This NOAA satellite image taken Thursday shows Category 2 Hurricane Sandy moving northward across eastern Cuba with sustained wind speeds of 110 mph as
This NOAA satellite image taken Thursday shows Category 2 Hurricane Sandy moving northward across eastern Cuba with sustained wind speeds of 110 mph as weakening Tropical Storm Tony is in the central Atlantic Basin moving ENE with sustained winds of 50 mph. ( AP Photo/Weather Underground)

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 warned.

"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."

To reach Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6247.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto.