Damaging storm forecast to rock parts of East Coast

Winter is about to make a grand appearance for people in many states east of the Mississippi River and it won’t be all fun and games – not by a long shot.

Energy coming in from the Pacific (outlined in gray) will drop south and east over the coming days and become a strong coastal storm

Energy coming in from the Pacific (outlined in gray) will drop south and east over the coming days and become a strong coastal storm

After a very warm December and tranquil start to the winter storm season, it looks as though time will run out and things will turn nasty later this week. The culprit is a low pressure area still over the Pacific just off of California and Oregon that is forecast by the major global computer models to dive south and east for a date with destiny. I know that sounds rather over the top but what happens to that piece of energy over the coming days is quite remarkable.

By Friday morning, the evolution of the pattern will be such that snow will begin to break out across parts of North Carolina and Virginia. By this point in time, the energy from the Pacific has carved out a sharp trough of low pressure over the Mississippi Valley region – indicating a lot of energy gathering in the atmosphere.

Meanwhile, a surface low will develop in eastern North Carolina by Friday afternoon that is the match that lights the fire. From there, things become very interesting and even concerning as the storm begins to fester over the warm water of the western Atlantic.

GFS depiction of the coastal storm and all of its impacts affecting many states along the East Coast and inland

GFS depiction of the coastal storm and all of its impacts affecting many states along the East Coast and inland

All of the available model guidance suggests that a fairly strong low pressure area will move up the coast from around Cape Hatteras to just offshore of southern New England. This classic Nor’easter pattern is set to bring phenomenal amounts of snow to a lot of people, especially away from the immediate coast. I am no weather winter expert so trying to decipher how much snow and where is beyond my ability. What I do know a lot about is impact and I see this storm as bringing potentially major impacts to people across more than a dozen states.

The snow will be excessive in places, again, impossible to know precisely where. Travel from many major airports will be snarled and people will be stranded. Highway travel will become a matter of taking your life in to your hands when the insane snow begins. Best to just stay put.

The storm will have a lot of energy with it, due in part to the very warm ocean temps as compared to normal. Also, the atmosphere will add plenty of energy and force the storm to intensify and crank up the wind. This will be an especially important impact since high wind coupled with feet of snow never makes for a happy ending.

Along the coast from Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and points north, the potential is there for coastal flooding not seen since Sandy in 2012. Luck is not on our side either because the moon is full this weekend and that will add to the overall storm tide that sets up. Make no mistake, this part of the storm will go vastly overlooked by major media who will focus on the blizzard conditions inland. Meanwhile, the coastlines of New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware will get pounded by coastal flooding, potentially causing significant damage in surge prone areas.

Farther north, strong winds and heavy rain in the warmer sector of the storm will mean miserable conditions for areas such as eastern Long Island and southern New England. Once the cold air mixes in enough, the snow will come, though it’s hard to say how much and for how long.

When all is said and done, this storm will likely be compared to some from the mid-1990s that battered the region with near hurricane conditions. Yes, it could be that bad.

Or, it might not be.

As the case seems to always be, enough uncertainty exists this far out ahead of the event that there is still room for something to happen that changes the outcome significantly. Remember, weather is about the probability of something happening in most cases. Right now there is a rather high probability that a major Nor’easter will develop and impact a lot of people. This is not the same as a certainty. Even when it is unfolding on top of the East Coast, timing, track and other factors will determine the final result. I am here to make sure you realize the totality of the storm. It’s not just fluffy white snow that will make for some pretty Instagram pics. Some places will be slammed with more snow than they can handle. Again, coastal areas of the Mid-Atlantic are likely to be blasted by near hurricane force winds and possible major coastal flooding. In other words, as much as we like winter storms (most people do I guess) they are a deadly part of weather not unlike hurricanes and tropical storms. Don’t let the enormous snow totals being thrown about blind you to the other hazards and prepare accordingly.

I am most likely going to head out in to the storm myself with some of the same equipment that we use during hurricane landfalls. I will wait until tomorrow to make the final call and will post more about my plans and what equipment I will be putting out. It should be one heck of a storm and I will do by very best to immerse you in to it like no one else can.

One last bit of advice. I mention the NWS a lot in my blogs when something big is about to go down. If you want straight-up info without any bias thrown in for website clicks or page likes, simply go to weather.gov and input your ZIP Code. From there scroll down to where you see “Forecast Discussion”. Click that and read it. It’s technical in nature but you can get an inside look at precisely what your LOCAL forecast office is thinking and why. No hype, no agenda, just raw analysis based on the best available data. Use it and be informed!

I’ll have more tomorrow morning.

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 weather.gov 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

 

Ana now purely tropical but will not amount to much for Carolinas

Recent radar shot showing limited bands of showers moving onshore of the Carolina coastline

Recent radar shot showing limited bands of showers moving onshore of the Carolina coastline

The National Hurricane Center designated Ana as becoming purely tropical overnight. This means that the wind field has contracted more and overall resembles a tropical storm rather than the hybrid mix subtropical storm previously.

None of this will affect the outcome really. Bands of showers and occasional heavy rain will rotate onshore from the Atlantic across parts of the Carolina coastline. These bands will have periods of brief gusty winds, especially right along the immediate coast. Other than that, Ana is not expected to cause any significant issues for the region.

The official forecast track takes the storm inland over North Carolina early tomorrow morning. As the weakening system moves over cooler water beginning today, the coverage of heavy rain will decrease. However, for anyone traveling along I-95 and I-40 through the eastern Carolinas, be mindful of possible reduced visibilities within these scattered rain bands. Slow down, take it easy and don’t let the season’s first storm ruin your Mother’s Day weekend.

If you have plans to visit the beach, keep in mind that the surf is a little roughed up and the risk of rip currents is high right now. Avoid going in the water but enjoy the incredible beaches of the area.

Once Ana moves inland, it will weaken to a remnant low and move northeast and out to sea as nothing more than an interesting beginning to the Atlantic hurricane season. Does this mean we will have a busier than forecast season ahead? Not likely. In fact, storms that form from old cold fronts as Ana did, are common during El Nino years which we are in now. Ana will contribute a few ACE points to the overall score for the season. This is the measure of energy output from tropical cyclones. We typically expect to see anywhere from 95 to 105 ACE points in any given season. This year, some forecasts are calling for the total to be as low as 40. Ana will start things off with single digits and we’ll have to wait and see when and if we get another named storm or hurricane somewhere in the Atlantic to add more to the seasonal score. Right now, there is nothing to indicate any development chances coming up over the next week to 10 days.

I’ll have more here tomorrow.

M. Sudduth 8:55 AM ET May 9

Every mile counts now

Zoomed in track map showing just how close the center of Arthur may track to the Outer Banks of NC

Zoomed in track map showing just how close the center of Arthur may track to the Outer Banks of NC

Arthur is poised to become a hurricane and a fairly significant one at that. The NHC is forecasting winds to reach at least 90 mph before the cyclone transitions in to a more mid-latitude type storm. This has prompted the issuance of a hurricane watch for portions of the North Carolina coast – specifically from Bogue Inlet to Oregon Inlet. This encompasses all of the Crystal Coast and Outer Banks region. The time to prepare is at hand.

The hurricane watch is flanked on its north and south sides by a tropical storm watch as conditions look to deteriorate over the next day or so moving from south to north.

The storm strengthened overnight and now has winds of 60 mph as the pressure has dropped to 996 millibars. This represents a substantial reduction in air pressure over the last few days considering that the weak low pressure area emerged in to about a 1016 millibar environment. This tells me that the storm has potential to keep on strengthening once it rids itself of the pesky dry air and develops deep convection around its center. Warm water and light winds aloft could allow Arthur to become strong, possibly stronger than the forecast indicates. I always caution people who are dealing with hurricanes to prepare for one category higher – might as well be ready, right?

Right now, the storm is moving northward but the key time is when it makes the turn more to the east.

Even though the effects extend out well away from the center, it is going to be extremely important for the residents and visitors of the Outer Banks, especially Ocracoke and Hatteras, just how close the eye tracks to them. The reason is the storm surge from Pamlico Sound. If the radius of maximum winds moves over the sound then a storm surge exceeding 5 feet is possible on the north side of Hatteras and Ocracoke. This is where every mile will count. The closer the core of Arthur tracks to land, the more wind will push the sound southward, piling up the water against the land. It could mean the difference between “wow, that was close” and “wow, there’s a lot of damage here!”

Since there is no way to know even this close to the event happening, it is best to assume the worst. People in the area who have hurricane experience will know what to do. Visitors and newcomers may think this is a novelty and somewhat exciting. It is but that comes with a price. Storm surge is nothing to mess with. It can obviously be lethal but it also causes damage to automobiles and structures alike. Sound side flooding sneaks in – pours down Highway 12 and fills up Hatteras like a shallow basin. Don’t believe me? This is what hurricane Alex did in 2004.

I know because I shot this video. That is 105 mph wind coming across the sound pushing the water on to Hatteras. While no loss of life occurred, damage was extensive, especially to cars and trucks. Take this seriously folks, no two hurricanes are ever the same and comparing Arthur to Alex could be a big mistake. Take Arthur at face value and prepare accordingly.

For interests north and south of the hurricane watch area, the impacts will be less severe but they too should be taken seriously. It’s all about common sense which seems to be lacking more and more these days. The ocean will turn rough, stay out unless you’re an expert swimmer or surfer. Be careful driving in the torrential rains that are certain to fall along a wide swath as Arthur moves by. In short, don’t do anything dumb. Tropical storm conditions can bring trees down and knock power out. Take it easy, respect the storm and you’ll do fine. Take some pictures, share your experience on social media but do so with safety in mind.

Hurricane Impact for iOS and Android - get it today on the App Store or Google Play

Hurricane Impact for iOS and Android – get it today on the App Store or Google Play

I am preparing to head to the Outer Banks later today and plan to meet up with long time friend and colleague, Jesse Bass. We will be setting up one of our high-end weather stations which will feed wind and pressure data to our app, Hurricane Impact. The station also has a camera that sends an image from the site location every 60 seconds. You’ll be able to literally watch the impact of Arthur (that’s why we call it Hurricane Impact).

We will also post video reports to the app on a regular basis. So if you cannot watch our live Tahoe cam feed, you can at least stay up to date via the video reports which get posted minutes after we shoot them.

We will also deploy, if conditions warrant, four storm surge cameras. These are our unmanned camera systems that capture and stream live video from places that we have no business being in. These will feed to our private clients who support our work with their subscriptions to our suite of hurricane information and live video feeds. We will always have the Tahoe cam, also known as the “everywhere cam”, available on our Ustream channel free of charge. We’ll literally take you in to the worst conditions that Arthur brings to the area. Along the way, you’ll learn a lot about how tropical cyclones work, their impacts, history and so much more. It’s like a live science show during a hurricane – nothing else like it anywhere. I hope you can watch the free stream and consider signing up to catch our Surge Cam feeds as well. The mission is to gather data and document the impact. We are as ready as we have ever been in our 15 year history.

I’ll post another update later tonight on this page with continuing shorter posts on Twitter and Facebook.

To follow us on the go on your iOS or Android device – search Hurricane Impact and you’ll be good to go. It’s the only hurricane app that actually takes you in to the storm you’ve been tracking.

M. Sudduth 5:30 AM ET July 2

 

Critical week ahead for parts of the Southeast

Computer guidance has shifted west over night, resulting in a track that poses a threat to the Carolinas later this week

Computer guidance has shifted west over night, resulting in a track that poses a threat to the Carolinas later this week

This week is probably one of the worst weeks out of the entire year that a potential hurricane could threaten the United States. It’s coming up on Independence Day and a huge monkey wrench is likely to be thrown in to the plans of thousands who are wanting to relax at the beach. While nothing is etched in stone, far from it, the chances seem to be going up that something rather unpleasant is in the making as we move through this all-important week.

The issue is, of course, 91L and what will very likely become TS Arthur. The NHC continues to indicate a high chance of development over the next few days.

As of early this morning, the area of low pressure was situated to the east of Florida, about the same latitude as Melbourne and vicinity. So far, organized deep convection remains limited. It appears that northerly winds are continuing to blow over the circulation, injecting some dry air while keeping a lid on tropical thunderstorm formation. However, all indications are that this pattern will change and we will have a tropical depression before too long.

At this point, the forecast guidance is in pretty good agreement that a tropical storm will form and move northward, actually somewhat west of north for a time. Then, the crucial turn to the northeast will commence ahead of an approaching trough swinging down from the upper Midwest. This acts like a soccer player kicking the ball (Arthur to be) out to sea. Well, it’s more complicated than that, but in keeping with current sports news, I thought the soccer analogy worked. The idea is that the supposed-storm would be pushed out to sea at some point – when this happens is very important.

The overnight runs of most of the models indicate that there is a good chance that the system could move over parts of extreme eastern North Carolina. To be fair, there is also a good chance the center remains just offshore. However, we should all know by now that the center is not the only area to watch – effects can reach out 50 to 100 miles or more from the center. We’re talking rip currents, bands of heavy rain, increasing winds and seas and the possibility of tropical storm or even hurricane winds affecting some part of the North Carolina coast. I do not say this without backing it up. The SHIPS intensity model, often cited in NHC advisories, brings the system to hurricane strength – so this needs to be considered. Add to the complication the fact that intensity forecasting is where the least amount of skill lies. Do not gamble on this being a weak, sheared storm with little to worry about. There is enough room for error that I would not be at all surprised to see this system become a hurricane.

For now, we have a slowly developing tropical cyclone just off the Florida coastline. That region will be the first to feel impacts. Higher surf, rain bands and an increase in wind will likely put a damper on vacationers along the east coast of the Sunshine state for a day or two. After that, we need to wait and see what develops and take it from there.

People along the Southeast coast are generally hurricane savvy. The one thing that concerns me is the crowds of people coming in to the region from some inland state and thus having zero hurricane experience. While I may be jumping too far ahead, this is something to consider since we are coming up on a massive beach holiday. This is not going to be “fun” or “exciting”, not in a good way. If what could be the season’s first storm and/or hurricane comes close enough to the coast, people need to be ready or the results could be very rough to deal with.

I will post another update on this developing situation later in the afternoon. I’ll also have the daily video blog posted to our app, Hurricane Impact, by 4pm ET. Follow along with the app which is available for iOS devices and Android. Simply search Hurricane Impact and stay connected where ever you are.

M. Sudduth 8 AM ET June 30