Hurricane Joaquin Forecast Is Complex, East Coast Needs To Monitor Closely

Joaquin Makes Landfall Along East Coast

Anytime you have the slightest possibility that a tropical storm or hurricane is going to impact the United States in any way, you’re going to hear about it all over the news media, social media, and everywhere else. In this case, it is good to get people prepared along the East Coast, but I want to break down what’s going on and show you why this forecast is complex. Hopefully this article clears up many of the questions that you may have, despite the current uncertainty.

Current Details On Hurricane Joaquin:

As of 8 pm ET, Hurricane Joaquin has 105 mph sustained winds and is moving to the southwest at 8 mph. A change in direction to the north should occur in a couple of days, but how quickly that occurs will be one of the determining factors as to whether or not this hurricane eventually hits the East Coast or turns northeast out to sea. Keep in mind that I said it’s one of the determining factors; there are other factors I’ll get into in a minute.

One Of Two Scenarios Could Play Out:

The region off the Southeast U.S. coast is the area that I have been monitoring most closely this season, and I even specifically talked about how that region would have a higher probability of seeing some tropical mischief this year. The waters are very warm, and given the right environmental conditions to go along with it, rapid development can occur. In other words, Hurricane Joaquin is in a favorable area for development so further intensification is likely.

When a tropical system develops into a hurricane, the mid and upper-level wind patterns have a much bigger influence on the path the storm takes. This isn’t as much the case with a weaker tropical system. I generally look at the 500 mb pressure level (which is approximately 18,000 ft above the surface) to try to determine where a hurricane like Joaquin will be steered. It seems like a simple concept, but you have to know where your troughs/ridges are going to be located and the timeframe. Also, you have to know when and how much these wind patterns will influence the storm. If this doesn’t make sense, I’m going to start showing you a few maps to clear this up.

A trough is going to continue to dig into the southeastern United States and strengthen as it begins to take on a northwest to southeast orientation. This building trough is eventually going to try to pull Joaquin northward and if it makes the connection, Joaquin could majorly impact somewhere along the East Coast. There is currently a ridge located west of the storm over Florida, so you’re getting that clockwise-flow around that ridge that’s causing Joaquin to currently meander. Once that breaks down and the trough in the Southeast U.S. starts trying to pull this hurricane north, it’ll make that change in direction. If you’re a visual person, the maps below will clear all of this up.

One reason this gets complex is because the models vary on the exact timing on all of this. The European model is much slower (it has Joaquin meandering longer) causing it to entirely miss the trough connection. It tries, but a ridge begins building to its east over the open waters of the Atlantic. This would steer the storm away from the United States.

GFS Joaquin solution

Euro Joaquin solution

The GFS model is much quicker with all of this. It pulls the hurricane up faster, makes the connection with the trough, and a ridge to the hurricane’s northeast helps to steer Joaquin right into the East Coast somewhere along North Carolina/Virginia and has the storm riding up the coast. This would be a very bad scenario, not just because of the very strong winds but the excessive flooding potential.

WPC’s 3 Day Rainfall Forecast:

East Coast flooding

Putting All Of This Together:

The European model is taking Joaquin away from the U.S. while the GFS model has the worst-case scenario. Generally, the European model performs much better than the American models, but right now, I’m actually leaning towards this storm making the connection with the trough and impacting somewhere along the East Coast. However, I will admit that I am uncertain about this. The reason I showed you the two scenarios is because each scenario is very viable and realistic. This shows you why meteorology is so complex, and why timing and the placement of troughs and ridges can be the determining factor between a hurricane slamming the East Coast or not being an issue at all.

So, I’m going to keep a close eye on this. I laid out the meteorology, and while I hate to admit it, there will be some nowcasting involved with this forecast over the next couple of days simply because of these complexities.

If you’re along the East Coast, you need to prepare. It’s much better to be over prepared than not prepared at all. In the meantime, I’ll get all of the details ironed out over the next couple of days.

