Cubans try to recover belongings from a destroyed house in Holguin, Cuba on Friday Oct. 26, 2012. Hurricane Sandy claimed 11 lives as it tore across the country Thursday, leaving a path of destruction in the eastern part of the island, officials in Havana said. (AFP/Getty Images)
UPDATE: Forecasters said Sandy has regained hurricane strength with sustained winds of 75 mph, just hours after downgrading it to a tropical storm.
Original story below:
The National Weather Service dropped Sandy from hurricane to tropical storm status, but weather forecasters still warn that "widespread impacts" are expected into next week along the east coast.
A public advisory issued at 5 a.m. Saturday from the National Hurricane Center said the storm's maximum sustained winds had fallen to 70 mph, however the weather service said "restrengthening" possible Sunday night.
Despite the status downgrade, the forecasters said Sandy "is expected to remain a large storm with widespread impacts into early next week."
Forecasters have predicted Sandy will hit an east coast winter storm as it moves inland, creating a hybrid monster system that's been dubbed "Frankenstorm."
Tropical storm warnings were issued for parts of Florida's East Coast, along with parts of coastal North and South Carolina and the Bahamas. Tropical storm watches were issued for coastal Georgia and parts of South Carolina, along with parts of Florida and Bermuda.
Experts said the storm could be wider and stronger than Irene, which caused more than $15 billion in damage, and could rival the worst East Coast storm on record.
As it spun away from the Bahamas late Friday, Sandy was blamed for more than 43 deaths across the Caribbean. The 18th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season hit the Bahamas after cutting across Cuba, where it tore roofs off homes and damaged fragile coffee and tomato crops.
Cars line up for gas at the Sam's Club, in Pleasantville, N.J., as Hurricane Sandy makes its way up the coast Friday Oct. 26, 2012. A year after being walloped by Hurricane Irene, residents rushed to put away boats, harvest crops and sandbag boardwalks Friday as the Eastern Seaboard braced for a rare megastorm that experts said would cause much greater havoc. (AP)
People in the Northeast have been warned to prepare for flooding, high winds, widespread power outages and even snow.
"It will be unpredictable until the last minute," Jim Cisco, a forecaster at the National Weather Service's prediction office, told NBC News Friday. "That really is the truth of the situation ... we're not sure how it's going to behave."
That's because Sandy will be making a hard west turn from the Atlantic, a rare occurrence. "It's coming in at a sharper angle" than previous storms because cold air moving in from the Northern Plains is undercutting Sandy's circulation, Cisco added.
On top of that, a new lunar cycle will bring high tides Sunday, Monday and Tuesday -- adding to the storm surge from Sandy.
Weather forecasters still predict it will push in a large storm surge as it nears land, inundate a broad, highly populated region with rain, and knock out power for perhaps weeks with its broad, destructive winds.
"Forget about the category with this," said CNN meteorologist Rob Marciano. "When you have trees with leaves on them still, this kind of wind and rain on top of that, you're talking about trees that are going to come down, power lines are going to be out and the coastal flooding situation is going to be huge."
Sandy is still predicted to merge with a strong cold front from the west and morph into a "superstorm."
This "will energize this system, so we'll actually get an intensification of this system," Uccellini said.
The resulting storm could sit over New England, making untold trouble for millions of residents, even dumping heavy snow in the Appalachians.
"Expect it to move very slowly," said James Franklin of the National Hurricane Center. "The large size of the system and its slow motion will mean a long-lasting event with two to three days of impacts."