Read the latest on Sandy: Friday update: East Coast braces for monster "Frankenstorm."
ALBANY, N.Y. -- For the second straight year, National Weather Service forecasters are putting the word out well ahead of time: Brace yourselves for what could be a particularly nasty pre-Halloween trick.
An unusual late-season hurricane blew up in the Caribbean Sea on Wednesday, pounding Jamaica and threatening eastern Cuba and the Bahamas before making a run up the Eastern coastline.
By early next week, Hurricane Sandy -- by then probably downgraded to a tropical storm -- could deliver an "epic" blow to the Northeast region, including the Berkshires, said lead forecaster Brian Montgomery during a briefing at the high-tech government forecast office on the State University at Albany campus.
The latest guidance issued by Montgomery and his colleagues on Wednesday evening leans toward a direct hit by Sandy along the Northeast coast -- but just where remains open to question.
One computer scenario has the storm slamming into southeast Maine and then hooking it west across northern New York State -- a very unusual storm track.
Another possibility brings Sandy ashore on the central New Jersey coast before heading into eastern New York and western New England.
Yet a third scenario would have the storm hitting Cape Cod and tracking westward along the Massachusetts Turnpike, the government forecasters
"The confidence in a big storm bringing a lot of rain into our region is increasing," Montgomery stated.
Another complication is looming: Sandy's track through New York and New England, wherever it makes landfall, is likely to be a slow one, prolonging rainy and windy conditions.
Leading private forecasters, including AccuWeather and the Weather Channel, were outlining a similar range of possibilities on Wednesday evening.
National Weather Service forecasters are taking the threat seriously enough to have alerted state emergency management departments in the region that a significant storm could impact the Northeast between Monday and Wednesday.
At a media workshop designed to outline enhanced prediction and alert tools -- emphasizing social media -- for winter storms, the government meteorologists acknowledged that while the impact of the pre-Halloween snowstorm on Oct. 28 last year was accurately predicted, the record amount of autumn snowfall was not.
At Pittsfield Airport, 20 inches of snow fell, while a trained weather observer in Savoy hit the jackpot with 32 inches.
Montgomery cited the alert about Sandy to emergency management agencies as a necessary precaution "to get the word out early enough so people are prepared and ready to take action."
"There are a lot of question marks," Montgomery cautioned, though he promised one silver lining. "It looks like the snow potential is very small this year. But we could be looking at a significant impact from wind and rain.
"This particular scenario is very complex," he added, "which is why we're very concerned."
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