Citing potential historic coastal and inland flooding, widespread high winds and extended power outages, emergency management officials are asking residents to begin preparing for a rare hybrid storm spawning from Hurricane Sandy.
The storm's impact could be felt in South Jersey as soon as Sunday, and depending on the storm's track, rain, wind and coastal flooding could last until Wednesday, according to some forecasts issued by the National Weather Service.
"This is just bringing in every worst-case scenario we could possibly have," said Atlantic County Office of Emergency Management Director Vince Jones. "If (residents) haven't started to plan for this storm, start right now."
Forecast models Thursday afternoon showed that Sandy's center, which hit the Bahamas on Thursday, could make landfall near Atlantic City sometime early Tuesday as a strong tropical storm-strength system, potentially even with hurricane-force winds, according to maps released by the National Hurricane Center. Its effects are expected to be felt along the entire East Coast, from Florida to Maine, and inland potentially to Ohio.
"There's still some forecast uncertainty, but obviously, it's narrowing down, the options are starting to fall by the wayside. It's not looking good for New Jersey," said Gary Szatkowski, senior meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Mount Holly. "I think we know how the center of the dartboard feels right now."
Cape May County spokeswoman Lenora Boninfante said the county is meeting with municipal and state emergency managers as well as weather forecasters again in the morning to discuss the storm and its potential effects on the county. As of right now, Boninfante said Thursday, the county is requesting that residents prepare their property for strong winds that could arrive sometime Sunday through steps including moving cars to higher ground, and putting away lawn furniture and any type of decorations. Those with boats still in the water should ensure the vessels are secured for the conditions.
"We're not trying to instill panic. We're just trying to remind people to take the necessary precautions," said Linda Gilmore, Atlantic County spokeswoman. "Start talking about and thinking about what you will do."
Stone Harbor announced Thursday that it would postpone its bulk garbage pickup scheduled for Monday to Nov. 5, and other municipalities throughout the region said they will release more information about preparations and effects sometime Friday or Saturday.
Atlantic City Electric, which serves much of region, said it already has contacted mutual assistance crews from other utilities in case they are needed to help restore power, and the company is in the process of enacting its storm plans to ensure all workers are available, spokesman Frank Tedesco said. Crews are currently inspecting the lines and other infrastructure as well as trying to complete pending projects prior to the weekend, Tedesco said.
"Although Atlantic City Electric has made preparations to handle any power outages, there is still the potential that widespread and/or extended power outages will occur," Tedesco said.
The Salvation Army, which provides disaster response, said in a news release that it already has begun to mobilize its response units, including 10 mobile feeding canteens, a command unit and more than 200 volunteers.
"We are prepared and ready to do everything we can for the people of New Jersey," Brenda Beavers, human services director for The Salvation Army New Jersey, stated in a news release. "We strongly recommend all residents of the state visit the New Jersey FEMA website to prepare for this storm and prepare your family for all possible situations."
Jones, with Atlantic County, said emergency management officials will meet again this morning for forecasting updates as well as to discuss whether voluntary evacuations could be issued as well as thresholds for flooding.
"Based on what we're seeing, if this is anything like the 1991, 1992 storms, the people on the barrier islands will be cut off from the mainland," Jones said.
One major difference since those storms 20 years ago, or even 50 years ago during the March Storm of 1962, is the presence of wide-scale beach widening and engineered dunes, which will help buffer island properties from the ocean as the storm progresses. Among the largest beach-fill projects are on Long Beach Island and in Ocean City and Cape May.
Beaches in Atlantic City and Ventnor had replenishment work done earlier this year, and knowing those dunes are intact, Jones said, is "a very comforting feeling, knowing that we've done some significant upgrades to our infrastructure."
However, Jones warned, the dunes and wide beaches only will increase the time it takes for waves to break through the sand barriers. "At any given time, we're at the mercy of Mother Nature and whatever comes in with the tides."
Dubbed by NOAA a "Frankenstorm," Sandy likely will retain tropical characteristics when the center nears the region, including extremely heavy rain and a core of very strong winds, Szatkowski said. However, the strong winds will encompass a wide area, similar to a northeaster.
What makes this storm unique is it will contain a blend of the worst characteristics of a tropical cyclone and a northeaster, Szatkowski said, and that is creating forecasting challenges because the weather service does not have modeling tools to perfectly handle a hybrid system.
Forecasters with both the National Weather Service and Accuweather, a private forecasting company in Pennsylvania, expect that as Sandy moves north, the storm system will begin to transition from a purely tropical system to a hybrid. Signs of that transition will include an expanding wind field, Szatkowski said.
Tropical systems are fueled by warm ocean temperatures, but northeasters are fueled by temperature differences, such as the warm air over the ocean and cold air that will be drawn into the system from the north as the storm intensifies. Szatkowski said.
Away from the coast, inland impacts would come from a combination of high winds and heavy rains, upwards of 8 inches are possible across parts of New Jersey, according to weather service forecasting maps. Emergency management officials are warning of the potential for long-term power outages. They says that if local officials order evacuations, to heed those orders. While the storm still is several days away, officials said, now is the time for residents to review their personal emergency plans, purchase supplies and prepare their property.
On Thursday, the Category 2 Hurricane Sandy barreled into the Bahamas after slashing across eastern Cuba, where it ripped off roofs and forced postponement of a hearing at the Guantanamo naval base but caused no reported deaths. The storm killed four people elsewhere in the Caribbean.
The hurricane was located about 34 miles southeast of Eleuthera at 8 p.m. Thursday as it neared Cat Island in the central Bahamas. The storm was moving north north west at 17 mph, with maximum sustained winds of 100 mph.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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