Storm Still at Category Two Strength; Pressure down to 941 Millibars

The 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season continues to chug along, and it is reaching historic heights. According to Phil Klotzbach of Colorado State University, the season’s Accumlated Cyclone Energy, or ACE, is now up 180, which as of right now is the third highest for this date behind that of the 1933 (220) and 2004 (207).

Those two seasons were memorable ones. The 1933 Atlantic Hurricane Season was the benchmark in terms of the total number of storms with 21 before 2005, and the 2004 season had the terrible four for Florida with Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne. It is even higher than that of the 2005 season as of this date even though that season by this point, had four Category Five Hurricanes.

Thirteen years after that memorable 2004 season, which was the last time a Category Four Hurricane made landfall in the United States before Harvey and Irma did this season, we have ourselves the most active and devastating hurricane season since 2005. The latest monster storm, Hurricane Maria, which destroyed Dominica, St. Croix, and Puerto Rico last week, is now moving up the Eastern Seaboard.

Maria, which has weakened to a Category Two Hurricane with 105 mile per hour winds, had the lowest barometric pressure at 941 millibars with that kind of wind speed in the Atlantic since Hurricane or Superstorm Sandy. Ironically, the storm is moving up the East Coast like Sandy did. The question is, will it affect New Jersey and the Mid-Atlantic like Sandy did. Already Watches are up along the North Carolina coast.

As of the 8:00 PM EDT Advisory from the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida, Hurricane Maria was located approximately 410 miles to the South-Southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Maximum sustained winds with the storm remain at Category Two strength at 105 mph with gusts in upwards of 125 mph. The barometric pressure has risen a bit to 947 millibars, or about 27.96 inches of Hg (Mercury). The storm continues to move to the north at a meager 9 miles per hour.

Like Irma before it, Maria is a vast storm system with hurricane force winds extend some 60 miles from the center while tropical storm force winds reach out some 230 miles from the center, or a total diameter of 580 miles. A Tropical Storm Watch is now in effect for north of Surf City, North Carolina to the North Carolina/Virginia border including Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds. In addition, a Storm Surge Watch is now in effect along the North Carolina coast from Cape Lookout to Duck. Meanwhile, High Surf and Rip Current Advisories are in effect for the Mid-Atlantic including New Jersey, Delaware, and Long Island.

Could we be looking at a situation similar to Hurricane Irene or Sandy? It is possible. The National Hurricane Center has urged residents along the Mid-Atlantic, which includes New Jersey to continue to monitor the situation with this large storm. The most recent forecast discussion from the NHC at 5:00 PM on Sunday afternoon, Maria is expected to remain a Category Two Hurricane for the next 24 hours, and then weaken to a strong Category One Hurricane through 72 hours. The storm is expected to stay a hurricane through the five day forecast period.

Looking at the latest forecast track from the NHC, the hurricane is expected to continue heading mostly in a northward direction over the next 48 to 60 hours and be parallel to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina sometime between Tuesday afternoon and early Wednesday morning. Then, Maria is expected to make a right turn out to sea, and stay away from the Mid-Atlantic coastline of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York. Nevertheless, the storm is still expected to create rough surf, waves, and rip currents along the Mid-Atlantic coastline including the Jersey Shore and the South Shore of Long Island.

The models are showing a general turn to the east after four or five days. Both the Euro (ECMWF) and CMC (Canadian) global models have the storm staying close to the North Carolina and Virginia coast before turning to the east by Friday afternoon. The GFS has the storm clearing out much faster. The EPS and HWRF show a similar trend to the GFS. Looking at these tracks, the storm is more or less expected to take a track similar to Hurricane Emily did in August 1993. Get very close to Hatteras before turning away out to sea.

We will just have to wait and see. Things can change. Remember, the five day NHC forecast has an average error of 160 nautical miles so far in 2017. And, model forecasts can be wrong. Residents along the Jersey Shore, Delaware Beaches, Long Island, and the Maryland and Virginia coastline should continue to monitor the progress of the storm while those in North Carolina should be prepared for at least some tropical storm force winds.