After trying out some tropical storm-level wind speeds, Frankenstorm Sandy is again at hurricane strength, Reuters reported earlier today. The totally not overhyped storm is now expected to make landfall as early as Monday — possibly as far south as North Carolina — and may even cause flooding and snow as far inland as Ohio. It has already killed 43 in the Caribbean, prompting governors of several coastal states to declare states of emergency, including Maryland's Martin O'Malley, Virginia's Bob McDonnell, Connecticut's Dannel Malloy, and New York's Andrew Cuomo. In a Saturday evening address, Mayor Bloomberg said the city was not yet ordering evacuations for low-lying areas such Coney Island, Manhattan Beach, Far Rockaway, Midland Beach, and Staten Island's South Beach, though he warned that people in those areas should expect some power outages and flooding. (You can check to see whether you live in a potential flood zone here.)
He encouraged New Yorkers to make any potential last-minute evacuations by putting together "go bags" containing flashlights, IDs, water, medications, and/or teddy bears, but it didn't seem likely that many people would end up using them: "Although we are expecting a large surge of water, it’s not expected to be a tropical storm or hurricane type surge. With this storm we’ll most likely see a slow pile up of water rather than a sudden surge," he explained. There's still no word on what will happen with the subways — Bloomberg said officials would decide tomorrow morning. Similarly, he said the Department of Education would not make a decision on whether or not close schools on Monday until Sunday night. One thing to note (at least for smart teens and their parents): The specialized high school admissions tests scheduled for Sunday have been moved to November 18.
The city has ordered construction crews to stop work, with the MTA cancelling all planned weekend maintenance and construction. MTA chairman Joe Lhota urged city residents to plan on getting to wherever they need to be by 7 p.m. on Sunday, which is when the shutdown would begin. "There’s no guarantee of service after that," he said. The MTA's hurricane plan will be put into action if sustained winds reach 39 m.p.h or higher. In addition to subway stoppage, it calls for the closure of Grand Central Station and suspended service on the Metro North and the Long Island Railroad, along with city buses and Access-A-Ride. The Port Authority will close all bridges to traffic if winds reach 60 m.p.h.
Residents of Fire Island have been ordered to evacuate by 2 p.m. on Sunday, and New Jersey governor Chris Christie (who has also declared a state of emergency) announced that Atlantic City's casinos will be emptied and state's parks closed. (Evacuations are already underway on southern New Jersey's barrier islands.) "We should not underestimate the impact of this storm and not assume the predictions will be wrong," Christie said during an afternoon briefing in coastal North Middletown.
Meanwhile, at the nation's largest naval base in Norfolk, Virginia, most ships were sent to ride the storm out at sea. A campaign event in the state featuring Joe Biden has been cancelled, and Mitt Romney — who was scheduled to do three appearances in Virginia on Sunday — has been re-routed to Ohio. President Obama is planning on leaving D.C. for Florida early on Sunday, well before the brunt of the storm is expected to hit Washington. Politics might well take a back seat to the storm for the next few days, with many television stations expected to bump political ads for more live coverage of Sandy's approach and impact.
This post has been updated throughout.