Bahamas getting the worst of Sandy now, then it’s time for East Coast of U.S. to be ready

NHC 5-day track map for Sandy puts a large portion of U.S. coast at risk

NHC 5-day track map for Sandy puts a large portion of U.S. coast at risk

Hurricane Sandy has been an impressive system to watch. It strengthened quite rapidly last night and blasted a small portion of southeast Cuba with near category three hurricane conditions.

Today, Sandy is weaker but still quite formidable. The cloud mass is enormous with the cirrus canopy extending all the way up in to the Southeast U.S. Near the core, winds are near 105 mph and the pressure is beginning to drop again. Ocean heat content values are fairly high meaning there is quite a bit of energy for Sandy to tap as it moves through the Bahamas. With quite an impressive outflow pattern established, it is possible that Sandy could intensify some before the pattern changes and begins to affect the structure of the hurricane.

People in the Bahamas will be in for a long duration of tropical storm and then hurricane conditions, depending on exactly where the center tracks. Luckily, hurricane force winds only extend out some 30 miles from the center and this will limit the geographic area affected by hurricane winds.

On the other hand, tropical storm force winds reach out to 140 miles from the center and this puts a large area of the Bahamas within some fairly stormy conditions. As long as we do not see any significant strengthening, and keep in mind the forecast calls for some weakening, I think the Bahamas should be prepared enough to withstand this hurricane without too many issues. People are used to hurricanes for the most part and Sandy is not an extreme case for the region. However, it is still a hurricane and it needs to be respected as such. We’ll see how things go with the intensity situation over the next 12 to 24 hours.

As for Florida’s east coast, there are some rain bands moving in that are well out ahead of the main circulation of Sandy. So far, this rain is confined to the southeast part of the state. A general increase in wind and rain is forecast but it looks now as if Sandy will remain far enough east of the peninsula to avoid any hurricane winds.

It should be noted that the surf will be quite rough as the long fetch of tropical storm winds will continue to build the seas offshore. Breaking waves that are much larger than usual will lead to some beach erosion, especially at high tide. I think that Florida is looking a lot better as of late with the forecast track keeping Sandy farther off the coast. Keep in mind though that the large wind field is expected to expand and this means that there is a chance for tropical storm conditions, winds of 30 to 40 mph with higher gusts, for a good deal of the eastern coast and just inland of Florida. Conditions will improve quickly later in the weekend as the hurricane pulls away.

Next up we have concerns for North Carolina, especially the Outer Banks. Here too, a long period of tropical storm force winds will drive the ocean onshore and with each high tide, the water levels will just go up and up. Wind is not a big factor here, though it will cause its share of issues. I think the biggest concern will be from ocean and soundside flooding. This region was heavily impacted by hurricane Irene last season and can ill afford another large storm event. Unfortunately, it looks like Sandy will cause additional flooding concerns – particularly in the usual spots where over wash takes place. We will know a lot more about the specific impacts for North Carolina in another day or so as Sandy moves out of the Bahamas. Obviously, people in the region need to prepare for what could be a significant storm surge/wave event. How bad is tough to say this early. I will be in the Outer Banks tomorrow evening to begin reporting on conditions from Hatteras to Kitty Hawk. I’ll talk more about my plans, which include working with long-time friend and colleague, Jesse Bass, this evening.

The next big question is what happens with Sandy along the mid-Atlantic and Northeast? Well, as much as I would like to jump in to details right now, I simply cannot except to say that the potential is there for a very disruptive coastal and inland storm event. A lot will hinge on exactly what the structure of Sandy is. This is very complicated and I want to address it separately in another blog post. Right now, we know that the official forecast aims what is left over of Sandy the hurricane right at the New Jersey coast. This is very serious as we are looking at the chance for a region that is simply not used to hurricanes at all having to deal with something that is far more complex than the public realizes.

