Hurricane Sandy may push a life-threatening wall of water onto the Northeastern U.S., setting a record storm surge in Manhattan while whipping the region with high winds and rain.

The expected surge at New York's Battery Park will be 11.7 feet (3.5 meters) at 8:30 p.m. today, more than two feet higher than the water Hurricane Irene sent onto the shore last year and higher than the 10.02-foot record set September 1960 by Hurricane Donna, according to Sean Potter, a National Weather Service spokesman.

"That is assuming that it does occur with the high tide," Potter said yesterday by telephone.

Irene caused flooding in the Battery, at the southern tip of Manhattan, when it struck in August 2011. Normal high tides generally just top 5 feet, according to data from the U.S. Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service. Flood stage is 6.7 feet.

"It couldn't be a worse scenario with the storm coming around with a full moon," said Mark Hoekzema, chief meteorologist at Earth Networks in Germantown, Maryland. "The full moon with the high tides are going to add another 1 to 2 feet and then there is wave action on top of that."

The system may also leave a metre of snow in the Appalachians, the weather service said.

Storm's spread

Sandy's punch may be felt from Virginia to Massachusetts, said Rick Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Center. High wind warnings and watches for gusts as strong as 70 miles (113 kilometres) per hour stretch from Maine to North Carolina and as far west as Ohio, according to the weather service. Flood watches and warnings cover most of the Northeast and mid- Atlantic coasts.

Hurricane-force winds of at least 74 mph are expected from Chincoteague, Virginia, to Chatham, Massachusetts, said the hurricane center in Miami.

Heavy rain and high winds are also expected across southern Ontario and Quebec, according to Environment Canada.

Sandy's maximum sustained winds were steady at 75 miles per hour, the hurricane center said in an advisory at 2 a.m. New York time. It was centred about 280 miles east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and about 425 miles south-southeast of New York, moving north at 14 mph.

The storm has already killed at least 65 people throughout the Caribbean, according to the Associated Press.

Waves as high as 32.5 feet were reported from buoys off Cape Hatteras, said the National Data Buoy Center at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

Near-record size

Hurricane-strength winds of at least 74 mph extend 175 from Sandy's core and tropical storm force winds reach 520 miles, according to the hurricane center. The storm is the second-largest in size since 1988, tied with Hurricane Lili in 1996, according to Angela Fritz at Weather Underground in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The largest was Hurricane Olga in 2001.

Sandy is expected to turn northwest and then north- northwest today, the hurricane center said. It will pass over the coast of the mid-Atlantic states this evening or tonight, according to the forecast.

Sandy is taking its unusual track into the East Coast because a number of weather systems have come together in just the right way, according to Louis Uccellini, director of the National Centers for Environmental Prediction.

'Frankenstorm' pattern

To Sandy's east, a phenomenon called the North Atlantic Oscillation is acting like a closed door, barring the storm from moving in that direction. To the west, a cold front and another storm are creating a pattern that will pull Sandy toward them as it evolves into the superstorm some in the Weather Service have dubbed "Frankenstorm."

The hurricane center predicts as much as 3 feet of snow may fall in West Virginia and as much as 2 feet in the mountains of Virginia to Kentucky. As much as 12 to 18 inches may fall in the Appalachians in North Carolina and Tennessee.

The hurricane center's five-day outlook shows the system turning north over Pennsylvania at tropical-storm strength before weakening as it crosses into New York State, over Lake Ontario and into Canada.

As it passes, temperatures will drop in interior parts of West Virginia and the Appalachians to around 20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 7 Celsius) and in the 30s and 40s throughout much of the rest of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states, which could lead to problems for people without power, Knabb said.

Bloomberg