"The fear we have a similar recipe to Irene has really intensified anxieties in town," Ball said.
The storm loomed a little more than a week before Election Day, while several states were heavily involved in campaigning, canvassing and get-out-the-vote efforts. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Vice President Joe Biden both canceled weekend campaign events in coastal Virginia Beach, Va., though their events in other parts of the states were going on as planned. In Rhode Island, politicians asked supporters to take down yard signs for fear they might turn into projectiles in the storm.
Sandy killed more than 40 people in the Caribbean, wrecked homes and knocked down trees and power lines.
Early Saturday, the storm was about 155 miles (250 kilometers) north of Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas and 350 miles (565 kilometers) south-southeast of Charleston, S.C. Its sustained wind speed dropped below 70 mph (110 kph), which downgraded the storm from hurricane strength.
Tropical storm warnings were issued for parts of Florida's East Coast, along with parts of coastal North and South Carolina and the Bahamas. Tropical storm watches were issued for coastal Georgia and parts of South Carolina, along with parts of Florida and Bermuda.
Sandy was projected to hit the Atlantic Coast early Tuesday. As it turns back to the north and northwest and merges with colder air from a winter system, West Virginia and further west into eastern Ohio and southern Pennsylvania are expected to get snow. Forecasters were looking at the Delaware shore as the spot the storm will turn inland, bringing 10 inches of rain and extreme storm surges, said Louis Uccellini, environmental prediction director for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Up to 2 feet of snow was predicted to fall on West Virginia, with lighter snow in parts of Ohio and Pennsylvania. A wide swath of the East, measuring several hundreds of miles, will get persistent gale-force 50 mph winds, with some areas closer to storm landfall getting closer to 70 mph, said James Franklin, forecast chief for the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
"It's going to be a long-lasting event, two to three days of impact for a lot of people," Franklin said. "Wind damage, widespread power outages, heavy rainfall, inland flooding and somebody is going to get a significant surge event."
Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the forecasting service Weather Underground, said this could be as big, perhaps bigger, than the worst East Coast storm on record, a 1938 New England hurricane that is sometimes known as the Long Island Express, which killed nearly 800 people.
Nonetheless, some residents were still shrugging off the impending storm.
On North Carolina's Outer Banks, Marilyn McCluster made the four-hour drive from her home in Chase City, Va., to her family's beach house in Nags Head anticipating a relaxing weekend by the shore.
"It's just wind and rain; I'm hoping that's it," she said Friday as she filled her SUV at the Duck Thru, a gas station.
Inside the station, clerks had a busy day, with daytime sales bringing in about 75 percent of the revenue typically seen during the mid-summer tourist high season, said Jamicthon Howard, 56, of Manteo. Gasoline demand came from tourists leaving Hatteras Island to the south to avoid being stranded if low-lying NC Highway 12 is buried under saltwater and sand as often happens during storms, Howard said, but also locals making sure they're ready for anything.
"They're preparing for lockdown or to make a move," Howard said.
No evacuations had been ordered and ferries hadn't yet been closed. Plenty of stores remained open and houses still featured Halloween decorations outside, as rain started to roll in.
"I'll never evacuate again," said Lori Hilby, manager of a natural foods market in Duck, who left her home before Hurricane Irene struck last August. "... Whenever I evacuate, I always end up somewhere and they lose power and my house is fine. So I'm always wishing I was home."