areas in Sandy's projected path.
"My message to the governors, as well as to the mayors, is anything they need, we will be there," Obama said yesterday in a statement released by the White House. "And we're going to cut through red tape. We're not going to get bogged down with a lot of rules. We want to make sure that we are anticipating and leaning forward into making sure we've got the best possible response to what is going to be a big and messy system."