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Sandy strengthens as conditions start to deteriorate here

The center of Hurricane Sandy is taking aim for New Jersey — but the giant storm can already be felt in Connecticut Monday morning and will be for days. Currently tropical storm force winds extend nearly 500 miles from the storm’s eye.

Hurricane Sandy, now off the coast of North Carolina, strengthened overnight and its center is still on course with making landfall in New Jersey and bringing devastating winds to southwest Connecticut as it shifts from a hurricane into a hybrid super storm that could last for two days. But the edges of the potentially historic storm have already reached Connecticut, where wind gusts have reached 38 mph at Sikorsky Memorial Airport.

There is a high wind warning in effect through Tuesday afternoon for the area — because Sandy won’t technically be a hurricane when it gets here — that should be treated like a hurricane warning. Winds from are expected to be 30 to 50 mph with gusts up to 85 mph, according to the National Weather Service. There is also a flood watch inland and along the coast where the weather service says waves are expected to build to 6 to 12 feet within Long Island Sound.

“Think of the worst occurrence you’ve ever seen in your area, and assume it’s going to be worse than that,” Gov. Dannel Malloy said during a press conference Sunday morning.

The winds have been steadily picking up here overnight, increasing to a steady wind more than 20 mph with gusts nearing 40 mph.

The winds could pose “a significant threat to life and property,” according to the weather service. “Damaging winds are expected. Winds will be capable of downing trees and snapping off large tree branches. Power outages could be widespread and last at least several days. Debris will block some roads. Most poorly anchored mobile homes will be damaged. Other homes may have damage to shingles, siding, gutters and windows — especially if these items are not properly secured. Loose outdoor items will become airborne, causing additional damage and possible injury. Windows in high-rise buildings could be broken by flying debris.”

Dangerous conditions will occur today and tonight, according to the weather service’s Monday morning warning. “Everyone should be moving to a place of safety. Once inside, ensure all windows and doors are secured before dangerous winds arrive,” the weather service said.

If you aren’t already, be sure to have cell phones charged — as you never know when you are going to lose power. “Keep cell phone and Internet communications as open as possible for emergencies,” the weather service said. Using text messages instead of calls can help save your battery — and also is less stress on the network, Malloy said Sunday.

Hurricane-force winds are expected from Virginia to Massachusetts and storm surges in Long Island Sound could top 10 feet, according to forecasters.

The destructive waves, on top of the storm surge, will cause over-washes and significant damage to coastal structures nearest to sea level. “This is especially true for low-lying areas… and historically vulnerable locations along Long Island Sound,” according to the weather service.

At 5 a.m., Hurricane Sandy was off the coast of North Carolina, moving north at 15 mph. It is expected to make a turn toward the northwest Monday and then a turn toward the west-northwest Monday night, according to the National Hurricane Center. The center of the giant storm is supposed move over the coast of New Jersey Monday evening or night.

According to Air Force hurricane hunter aircraft, Sandy’s maximum-sustained winds have increased to 85 mph that extend 175 miles from the center of the storm. Tropical force winds extend 485 miles.

“Sandy is expected to transition into a frontal or wintertime low pressure system prior to landfall,” according to the hurricane center. “However, this transition will not be accompanied by a weakening of the system — and in fact — a little strengthening is possible during this process. Sandy is expected to weaken after moving inland.”

The storm is expected to bring two to four inches of rain in this area — with isolated amounts up to five inches — with the worst of the rain being to the west. Two to three feet of snow is forecast for the mountains of West Virginia from the storm and 12 to 18 inches of snow in parts of Virginia and Kentucky.

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