Hurricane Sandy strengthened into a Category 2 storm overnight as it began bearing down on southeastern Cuba.
With its track nudged closer to our shores, Hurricane Sandy threatens to rough up South Florida with gusts up to 60 mph and bursts of rain, with the worst conditions to arrive Thursday night and continue through Friday.
“It’s not going to hit us head on or anything, but right now the big thing is the wind threat,” said meteorologist Chris Duke of the National Weather Service in Miami.
Expect sustained winds of 25 to 35 mph Thursday, with gusts to 50 mph during the day. Winds are expected to increase to 35 to 40 mph at night and through the day on Friday, enough to knock down trees and power lines. If the system continues to shift west, South Florida could be hit with stronger winds and heavier rains, the weather service said.
Palm Beach County public schools will release students three hours early on Thursday, with no after school or evening activities, and all schools will be closed on Friday. Parents should note that students will be dropped off at their bus stops three hours earlier than normal on Thursday.
Broward schools plan to remain open Thursday and Friday - although Broward students will be off on Friday because of an employee planning day.
The Broward School District otherwise canceled all outdoor activities Thursday and Friday, including some of the biggest high school football games of the year.
Around dawn Thursday, Pompano Beach public works officials closed the city’s pier to the dismay of about 30 fishermen.
Rich Andrews didn't mind the churning seas. He said it was "good fishing weather."
"There is no consistency. I've seen it a lot worse than this," said the Pompano Beach resident.
By 5 a.m. Thursday, Hurricane Sandy was preparing to move off the northeastern coast of Cuba. The storm was located about 185 miles south of the central Bahamas or about 40 miles east of Holguin, Cuba and moving north at 18 mph with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Overnight, a wind gust of 114 mph was reported in Santiago De Cuba, the hurricane center reported.
Those flying out of South Florida airports over the next few days should check with their airlines. On Thursday morning, about 15 flights from Miami and 10 from Fort Lauderdale were canceled because of the storm.
After intensifying into the season’s 10th hurricane on Wednesday, Sandy plowed over Jamaica with howling winds and torrential rains. Local Jamaican organizations reported the island suffered flooding and mudslides, although the extent of the damage was not immediately known.
At least one person was killed in nearby Haiti after being swept away by a rushing river, The Associated Press reported.
Sandy was forecast to arrive in the central Bahamas Thursday. The system then is projected to draw within 200 miles of Miami on Friday morning as a Category 1 hurricane with sustained winds of 75 mph – stronger than previously forecast.
A tropical storm warning that was issued Wednesday for much of Florida’s east coast was extended north to Flagler Beach on Thursday morning.
In Central Florida, a lake wind advisory is being put in place for much of the region including the cities of Orlando, Sanford, Kissimmee, St. Cloud and Clermont. East to northeast winds are expected to increase to about 20 mph by late morning with gusts from 30 to 35 mph, according to the weather service.
The winds will make boating conditions hazardous on lakes in Central Florida, the weather service said.
The lake wind advisory will be in effect from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Thursday.
Sandy is expected to produce about 1 to 2 inches of rain, with the possibility of higher amounts. Overall, it should be less squally than Hurricane Isaac in late August because this time South Florida is expected to remain on the “dry side” of the storm, said weather service meteorologist Robert Molleda.
The South Florida Water Management District said a mix of seasonally high tides and winds could produce some road flooding near the shore from Broward County south to Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.
The nasty weather should start to subside on Saturday.
“Sunday should be clearing up with lighter winds and nice weather,” Molleda said.
Central Florida also should see windy conditions Thursday and Friday, with gusts to 45 mph along the coast and to 30 mph in the Orlando area. Additionally, much of the state’s east coast is expected to see dangerous rip currents and beach erosion.
Sandy was expected to produce up to 12 inches of rain across Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and eastern Cuba, with isolated amounts of 20 inches possible.
After departing the Bahamas, the system is projected to curve northeast into the Atlantic. Some models predict what's left of it might curve back toward the U.S. coastline and produce severe weather in the Northeast next week.
Closely watching Sandy’s progress Wednesday were many in South Florida’s large Jamaican and Jamaican-American population, estimated at 153,000 by the 2010 U.S. Census.
“I am sure the community will mobilize to help with goods, services and funds as we have always done,” said Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness. “You always fear for people who live in poorly-built housing.”
Standing by in Kingston with a warehouse full of supplies was Food for the Poor, the Coconut Creek-based agency that regularly serves Jamaica. ”We are ready to provide relief after the storm passes,” said Kathy Skipper, a spokeswoman.
To avoid problems, some South Florida-based cruise lines diverted their ships on Wednesday.
Carnival Cruise Lines revised itineraries for three ships, including the Carnival Valor, which was originally scheduled to stop in Montego Bay, Jamaica, but will now call on Cozumel, Mexico.
Norwegian Cruise Line also changed course for three ships, including Norwegian Sky, which canceled a stop at Great Stirrup Cay, the cruise line’s private island in the Bahamas.
Royal Caribbean International canceled Allure of the Seas’ call at Falmouth, Jamaica, opting to have the behemoth ship continue to Cozumel. Allure is expected to return to Fort Lauderdale on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Tony, the 19th named storm of the season, formed in the Central Atlantic on Tuesday night. It poses no threat to land. Tony makes 2012 the third busiest season on record, tied with 1887, 1995, 2010 and 2011.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-572-2085. Staff Writers Karen Yi, Christy Cabrera Chirinos and Steve Waters contributed to this report.
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