A major threat to New England may be building in the tropical weather picture as forecasters struggle to predict where Hurricane Sandy will go over the next few days. Tropical Storm Sandy strengthened enough this (Wednesday) morning to become Hurricane Sandy as it churns through the Caribbean toward Jamaica and Cuba. The forecast track looks solid for the next few days with computer models showing it crossing Cuba and heading into the Bahamas tomorrow.
Sandy presents some major problems for forecasters. Crossing Jamaica and Cuba will no doubt weaken it to some extent, but how much is a tough question to answer. Weather Underground founder Dr. Jeff Masters calls for Sandy to be a strong tropical storm as it crosses the Bahamas on Thursday. While Florida’s east coast lies just outside the NHC’s cone of uncertainty, it still falls under a tropical storm watch.
Friday’s forecast is where the going gets tough for Masters and his colleagues at the National Hurricane Center as different computer models make different predictions about how a low pressure trough will affect Sandy. In his Wednesday morning blog entry Master says some models show Sandy being pushed out to sea. But Masters says some models are painting a much grimmer scenario. “An alternative solution, shown by the 00Z ECMWF, 06Z GFDL, and 06Z NOGAPS models, is for Sandy to get caught up by the trough approaching the Eastern U.S., which will inject a large amount of energy into Sandy, converting it to a powerful subtropical storm that hits the mid-Atlantic or New England early next week with a central pressure below 960 mb and sustained winds of 60 – 70 mph. Such a storm would likely cause massive power outages and over a billion dollars in damage, as trees still in leaf take out power grids, and heavy rains and coastal storm surges create damaging flooding. The full moon is on Monday, which means astronomical tides will be at their peak for the month, increasing potential storm surge flooding.” Masters says the scenario is similar to the so-called “Perfect Storm” of 1991 when Hurricane Grace killed 13 people and did $200 million dollars worth of damage in the Northeastern U.S. It’s going to be a very nervous few days for residents and emergency managers along the eastern seaboard.
Tampa Bay residents are going to feel some of the backwash of Sandy over the next few days in the form of gusty winds. The official 7 day forecast calls for northerly winds on Thursday winds out of the north at 10 to 15 miles an hour with gusts up to 35 with northwesterly winds gusting to 40 on Friday. Temperatures will start to drop over the weekend with highs in the low 80s and lows in the mid 50s.