My advice for people north of Cape Hatteras within the cone of uncertainty is this: begin preparing now. Think about how you will deal with the power being out, what you will do with kids, family members, pets. Stock up on some items now and be ahead of the situation. Get some gas cans just to be safe. Use this time as we await the future track and intensity to be more prepared. As we move through the next day or so, we’ll know much more about what to expect in terms of conditions, storm surge, rain, snow, wind and rain. Yes, I said snow. You see, it is THAT complicated and even I need to research this to better explain what is going to happen….at least what we think is going to happen.

I’ll have another major update posted here this evening and will have my first video blog posted to our iPhone app within the hour. I’ll then post another video blog to the app later this evening.

Speaking of our app, if Sandy does in fact hit the U.S. East Coast, you will absolutely want to get our app to keep up with what is going on right where it is happening. We will have video posts, live weather data, web cam images and even live tracking of where we are. There is simply no other app with this kind of landfall information directly in the teeth of the storm. This is what we do, we’ve done it for 15 years and now the power of our landfall reporting and info is available in our app. Click here to learn more. I’ll talk more about the app and what it is capable of in another blog post soon. If you have our app, may I please ask you to review it? Good or bad, we need feedback. So please take a moment to leave a review, what ever you think of it, let us know.

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Sandy nearly a hurricane and poised to become historic event one way or another

Sandy's wind field will ikely expand and could bring tropical storm conditions to a large part of the Southeast U.S.

Sandy's wind field will ikely expand and could bring tropical storm conditions to a large part of the Southeast U.S.

It is going to be a rough day in Jamaica as Sandy is nearing hurricane intensity this morning. Luckily, there is no eye readily apparent in satellite imagery which would indicate significant strengthening but I think it is only a matter of time before Sandy becomes the 10th hurricane of the season.

Jamaica will feel the effects today and tonight followed by a landfall in Cuba early tomorrow morning. The interaction with the higher terrain of eastern Cuba will disrupt the inner core of Sandy and should keep it from being too strong once in the Bahamas. However, sea surface temps are plenty warm there and it would not be surprising to see Sandy regain hurricane intensity while passing through the Bahamas.

Late tomorrow and in to Friday, Florida’s east coast will begin to feel the effects of Sandy wit an increase in wind and surf. Right now, the upper Keys and a good portion of SE Florida is under a tropical storm watch. Since the wind field of Sandy is forecast by the global models to expand significantly, I feel that it is almost a certainty that winds to at least tropical storm force, perhaps up to 50 mph, will be felt across portions of southeast Florida.

The other issue will be the huge wave set up that is going to happen as a result of Sandy’s massive wind field. Beach erosion is likely to be a major concern for east facing beaches along the Florida coast and working up the Southeast coast in to North Carolina. I cannot emphasize this enough and with the growing Moon phase towards full, we could be looking at a major coastal flood event for some areas of the Southeast U.S. coastline. A lot will depend on how far west Sandy tracks as some of the models are indicating a brief jog back to the northwest in a few days. Interests along the Florida east coast all the way up to the North Carolina Outer Banks should be paying close attention to this situation. The chance for substantial ocean overwash, especially in the Outer Banks, seems to be increasing with time.

Then we have the issue of the ECWMF’s idea of an unprecedented impact to the Northeast with Sandy or what ever it becomes once past about 35 N latitude. The model has not given up on its forecast of a general northward track, just passing the Outer Banks and then slamming the Northeast with what looks like hurricane conditions over a large area of coastline. While the GFS remains strong in its forecast of an out-to-sea track, it has been getting a little more west and north with each run. Even if the Euro forecast turns out to be dead wrong, Sandy will leave its mark down south along the Florida east coast and probably the North Carolina Outer Banks. If the Euro is right, then we will remember the ending of the 2012 hurricane season for many years to come.

I’ll have another update posted here by early this evening.

