Hurricane Sandy is making landfall on Jamaica Wednesday evening as a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds estimated around 80 mph. If models are correct, Sandy might have a major impact along the East Coast of the United States heading into the weekend.
The latest information coming from the National Hurricane Center indicates that the storm is well organized. Hurricane hunter aircraft measured a 50 mile wide eye as it neared Jamaica.
The system is moving north at 14 mph. The future track of Sandy gets complicated pretty quickly. As of now, the official forecast takes the hurricane northward over Cuba, through the Bahamas and east of North Carolina.
Hurricane warnings are up for Jamaica and eastern Cuba while hurricane watches are up for all of the Bahamas and a tropical storm watch is up from the Florida Keys to Flagler Beach. This means tropical storm conditions are possible along the coast within the next 48 hours.
The track of Sandy gets complicated pretty quickly. What's driving the system now is a break in the sub-tropical ridge to its north which has allowed the storm to move north instead of west.
Normally this time of year, scenarios like this are usually easy to forecast because any tropical system is usually caught up in an approaching cold front and pushed out to sea. However, the strong cold front that is moving our direction may not be here in time to give it the kick. This will allow Sandy to get very close to the eastern seaboard of Florida, North Carolina and the mid-Atlantic states.
Models over the past few days have favored a more westerly track and therefore the official forecast also keeps nudging west.
For Jacksonville, this means very windy conditions at the coast from Flagler county north into Southeast Georgia. Rip currents will be extremely hazardous as waves at the beach are expected to be in the 7-10 foot range on Friday and Saturday. These enormous waves are also expected to cause beach erosion for the entire First Coast starting Thursday.
All small craft vessels are urged to stay in as seas are expected to top 20 feet.
Due to the pressure gradient between the storm and the high pressure to the west, we may see frequent gusts to gale force over the marine areas through the weekend. As these winds will not be directly due to the circulation from the tropical storm (will be a tropical storm), a gale watch has been issued for our coastal waters. Seas 20 to 60 miles offshore may reach 20 feet with large breaking waves affecting inlets.
It will become breezy to windy over our coastal counties as Sandy moves by the area. The strongest winds are likely along the immediate beaches, the Intracoastal waterway and large bodies of water such as the St. Johns and Turtle Rivers.
Winds along the beaches could occasionally gust between 35 and 40 mph Friday through Sunday morning. Objects which might be blown around by high winds should be secured.
High surf in excess of 7 feet is likely and minor to moderate coastal flooding could occur at or near the time of high tide Friday through Sunday. A high risk of rip currents is likely over the weekend and surf conditions will be very rough and choppy.