The nor'easter that's been battering the Jersey Shore with powerful winds and pounding surf since Monday morning isn't near finished or even at peak yet for most of the state.
That's the word from meteorologists who have been tracking the big coastal storm since it originated down in the southern United States, where it triggered deadly tornadoes and other extreme weather over the weekend.
"The rain is just starting to pick up in southern parts of the state, and it should be picking up into the early part of the evening" across the rest of the state, said Matthew Potter, a meteorologist at the WeatherWorks forecasting company based in Warren County.
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Potter said heavy bands of rain will be moving up into central and northern New Jersey during the next few hours, so it could slow the commute for New Jersey drivers heading home from work.
"It's going to be a wind-driven rain," he said.
Mitchell Gaines, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service forecast office in Mount Holly, said people driving anywhere from the Trenton area down through the southern half of the state will likely face the heaviest rain during the Monday evening commute.
"They definitely want to allow extra time and extra caution while traveling," Gaines said.
Winds generated by the storm system have been the strongest in coastal areas of the state, gusting as high as 63 mph in Cape May and 56 mph in Manasquan, but gusts of 40 to 50 mph have occurred in some inland areas, Potter said.
Winter nor'easter pounds Jersey Shore
Both WeatherWorks and the National Weather Service expect winds to remain strong during the evening rush hour and into Monday night -- and they could be powerful enough to snap tree branches and power lines or send debris flying through the air.
Thousands of homes and businesses across the Garden State have already lost power since Monday morning, with about 22,000 remaining in the dark as of early Monday afternoon.
With rain getting steadier and heavier this afternoon and evening, and fierce winds continuing to push ocean water onto streets, forecasters are concerned about moderate coastal flooding up and down the New Jersey coast, from Middlesex County to Cape May County.
"Numerous roadways will flood, and minor to moderate property damage is likely late (Monday) afternoon and evening and once again Tuesday morning," the weather service said in a coastal flood warning that's active from 2 p.m. Monday through 11 a.m. Tuesday. "Tidal flooding may be compounded by heavy rain. Also, the combination of very strong onshore winds and battering waves will lead to significant beach erosion."
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Potter said some sleet could mix in with the rain Monday night in Sussex County and overnight in Morris, Somerset and Hunterdon counties as temperatures drop near the freezing mark.
A coating to an inch of sleet could accumulate in those counties, he said.
As of 3:30 p.m., a winter weather advisory remains in effect in Sussex and Passaic counties, where the weather service is expecting some light snow, sleet and ice.
Winds across the region are expected to get lighter later Monday night and after midnight, but some light rain will linger into early Tuesday afternoon. Rain could mix with sleet in northern and western sections of New Jersey on Tuesday morning.
Len Melisurgo may be reached at LMelisurgo@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @LensReality or like him on Facebook. Find NJ.com on Facebook.