Joaquin terrible for central Bahamas, likely misses U.S. coast as separate major storm system unfolds

Weather map showing the complex set up along parts of the East and Southeast

Weather map showing the complex set up along parts of the East and Southeast

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

The makings of an epic forecast bust

Sometimes the forecast just doesn’t work out. In this case, if Joaquin does not hit the United States, people better realize how lucky they really will be in light of the incredible flood event that is likely unfolding despite the hurricane.

I produced a video discussion outlining what a wild ride it’s been so far this week. Yes, it all began just 96 hours ago and it’s not over yet.

Joaquin poised to make historic landfall

Satellite photo of hurricane Joaquin

Satellite photo of hurricane Joaquin

It all began as a rather innocuous area of spin in the mid to upper levels of the atmosphere a little more than a week ago. What was once just an upper level low, producing some showers and thunderstorms over the warm Atlantic, is now hurricane Joaquin. Most hurricanes form from other sources such as tropical waves that emerge from Africa. Joaquin is unique – it is that rare hurricane whose origins can be traced back to a system that is cold in the middle, not warm like a hurricane. And so here it is and so here we go with the anguish of worrying about where it ends up. The potential for something historic is on the table and those who know my writing know that I rarely use terms like that.

First – the stats. As of 8am ET, Joaquin was a 75 mph hurricane moving towards the central Bahamas. This is the first region that will have to deal with the effects which may be quite intense as the hurricane continues to intensify over very warm ocean water. As such, hurricane warnings are up and people in the region are hopefully preparing. The slow movement is a problem too – it means a prolonged period of wind, rain and surge for the Bahamas.

Once Joaquin turns north, and it should according to the official forecast, things get very interesting. A lot was made about the fact that the ECMWF model, considered to be the world’s best by many, nailed the evolution of what eventually became devastating hurricane Sandy. Somehow, the model “saw” the track as far as seven days from the landfall in New Jersey. All the while, the American based GFS model handed Sandy’s energy off and sent it packing out to sea. We all know the end score – Euro > GFS.

Here we are three years later and another global model duel is at hand. This time, Joaquin is the name and the end result is still in question. Why? We are talking about less than five days, maybe six at the most. How can the global models not be locked on the solution that can give forecasters confidence that their track and intensity ideas have solid merit? Basically, it’s the pattern.

Sandy was very unique in that a Caribbean hurricane moved up in to the southwest Atlantic and was then pushed out to the northeast and away from the United States – only to be blocked by an enormous ridge of high pressure which sent it back towards the Mid-Atlantic where a deep, strong trough captured it. The set-up for Joaquin is similar yet different. This time, it’s going to be early October. The trough in question is going to cut off from the main flow and not be nearly as strong as the one that captured Sandy. Water temps are quite a bit warmer this time than what they were in late October 2012. Joaquin has a chance to make landfall purely tropical with a concentrated area of winds and the potential for a devastating storm surge. When and where that could happen remains to be seen.

GFS (left) vs ECMWF (right) and their positions of Joaquin at 102 hours

GFS (left) vs ECMWF (right) and their positions of Joaquin at 102 hours

This brings me to the GFS vs ECMWF duel.

Check out the graphic showing the GFS track from the overnight run (6z). Clearly it curves around the cut-off low and bends back towards the North Carolina coast. This would be a very bad scenario for obvious reasons.

Now look at the ECWMF position at the same time – 102 hours. The difference between the two positions of Joaquin is incredible and means a completely different outcome for each model.

One has to wonder why such a spread between the two global models? I wish I knew. Obviously, the GFS captures Joaquin with the cut-off low and swings it back towards the coast. The ECMWF, on the other hand, finds just enough of an escape route offshore to allow the hurricane to turn safely away from the United States. Which solution will turn out to be correct? Well considering that the ECMWF seemingly lies alone in its “thinking”, it looks more and more like the other models, the GFS included, have locked in on what will eventually be a nasty hurricane event for some location(s) along the East Coast.

If the ECMWF turns out to be correct, it will be an incredible turn of events and mean that the current track forecast that we see now will be turned almost sideways, pointed eastward instead of towards the coast. It’s possible but at this point, it’s hard to believe the GFS, which had more data from the NOAA G-IV mission last night, will be totally wrong and eventually flip to the “out to sea” track. I guess anything is possible with weather so we shall see.

Precipitation forecast over the next 5 to 7 days showing incredible rain fall for parts of the East

Precipitation forecast over the next 5 to 7 days showing incredible rain fall for parts of the East

All of that aside, what can you expect if you live along the East Coast? Well, for one thing, rain! The trough and upper level energy coming in to the Southeast and East will set off a significant heavy rain event even before the supposed arrival of Joaquin. Take a look at the precip forecast map from the Weather Prediction Center – notice how vast an area is covered by 6+ inches of rain over the next several days. Add the effects of a hurricane to the mix and we have the set-up for what I term a history making event. Flooding from freshwater is astonishingly lethal. The fact that the Appalachians could get excessive rain makes me very nervous. The Piedmont is also very vulnerable in this kind of set up. I urge people to make sure they are aware of the weather forecast for their local area. Use as a source – read the warning info, the discussions and tune in to your LOCAL TV and radio sources. This much rain, combined with a potential landfalling hurricane, is simply too much to ignore and brush aside as hype. This situation could have lingering impacts for years to come and people better be paying attention.

