Remember back on August 18 when 99L was designated just off the coast of Africa? The hurricane social media frenzy went in to over drive as it looked as though this could be “the one”. All of the major global models at one point or another showed substantial development with the possibility of a strong hurricane heading towards the Southeast United States.
As the days went by, it became clear that we would have to wait a little while for 99L to reach a more unstable atmosphere, away from the smothering, dry effects of the Saharan Air Layer or SAL. So we waited….and waited. Nothing happened. Still, most of the models, including the much-praised ECMWF, went on to insist that this would eventually explode over the very warm waters of the Atlantic and possibly end Florida’s hurricane drought with a strike on the SE coast. In fact, the track and intensity began to have eerie similarities to infamous hurricanes of the past. People were getting nervous. Yet, nothing happened. The tropical wave moved along, sputtering with periods of convection coming and going but lacking any significant organization. The probability for development went up to 80% and it seemed like it was only a matter of time. And so we waited.
The global and regional hurricane models continued to generally suggest a powerful hurricane could develop once 99L made it in to the Gulf of Mexico. As the system moved through the Bahamas, it still lacked much structure and no signs of developing. It looked like it might never get going. It was a bust for the models as a whole since all of them at one time or another had their moments of over-developing the wave in to something potentially historic. Lucky for coastal residents of the Gulf Coast, it never happened.
Finally, once 99L moved in to the southeast Gulf of Mexico, it showed signs of living up to some of its potential. All of a sudden, it looked like we might actually have a tropical storm or even a hurricane to deal with for the first time in almost eleven years along the Florida coast.
It took until the afternoon of August 31 for 99L to become tropical storm Hermine. It was now just a day and a half from making landfall in the Big Bend area but it wasn’t very organized and so the threat of it becoming a hurricane was not very high. Wrong again.
It wasn’t until Thursday, just hours before landfall, that Hermine began to strengthen. It did so fairly quickly and managed to become a hurricane around mid-afternoon Thursday. The threat of a significant storm surge for the Big Bend region was looming large. I set out cameras in St Marks and on Cedar Key, awaiting the arrival of the much talked about first hurricane since before the iPhone was invented.
Hermine made landfall roughly 12 hours after it became a hurricane and brought with it flooding rain, damaging surge, power outages and now a new threat: the chance it would strengthen over the Atlantic, just off the coast of Delaware and New Jersey and then hook back, similar to what Sandy did in 2012 but not as dramatic.
All of a sudden it looked like Labor Day weekend, the last big hurrah for beach lovers up and down the East Coast, would be ruined. The threat of “dangerous storm surge” was the headline as the wind field of the now post-tropical storm was expanding and could push water in to areas such as Hampton Roads and eventually the Delaware and New Jersey coasts. It didn’t look good at all and this was the worst time for it to happen as millions of people were flocking to the coast before saying farewell to summer.
I packed up the Tahoe with four live camera units plus my weather station and 5 meter wind tower. I was ready. It looked like 50 to 60 mph winds could be experienced along parts of the Jersey shore accompanied by damaging waves and storm surge, especially during high tide cycles. I departed Wilmington, NC around 5pm yesterday. The signals were beginning to become mixed the further north I drove. It now looked like Hermine would move farther off the coast and in fact it was. The track it was taking was more east than north, putting it at a greater distance away from the Mid-Atlantic. This was not expected but was a good sign for New Jersey especially.
As the night wore on and I got closer to my destination of Vineland, the 00z ECWMF came out. I checked in to my hotel and took a look. East. Hermine was going more east. This reduced the threat of a significant surge event for the Mid-Atlantic. I figured that the 5am advisory package would show a track farther away from the coast. I hit the pillow and logged about 6 hours of sleep.
I woke up to good news. My trip to New Jersey will be more about covering the beach erosion and some high tide effects than anything else. For coastal New Jersey and the people who call it home or vacation here, the news is much better now. The weekend will be salvaged and not a total loss. The forecast track shifted a little more away from the coast on the 11am advisory but the threat of storm surge still remains – for now. All in all, it probably won’t be nearly as bad as feared just 36 hours ago. The guidance changes constantly and meandering storms, hurricanes and anything in between always pose a challenge for forecasters. I just go with the flow and if it looks like a high impact event, I will be there. People want to know what the effects are and that’s what I do best – show the impact.
In this case, I will show the impact from a unique perspective. I am going to place two live cams out in Brigantine later today – one on the seawall and the other on the back bay. Both cams will be low angle shots – close to the water. Any rise or wave action will be easy to see and hear. You’ll also see that overall, it’s not too bad. The surf conditions are not good for swimming since rip currents will be common. Otherwise, Hermine will leave the scene with one final poke at the weather geek community. No one wants to see a disaster unfold but when the guidance suggests one is imminent, everyone pays attention. Hermine gave us glimpses of an alternate future that never came to pass on the scale that it could have been. No hurricane in Miami. No Katrina Part II. No Sandy Part II.
Instead, the reality is we had a hurricane landfall in Florida this past Friday in the early morning hours. It was bad for some, not so much for others. Hermine reminded us once again what hurricanes are capable of even if those memories fade quickly in this ever-changing news cycle world that we live in. For meteorologists it was a massive headache. The public needs to depend on forecasts, even if the forecast calls for complete devastation. Trying to convey risk and uncertainty is always challenging. On the one hand, something obvious like Katrina or Andrew makes people take notice but the end result is awful. It’s the situations like Hermine, where the potential is there for something very bad to happen yet it probably won’t, that pose the biggest challenges. The line between over stating the danger and being caught off guard is razor thin sometimes. At the end of the day, all we can do as mere humans is to try our best.
Hermine will turn away from the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast but not before an agonizingly slow drift just far enough offshore to keep the worst from happening. Of course, we’re talking about the next 72 hours or so. Remember what we thought would happen with Hermine just 48 hours ago? Nothing is ever certain with weather. The situation looks markedly better but it’s not done yet. Beach erosion, rough surf, rip currents and some periods of strong winds will make for a less than ideal Labor Day along the coast. As long as no more surprises are waiting to be sprung by Hermine, it will end up being remembered more for its forecast challenges than a legacy of damage and loss of life.
I will be out later this afternoon to set up a pair of live cams in the Brigantine area to show what effects there are. The morning high tide tomorrow could be somewhat dramatic – we’ll just have to wait and see. Either way, it’s great to be back in New Jersey where I have made a lot of friends in recent years….all due 100% to the weather.
M. Sudduth 12:20 pm ET Sept 4