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3:30 p.m.: Winds are becoming hazardous across the area now. Peak gusts so far include 61 mph at Bishops Head, Md.; 57 mph at Crofton, Md.; 47 mph at National ; and 44 mph at Dulles. The Bay Bridge has closed due to high winds, which happens once winds reach 55 mph. Meanwhile, to the west, a blizzard is developing.

2:20 p.m.: Hurricane Sandy has continued to strengthen, with a pressure now of 940 mb (27.75”) at its center and sustained winds of 90 mph. The storm is expected to make landfall in southern NJ around 6-8 p.m. Chincoteague, Va. is reportedly completely under water with levels around 3 feet in many places. Trees are also now coming down in greater number across the area, including D.C.

From 1:17 p.m.: Hurricane Sandy is cranking up its fury level. Winds across the D.C. area are currently sustained in the 25 to 35 mph range, with gusts near and past 40 mph. Winds will continue to increase through the afternoon, perhaps most noticeably in those gusts.

The potential for damage and associated power outages is now growing considerably and will continue to do so through the afternoon.

Differences in timing of increasing wind across the area are fairly marginal thanks to how large Hurricane Sandy’s circulation is, but as we get toward sunset, there is a good chance for at least areas of sustained winds near or above tropical storm force, with gusts potentially approaching 70-80 mph.

Onset of stronger winds should generally progress from east to west, with the strongest overall winds focusing on areas closest to the water like Annapolis. However, within any strong bands, extreme gusts are possible, and some of the models show locations like Leesburg and Dulles having the strongest winds in the whole area by late evening.

When it comes to rain, there’s already been a lot of it and plenty more to come. A flood warning is up for D.C., with major flooding expected on Rock Creek. Additional flash and river flooding is likely. So far, totals have been fairly uniform from north to south, and increasing as you head from west to east. The airports have reported between 1.5” and 2.5”, and there have been much higher totals to the east where it started raining hard yesterday.

The first really hefty band of rain has pushed west of D.C. and may continue to push west of the area or hang out there a bit. Any lulls in the activity should mainly feature lighter rain, and more strong bands will continue to rotate in from the east and northeast, as well as additional activity forming overhead.

Why is Sandy strengthening? Blame the warm waters offshore, at least partly. Steve Tracton and Brian McNoldy explain why cooler water to its north won’t be the end of Sandy. A perfect storm?

Elsewhere: Winds along most of the coast are now gusting between 50 and 60 mph up into NYC and southern New England. Even with low tide recently occurring or still ongoing, major flooding is noted in places like Ocean City, Md. and up north impacting locations like coastal NJ and LaGuardia Airport. Surge during the next high tide is expected to be catastrophic in some locations.