As far as direct impacts from Joaquin – the Bahamas are up first, then we wait. If current forecast trends continue, it looks like a hurricane strike for North Carolina, Virginia or even points north. Swells will move out ahead of the hurricane which will make the already battered beaches even more battered. Surfers will love it but swimmers will need to simply stay out of the water. The rest is up to the hurricane and where it ultimately tracks. We can look at what impacts to expect when and if that time comes – there is still time for the ECMWF solution to be correct and save the day – wouldn’t that just be something?

I will produce and post a video discussing further outlining much of the content that I covered here. I expect to have that online by later this afternoon. As always, you can follow along in our app – Hurricane Impact (two words) in the App Store and on Google Play.

M. Sudduth 9:40 AM ET Sept 30


Joaquin forecast tricky, Ida coming back from the hurricane graveyard

Overnight model plot showing the fairly large spread in track possibilities for Joaquin

Overnight model plot showing the fairly large spread in track possibilities for Joaquin

This is going to be one of those times when nothing comes easy. If we are going to have hurricanes, might as well have them easy to forecast and sometimes, even when they are intense like Katrina, they are. Others, not so much. The case with Joaquin looks to be a real pain in the neck. Before getting to the forecast part, let’s take a look at what we know.

As of this morning, Joaquin was a 40 mph tropical storm battling relentless northerly shear. Remember, upper level winds are not favorable when the pass over a developing or established tropical cyclone. The best environment is one that features outflow channels and light winds at the upper levels, to allow very deep thunderstorms to tower high in to the atmosphere. Right now, this is not what is happening with Joaquin and unless the shear abates, the storm will struggle.

Water temps along the track of the storm are plenty warm with ample undisturbed upper ocean heat content. While it is not nearly as high-octane as the NW Caribbean, the western Atlantic has plenty of energy for a hurricane to develop from and feed off of. The question is, will Joaquin thrive or starve at the head of the buffet?

It really will come down to how much the shear relaxes, if at all, in the coming days. Some of the intensity models show significant strengthening, as does the global model ECMWF. Keep in mind, some models are developed specifically for tropical cyclones where as the global models predict weather on a global scale and the tropical cyclone is part of the overall big picture. Right now, the NHC is admittedly being conservative with the intensity forecast – holding below hurricane strength.

Now for the track forecast. This is obviously what everyone wants to know about. As I said in my opening paragraph, we wish it was always easy but it’s not and so we deal with it.

I want to point out that the NHC makes mention of the fact that their confidence in the track forecast is “extremely low” right now. I think this is incredibly honest and shows the human side of this tedious work. Model guidance is helpful but is spread out right now, or divergent, and thus the forecast of where Joaquin will track is very tough to call. Here’s why.

First, intensity will likely dictate track to some extent. A stronger, deeper hurricane situated in the atmosphere might, just might, be enough to get swept out to sea by an approaching trough of low pressure moving in to the Southeast later this week. On the other hand, no matter what the intensity of Joaquin is, it may get caught by the trough if it tries to cut itself off from the main flow- what we call a cutoff low. This could swing Joaquin northwest with time and bring it in to the Mid-Atlantic states later this weekend. Many of the model solutions show this happening to some extent. Of course, others do not. This is why the track forecast is so tough to call right now. What’s more frustrating is that we are not talking about a week to 10 days out like we see with large hurricanes coming in from the eastern Atlantic. Joaquin is literally in the backyard, waiting to make its move. You would think, and hope, that with it being so close to land already (relatively speaking of course) that the forecast would be easier. It’s just not and that’s the reality of the situation.

One thing we can count on is data. NOAA will have plenty of additional data to input in to the global models as soon as the G-IV missions begin for Joaquin. The high-altitude jet will drop numerous devices that will sample the atmosphere and give the models more data from the steering layer to work with. This should help to refine things in the days to come.

So what should you be doing now if you live along the coast from say, North Carolina to Maine? Just keep monitoring what’s going on and be ready to act if it looks like Joaquin will in fact head your way. Remember, even if it transitions from a hurricane ( assuming it becomes one) to a post-tropical storm or other less commonly used term, there will likely be a lot of rain, wind and more coastal issues. The beaches from parts of eastern Florida up the East Coast are not in their best shape right now due to recent nuisance storms and persistent onshore flow. Joaquin need not be a substantial hurricane to cause substantial problems for people and property. Do not lose sight of the fact that a storm of any magnitude can impact you. Needless to say, it will be a very interesting next few days.

As if Joaquin weren’t enough, we have to watch for the remnant energy from Ida to try and stage a comeback. The NHC gives it a 40% chance of doing so and there is a chance that this system too gets involved with the pattern near the East Coast in the coming days. The result is likely to be a tremendous amount of rain and serious beach erosion from the North Carolina Outer Banks to New England.

I will post a full-featured video update this afternoon highlighting the very latest on Joaquin and what the chances are of Ida making a comeback. Stay tuned, it looks like October is going to start off very stormy – how much so and what impact it all has remains to be seen.

M. Sudduth 8:40 AM ET Sept 29