Hurricane Sandy, the 19th named storm of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, took aim at the Bahamas Thursday after blasting a path through Jamaica and Cuba and emerging as an even stronger Category 2 storm. The late-season whopper has caused at least two deaths and altered the vacation plans of thousands in the Caribbean, but the worst may be yet to come as Sandy tracks toward the U.S. mainland.
According to the 11 a.m. EDT advisory from the National Hurricane Center in Miami, the center of Hurricane Sandy was about 65 miles south-southwest of Long Island and the Bahamas, approaching the island chain at 16 mph with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph. Hurricane force winds extended out 30 miles from the center, while tropical storm force winds extended outward up to 165 miles. Sandy is expected to remain a Category 2 storm Thursday, though some weakening is expected in the next 48 hours as it moves north through the Bahamas.
Hurricane warnings are now in effect for central and northwestern Bahamas, as well as the Ragged Islands in the southeastern Bahamas. The remainder of the southeastern Bahamas, Lake Okeechobee and Florida’s East Coast (from Ocean Reef to Flagler Beach) are covered under tropical storm warnings, while tropical storm watches are in effect for the remainder of Florida’s East Coast, including the keys. The National Hurricane Center cautioned that interests elsewhere along the U.S. East Coast should closely monitor the storm’s progress.
Sandy’s track through the Greater Antilles left several travelers stranded on Tuesday and Wednesday, with Jamaica the first to bear the brunt of the storm. Airports on the island reopened Thursday as troubles spread over Nassau, Bahamas, where at least 21 flights in and 21 flights out were canceled Thursday, according to tracking site FlightAware.
Here’s a look at flight cancelations and policies by airline:
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, through Saturday can also change their flights fee-free.
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.
US Airways has relaxed its change-fee policies for those traveling to Montego Bay, Jamaica, through Thursday and Freeport or Nassau, Bahamas, through Saturday.
United will waive change fees and fare differences for passengers traveling on or before Saturday to its seven destinations in the Bahamas.
JetBlue 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, at least ten cruise ships have 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 stayed out at sea, according to spokesperson Cynthia Martinez.
Norwegian Pearl was to stop at Ocho Rios, Jamaica, and Grand Cayman on Wednesday and Thursday, but instead called on Cozumel and Costa Maya, Mexico. The New York-based Norwegian Jewel, meanwhile, skipped the cruise line’s private island, Great Stirrup Cay, and docked in Freeport, Bahamas, instead Wednesday. It sets sail for Charleston, S.C., in place of a scheduled stop at Nassau, Bahamas, Friday. The Norwegian Sky also canceled its stop at Great Stirrup Cay and will remain at sea Friday.
Disney Dream, departing from Port Canaveral Thursday evening, 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. Disney Fantasy will also skip a call at Castaway Cay Thursday.
Carnival spokesperson Aly Bello-Cabreriza said Carnival Valor bypassed Montego Bay and Grand Cayman and instead went to Costa Maya, Mexico, near the Belize border Wednesday. The ship continued on to Cozumel, Mexico, on Thursday. Baltimore-based Carnival Pride skipped its stops at Half Moon Cay and Freeport, Bahamas, and spent a day at sea before it calls on Port Canaveral, Fla., on Friday. Norfolk-based Carnival Glory will also bypass Freeport and head to Port Canaveral on Friday. Carnival Sensation, meanwhile, will bypass Nassau on Friday and visit Key West on Saturday instead.
Hurricane Sandy is expected to cause further delays over the coming days, particularly if it becomes the superstorm that many meteorologists have predicted. 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.” If such an event occurs, expect to see widespread flight cancellations all along the Northeast corridor.