Earl's track all about timing
Hurricane Earl (seen in this video from the International Space Station) continues to pull away from the Northern Leeward Islands today, with no slackening of its 135-mph, Cat. 4 winds. What hurricane watchers are focused on now is just where the surrounding weather systems will send the storm as it begins to accelerate toward Cape Hatteras and the rest of the U.S. East Coast north of the Outer Banks.
A jog to the east could mean fair, if blustery, weather and rough surf along the coast. A tilt to the west could bring serious winds, rain and waves to the North Carolina coast and points north.
The National Hurricane Center said the storm's center was 1,000 miles south southeast of Cape Hatteras at mid-afternoon, moving to the west northwest at 14 mph. Forecasters said a Hurricane Watch may be posted late today for portions of the mid-Atlantic coast.
From here, Earl's path will be steered by high pressure - the Bermuda High - to the east, and a cold front approaching from the Great Lakes. If the cold front slows and is late in arriving, Earl could veer farther west and pound the coast by week's end, as one model predicts (yellow track on map). If it picks up speed, or high pressure over the ocean drifts farther out to sea, the storm could head north and east with little direct impact on the shoreline.
These and other factors are considered by Eric the Red as the professional forecaster from Baltimore (familiar to WeatherBlog readers from last winter's blizzard coverage) assesses the hazards we'll face as Earl draws near:
"If I had to guess, I'd say it stays far enough offshore to prevent a full onslaught of Ocean City and the MD-DE beaches, but the NC beaches may not be so lucky due to their more eastward positioning.
"Friday could be unpleasant at the MD-DE beaches as well, but not as bad as areas to the south. BTW: A westward jog of 50 miles would have devesatating consequences, while an eastward jog of 50 miles would leave the coastal region under mostly sunny skies but a dangerous surf.
"Earl has a small window of opportunity to shoot up the coast before the cold front pushes it to the northeast.
"In addition, Earl is surrounded by dry air. If any of this dry air works into the core of Earl, the system will begin to weaken... and the storm's impacts would be less. I kinda find it hard to believe that Earl will manage to escape this fate, because the extent of the dry air is so large... and it still has a good 60-72 hours to work against this dry environment before reaching the coast. At the same time, strong storms like Earl can often create their own "bubble", which allows them to maintain their intensity despite their surroundings. Let me just say this dry air is a wild card in the whole scenario.
"The other key to the forecast is the speed at which the front approaches from the west. Models have slowed this down a touch, allowing Early to get closer to the coast in most of the latest model runs. There is still considerable spread amongst the models... with several close enough to give coastal areas heavy rain and strong winds ... while others are far enough offshore to have little if any impact (Canadian, UKMET).
"One of the more note-worthy hurricane models (GFDL) has the storm just east of Cape Hatteras Friday morning and then moving northeast toward Nova Scotia during the day, with not a whole lot of impact on MD-DE-NJ. This seems to be the direction the National Hurricane Center is leaning... and they are of course the experts on these matters."If it were me, I wouldn't cancel beach plans... but folks headed to NC should probably have other options available to them since this area is the most likely to take a big hit. Folks headed to MD and DE should obviously monitor this very closely, but a direct hit doesn't seem as likely the farther north you go due to the westward jog the coastline takes.
"Either way, the good news is Earl will be a fast mover, and will likely clear the Mid-Atlantic by Friday eve, resulting in a very nice - and much cooler - weekend. - Eric"