Why NJ Should Not Freak Out About Tropical Storm Matthew Yet
While some models paint a scary picture for the U.S. East Coast, there is zero confidence in Matthew's potential track at this time.
I really wish I didn't have to write this post.
I really wasn't planning to do any formal write-up about Tropical Storm Matthew until Sunday, at the very earliest.
Sigh. Unfortunately, the social media-rologists are already out in full force, and the hurricane hype machine is up and running. So, in the hope of quashing some of the vast misinformation and outright fiction out there regarding Matthew, here's a quick rundown of what we know so far. And, more importantly, a look at what we don't, can't, and won't know.
The Latest on Matthew: Spinning and Strengthening
On Wednesday morning, Matthew became the Atlantic basin's thirteenth named tropical system of the 2016 hurricane season. After barreling through the Windward Islands, Matthew has been spinning through the open waters of the the eastern Caribbean Sea, as of Thursday morning. Sustained winds were noted at 70 mph as of the 8 a.m. update from the National Hurricane Center. If those winds strengthen to 74 mph, Matthew will become a hurricane - that is expected to happen by Friday morning.
By my estimation, the center of Matthew is located 1,850 miles south-southeast of New Jersey. That's a long ways away.
Zero Confidence: A Mess of Spaghetti
The fear and the hype revolves around several forecast models - including the operational and ensemble GFS - that have boldly and stubbornly forecast Matthew to become a potent hurricane near (or on top of) the Northeast United States late next week (around Thursday 10/6 to Friday 10/7).
As a meteorologist, it is admittedly very scary to see a forecast map with a hurricane in close proximity to your home state. However, that vision is made far less scary by the fact that a 200+ hour forecast is likely to be totally bogus.
That's why I have not and will not publicly post a dramatic, raw model forecast map showing the storm over New Jersey. Matthew's track beyond 3-4 days is literally impossible to predict with any certainty or accuracy. It is literally a zero confidence forecast. Period.
Furthermore, there is an important reason why this particular storm offers great uncertainty. Here are two "spaghetti plot" maps, showing the predicted track of Matthew's center of circulation, according to a number of forecast models.
OK, armchair meteorologists and weather weenies, what stands out to you along Matthew's forecast track? Right - that sharp right turn to the north at about the 72 hour mark - early Sunday morning. Both peculiar and fascinating.
But that's what we have to wait for. We need to see the storm's ultimate location, speed, and strength after (if) it makes that hard right turn. Then and only then we can start talking about Matthew's next move.
The Bottom Line: When Will We Know?
Matthew is worth watching for all New Jerseyans, but there is no need to panic, worry, or produce a single bead of sweat at this time. I'm not even going to talk about "best case" and "worst case" and "most likely case" scenarios, or discuss run-to-run flip-flopping among the models. Not yet.
We should be able to narrow down Matthew's potential track on Sunday or Monday. That's when we'll start sounding alarm bells, if and when it is warranted.
My promise to you... If this storm poses any credible threat to New Jersey - whether it's rain, wind, and/or surge - you will be the first to know.