By John Cifelli
NJTV News Meteorologist
As of 11 a.m., Hurricane Joaquin is a Category 3 ‘Major Hurricane,’ with 125 miles per hour sustained winds and an impressive central pressure down to 942 mb. Joaquin is situated immediately northeast of the central Bahamas, moving gradually southwest. Over the last couple of days, we’ve seen a variety of possible outcomes with Joaquin relative to intensity and path. Computer guidance has had a very difficult time with this system. As recently as two days ago, we were expecting a moderate strength tropical storm. Today, briefly reaching Category 4 status is not out of the realm of possibilities as Joaquin begins its northerly advance. Now we are closer to the critical point where the atmospheric players that will determine Joaquin’s outcome are all on the field, and we are starting to see how they will interact with this storm.
Joaquin is being pinned down in the Bahamas by an upper level ridge to its north, which is now weakening and sliding east. This will allow Joaquin to “get up off the mat” so to speak and being its trek north. As it does, an upper level trough over the southeast United States will try to tug Joaquin west back towards the coastline.
When Joaquin was projected to be a tropical storm of marginal strength and the Southeast trough was expected to be robust, that roping in effect that would draw Joaquin westward to an East Coast landfall was plausible. A stronger Joaquin is now less likely to be influenced and redirected by what has now been realized as a weaker trough. Also, the extended time Joaquin has spent in the Bahamas means that by the time the hurricane interacts with the trough, it will be further east as the trough slides off the East Coast, rather than when the trough axis is over the interior of the deep south.
Simply put, the threat of an East Coast landfall is reduced today. The window that would allow this to occur grows smaller with each passing hour that Joaquin does not begin its northern movement. Cifelli is not ready to say that New Jersey is out of the woods just yet. He says if there’s one thing an experienced meteorologist knows, it’s not to count out any possibility until the weather has passed. That said, New Jersey is in a much better position today, and the Governor may not need his state of emergency fleece jacket after all.
The stalled coastal draped over the East Coast will slide across New Jersey tomorrow, bringing an inch or two of rain across the state. Some localized flooding is possible. The seas are already very high from the persistent onshore wind flow driven by the strong pressure gradient developing between Joaquin and a strong Canadian high pressure center to the north. Coastal flooding, particularly at each high tide over the next several days, is going to be a serious concern for shore locations. The National Service has already issued Coastal Flood Watches and Warnings, and a Gale Warning is posted, as well. Beach erosion will be a major impact, whether Joaquin makes a landfall. New Jersey’s beaches are under the gun, regardless of specific track at this point.
The high pressure center in South East Canada is very powerful, and as the pressure gradient between it and the approaching hurricane tightens, winds will only strengthen. With heavy rain on the way tomorrow, and winds strengthening through the weekend, today would be the day to prepare for the worst, whatever that may be.