Monday, August 30, 2004

TROPICAL TRIPLE HEADER

What a month it has been…. Since August 1, we’ve made it from the A-storm (Alex) all the way to the H-storm (Hermine). That hasn’t happened in a very long time… I believe since 1960 as the records show. And our trusty readers out there who lived through the turbulent 60’s can tell you it was a busy time for the country and for the weather.

Well, we are returning to that pattern of storm after storm…

Let me say first that I know there are some of my friends (and family) who think I just like to see big, destructive storms come plowing up the coast and run over everything… so in turn my forecasts somehow always show the storm coming right for us. Part of that is true… I enjoy watching, analyzing and following big storms. But I DO NOT enjoy seeing big storms hit big populated areas and cause tremendous damage. So I do not intend to sound sadistic or disaster-monger… but when we look at how there was a lack of seriousness over Isabel… (until we saw the damage)…when I see what I think could be a potentially destructive situation, I am going to hound away until the storm goes away.

Philosophy lesson over now… back to the tropical situation at hand.

As of 6 PM Monday, we have the leftovers of Tropical Storm Gaston moving into the southern Chesapeake. The NHC may have downgraded this storm, but the radar and wind observations show it is still packing a big punch… It is going to drop torrentially heavy rain on the Del-Mar-Va from Dover on south and east tonight… and into New Jersey and Eastern New York State tomorrow morning. On Monday, Richmond reported 6 inches of rain in just over three hours with 50 mph winds. That certainly sounds like a "tropical storm" to me. There is the possibility that the storm soaks up additional moisture from the bay and ocean… and re-intensifies into a minimal tropical storm. The NHC really dragged their feet on this one, and I don’t know why, but the folks in southern MD will tell you that storms coming up from the south are usually bad, whether or not the storm has been "classified."

Out in the Atlantic, we also have Hermine…which will take aim for the Boston- Cape Cod area. Again the NHC was taken by surprise on this one, and they admit it in one of their forecast discussions, so Tropical Storm Warnings are now in place from Rhode Island around the Cape to Boston. We’ll probably hear reports of 50 mph + winds coming out of this one as it comes onshore. On top of that, a heavy dose of rain from New York City to Maine, with local amounts over 3” starting tomorrow and into Wednesday. Remember, we are all trapped in this muggy dome of tropical air… colleagues of mine who work in un-airconditioned schools can tell you… it was humid and sticky today. So when you throw a tropical storm into this, it is tossing a match onto a pile of gasoline-soaked rags.

And then there is Frances. You are probably getting tired of hearing that this computer says this, and that one says that… Ultimately, only God and Frances know where Frances is going. However, we can predict with reasonable accuracy the near-future location of big hurricanes, especially those that move slowly like this one. So here’s where we are with the future of Frances over the next 6-7 days.

TUESDAY: Will strengthen to a Category 4, winds around 140 mph. Maybe a nudge into Cat 5 territory, but this is really splitting hairs. Your house is still splintered whether the wind is 145 or 155. Continues on a WNW path north of Puerto Rico. Hurricane watches will go up for the southern Bahamas.

WEDNESDAY: Still a Cat 4 or low-end Cat 5 and moving WNW to near NW above the Dominican Republic. Hurricane watches will go up for the northern Bahamas

THURSDAY: It is frightening to think that if this thing is still a 140 mph + storm… what it would do if it hit near say Cape Canaveral? That means some people who are cleaning up from Charley (especially Orlando) will get a direct hit AGAIN. That is just horrifically, horrifically bad. So hurricane watches go up from Miami, FL all the way to Hilton Head Island, SC just across from the GA border. The storm is entering the Bahamas… and God help them.

FRIDAY: Assuming the storm remains on this path and intensity as projected by the computers, hurricane warnings will go up from just north of Miami to Jacksonville, and possibly farther north. For every 1 mile of coastline put under a watch or warning, it costs homeowners, municipalities and the government $1 million. So if the warning area is 200 miles, that’s $200 million in outlays before the storm even arrives.
Tropical storm warnings will extend from Jacksonville, FL to Savannah, GA.

SATURDAY: If this storm does indeed get this close to the coast, the effect of the western edge going over land will increase friction on the storm, and actually weaken it on one side. Remember how Charley did that “sudden right turn” and headed into Charlotte Bay when everyone thought it was aiming for Tampa Bay? That’s the influence of “frictional effects” as identified and explained by Accu-weather, who actually pegged that turn before anyone else. So watch my words, if Frances gets too near Florida, don’t be surprised to see a sudden jog to the left, which may catch a community off-guard again like what happened in Punta Gorda.

SUNDAY: Well, Saturday is going to be total dejahell all over again in Florida. And then we have to contend with what happens once Frances reaches the Gulf of Mexico. Waters there are still 85 F +. So watches and warnings will go up from probably Tampa Bay all the way over to New Orleans.

WHY WOULD FRANCES GO INTO FLORIDA INSTEAD OF THE CAROLINAS?

The 800 pound gorilla in the room is the Bermuda High controlling the motion of these storms. The hurricane center is concerned that if the high does not weaken by Friday and move a little farther out to sea, it will direct the hurricane on a north-westward track into Florida.

The remnants of Gaston and Hermine are another variable. We don’t know how much influence they might have on the high. Even a shift of 100 or 50 miles in the position of that high will mean the difference between 20 billion dollars in damage, or a sideswipe and a charge into the swamps of Georgia.

So one thing is for sure… if the high stays in place, Florida should definitely Fear Frances. If the high begins to weaken, you will notice the proof of this by a gradual turn to the northwest and then NNW by Thursday. The NWS national forecast map does indicate the high beginning to retreat by Friday. But is that enough time to allow Frances to turn north and away from Florida?

DOES THAT MEAN MARYLAND, VIRGINIA AND THE NORTHEAST ARE IN THE CLEAR?

At first glance, it does. Were Frances to go charging across Florida, she would hit again down the line in the Gulf, get pulled into the southern Plains, and the moisture would rain out over the Mississippi-Tennessee Valley. The east coast would be spared.

However… an approaching cold front in the Midwest could end up turning Frances sharply back toward the north and northeast. Then she might do a Charley and ride up the coast along the front… although significantly weaker. Hurricane Juan did this in 1985 after striking the northern Gulf coast of Florida, and then became a massive rain- and flood-maker all through the Appalachians. Either way, the I-95 corridor is going to experience indirect effects at the least from this monster, unless she takes a turn to the north.

Putting all the doom and gloom aside for a moment, the back-and-forth drama discussion between Weather Service Offices is interesting to see what they think will happen… here’s a snippet from the Baltimore Office: (please excuse the shorthand and caps, that’s how they write in forecast discussions)

“BY THE UPCOMING WKND THE ARIWAVES WL BE FILLED W/ MENTION OF THE NAME "FRANCES." OUT THIS FAR THOUGH...THERE CONTINUES TO BE WIDE DISCONTINUITY ON WHAT THE TRACK WL BE. YDA THOUGHTS WERE LEANING TO THE ERN FL CST....THEN THIS MRNG IT PUSHED N TO CSTL CAROLINA...AND NOW THE AVN/GFS IS REINTRODUCING THE FL OPTION. BOTH INDICATE IT WL BE PICKED UP IN AN APRCHG TROF SO THERE WL LKLY BE SOME IMPACT ON THE MID ATLC...WHETHER SMALL OR LARGE REMAINS TO BE SEEN. OBVIOUSLY THERE WL BE A FAIR AMT OF CHG IN THE NEXT FEW DAYS. FOR THE TIME BEING I'VE OPTED TO GO W/ THE RECURVATURE-CAROLINA OPTION WHICH WOULD BRING IN CHC POPS NEXT MON AFTN. BLV THERE WL BE QUITE A FEW ADJUSTMENTS TO NEXT SUN-TUE FCST DURG THE WK AHD. STAY TUNED.

And the Wilmington, NC office says:
“LARGEST QUESTION MARK REMAINS WHERE FRANCES GOES AND HOW QUICKLY IT GETS THERE. LATEST NHC TRACK/HPC 7 DAY SFC ANALYSIS PLACE LANDFALL NEAR THE SC/GA BORDER. FOR NOW FEEL CHANCE POPS SUN AND MON ARE BEST WITH THE NOTION THAT THE FORECAST WILL BE HIGHLY DEPENDANT ON WHERE THIS STORM GOES.”

View the NWS map forecast for Saturday to see what they are talking about

http://www.hpc.ncep.noaa.gov/medr/9lh.gif

THE BOTTOM LINE… A DEVASTATING CATEGORY 3 OR 4 HURRICANE WILL STRIKE THE HEAVILY-POPULATED SOUTHEAST COAST on LABOR DAY WEEKEND. It give you pause just to consider it. We have not seen anything like this since Hugo hit Charleston in 1990, and it will probably be much worse. If you have relatives in Florida, tell them to start hurricane preparations now.

Since school has begun, the next update will be Tuesday night from home as I cannot update during the day. Just keep checking the NHC and Weather Underground sites if you want the latest.

p.s. I noticed today was the 100th post for this site. Thank you to all the loyal readers out there who motivate me to keep you ahead of the storm(s).






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