As Hurricane Sandy moves from the Bahamas into the Atlantic Ocean, unusual weather conditions in the upper atmosphere could turn the storm toward major U.S cities and make it one of the most destructive hurricanes to strike the U.S. East Coast in many years.
Sandy is expected to stay well offshore for the next two days as it moves northeastward. By Monday morning, the center of the storm is expected to be be about 220 miles (354 kilometers) east-southeast of Norfolk, Virginia. At that point, however, the hurricane is expected to make a sharp turn to the northwest on a path that would take it toward the Chesapeake Bay and major U.S. cities such as Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia.
Keith Blackwell, a meteorologist at the University of South Alabama’s Coastal Weather Research Center in Mobile, said the storm’s hard left turn could be caused by a high-pressure system over Greenland. This system is likely to prevent the storm from continuing on a path that would keep it over the Atlantic and away from the East Coast, Blackwell said.
Hurricane Sandy also is likely to merge with the jet stream, giving it a powerful boost of energy as it heads toward a likely landfall early Tuesday morning around the Delmarva Peninsula just south of New Jersey. The storm is expected to make landfall as a Category 1 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Scale, which ranks storms from one to five based on maximum wind speeds and destructive potential.
A Category 1 hurricane has peak winds of 74 mph (120 kph) to 95 mph (153 kph).
“It will get a huge amount of energy from the jet stream,” Blackwell said. “As it incorporates more and more with the jet stream, it will strengthen again as it moves up off the East Coast.
The hurricane also is likely to increase in size, spreading its destruction over a very wide area, Blackwell said.
As of 2 p.m. today, Hurricane Sandy’s eye was near Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas. The storm had peak winds of about 75 mph (120 kph), and was moving north at about 7 mph (11 kph).
Meteorologists have compared Hurricane Sandy to the so-called “Perfect Storm” of October 1991. That storm also encountered conditions that were unusually favorable for strengthening and caused heavy destruction from North Carolina to Canada.
Willie Drye has been writing about hurricanes and other topics for National Geographic News since 2003. Visit his blog, Drye Goods.