Hurricane Sandy could cause significant beach erosion and potentially dangerous swimming conditions along the Treasure Coast as it passes far offshore Thursday night and Friday, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Up to 12-foot waves are predicted in the surf as winds — up to 35 mph, with 50 mph gusts possible — and rain squalls hit the shore through five high-tide cycles, said meteorologists with the National Weather Service in Melbourne.
Strong winds also could extend inland to Interstate 95 and the winds should peak around sunset Friday.
A tropical storm watch is already in effect along the coast throughout the Treasure Coast and in South Florida, weather experts said.
Sandy is forecast to head north and be centered 250 miles east of Martin County by Friday morning.
As a precaution, Martin County has closed its low-lying erosion-prone Bathtub Reef Beach and is reinforcing the dunes there, Martin County officials said.
Lifeguards along the Treasure Coast will be watching to see if the beaches need to be closed to swimming as the storm passes.
The wild surf and winds also could wash out sea turtle nests, however, more than 95 percent of the nests have already hatched out, environmental officials said.
Now the main issue is the loss of sand that safeguards homes from storms and attracts tourists. Treasure Coast counties have spent millions of dollars renourishing beaches over the years.
The storm's winds are widespread and on Thursday winds could rise to 25 to 35 mph during the day and increase to 35 mph after midnight, weather service forecasters said.
Sustained winds of 35 mph are predicted to continue on the Treasure Coast through Friday when gusts could get to 50 mph. Because the winds and waves — up to 20 feet offshore — will be blowing toward the shore, the surf will be high, leading to erosion and strong rip currents.
Gusty winds are to continue overnight Friday, and Saturday's forecast calls for sustained winds of 25 mph and gusts to 35 mph.
By Sunday night, winds should decline to 15 mph.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM HURRICANE SANDY ON THE TREASURE COAST
25 to 35 mph north to northeast with possible 50 mph gusts through Friday as Sandy passed through the Bahamas.
The Treasure Coast is under a small craft advisory.
Seas of 8 to 12 feet in the surf and 20 feet near shore are expected to produce hazardous conditions for small craft.
Inexperienced boaters, especially those operating smaller vessels, should avoid navigating in these conditions.
Martin County closed Bathtub Beach near Stuart.
Indian River and St. Lucie shores also are subject to significant beach erosion as Sandy continues north, especially after several high tide cycles.
May produce run-up to the dune line and coastal flooding.
Threat is high. Check with local beach patrol about surf conditions; always swim within sight of a lifeguard.
Squalls can be expected along the coast through Friday night.
Expect minor coastal flooding.