Hurricane Joaquin approaches the Bahamas, forecast to turn North Thursday

Hurricane Joaquin, currently located at 24.3 North and 73.1 West, is now has maximum sustained winds of 85 mph with gusts to 105 mph.  The minimum central pressure is now 967 millibars.

tracking map

Here’s a close up of the Bahamas, where Tropical Storm conditions are now beginning to effect some of the islands.

tracking map

Hurricane Warnings are in effect for the Central Bahamas including Cat Island, the Exumas, Long Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador and for the Northwestern Bahamas including the Abacos, Berry Islands, Eleuthera, Grand Bahama Island, and New Providence, but excluding Andros Island and Bimini.

The Hurricane Watch for Bimini remains in effect.

A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for The Southeastern Bahamas including the Acklins, Crooked Island, Long Cay, the Inaguas, Mayaguana, and the Ragged Islands, but excluding the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Hurricane Hunter planes from both the Air Force and the NOAA are in flight and performing missions in and around Joaquin, and preliminary data supports the continued strengthening of Joaquin in the short term.  The warm ocean waters and a environment without much in the way of strong shear is allowing for the intensification to continue and Joaquin is forecast to become a major Hurricane by the end of this weekend.  Satellite data continues to show an eye and strong  eye wall for Joaquin but that has not had much improvement over the last 6 hours.

Tropical Satellite

The current forecast is for Joaquin to heavily impact the Bahamas before turning North after the ridge pushing him to the Southeast weakens and a strong deep layer trough forms over the Southeastern United States.  This will generate steering currents towards the north and push Joaquin away from the Bahamas.  This should actually spare the Bahamas of the worst possible conditions of having a powerful hurricane move slowly through the middle of the island chain.  From there, model consensus and our forecast are in good agreement that Joaquin will move North to perhaps a slight North Northeast as it moves between the trough and ridge.  The trough is forecast to become negatively tilted and begin to pull Joaquin toward the coast by this weekend.  Interests in the Outer Banks and Chesapeake Bay areas will need to monitor this closely as long range model data indicates that Joaquin will be very close to the coast by Sunday.  As seen in the map above, the model forecasts bring Joaquin up the Chesapeake with a landfall South of Annapolis, however, 4-5 day average error for Hurricane tracks is 150-200 miles so this is by no means a sure thing.  The current Firsthand Weather forecast places Joaquin several hundred miles off the coast of the Georgia Florida state line by Saturday afternoon.  The divergence in track forecasts from there is simply too great to determine a truly accurate track but interests from North Carolina up through New England should monitor this situation closely and we will continue to bring you the latest in forecast information as it comes in.

Firsthand Weather will have another full update Thursday morning and we thank you for keeping Firsthand Weather as your go to source for accurate weather information.


Robert Millette

Tropical Storm Joaquin meanders near the Bahamas.

Tropical Storm Joaquin, currently located at  26.0 North 71.0 West, continues to get better organized today despite the northerly shear still effecting the system.  Maximum sustained winds are now 65 mph and extend 90 miles from the center of the system and the minimum central pressure is 990 millibars, an 11 millibar drop in the last 6 hours.  The low level center, which had been exposed outside the main area of convection is now embedded within the northern edge.  This is an indication that the shear is no longer effecting the system as much as it had been over the past few days.

tracking map

Despite this, Joaquin’s satellite profile on the visible imagery looks much more organized than he did 24 hours ago with a very well defined southern area of outflow that can be seen on the water vapor imagery flowing over Hispaniola as seen below.   The cloud patterns to the North indicates that outflow is beginning to become better defined in that region as well and this should continue to be the case as the shear impacting the system weakens.   The cluster of thunderstorms to the East of Joaquin is actually the remnants of Ida, which is also beginning to show the possibility of redevelopment over the coming days.


Water vapor


Both the NOAA and the Air Force have been conducting operations in Joaquin and preliminary data confirms that Joaquin is strengthening rapidly.   He is now expected to become a Hurricane within 24 hours and will approach the Bahamas from the east.  Anyone with plans in the region should monitor Joaquin but  he is not expected to make a direct impact on the Bahamas with the core of the storm.  Joaquin is forecast to turn North in front of an advancing trough moving east from the United States.


Anyone along the east coast of the US should continue to monitor this situation and we hope you stay advised of any changing weather conditions here at Firsthand Weather.  I will be attempting  to put out at least one update a day on the tropics and hope to be able to do 2.  Matt will also be posting as his availability allows.



