Hurricane Sandy's impact on weather along the coast and inland is expected to continue over two days, potentially bringing coastal surges of 6 to 11 feet, and rainfall of up to 12 inches at spots that could cause river and other inland flooding, federal officials said in a press conference on Sunday morning.
No matter exactly where or when the hurricane makes landfall, Sandy is a large system that will create potentially life-threatening surges along hundreds of miles of coastline from North Carolina up to Cape Cod, according to spokespersons for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The hurricane's effect, already being felt in the southern part of the mid-Atlantic, will last up to a day before and after the hurricane's actual arrival, according to Dr. Rick Knabb, National Hurricane Center Director for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
"Sandy is a large hurricane and a large system," Knabb said. "The large size of the system is why it's capable of producing a life-threatening storm surge." Tropical storm conditions already had hit the North Carolina coast as of about noon, he said.
But rainfall and strong winds also will be penetrate inland, he said. "The long duration of winds will continue for a couple of days," Knabb said. Rainfall could be up to a foot in some places, although it will vary throughout the vast region affected along the East Coast, he said.
"Millions of people are at least in an area that can have some chance of experiencing flash flooding or river flooding," Knabb said.
The seriousness of Sandy's impact will remain whether hurricane status remains at the time of landfall, or even if the storm has been changed to tropical storm status, federal officials said.
"Don't forcus on the fact that this is just a category 1 [hurricane]," Knabb cautioned. "I urge people not to compare this to past storms."
Emergency preparations, evacuations already should be underway
FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate began the press conference with a caution that the time is past for residents to be considering potential preparations they might take.
"People need to be acting now," Fugate said.
One of the biggest problems during major weather events is people ignoring orders from emergency directors in their area, Knapp said.
"We urge people to heed local emergency managers," Knapp said. "Do what your emergency managers tell you to do."
Christie already has ordered evacuation of New Jersey barrier islands
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie already has called for an evacuation of New Jersey's coastal barrier islands by 4 p.m. on Sunday. The governor also encouraged others along the coast to voluntarily evacuate.
U.S. Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-District 11) said in his briefing he had been told residents in his district in northern and central N.J. should anticipate "widespread, long duration power outages are extremely likely."
Last year's Hurricane Irene and the Oct. 29 snowstorm both caused widespread power outages throughout the region, with some residents in New Jersey communities were left without power for a week or more.
FEMA officials were reluctant to be pinned down to a figure of 50 million as to the number of people who might be affected by the storm, other than to say it will be felt in a number of ways in different areas. They also hedged on exactly where the hurricane's landfall might occur, except to say it would be somewhere between Long Island, New York and the Delmarva Peninsula in Maryland and Virginia.
Potential snowfall is predicted in the mountains of Virginia and Kentucky, said NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Prediction Director, Dr. Louis Uccellini.
Flooding in New England could spread beyond the coastal states and reach into Vermont and New Hampshire, officials said.