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5:50 p.m.: The center of Sandy is just offshore the southern tip of New Jersey. It should make landfall in the next hour or so. Winds are now gusting between 40 and 55 mph across most of the area, with gusts up near 70 on the coast to the east. Rainfall totals in the immediate area are running between 2.5” and 4” thus far with heavy rain still over the region and more to come. Power outages are climbing rapidly, now past 40,000 in the area and upwards of 2 million across the northeast.

From 4:38 p.m.: Hurricane Sandy has a date with the coastline. But, after that, the center keeps getting closer to the Washington area, so this whole wind storm is still kicking into high gear. Sandy is moving quite rapidly now, toward the west northwest around 27 mph. On this course, it should come ashore near Cape May, NJ, sometime within the next few hours.

Rain covers the entire region and there’s no reason to think that’s going to change any time soon. In fact, stronger bands beginning to rotate into the area from Delaware and northeast Maryland should bring with them periods of even heavier rain as well as higher wind gusts.

We’re entering or about to enter into the 12-hour window that is likely to contain the highest gusts. These quick bursts of wind, driven by often blinding rain, could deliver 60-80 mph speeds for a short time and perhaps multiple times. Add in a sustained wind peaking near tropical storm force (39+ mph) and increasingly saturated soil — a recipe for tree failure.

Do not go out unless absolutely necessary. If you are out, try to stay as far away from trees as possible.

Hurricane Sandy moves toward the New Jersey shore, as seen earlier today from the NOAA/NASA NPP satellite.

For folks staying home, if you’re riding out the storm in a house surrounded by trees, stay on the opposite side of the house from the wind on a low floor. Close the curtains to cover windows facing the wind… but still be very careful near any glass that could break.

Regarding the coastline, CWG’s Justin Grieser writes that “record extreme” coastal flooding is expected from the Delaware Bay northward through New York City and southern New England.

And back to our west, in the elevated areas of the Appalachians, the blizzard is getting underway. 1-2” per hour snowfall rates are getting going in the higher elevations and as the evening progresses those rates may even increase past 2” per hour!