Robert Millette



At long last, Ida makes her move.

You’d never know it based on how weak and short lived many of the named tropical systems have been this year, but the Atlantic basin got its 9th named storm when Tropical Storm Ida formed several days ago.   Now a Tropical Depression as she has slowly weakened in the same sheared environment that has destroyed even category hurricanes like Danny, Ida has managed to survive despite the odds with a highly unusual track including a multi day move to the South East as pictured here.


In the coming days, the trough of low pressure that has been providing the moderate shear that has kept Ida weak will begin shifting east, away from her, and the subtropical ridge that has been in place this year will re-strengthen and Ida, will begin to head back to the west as the steering currents re-establish themselves.  While Ida will remain weak, if she is able to hold together and get into the very warm waters closer to Florida, she has an opportunity to establish herself as a storm but that forecast is still well over a week away, but the forecast does call for Ida to slowly re-intensify as conditions improve for development.  The conditions will not be good, but they will be better than they are now.


Tropical Satellite

As you can see in the satellite image, Ida is seriously stretched out and the dry air surrounding her is limiting her current moisture output.  This will continue for several days until she moves into a more favorable area, assuming she makes it to there.


In other tropical news of note, a low pressure system is set to move across Mexico from the Pacific into the Gulf of Mexico by crossing the Yucatan.  This system poses the best current chance for the Atlantic basin’s 10th named storm sometime next week.


Robert Millette



Forecast Model Predicts Another Cold Winter For U.S.

2015-16 winter forecast temperatures

As many of you know, I tend to not be a big fan of forecasts based primarily on forecast model guidance and am a firm believer that models should only be used as tools to aid in improving forecast accuracy. If we’re lucky, these tools do okay for about a week out, but beyond that, they’re pointless, especially long-range climate models that attempt to predict an upcoming winter for example.

However, I do (skeptically) follow the Jamstec model, which has done a fairly good job at making predictions several months in advance, at least for the U.S. It’s far from perfect, but I am always curious to see what it’s new output is each month. Of course, it wouldn’t change my winter forecast if it were to show the exact opposite of what I was predicting.

Let’s start with the projected temperature anomaly map that is for this upcoming December, January and February. Please keep in mind that these are NOT actual temperatures, so this isn’t saying it’s going to be warmer in Canada than in parts of the U.S. It’s trying to depict where colder/warmer than average temps will be located over the span of these three months combined.

2015-16 winter forecast temperatures

This has a very El Nino look to it, but there are some key differences compared to previous strong El Nino winters. While I’m predicting El Nino to persist through the winter, it could start to really fade later in the winter. This winter will not likely be a blowtorch for the entire United States like 1997-98 and 1982-83 was. This El Nino will likely be atypical in certain aspects.

Next, take a look at the precipitation anomaly map. It has wetter conditions from California to Texas into the Gulf Coast states, while it has the Tennessee Valley into the Ohio Valley as very dry. This is still very El Nino-ish.

2015-16 winter forecast precip

Lastly, we get to the sea surface temperature anomaly map. As you can see, it has warmer than average sea surface temperatures across the central and eastern equatorial Pacific, but it also has the warm pool persisting over the Gulf of Alaska and extending southward off the West Coast. This would be the third winter in a row that this northeast Pacific warm pool is present, which has been responsible for the brutal cold (and West Coast warmth) in the U.S. the last two winters.

2015-16 winter forecast sea surface temps

Although most of you have seen this, I just want to share my winter forecast that was released this past July. You can sort of compare and contrast my forecast to the graphics above, which is really just for fun. In reality, you have to take long-range models with a grain of salt, even though this particular model has done a bit better than other models. Click here to get your region-by-region winter breakdown, and click here to read my detailed analysis.

2015-16 Winter Forecast

As I have mentioned, this upcoming winter is going to be a forecasting headache. I’d say that it’ll be much harder to nail down than the previous two. Since there are really no previous years that compare closely to what is currently happening, a purely analog-based approach isn’t going to really work. I actually don’t take a purely analog-based approach in my seasonal forecasts anyway, although I do extensive research on previous winters.

I’ll really begin sharing more of my research on this upcoming winter in October and will release my final winter forecast sometime in November.