Hurricane Sandy churned toward what forecasters predicted would be a massive hybrid East Coast weather system next week that was quickly dubbed "Frankenstorm."
WASHINGTON — All the spare parts appear to be coming together to create what forecasters are calling “Frankenstorm,” a combination of high wind, heavy rain, extreme tides and maybe snow that could cause havoc along the East Coast just before Halloween next week.
Hurricane Sandy, having blown through Haiti and Cuba on Thursday, continues to barrel north. A wintry storm is chugging across from the West. And frigid air is streaming south from Canada. If all three meet Tuesday around New York or New Jersey, as forecasters predict, they could create a big wet mess that settles over the nation’s most heavily populated corridor and reaches as far inland as Ohio.
With experts expecting at least $1 billion in damage, the people who will have to clean it up aren’t waiting.
Utilities are lining up out-of-state work crews and canceling employees’ days off to deal with expected power outages. From county-disaster chiefs to the federal government, emergency officials are warning the public to be prepared.
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“It’s looking like a very serious storm that could be historic,” said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the forecasting service Weather Underground. “Mother Nature is not saying ‘trick-or-treat.’ It’s just going to give tricks.”
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecaster Jim Cisco, who coined the nickname Frankenstorm, said: “We don’t have many modern precedents for what the models are suggesting.”
Government forecasters said there is a 90 percent chance — up from 60 percent two days earlier — that the East will get pounded starting Sunday and stretching past Halloween on Wednesday. Things are expected to get messier once Sandy, a very late hurricane, comes ashore, probably in New Jersey.
Coastal areas from Florida to Maine will feel some effects, but the worst of the storm is expected to hit New Jersey and the New York City area, which could see about 5 inches of rain and winds close to 40 mph. Eastern Ohio, southwestern Pennsylvania, western Virginia and the Shenandoah Mountains could get snow.
The storm also is expected to stay put, Cisco said. “It’s almost a weeklong, five-day, six-day event,” he said from a NOAA forecast center in College Park, Md.
It is likely to hit during a full moon, when tides are near their highest, increasing the risk of coastal flooding. And because many trees still have their leaves, they are more likely to topple in the event of wind and snow, meaning there could be widespread power outages lasting to Election Day.
Eastern states that saw blackouts that lasted for days after last year’s freak Halloween snowstorm and Hurricane Irene in late August 2011 are pressuring power companies to be more ready this time.
Some people are comparing the expected tempest to the so-called Perfect Storm that struck off the coast of New England in 1991, but that one didn’t hit as populated an area.
That disaster was memorialized in a 1997 novel and a 2000 movie by the same name.
“The Perfect Storm only did $200 million of damage and I’m thinking a billion,” Masters said.
As it made its way across the Caribbean, Sandy was blamed for at least 21 deaths, including 11 in Cuba and 10 in Haiti.
The 18th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season weakened late Thursday from a Category 2 to a Category 1 and barreled in to the Bahamas after cutting across Cuba, where in addition to the deaths, it tore roofs off homes and damaged coffee and tomato crops.