Hurricane Sandy is still packing 75 mph winds as a Category 1 storm on Saturday evening, and it could directly hit Monmouth and Ocean counties, weather forecasters say.
If so, it could be the first hurricane to directly hit the Jersey Shore in decades - maybe even a century. Other hurricanes, such as Irene in 2011, Belle in 1976 and Gloria in 1985, hugged the coast a bit before making a complete landfall in New Jersey.
The massive storm is located off the coast of the Carolinas and is traveling north at 13 mph over the open water of the Atlantic Ocean parallel to the East Coast.
Forecasters still expect the system to take a sharp left turn early on Monday morning and head toward the New Jersey coastline. At 2 p.m. Monday, while it's still offshore, the storm will have winds of 80 mph.
The National Hurricane Center said Saturday night that forecast models predicting the storm will eventually make landfall along the New Jersey coastline.
Meanwhile, the Miami-based agency said it would not lengthen the watch or warning area for the storm to locations north of areas currently under such warnings since Sandy may no longer be considered a tropical system once it reaches the Shore area.
Instead, official advisories from the storm would come in the form of high wind warnings and various marine warnings issued by local National Weather Service offices.
For Monmouth and Ocean Counties, there is a high wind watch through Tuesday afternoon. There is also a coastal flood warning for Monmouth and Ocean Counties until midnight Monday night and a flood watch through Tuesday afternoon.
In his evening forecasts, NBC40 meteorologist Dan Skeldon is suggesting that the storm could make landfall anywhere in New Jersey, somewhere in Ocean or Monmouth counties.
The strongest winds and greatest impact from a storm surge are predicted to be north of the storm. If Sandy lands north of Ocean City, central and northern New Jersey would see what Skeldon calls the "worst-case scenario." Southern New Jersey would see more rain (but still feel the effects of very strong winds).
Skeldon — who has earned a strong reputation predicting local conditions for the southern New Jersey shore — predicts winds of 60 to 80 mph on Monday in southern New Jersey.
He said the greatest impact will be during the two high tides on Monday. The first — at 8:27 a.m. at the Ninth Street Bridge on the bay side of Ocean City — would see the potentially strongest winds. The second — at 8:46 p.m. — could be mitigated by winds that may shift offshore and blow water back out to sea (if the storm does indeed make landfall north of Ocean City).
Skeldon predicted more "blowout tides" for Tuesday — with strong winds blowing from the west.
He warned that the massive storm is very dangerous and will be "a record-breaking storm for somebody," and he emphasized that slight shifts in the forecast or track of the storm could lead to dramatic changes in potential damage.
With waves of 30 to 40 feet over the open ocean and pounding surf closer to shore, beach erosion will be one of the guarantees of Sandy. Heavy rainfall of several inches will add fresh water to tidal floods of salt water.
The storm has led to a mandatory evacuation order for all of the barrier islands in New Jersey starting effective at 4 p.m. Sunday. Ocean City, Atlantic City and many other towns are included in the order — with all of the casino guests and employees required to comply.
The evacuation order, of course, forces the closing of barrier island public schools on Monday and Tuesday. But most mainland towns are also closing schools for those two days.