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Tracking hurricane Sandy: As storm 'zigs,' it's also changing dramatically

Hurricane Sandy has lurched westward as it heads toward landfall late Monday. It's also swapping energy sources as it becomes extratropical. The process sometimes gives storms a boost of power.

By Staff writer / October 29, 2012

Rough surf of the Atlantic Ocean breaks over the dunes Monday morning, Oct. 29, in Cape May, N.J., as high tide and Hurricane Sandy begin to arrive.

Mel Evans/AP


With hurricane Sandy on final approach to formally making landfall near the southern tip of New Jersey late Monday evening, the storm is on the verge of an unusual shift.

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Even as it makes a left turn to head toward the coast, it also is swapping energy sources to become an extratropical cyclone.

Such transitions occur several times a year to typhoons in the western Pacific, notes Clifford Mass, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington at Seattle, in an e-mail exchange.

"But to have it occur over the western Atlantic and then to recurve inland with such a major effect is extraordinary," Dr. Mass adds.

The shift from tropical to extratropical tends to intensify the storm for a period, as well as redistribute winds and rainfall in ways that can shift the regions most heavily affected by wind and rain.

In Sandy's case, such changes already have been factored into forecasts from the National Hurricane Center and local National Weather Service forecast offices in the eastern US.

Indeed the hurricane's vast size – tropical-storm-force winds extend up to 420 nautical miles from Sandy's center – has prompted federal officials to warn people not to focus on where the storm makes landfall because the areas affected by coastal surges, heavy rains, and high wind remain extensive.

Indeed, the full range of winds associated with Sandy spans a diameter of more than 1,000 miles.

Sandy intensified slightly Monday morning as it passed over a sliver of warm water associated with the Gulf Stream. Atmospheric pressure at the center of Sandy – a key measure of the storm's strength – has hit a low of 27.85 inches, or 943 millibars. If Sandy retains that reading, or it drops further, at landfall, the location would go into the record books as experiencing the lowest barometric pressure of any spot in the US north of Cape Hatteras, according to data compiled by the Weather Underground.


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