JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The late-season storm that killed dozens of people as it blew through the Caribbean as a Category 2 hurricane and may yet bring misery to the Northeastern U.S. next week brought only some wind and rough surf to Northeast Florida as it passed offshore Saturday.
Sunday morning, the storm was 480 miles east of Brunswick, Ga. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Sandy's sustained winds were 75 mph and it was moving to the northeast at 13 mph -- both unchanged for the past 24 hours.
A tropical storm warning for the coastal waters off Flagler, St. Johns, Duval and Nassau counties was lifted overnight, although it remains for Georgia coastal waters and a small craft advisory remains in effect through Wednesday.
Winds along the Northeast Florida coast Saturday topped 30 mph with higher gusts, there was almost no rainfall. There was some wind-driven flooding in coastal areas and along the bayfront in downtown St. Augustine, but no roads were closed.
"Prepare for a big cool down," Channel 4 meteorologist Rebecca Barry said, forecasting lows in the 40s the next three nights and highs only in the 60s.
Heavy surf, dangerous rip currents and potential beach erosion remain the greatest threat from this storm in Northeast Florida. Six to 9 foot waves will continue Sunday, with seas offshore could reach 30 feet. The conditions were expected to slowly improve over the next two days.
"Rough surf, dangerous rip currents and some beach erosion will occur along the beaches from the Carolinas to south Florida," Channel 4 hurricane expert George Winterling wrote on his Eye on the Storm blog.
The beaches along Duval and St. Johns counties and Flagler Beach pier were all closed on Saturday, although at least one surfer in Jacksonville Beach defied the rules and sampled the waves.
Longer term, the NHC forecast shows Sandy retaining hurricane strength as it moves north off the East Coast Sunday and Monday before taking a westerly track into the mid-Atlantic states on Tuesday.
Megastorm could wreak havoc across 800 miles of US
Forget distinctions like tropical storm or hurricane. Don't get fixated on a particular track. Wherever it hits, the behemoth storm plodding up the East Coast will afflict a third of the country with sheets of rain, high winds and heavy snow, say officials who warned millions in coastal areas to get out of the way.
"We're looking at impact of greater than 50 to 60 million people," said Louis Uccellini, head of environmental prediction for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Governors from North Carolina, where steady rains were whipped by gusting winds Saturday night, to Connecticut declared states of emergency. Delaware ordered mandatory evacuations for coastal communities by 8 p.m. Sunday.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was criticized for not interrupting a vacation in Florida while a snowstorm pummeled the state in 2010, broke off campaigning for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in North Carolina on Friday to return home.
"I can be as cynical as anyone," said Christie, who declared a state of emergency Saturday. "But when the storm comes, if it's as bad as they're predicting, you're going to wish you weren't as cynical as you otherwise might have been."
Eighty-five-year-old former sailor Ray Leonard agreed. And he knows to heed warnings.
Leonard and two crewmates in his 32-foot sailboat, Satori, rode out 1991's infamous "perfect storm," made famous by the Sebastian Junger best-selling book of the same name, before being plucked from the Atlantic off Martha's Vineyard, Mass., by a Coast Guard helicopter.
"Don't be rash," Leonard said Saturday from his home in Fort Myers, Fla. "Because if this does hit, you're going to lose all those little things you've spent the last 20 years feeling good about."
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