Keep in mind that we do have our iPhone app which is a great way to keep up to date with the latest on Sandy and other tropical news and info. I post video blogs to the app each day with several of them posted daily as needed during such events as this with Sandy. During field missions, our app is the ONLY one that offers live weather data from our own instrumented wind tower. Plus, we set up live web cams and post video updates from the field on a regular basis. You simply cannot find this level of dedication and information WHERE THE ACTION IS from any other hurricane tracking app. To get HurricaneTrack for iPhone, iPod Touch and even the iPad, click here.

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A few thoughts on Sandy

TS Sandy developing banding as it gathers strength in the Caribbean Sea

TS Sandy developing banding as it gathers strength in the Caribbean Sea

There are no sweeping changes to discuss tonight with Sandy but I did want to pass on a few observations and thoughts before turning in for the night.

First, Sandy appears to be getting better organized with deep convective bands beginning to develop and wrap around the east side of the circulation. There is still some drier mid level air and perhaps a little bit of wind shear along the western half but all in all, the structure looks improved over the last few hours. This should equate to a gradual lowering of the surface pressure and an increase in the winds. Interests in Jamaica need to be ready for an intensifying hurricane later tomorrow. If Sandy were to begin a period of rapid strengthening, then the effects of the wind will be quite dramatic, especially in higher elevations.

The other item to note is the almost certain effects that Sandy will have on Florida and elsewhere along the Southeast coast. People need to remember that hurricanes are not points on a map. Just because the center is not forecast to strike Florida does not mean all will be fine and dandy – especially along the east coast. High surf, an increase in rip currents, strong east to northeast winds will all be factors as we approach the weekend.

What people in Florida, along the east and southeast portion mainly, need to realize is that Sandy is going to grow in to a much larger system over the next few days. Its wind field is going to expand and reach out far from the center. This means effects will extend in to areas such as the Keys, Miami, West Palm Beach and all across southeast Florida. Exactly what conditions will be felt is impossible to forecast but it looks about as certain as can be that there will be some impact from Sandy for Florida.

Of course, in the Bahamas, hurricane conditions are possible and probably expected. Here too the surf will increase with larger and larger waves developing around this growing storm system.

I think that too many people ask “what category is it?” and if it’s not a three or four, they don’t worry too much. It’s not about worrying at all. It’s about understanding the weather and its potential to cause harm to you and your property. It is possible that winds to 50 or 60 mph will impact areas of SE Florida. This can cause damage to weak structures and trees. These trees can fall on people, buildings and cars and have bad results.

I want people to try and get the bigger picture of what is going on here with Sandy. Sandy is not an “it” as in, “where will IT go”. I think people are asking about the center when they say “IT”. Sandy is a large, powerful tropical cyclone that has wind, rain, storm surge and the chance for down burst winds and tornadoes in its outer rain bands. When you think of “IT” think of the whole package.

These conditions may spread across a huge geographic region from Florida north through the Carolinas and eventually in to New England. It is extremely important to grasp what the effects will be and why they will take place. Do not focus on category this or that, that does little good. Instead, ask yourself “what impacts will I have here?” and then do your part to read up on those. Where can you do that? Your local National Weather Service site for one. Go to weather.gov and put in your ZIP Code. Read the forecast discussions, learn about the impacts. There is a lot to gain from educating yourself about possible effects from any weather system, much less a hurricane or powerful ocean storm.

For now, we will watch and hope for the best for people in Jamaica, eastern Cuba, Haiti and eventually the Bahamas. Just remember, Sandy is not a dot on a map, paper or computer, it is a huge weather machine and it’s on the move. Be ready.

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A storm for the ages? Perhaps. First, it is a Caribbean concern

99L about to become a tropical depression in the Caribbean Sea

99L about to become a tropical depression in the Caribbean Sea

There are very few instances when I have posted a headline like the one in this blog. Hype is not a tool I use to get the attention of my audience unless it is warranted and I feel it could help to save lives and property. What I am seeing in some of the global models is worthy of getting your attention and if it’s hype, then all the better in the long run.

There is a storm brewing in the Caribbean that will soon get a name: Sandy. Right now we know it as 99L, an area of investigation with potential to develop. Within the next 10 days, we may remember it as one of the great ocean storms of recent memory. Before all of that, it will be a problem for the Caribbean and that much is certain.

