Joaquin Now a Powerful Category 3 Hurricane, Effects Hit NJ Soon
Even though Joaquin is still hundreds of miles away and despite continuing uncertainty in the exact forecast track of Joaquin, New Jersey will start to experience significant rain, wind, and surf impacts Friday through the weekend.
Ugh... Uncertainty Remains High
I went to bed happy last night... thinking that forecast confidence was increasing and that we were finally starting to get a handle on the Hurricane Joaquin forecast.
Then the storm exploded. Joaquin rapidly intensified into a category 3 hurricane, packing sustained wind speeds of 120 mph. Further strengthening is expected later today through early Friday, given the warm 85+ degree ocean temperatures. Joaquin will likely become a powerful category 4 hurricane at some point.
Then the morning model run came out, and our confidence and certainty went out the window. As the spaghetti plot below shows, the models once again spread out the potential landfall solutions along the entire U.S. East Coast.
Furthermore, this morning's operational GFS run gave meteorologists across the tri-state area a heart attack (yours truly included), as landfall shifted dramatically to somewhere between the Jersey Shore and Long Island.
Yikes. That is scary looking.
However, in all weather forecasting (not just with tropical storms), it is important to never panic over one run of one model. As a colleague of mine often quoted: "Forecast models are guidance, not gospel."
Joaquin Track Scenarios
You may recall my Tuesday forecast blog, which presented 3 potential scenarios for Joaquin's uncertain forecast. Here's a quick recap:
Direct Hit:New Jersey's "worst case scenario". Major coastal flooding due to storm surge, flash and river flooding due to torrential rain, and wind gusts over 70 mph would be likely. We do not want this scenario to come true.Inland:In this scenario, the storm would make landfall somewhere south of New Jersey, between the Delmarva peninsula and the Carolinas. While the landfall area would take the full brunt of the hurricane, New Jersey would still see significant impacts as the storm slides north. Heavy rain (top totals 5+"), strong wind gusts (up to 50-60 mph), and flooding (both coastal and inland) would be possible.
Out to Sea: New Jersey's "best case scenario". Tropical moisture may still lead to bands of heavy rain, on the order of 2-4". Pressure gradient force alone could cause some marginally strong 40 mph wind gusts. Rough surf and minor coastal flooding a concern, but storm surge should not be a big problem.
More About Models
Luckily, the overall mid-morning 06Z model run is showing much better consistency. And most other tropical forecast models lean away from the "Direct Hit" scenario and favor the "Inland" scenario.
I favor the "Inland" scenario too, so we are going to stick with that forecast as the "mostly likely" one for now - an initial landfall of Joaquin late Sunday into early Monday along the coast, south of New Jersey. (For now, it looks like Virginia and North Carolina are going to get smacked the hardest of anyone.)
Of course, as I have been insisting all week, this forecast track is far from a 100% sure bet.
Especially since the "contrarian" model remains firm - the ECMWF, or European - which, for four consecutive runs, has shown Joaquin breaking all rules and kicking out to sea. Generally, such consternation from one forecast model will not cause much hesitation. But this level of consistency... from such a workhorse and oft-favored model... from the model that nailed Sandy's weird left turn before any other models? That's enough to warrant a pause.
There are signs that other models, including the UKMET and even the 06Z GFS are also coming around to this further-east forecast. However, the Euro still stands alone in the true "out to sea" forecast... even the Euro ensembles trend further west. We absolutely can not rule out this "mostly miss" solution yet... even though there is a propensity of evidence toward a hit along the U.S. coast. The next model run will be crucial.
One more note on models... The fact that Joaquin strengthened into a major hurricane was not all that shocking. The fact that it happened so quickly was quite a nasty surprise. Only one model out of dozens nailed Joaquin's potential rapid intensification days ago - the HWFI...
That image is from two days ago, and the HWFI model was the only solution intensifying Joaquin into a Category 3 and eventually Category 4 storm.
So... where does this most-accurate-so-far HWFI model currently plant Joaquin's landfall? North Carolina. The "Inland" track.
Here is the bottom line for today's forecast, as this maddening uncertainty remains... It doesn't matter where Joaquin ultimately goes - we are already feeling the impacts of the storm here in New Jersey.
What do I mean by indirect impacts? First, increasing surf. Minor coastal flooding has already been noted along the Jersey Shore, and ocean waves may reach 6 to 10 feet today. As the surf continues to slowly surge, flooding of coastal roads and low-lying areas will be possible.
Second, there is a river of tropical moisture running from Hurricane Joaquin right up the east coast. This may cause some bands of heavy rain on Friday.
Third, the wind is increasing due to the pressure gradient between the high pressure system to our north and the low pressure of Joaquin. Thursday will feature a brisk wind, up to about 25 mph. Friday and Saturday look to get very windy, with occasional wind gusts to 50 or 60 mph (especially along the coast).
The full impacts of Joaquin won't reach New Jersey's neighborhood until late Monday at the earliest... Again, New Jersey is already under the far-reaching thumb of Major Hurricane Joaquin, and we already have some potentially significant weather issues on the way.