Hurricane Sandy crashed into Cuba after strengthening overnight to a Category 2 storm with sustained winds of 105 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Although experts don't believe the storm will hit Florida, the hurricane center extended its tropical storm watch in southeast Florida from the Upper Keys to Flagler Beach early Thursday.
The system, moving north around 18 mph, is a fairly large storm with hurricane force winds extending up to 25 miles from its center and tropical storm strength winds extending up to 140 miles, officials said. It may turn more northwestward after moving over Cuba.
It was not immediately clear what kind of impact Sandy could have on the southeast United States, but strong winds, rough surf and rain are expected Thursday night into Friday, and perhaps over the weekend.
Sandy was not expected to pose any significant threat to the Tampa Bay region, though gusts of wind could rip through the area over the weekend, which should stay dry as moisture is pulled east by the storm, said Bay News 9 meteorologist Juli Marquez.
Sandy is expected to weaken slightly as it moves over Cuba on Thursday, pounding the island with up to 12 inches of rain, strong winds and dangerous storm surge, but the system will likely retain enough strength to continue as a hurricane toward the Bahamas.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Tony continued to move northeast into the Atlantic, posing no threat to land Thursday.
Marissa Lang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3386 or on Twitter @Marissa_Jae.