So far, development of 99L has been slow. It now looks as though things are coming together in the western Caribbean, a few hundred miles south of Jamaica. Water temps are as warm as could be and upper level winds are becoming more and more favorable. The NHC gives the area an 90% chance of becoming a tropical cyclone within 48 hours. I think it’s as good as done at this point and we’ll soon have TS Sandy to track.

72 hour ECMWF showing "Sandy" over Jamaica

72 hour ECMWF showing "Sandy" over Jamaica

People with interests in Jamaica need to be watching this system closely. It will bring periods of heavy rain and an increase in wind as it moves slowly towards the northeast with time. This slow forward motion is going to be a problem as the tropical rains will have a lot of time to fall over the same area for a couple of days or more. I would also not be surprised to see this become a hurricane before it reaches Jamaica. Intensity prediction is very poor even in this day of high-end computer models. Hopefully we’re only talking about a weak tropical storm in a few days but remember that hope is not a good planning tool. Being prepared is far better.

After Jamaica, the threat shifts to Cuba, Hispaniola and the Bahamas. Here too, the main issue will be excessive rain from what is surely to be “Sandy” by mid to late week. How strong it is depends on how quickly it can develop a solid inner core. Interests in the region should be paying close attention to what happens as this feature grows. We are not talking about an “in and out” system that gets kicked in to the Atlantic in a day or so. I think the big story will be the heavy rain even if this does become a hurricane in the Caribbean.

It’s what happens after the Caribbean that has the potential to make this storm one that people talk about for a long, long time.

Day five of the ECMWF showing "Sandy" after moving through the Bahamas

Day five of the ECMWF showing "Sandy" after moving through the Bahamas

To put it in simple terms, some of the global models are indicating that this storm will get caught in the southwest Atlantic and grow in to a hybrid mix of a hurricane and a Nor’easter the likes we have not seen since as far back as 1991 with the “Perfect Storm”. The closest event I can recall is “Nor-Ida” in 2009 which took the tropical leftovers of hurricane Ida from the Gulf of Mexico and transitioned it in to an epic ocean storm that blasted the North Carolina coast and points north. I was in that one and will never forget it. This storm could make that one look like a day in the park.

It all seems to have begun yesterday when some of the global models began to change their track for 99L from an out to sea event to one that may affect people from Florida to Maine. The Canadian was one of the first to show it. Then the American based GFS and finally, the very reliable ECMWF or Euro. People began talking about it within the weather blogs as if sniffing out something that movies are made out. It was incredible to read what people were saying could happen if this came to pass. Surely it was a one time fluke in the models and things would return to normal a mere 12 hours later. Not so much.

The overnight run of the Canadian global model shows pretty much the same scenario as yesterday. It takes what would be Sandy and turns it in to this enormous ocean storm that would cause coastal flooding, high winds and heavy rains for a large portion of the U.S. East Coast.

Day 8 of the ECMWF which shows a powerful coastal storm impacting the Mid-Atlantic region

Day 8 of the ECMWF which shows a powerful coastal storm impacting the Mid-Atlantic region

Looking at the latest Euro run, it too continues its forecast of developing a very large and powerful storm as the tropical energy from what would be Sandy gets pulled in to a deep trough digging in. This entrainment and phasing is rare but when it happens, it can lead to very powerful hybrid storms that have both tropical and non-tropical characteristics. The Perfect Storm in 1991 was just such an example. The overnight run of the Euro is jaw-dropping, there is no other way to describe it.

