For parts of the central Bahamas, Joaquin will go down in history as being one of the worst hurricanes in memory. I cannot even begin to imagine what it must be like for the people in the region – enduring more than 24 hours of major hurricane activity, pounding the region relentlessly.
The only sliver of good news for that area is that the hurricane is finally beginning to move northwest but it is at quite a slow pace. This will prolong the conditions that include hurricane force winds, torrential rain and storm surge. Eventually, Joaquin will clear the region but not before leaving a devastating mark on several islands of the central Bahamas.
At this point, the forecast calls for no landfall along the U.S. coastline. The ECMWF idea of an out-to-sea track was apparently right all along. In this complex pattern, it is in fact very impressive that the model caught on early and held on to the run-to-run consistent turn away from the United States.
While it’s never over until it’s over, the confidence in the forecast track has increased considerably over the past 24 hours. There is still a chance that New England or the Canadian Maritimes could be impacted but even there, the risk is low. It’s also possible for Bermuda to be in the path of the hurricane but again, it’s too soon to know for sure, especially in this strange set up.
We won’t ignore Joaquin but another, completely separate, weather event is unfolding across a good deal of the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic states.
Basically we have a stalled frontal boundary over the coastal waters that is the focusing point for extremely heavy rain moving in from the warm waters of the Atlantic. Add to the mix a potent upper level low, which was initially thought to be likely to capture Joaquin and bring it in to the region, and the set up is there for catastrophic flooding in some areas.
Before getting in to the potential for how bad this could be, note that all along the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic region there will be an increase in strong winds, especially from the Delmarva and in to southern to central New Jersey. The strong high pressure over Canada combined with the low pressure associated with the stalled front will increase the pressure gradient or a tightening of the winds across the coastal waters. Some locations along the New Jersey coast may see winds gust over 55 mph. Additionally, higher than normal tides, large waves bashing the immediate coast and possible heavy rain will make this weekend quite miserable.
However, it appears that the rain will have the most impact from this weather system. After reading some of the forecast discussions from area NWS offices, it seems apparent now that the chance for “life threatening flooding” could occur in some areas, especially in South Carolina and more specifically, in and around Charleston.
The culprit is NOT Joaquin – probably not even indirectly. Instead, it’s the powerful dynamics of the upper level system dropping across the region. This will tap in to the abundant moisture plume coming up from the southwest Atlantic to drop incredible amounts of rain. It is not out of the question that isolated areas will see more than 15 inches of rain when all is said and done. This is obviously too much too soon and will certainly create dangerous conditions. The problem is, there is no way to know exactly what geographic locations will be impacted the most. It seems likely that widespread flooding is possible with a concentration on parts of South Carolina from the midlands to the coast. Needless to say, slow down while driving, keep kids out of flood waters and completely avoid flooded roads even if you “know the area” or have an SUV/truck. Common sense must prevail or people will die, it’s that simple.
The storm system will last through the weekend and gradually come to an end by Monday. Joaquin should stay well out to sea by that point and the region can begin to dry out. Between now and then, there is chance for historic flooding but the issue is not knowing precisely where this could take place. Your best bet if you live in or are traveling through the Carolinas is to be aware of possible rapidly changing conditions.
I will be working with my colleague from Houston to cover this event in North and South Carolina. We will have live video starting early this afternoon as we work to figure out where to set up some of the equipment we would normally use during a hurricane. Wind is not our main concern though I probably will set up our weather station along the Outer Banks today, along with a live camera feed from Kitty Hawk along the beach road.
From there, we will more than likely go to Charleston and vicinity and set out more unmanned cameras normally used for storm surge flooding. These new generation cams last for around 36 hours each and have audio. It will be quite something to hear the excessive rain hitting the boxes as we watch the water rise.
All of our live video will be available via a special page I have set up on the site. I will post a link to it later today once we get rolling. The video will be on Ustream and free to access and share.
It is worth saying that even though hurricanes are vastly interesting to me, I have to admit that Joaquin likely missing the U.S. coast is going to go down as being one of the best case scenarios we’ve seen in recent memory. It is hard to fathom how bad things would be across the region if we added a category one or two hurricane with its massive arsenal of effects on top of the current epic weather event unfolding. Luck was on our side this time…
I’ll have more later including a brief video update before we head out.
M. Sudduth 8:30 AM ET Oct 2