Hurricane Sandy will make its way toward the east coast of Florida on Friday after buffeting Caribbean islands for several days, leaving thousands displaced and killing at least 21 people, officials said.
Sandy, a Category 1 hurricane, weakened slightly after moving over land. With winds at 80 mph, the storm appeared likely to weaken further and slow down from its pace of 10 mph.
But forecasters at the National Hurricane Center said it would continue as a hurricane toward the southeast Florida coast.
With tropical storm-force winds extending up to 275 miles from its center, Sandy is a big storm, and getting bigger, the hurricane center said.
Its size prompted tropical storm warnings in all areas south of Flagler Beach, and a tropical storm watch was in effect from Flagler Beach to Fernandina Beach in Florida. Watches continue northward into North Carolina, along the Oregon Inlet, but forecasters said the storm's effects will be felt as far north and inland as Ohio.
Winds up to 50 mph along the coast, rough surf, rip currents, rain, dangerous boating conditions and major beach erosion are possible in these areas, experts said.
Located about 15 miles east of Great Abaco Island, the storm will make a northeast turn as it moves up the Florida coast late Friday and into the weekend.
This will bring wind, cooler air and dry conditions to the Tampa Bay region, spurring a dramatic cool down to start next week.
Temperatures may only reach the mid 70s Monday, falling even lower by midweek, said Bay News 9 meteorologist Juli Marquez. Lows will vary throughout the area, but may dip into the 50s.
According to reports, Sandy leveled homes and killed 11 people in Cuba as it made its way across the island as a Category 2 storm. In Haiti, 9 were reported dead. One person died in Jamiaca.
Marissa Lang can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226--3386 or on Twitter @Marissa_Jae.