On the other hand, the GFS has all but abandoned this idea and simply sheds off the energy from the tropics in to a separate ocean storm way out in the open Atlantic. The result is….nothing. No big storm once 99L/Sandy leaves the Caribbean. It is remarkable to see such vast differences in the models and goes to show how complex the situation is. We are talking about an event that is forecast by some of the models to take place more than a week away. I debated whether or not I should even discuss it since it’s so far out in time. But I figured that rational people who read my blog would understand and appreciate the heads up if this in fact comes to pass….the bad storm that is. Maybe it’s all just a fantasy by the models that show it and the only concern, albeit a very legitimate one, will be for the Caribbean and the Bahamas. If not, and this storm happens the way the Euro shows it and the GFS showed it yesterday for a time, then we will be talking about this well past the hurricane season.

For now, we wait and go with the short term which is that we see what is a developing tropical depression in the western Caribbean. The first impacts will be felt in Jamaica and eastern Cuba. From there, we will just have to see how things turn out. The next several days could be very interesting if not very important in shaping how the hurricane season comes to an end.

I’ll post another short update this evening to go over the latest on the situation in the Caribbean. I’ll also have the video blog posted to our iPhone app by early this afternoon and it will incorporate the overnight model runs as well as the early morning or 12Z model runs to compare. If you don’t have our app, you’re missing out on a great tool in the daily video blog. It brings this discussion to life with numerous graphics, satellite shots and an in-depth explanation of what’s going on in the tropics now and what’s forecast several days out.

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Major changes with models for 99L that could lead to significant impacts for East Coast

GFS depiction of tropical cyclone over eastern Cuba in 96 hours

GFS depiction of tropical cyclone over eastern Cuba in 96 hours

There is a lot to discuss regarding the future track and intensity of 99L as it could affect literally millions of people from the Caribbean to the U.S. East Coast.

First, the current situation. Right now, 99L is rather disorganized over the Caribbean Sea but is forecast by all of the global computer models to gradually organize and become a tropical cyclone within the next two or three days. It looks like Jamaica, eastern Cuba and Hispaniola could be in line for quite a bit of rain and wind by the middle of next week.

By Thursday, the GFS places a strengthening tropical cyclone over eastern Cuba with heavy rains spreading across the southeast Bahamas. Water temps in this region are still very warm and it is possible that we could be looking at a rather strong tropical storm by this point as most of the guidance suggests steady strengthening.

By late next week, most of the reliable model output suggests a track in to the northern Bahamas, not too far off the Florida east coast. This is important because there is likely to be an indirect impact to Florida because of the presence of this system and a high pressure area to its north. It appears that a fairly strong surface high will move off the Northeast coast late next week and it could do two things. First, the high pressure north, coupled with the deepening low pressure off of Florida, will create quite a strong pressure gradient. This means the winds will be quite stiff out of the northeast for a good deal of the east side of Florida. So at the very least, rough surf and rip currents are a good bet towards the end of the week for Florida.

Sea surface temps along East Coast running at least 2 degrees above normal

Sea surface temps along East Coast running at least 2 degrees above normal

The other issue is that this high could act to block what would presumably be “Sandy” from turning out to sea. In fact, both the GFS and the ECMWF show this scenario and take what looks strong enough to be a hurricane right in to the East Coast of the U.S. somewhere north of Cape Hatteras. Sea surface temperatures in this region are running a couple of degrees above normal for this time of year and have not been disturbed by a previous hurricane earlier in the season. We are going to have to watch the evolution of this pattern very carefully over the next few days. What looked like a sure bet to send “Sandy” out to sea is no longer such a home run, so to speak. This could mean that people from the Caribbean Sea to Florida and eventually the East Coast have to deal with some degree of a tropical system over the next week or so. Interests in Jamaica, Cuba, Hispaniola and the Bahamas need to watch this system closely. We’ll see how things progress and can focus more on potential U.S. impacts as we get in to next week. For now, it looks like a slow process for 99L to develop but once it does, there is potential for it to impact a lot of people over a wide geographic swath.

I’ll post more here about 99L tomorrow morning. I also will be posting regular video blogs to our iPhone app which is a great way to visually understand what I discuss here in the blog posts. If you don’t have the app, there is no better time to get it. We’ve recently added our own tracking maps and of course have the exclusive in-field weather data, live web cams and video blogs should a landfall take place.

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