Tropical Storm Sandy strengthened as it moved toward Jamaica, where forecasters predict it may arrive as a hurricane tomorrow.
Sandy’s top winds rose to 50 miles (80 kilometers) per hour earlier today, and the system was churning through the Caribbean about 225 miles south-southwest of Kingston, Jamaica, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in an 8 p.m. advisory. Hurricane warnings were posted on the island.
“Given the environment of low shear and high oceanic heat content, Sandy is likely to strengthen into a hurricane in 12 to 24 hours,” Richard Pasch, a senior hurricane specialist at the Miami center, wrote in a forecast analysis.
After Sandy strikes Jamaica, the storm is expected to cross eastern Cuba and reach the Bahamas by the weekend. Most forecasting models say it won’t make a direct hit on the U.S., although some suggest it may bring rain, and possibly snow, to parts of the Northeast.
“Yesterday, one of the computer forecast models had 4 feet of snow across the western part of Pennsylvania, today it has 3,” said Tom Kines, a meteorologist at AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania. “That is the extreme, probably not likely, but you can’t disregard it.”
Kines said Sandy’s impact on the U.S., if any, won’t be felt until next week.
In the Caribbean, Sandy is expected to reach eastern Cuba in about two days, Kines said.
Cuba issued a hurricane warning for its eastern provinces, including Guantanamo, and Haiti is under a tropical storm warning. The Bahamas posted a storm watch for the central and southeastern part of the island chain, including the Acklins and Rum Cay, the center said.
A warning means storm conditions may develop in the next day. A watch means there is a possibility of a strike in the next two days.
As the storm grows in size and moves farther north, a tropical storm watch may be needed for southeastern Florida and the Keys, according to the center.
On Jamaica, about 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain may fall, which may cause flash-flooding and landslides, according to the Meteorological Service of Jamaica.
Sandy is the 18th named storm in the Atlantic this year, tying with 1969 as the fourth-most active season on record. A 19th storm will probably develop from a tropical depression 990 miles northeast of the Leeward Islands that has 35 mph winds. It’s not forecast to reach the U.S.
If that system develops into Tropical Storm Tony, 2012 will be the third year in a row that 19 storms have formed in the Atlantic and will become the third-most active season. In addition to 2010 and 2011, 1995 and 1887 also produced 19 storms, according to Weather Underground in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The most active year was 2005, when 28 storms formed, including Hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans.