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


Despite coming favorable MJO signal, not much to track as we get in to last month of season

Early November development points over the past 100 years indicating that the western Caribbean Sea is the most likely area for development

Early November development points over the past 100 years indicating that the western Caribbean Sea is the most likely area for development

October will end very quietly as there are no areas of concern in the Atlantic Basin this week. What about November? The last 30 days of the season are almost here – so what can we expect?

We typically look for development in the western Caribbean where the most concentrated development points over time are seen. However, it is possible get development all over the sub-tropical Atlantic, far from land. Even the east Pacific remains fairly active during November but overall, things begin to really slack off in both basins.

If we do get development in the Atlantic Basin during November, the most likely track is northeast. Sometimes, we do see a blocking ridge of high pressure set up over the Gulf of Mexico, sending anything that gets going westward in to Central America. All in all, November is normally pretty quiet.

As for this November, well, there is at least a small chance of seeing something develop in the Caribbean Sea over the next couple of weeks.

ECMWF forecast MJO activity showing favorable conditions setting up as we get in to November

ECMWF forecast MJO activity showing favorable conditions setting up as we get in to November

The MJO or Madden-Julian Oscillation is forecast to be quite favorable for upward motion as we get in to the first part of the month. Both the ECMWF and the GFS models show this trend. Looking at the long range model runs, nothing really seems to come along to take advantage of this more favorable upper level pattern. Sure, one run of the GFS may show a tropical storm forming in the long range but it gets dropped during the next run, only to pop up again later on. This inconsistency leads me to believe that we will not see much happening over the next week and probably longer.

There are a couple of fairly strong tropical waves moving across the deep tropics and these will likely impact the Lesser Antilles and other parts of the Caribbean Sea in the coming days. It is possible that one of these could try to develop as the favorable upward motion pattern sets in but again, the global models do really indicate much happening.

We are almost out of the season and one that was originally forecast to be extremely busy with a lot of potential hurricane activity. I know many people are wondering, with a smile on their face, what happened. While I do not know for sure, I have some ideas and will be putting together a special blog post about this for next Monday. I think seasonal forecasting is important as it could lead to better long and medium range forecasting which in turn can greatly reduce the impacts of hurricanes in the future by providing adequate lead time to prepare. I will delve in to this subject quite a bit as I work on this special post coming up for next week. Until then, enjoy the quiet pattern.

M. Sudduth 1:50 PM ET Oct 29

No Sandy this October but tropics still active globally

Hurricane Raymond in the east Pacific

Hurricane Raymond in the east Pacific

It was one year ago today that I posted one of the most shared and visited blogs of my career. It highlighted the possibility of a “storm for the ages” as the writing was beginning to appear on the wall that a powerful hybrid beast of a storm would develop from a hurricane in the Caribbean and affect the East Coast. It did and the rest, as they say, is history. Hard to believe we’re coming up on a year already. My how time flies.

So is there anything like Sandy looming for the East Coast this year? So far, not even close. This October will end on the calm side but be rather chilly for a good deal of the eastern United States. No hurricanes though and certainly no Sandy-type events. We’ll see what November has in store but odds are, this hurricane season will end on the tame side of the spectrum.

However, this does not mean all is quiet out there. We do have invest 90L out in the open central Atlantic, pretty far north in fact. It looks like it is a tropical depression or storm already and the NHC may begin issuing advisories later today. If so, and it’s strong enough, the name will be Lorenzo and the 12th named storm of the 2013 season. It would be quite short-lived due to hostile upper level winds about to set in and of course, would be no threat to land.

Meanwhile, a powerful, small hurricane (Raymond) developed yesterday off the coast of Mexico and has become the first and only category three hurricane in the east Pacific this year. Luckily, it will begin a turn to the west and then southwest before the strongest of winds reach the Mexican coastline. Heavy rain will affect parts of the region today and tonight before the hurricane turns away, taking the moisture with it.

What is interesting about Raymond is the fact that it became so strong so quickly. It is not unusual for small tropical cyclones like Raymond to intensify rapidly given the right environment. Fortunately for Mexico, the hurricane will turn away as this could have been a much different and quite unpleasant outcome.

JTWC track map showing typhoon Francisco heading for Tokyo later this week

JTWC track map showing typhoon Francisco heading for Tokyo later this week

In the west Pacific, there is a strong typhoon, Francisco, that is headed for Japan. This could be a major disaster for areas around Tokyo as the forecast track from the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) shows the center crossing to the west of Tokyo Bay. Even though the typhoon should weaken considerably before reaching Japan, it’s not the wind but the surge that I am concerned about. Francisco is a large typhoon with a huge wind field and will almost certainly pile up the water in to the bay where millions of people live and work nearby. We will probably hear more about this in the news over the next few days – especially considering the recent history of the region still recovering from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami events. There is still room for the typhoon to squeak out a turn more to the east which would spare Tokyo and vicinity the worst of the surge impact. I will follow this story closely in the coming days.

M. Sudduth 8:40 AM ET Oct 21

No worries, a repeat of Sandy not likely this time around

Energy emerging from the Southeast U.S. should form a surface low out in the Atlantic, well east of Florida in the coming days

Energy emerging from the Southeast U.S. should form a surface low out in the Atlantic, well east of Florida in the coming days

Once word got out today about the ECMWF global model predicting a coastal storm that had a track similar to Sandy, the buzz began. As you can imagine, a lot of people are still quite a bit on edge across portions of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast not quite a year after the most devastating storm event in recent memory. The good news this evening is this: what ever is going to form over the Atlantic in the coming days simply lacks the major ingredients to become another Sandy.

However, a storm along the coast is something to take seriously, especially if it were to track close enough to cause significant problems. A lot will depend, as it always does, on where the storm moves and how strong it is. Each day, the models will paint a slightly different picture but the outcome is probably the same generally speaking – it’s possible that a subtropical type storm will impact portions of the U.S. East Coast this weekend and in to early next week. This seems even more likely for interests in the Canadian Maritimes.

Right now, the players, if you will, are still gathering on the field. We need a couple of more days for the sophisticated models to ingest the upper air data and other parameters that go in to their super-computer calculations before we can really get a grasp on what we might be dealing with.

As for the worry of another epic event like Sandy, put that to rest. This is more like an early Autumn Nor’easter and not an extreme event, not yet anyway. I say that only because you never say never with the weather. I think that Sandy has one very positive lingering effect: its legacy will motivate people to pay closer attention and take action when needed. Kind of the “fool me once….” saying playing out. People are smart and won’t be caught unaware and the increase in people talking about this potential event is evidence of that in my opinion – thus it’s a positive thing.

So let’s see what the next day or two of model cycles bring forth. There will be plenty of people looking at this within the government and private weather firms. I will be curious to read various forecast discussions, particularly from New Jersey and New York. I’ll talk more about that in tomorrow’s post.

M. Sudduth 7:25 pm ET Sept 24

Fluke run of global model or something to be concerned about?

Overnight run of the ECMWF model showing potent storm impacting the Mid-Atlantic coast next week

Overnight run of the ECMWF model showing potent storm impacting the Mid-Atlantic coast next week

I almost could not believe my eyes this morning when I checked the various global models for signs of tropical cyclone activity over the coming days. The GFS showed a few areas in the longer range worth watching but nothing too serious. The ECWMF, on the other hand, had me thinking, “where have I seen this before?” I had to make sure I was looking at the correct time of the run. I was.

What the ECMWF shows is a similar situation that lead to Sandy last year, almost eleven months to the day. It seems that a piece of energy comes out of the eastern Gulf, across Florida and then develops in to a storm over the southwest Atlantic. That storm, maybe a mix of tropical and subtropical, then moves back to the northwest, towards the North Carolina coast before coming inland somewhere over the Mid-Atlantic early next week.

The one major, extremely important difference here is that the feature that the Euro is showing does not originate as a powerful hurricane coming out of the Caribbean Sea. Instead, this storm would be fueled more by energy in the atmosphere than deriving it from the ocean. However, it is possible that, due to the very warm waters of the southwest Atlantic, that we could see a hybrid type system out of this.

What is very interesting to me is the striking similarity of the high pressure area coming down out of Canada to block this storm from heading out to sea as the GFS clearly shows it doing. This blocking pattern would prevent the would-be storm from escaping and in fact would send it back towards the coast.

Also note the time frame here. The Euro shows this event unfolding over the next five to seven days, not eight to ten. While not exactly short-range, it’s not 240 hours out in the future either. And, the Euro is not alone with this scenario. The Canadian global model also shows this storm event, albeit quite a bit stronger as is often the case with that particular model due to how it handles the physics of heat sometimes. So this is something we should keep an eye on. While not nearly the extreme case that Sandy was, the track, time of year and overall look of the pattern is worth watching closely over the next few days. Needless to say, any significant ocean storm coming in from the southeast towards the Mid-Atlantic would be very much unwelcome news. Hopefully the Euro and the Canadian had a fluke run and all will be right again in subsequent model output. We shall see.

Elsewhere, the tropical Atlantic is nice and quiet with no substantial threats of development seen in the global models for the time being.

I will post a quick update on the potential Mid-Atlantic storm later this afternoon after the 12Z run of the ECMWF becomes available.

M. Sudduth 8:40 am ET Sept 24