A tropical storm warning was issued for part of Florida's east coast Wednesday as Hurricane Sandy strengthened on its approach to Cuba, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
By 11 p.m. Sandy was just hours away from making landfall in southeastern Cuba. It had maximum sustained winds of 90 mph as it moved north at 13 mph about 85 miles southwest of Guantanamo, Cuba and about 100 miles north-northeast of Kingston, Jamaica, the National Hurricane Center said.
Tropical storm conditions are expected along Florida's east coast Thursday night and Friday, forecasters said.
The hurricane made landfall in southeastern Jamaica around 3 p.m., the National Hurricane Center said.
At 5 p.m., a tropical storm warning was issued for the east coast of Florida from Ocean Reef to Sebasian Inlet and a tropical storm watch was extended along the east coast to Flagler Beach.
Winds in South Florida were expected to start picking up by Wednesday afternoon, the National Weather Service said. The storm was expected to move north across eastern Cuba on Wednesday night and into the Bahamas Thursday and Friday.
"Winds will be increasing across southeast Florida the next couple days," said Kim Brabander, a meterologist with the weather service. "Thursday night and Friday, Sandy will be closest to South Florida on the east side."
Brabander said the storm will most probably be a wind event on the low side of the tropical storm force winds, which range from 39 to 65 miles per hour.
"We will have some outer rain bands come across from time to time," he said.
The weather service was calling for 50 percent chance of showers on Thursday and Friday.
Miami-Dade County officials asked people to monitor the storm and advised people to avoid beaches with rip currents, swim only at beaches with lifeguards on duty, watch for flying debris, watch for objects blowing across the roads, drive slow, among other things. Broward County officials said potential impacts included downed power lines and outages and dangerous driving conditions.
“We must always be prepared for a storm, even this late in the season,” said Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners Chairman Joe A. Martinez in an email statement.
At Miami International Airport, nine flights were canceled and six flights were delayed from the Caribbean because of the storm.
Colin Francis arrived at MIA after being on the last Bahamas Air flight out of Nassau Wednesday night.
“If it’s just light wind and rain then it's not too much to be concerned about, but we don't know what it is going to build up to, so people are on the alert and we are concerned about that," he said.
At Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport three flights were canceled to and from Kingston, Jamaica.
Brabander said residents should check the forecast track for any changes. The storm was expected to accelerate to the north or northeast on Friday night into Saturday morning, so South Florida should become much drier, he said.
Further north, officials on Hutchinson Island, near Port St. Lucie, were shoring up their beaches, trying to minimize potential damage.
Meanwhile, the hurricane center said it was too early to tell where exactly it will go after South Florida.
"It will most probably not be a tropical system if it makes it to the northeast," said Dennis Feltgen, hurricane center spokesman.
But Key West officials weren't going to let the storm dampen their costuming and masking festival called Fantasy Fest. They said Wednesday that the event, which runs until Oct. 28, will continue.
The hurricane center warned Sandy could dump as much as 12 inches of rain on Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and parts of Cuba — and up to 20 inches in some areas — and could trigger "life-threatening flash floods and mudslides" as well as storm surge.
Sandy was expected to keep heading north with increasing speed Wednesday night and Thursday. It will emerge from Cuba's north coast Thursday and move near or over the central Bahamas late Thursday, the National Hurricane Center said.
Weakening is forecast as the storm crosses Cruba, but it is expected to remain a hurricane as it moves through the Bahamas.
A hurricane warning was in effect for Jamaica, the Cuban provinces of Camaguey, Las Tunas, Granma, Santiago De Cuba, Holguin and Guantanamo, the central and northwestern Bahamas, and the Ragged Islands in the southeastern Bahamas.
A tropical storm warning was in effect for the rest of the southeastern Bahamas and Haiti.
Meanwhile, further out over the Atlantic, Tropical Storm Tony started losing its tropical characteristics at 5 p.m.
By 11 p.m. , it had maximum sustained winds of 50 mph as it moved east-northeast at 23 mph about 935 miles west-southwest of the Azores.