Hurricane Joaquin rapidly intensified overnight and is now a Category 1 hurricane tracking west toward the Bahamas. As I wrote about yesterday, the forecast uncertainty for Joaquin is extremely high. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) has clearly communicated this uncertainty in their forecast discussions which I have quote below.
“Confidence in the details of the track forecast late in the period remains very low, since the environmental steering currents are complex and not being handled in a consistent manner by the models. Given that a wide range of outcomes is possible, it is too soon to say what impacts, if any, Joaquin will have on the United States.”
Further, the Director of the NHC tweeted:
— Dr. Rick Knabb (@NHCDirector) September 30, 2015
Although uncertainties exist, I think it is safe to warn about what the known impacts will be “IF” Joaquin approaches or makes landfall along the East Coast.
We do know that hurricane Joaquin is now located 215 miles east-northeast of the Central Bahamas and will continue to strengthen into what will likely be a major hurricane off the East Coast by Saturday. In fact, water temperatures near Joaquin are currently at all-time record warm levels and could, if all other factors align, easily support a Category 5 hurricane. In fact, a high-end Category 3 or 4 is now likely for Joaquin, which would pack sustained winds of more than 120 mph over the Bahamas. However, it should be noted that regardless of the hurricane’s strength over the Bahamas, as hurricanes move northward out of the deep tropics, climatology suggests they tend to weaken and speeds up. How much Joaquin could weaken is still unknown. Therefore it is still premature to estimate a landfall location and insured impacts along the East Coast.
Regardless of storm strength, as an East Coast hurricane, Joaquin will create large waves, and the stronger the hurricane, the larger the waves will be. In this case, a constant on shore flow will cause extensive beach erosion along the coastline and impact coast properties.
Depending on the final track and if Joaquin makes landfall, a large storm surge will likely accompany Joaquin. In fact, the devastating current possibility that Joaquin could track up the Chesapeake or Delaware Bays can’t be ruled out. This type of storm track has been modeled to produce devastating storm surge for these coastal bay waters, and the already high water levels from rainfall and a near super moon will not help the situation.
In addition to the torrential rainfall currently impacting much of the East Coast, some models are forecasting more rain depending on Joaquin’s forecast track. Some forecast models produce an additional 8 – 10” of rain on top of saturated ground. And with already high river levels, some major river flooding can be expected.
In summary, the uncertainty in the current track forecast cannot be understated, and it is not even represented well by the official track forecast by the NHC. Unfortunately in this situation, the spread in the forecast models is far greater in size than the cone of uncertainty in the official forecast by the NHC. As the image below shows there are still several models including the very good and reliable ECMWF (not shown) that take Joaquin out to sea. I expect by Friday we will have a much clearer picture of where Joaquin will track this weekend, and with that, insured impacts can start to be calculated.