Hurricane Sandy, which on Thursday was barreling through the Bahamas as a Category 2 storm, may be taking aim at the northeastern United States and could make landfall along the Atlantic coast early next week. If so, forecasters say, the storm could become, to use a technical term from meteorology, a whopper.
It really could be an extremely significant, historic storm, said Brian McNoldy, a senior research associate at the University of Miami, explaining that conditions are similar to those that created the famous perfect storm of 1991.
Hurricane prediction is, of course, an iffy business, said Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist and spokesman for the National Hurricane Center, who noted that the storm was still days from the East Coast and could weaken drastically or even shift course and race off into the Atlantic.
The chain of events that would make Hurricane Sandy develop into a grave threat to the coast involves a storm system known as a midlatitude trough that is moving across the country from the west. If the systems meet up, as many computer models predict, the storm over land could draw the hurricane in.
Now you've got this giant storm complex with a lot of energy, Mr. Feltgen said. The combined systems could produce high winds, heavy rains and storm surges that would cause extensive damage.
New York was beginning to prepare for trouble. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg told reporters that the city activated its coastal storm plan on Thursday morning and that it had already opened its Office of Emergency Management situation room. He also said that important city agencies had been meeting regularly and that the storm was discussed at Thursday's senior staff meeting, just to make sure that everybody knows they should, you know, start getting out the plans, which weve worked on very hard.
Joseph J. Lhota, the chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said in a radio interview on WNYC on Thursday that the agency was discussing contingency plans to move buses to higher ground if necessary. Last year, the authority carried out an unprecedented shutdown of the entire subway system ahead of Tropical Storm Irene.
I dont think were looking at anything like that for what's happening next week, Mr. Lhota said.
Such storm combinations have happened before: one that occurred 21 years ago developed into what is now known as the perfect storm off the coast of New England. That disaster was memorialized in a 1997 book and a 2000 movie by the same name.
Essentially, all of the major models are now showing some form of phasing event similar to the perfect storm occurring sometime next week, said William A. Komaromi, a graduate student at the University of Miami who posted an essay online on Thursday comparing Hurricane Sandy to the 1991 event.
Mr. Feltgen said that everybody along the U.S. East Coast needs to be paying attention to this right now, though he added that were not telling people to rush to the grocery stores. It is a time, he suggested, for watchful waiting. Lets not go overboard with this thing, he said, but you should at least start becoming aware of it.
Mr. McNoldy said, You want to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Even if the storms wind power weakens substantially, as Hurricane Irene showed, rainfall can still be extremely high. Mr. McNoldys posts on Twitter about Hurricane Sandy now bear the label frankenstorm.
The storm is approaching in the middle of preparations for next month's presidential election and could disrupt plans for early voting in some areas, with unpredictable results. Mark McKinnon, a former media strategist for President George W. Bush who went on to found No Labels, a group promoting bipartisanship, said that the hurricane brought to the campaigns something they both dread: uncertainty.
Campaigns are all about control, he said. So in the closing days, they fear any external events that could disrupt the game plan. Ain't no leashes for Mother Nature.