A year after a snowstorm blasted the Hudson Valley and left thousands without power on Halloween, forecasters and utilities are tracking another trick-or-treat storm that could deliver a glancing blow or pack a haymaker early next week.
Forecasters are fearing that Hurricane Sandy, which was off the northeast tip of Cuba Thursday morning, will collide with a blast of arctic air moving across the Great Lakes, delivering a one-two punch.
"The cold front can lend energy to a weakening hurricane," Carbin said. Computer models are in disarray when it comes to plotting the path of the hurricane, which is expected to weaken to a tropical storm. But Carbin said landfall could come Tuesday morning in the densely populated Northeast corridor between Washington D.C. and Boston.
Local utilities are keeping an eye on the forecasts and planning work schedules for the storm's fallout.
"We're preparing for the possibility of extensive outages," said Bob McGee, a spokesman for Con Edison. "Everything is pointing toward Monday or Tuesday."
Orange & Rockland declared a storm watch. "It's a watch-and-wait thing," spokesman Mike Donovan said. "We're more than certain that we're going to have bad weather. We're just not sure how bad it's going to be."
The National Weather Service issued a hazardous weather outlook Thursday, saying there is "increasing confidence" that a major coastal storm carrying heavy rain and high winds will hit the tri-state area late this weekend and early next week.
More than 400,000 utility customers in New York State reportedly were blacked out by the 2011 storm with the Hudson Valley bearing the brunt.
"We all remember the storm we had last year at this time," McGee said. "Our memories are all crystal clear on these things."
What a 2012 storm would bring remains -- literally -- up in the air. The National Weather Service is doubling the number of balloons it typically launches per day to get a better handle on the atmospheric patterns that will determine what kind of blow the region will take.
Late fall tropical storms tend to fizzle out and veer harmlessly into the Atlantic, sparing the east coast -- and that's exactly what four of the five major weather models predicted would happen with Hurricane Sandy as their algorithms calculated the path of the storm earlier this week.
But one major weather predictor, the 12Z European forecast model, laid out a completely different course for the storm, forecasting a landfall that would take the hurricane west. Meteorologists considered that prediction counter-intuitive and unlikely, News12 meteorologist Joe Rao said.
Seventy-two hours later, meteorologists aren't so skeptical. The other major weather models have self-corrected, Rao said, and now the disparate algorithms agree -- Sandy will most certainly veer west.
Now, the only question is who gets the brunt of the storm.
The aforementioned European model now has Hurricane Sandy making landfall in Virginia and passing well south and to the west of the Hudson Valley area, taking a path north through western Pennsylvania. Other forecast models predict landfall further north, with a path that could take Hurricane Sandy directly over the Hudson Valley. Still others predict the storm will graze the region, inflicting minimal damage.
Rao compared the different forecast models to polls before a political election, when varied predictions coalesce into one result. In that analogy, election day is Sunday, when meteorologists will be as certain as they can be on the eve of the storm.
"I think we've got a good chance of seeing some effects from Sandy next week," News12 meteorologist Brysen VanEck said. "Whether it's a direct hit or a glancing blow, that's what has to be worked out."
Still, VanEck, noting the tropical moisture and temperature of Sandy, discounted the threat of snow in the Hudson Valley. "If there's any snow, it would be in western New York and the Adirondacks," he said. "There's no way there would be snow here."
VanEck said Sandy's course will be determined by the interaction between an atmospheric trough known as a vorticity maximum and the jet stream.