Jersey Shore to Begin Feeling the Effects from Cat 4 Storm Over Next Couple Days

The clouds, rain, and wind around the Garden State on Monday was courtesy of the remnants of Tropical Storm Gordon, which came ashore west of the Alabama-Mississippi border last week. Gordon’s remains are just the hors d’oeuvre for what is yet to come later this week. Florence is still out there, and it has rapidly grown to a monster major hurricane.

Over the last 72 hours, Florence has undergone rapid intensification. Late Friday night, the storm was a moderate tropical storm with 60 mile per hour winds, and a minimum central pressure of 999 millibars, or 29.50 inches of Hg. Since that time, the barometer has dropped significantly within the storm. Pressure has fallen some 60 millibars, and its maximum sustained winds have increased 80 miles per hour.

Just in the last 36 hours, Hurricane Florence has grown significantly. Winds have increased some 65 miles per hour while pressure has dropped some 45 millibars, or approximately 1.33 inches of Hg (Mercury). The now Category Four Hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Scale has increased in diameter from 260 miles across to about 380 miles across. Wind gusts are estimated to be about 145 knots, or around 165 miles per hour.

On top of all that, Hurricane Florence doesn’t appear to have anything in front of it to impede its development other than itself. Sea surface temperatures in that portion of the Western Atlantic are supportive for further development while upper level winds remain light. The only problem that Florence could have is an eyewall replacement cycle that may put the storm through a weakening phase as it tries to reorganize.

There has been some discussion on where Hurricane Florence stands with respect to other storms that were in that portion of the Atlantic Basin. Some have indicated that it could be as powerful a storm to hit the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic coast since Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Here’s the issue with that: Hugo was a storm that weakened to only a 105 mph hurricane before it hit the Gulf Stream, and re-energized to a Category Four storm prior to crashing ashore in Charleston, South Carolina.

Florence has yet to enter the Gulf Stream, and it is already at 140 miles per hour. It was also as weak as a moderate tropical storm on Friday night. The storm could be comparable to say Hurricane Floyd of 1999, or Hurricane Gloria in 1985. Both storms moved between the Caribbean and Bermuda, and eventually made landfall over the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Floyd was a slow mover, which Florence is forecast to become as it moves close to landfall on Thursday evening.

Floyd caused devastating flooding to areas in Eastern North Carolina along the Tar and Neuse rivers. Florence has the potential to do the same. Gloria had some similarity of the Long Island Express of 1938 in the sense that it moved quite rapidly up the Eastern Seaboard as it moved over Cape Hatteras, and eventually made a second landfall over Long Island, New York. Not as rapidly as the 1938 storm though, which raced from Hatteras to Long Island within 6 hours of time. Gloria only moved at a pace of about 45 miles per hour.

Regardless of the comparisons, and aside from the historical analogies, Florence has the potential to cause a myriad of problems not only for the Carolinas, but also for Virginia, Maryland, and even further up the Mid-Atlantic into places such as Delaware and here in the Garden State of New Jersey. As of right now, four states are under a State of Emergency in anticipation for this storm: South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland. Rough surf is expected to begin impacting the East Coast from Georgia and South Carolina up into the Jersey Shore and Long Island.

Currently, as of the 11:00 PM EDT Advisory from the National Hurricane Center, Florence is located some 465 miles South-Southeast of Bermuda, or about 1,085 miles to the East-Southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina. Maximum sustained winds remain at 140 miles per hour, but the minimum central pressure in the eye of the storm has increased slightly to 944 millibars, or 27.88 inches of Hg. The hurricane is presently moving to the West-Northwest at 13 miles per hour. Interests in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic need to closely watch the progress of this storm.

Hurricane and Storm Surge watches are likely to be issued on Tuesday as the storm is currently forecast to make landfall along the Carolina coast sometime on Thursday evening. The future direction of the storm appears to look like a continuation of its current westward track since a ridge of high pressure will remain to the north and pushing it along with its clockwise flow. As Florence gets to the periphery of the high, it should slow down, and begin a turn to the north. When it does that is not really known.

The latest NHC forecast discussion indicates that Florence will continue to intensify at least for the next 36 hours. Intensity forecasts call for the major hurricane to reach 155 mile per hour winds by Wednesday morning. Category Five strength is not out of the realm of possibility either. Winds could climb to near 160 miles per hour during this period. Everything depends on how long and how well the storm will reorganize during that anticipated eyewall replacement cycle.

Residents of New Jersey, particularly the Jersey Shore, and flood prone areas such as Bound Brook and Manville in Central Jersey need to closely follow the progress of this dangerous storm. While Florence is likely to be a much weaker storm when it moves up into the Garden State area, the forecasted slower forward speed, the abundance of tropical moisture, and the fact that there has already been a good deal of rain in the area over the past several days, brings the potential of significant flooding to the area.

Back in September 1999, Floyd reached New Jersey as a tropical storm, but still produced a great deal of flooding with nearly 12 inches of rain in spots. Here at Greg’s Weather Center in South Plainfield, there was approximately 11.67 inches of rain, and that was after a dry period prior to the storm. Seven years ago in late August 2011, Hurricane Irene produced significant flooding, but it was essentially the straw that broke the camel’s back as some areas in New Jersey already had 15 to 20 inches of rain prior to the storm’s arrival. GWC received 5.33 inches of rain from that storm.

Stay tuned to your local radio and television outlets as well as this blog, the National Weather Service, and the National Hurricane Center for updates on this developing storm.