Hurricane Sandy, the 19th named storm of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, began its march up the Greater Antilles Wednesday, causing dozens of flights to be canceled and altering the itineraries of nearly a half dozen cruise ships.
According to the 2 p.m. EDT advisory from the National Hurricane Center in Miami, the center of Hurricane Sandy was about 30 miles south of Kingston, Jamaica, approaching the island at 14 mph with maximum sustained winds of 80 mph. Hurricane force winds extended out 25 miles from the center, while tropical storm force winds extended outward up to 140 miles. Sandy is expected to remain a Category 1 storm Wednesday night as she continues on a northerly track toward Cuba and the Bahamas.
Hurricane warnings are now in effect for Jamaica and the Cuban provinces of Camaguey, Las Tunas, Granma, Santiago de Cuba, Holguin and Guantanamo. Haiti and central and northwestern Bahamas are covered under tropical storm warnings, while tropical storm watches are in effect for the southeastern Bahamas and Florida’s East Coast from the upper keys to the Volusia-Brevard County line.
Jamaica is the first country to bear the brunt of the storm. Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston closed Tuesday evening, while Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay shut down Wednesday morning. As a result, all flights to and from the nation’s two main airports have been cancelled.
Caribbean Airlines and its sister carrier Air Jamaica canceled at least 16 flights Wednesday, mainly to and from New York and Fort Lauderdale.
American Airlines canceled its flights to Jamaica and Haiti through Thursday and will allow customers to change their plans free of charge. Anyone traveling to Freeport, George Town, Marsh Harbour or Nassau, Bahamas, between Oct. 25 and 27 can also change their flights fee-free.
US Airways has relaxed its change-fee policies for those traveling to Montego Bay, Jamaica, through Thursday and Freeport or Nassau, Bahamas, through Saturday.
Delta Air Lines will refund all flight cancellations or offer fee-free changes for those flying to Montego Bay, Jamaica, or Port au Prince, Haiti, through Thursday and Nassau, Bahamas, through Sunday.
United will waive change fees and fare differences for passengers traveling between Oct. 24 and Oct. 27 to its seven destinations in the Bahamas.
JetBlue, meanwhile, will wave all change fees, cancellations and fare differences for customers traveling to Kingstown or Montego Bay, Jamaica, between Oct. 24 and Oct. 25 and Nassau, Bahamas, between Oct. 25 and Oct. 26.
Out at sea, Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, Carnival’s Valor, Glory, and Pride, and Disney’s Dream have all altered their itineraries to avoid the growing storm.
Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, the largest passenger ship in the world, skipped Falmouth, Jamaica, Wednesday and will instead stay out at sea, according to spokesperson Cynthia Martinez.
Carnival spokesperson Aly Bello-Cabreriza says that Carnival Valor will bypass Montego Bay and Grand Cayman and instead head to Costa Maya, Mexico, near the Belize border Wednesday. The ship will continue on to Cozumel, Mexico, on Thursday.
Baltimore-based Carnival Pride will skip its stops at Half Moon Cay and Freeport, Bahamas, and spend a day at sea before calling on Port Canaveral, Fla., on Friday. Norfolk-based Carnival Glory will also bypass Freeport and head to Port Canaveral on Friday.
Disney Dream, due to depart from Port Canaveral Thursday, has changed its itinerary to avoid Nassau, Bahamas, and the company’s private island, Disney’s Castaway Cay. It hopes to stop at Nassau on Saturday, weather permitting. All other days will be out at sea.
Hurricane Sandy is expected to cause further delays over the coming days, and while it’s not forecast to hit the U.S. mainland at this time, senior AccuWeather meteorologist Alex Sosnowski has warned that “a major storm with damaging consequences is still on the table from Norfolk to New York City and Boston.”
Sosnowski believes the worst case scenario could be akin to 1991’s Perfect Storm where a hurricane was captured as chilly air and strong upper-level winds joined in from North America to create an atmospheric “bomb.”
Many other forecasters, however, believe the storm will stay out at sea once it passes through the Bahamas.
Elsewhere in the Atlantic, Tropical Storm Tony formed Wednesday. The 20th named storm of the busy 2012 Atlantic season poses no threat to land.