Hurricane Sandy churned about 290 miles off the Mid-Atlantic coast Sunday night, with the National Hurricane Center reporting that the monster storm was expected to come ashore with near-hurricane-force winds and potentially "life-threatening" storm surge flooding.
The storm was curling north on Sunday night, churning toward land on Monday with the eye of the storm approaching the coast Monday night, the weather service said in its latest update. The storm remains deadly powerful, with sustained winds near 75 miles per hour and even stronger gusts.
Steady rain should arrive after dark Sunday evening in the Baltimore area, and rain and wind are expected to intensify through Monday morning and afternoon. Heavy rains were already drenching the Eastern Shore Sunday afternoon.
"It's going to be bad from tomorrow morning through Tuesday evening," Jim Lee, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said Sunday. "The peak of the storm, when it will be most severe, is going to be from noon tomorrow until midnight Tuesday."
The storm is expected to dump the most rain along the Maryland coast and Delaware. The Baltimore region should expect about 5 to 10 inches of rain, with more falling in some areas, Lee said.
"Practically every creek in Baltimore City and Baltimore County is going to be out of its banks," Lee said.
Under leaden skies, winds were sweeping into the Baltimore area from the northeast Sunday afternoon.
By noon Sunday, winds had reached 35 knots at the Thomas Point Lighthouse south of Annapolis and gusts were measured at 35 miles per hour at BWI, Lee said.
"You're seeing the winds pick up as Sandy moves closer," he said.
Hurricane-force winds extend 175 miles from the storm's center, while tropical storm-force winds reach as far as 520 miles out, making Sandy an extremely large and powerful cyclone.
A high-wind warning was announced for the entire Baltimore region between 8 a.m. Monday and 8 p.m. Tuesday.
A tropical storm watch was discontinued late Saturday for the South Carolina coast, but high-wind watches and warnings remained in effect for portions of southeastern Virginia and much of the Mid-Atlantic and southern New England.
Surge-related flooding was expected to peak at one to two feet in the upper and middle portions of the Chesapeake Bay, while reaching four to eight feet in Ocean City. The severity of flooding will depend on when the surge comes in the tide cycle, the hurricane center reported.
The storm surge combined with strong winds could lead to extended flooding over multiple tide cycles, the hurricane center warned.
Some areas of the country may see significant snowfall, according to the National Hurricane Center. Two to three feet could fall in the mountains of West Virginia, while elevated areas of Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina could see one to two feet.
It remained unclear whether Sandy would be classified as a hurricane or a tropical storm when it makes landfall, but Lee said the effects would be the same.
"The impacts are going to be the same — very heavy rains and extremely strong winds that are going to lead to a lot of tree damage," Lee said.