Climate and Agriculture in the Southeast

PAY ATTENTION to Hurricane Joaquin

My meteorologist friends have been filling up social media today with the latest information on Hurricane Joaquin, currently a strong category 2 storm in the Atlantic Ocean.  (Note: at 11 pm it was increased to a major Category 3 hurricane.)  It is moving slowly southwest now but is expected to make a sharp right turn and move up the coast.  The various computer models are showing potential paths in many different directions, but the majority of them show the hurricane making landfall on the East Coast somewhere around North Carolina or Virginia by early next week.  However, there is a huge spread in possible paths, and one of the paths showing a recurve back out to sea away from land is from the European model, which was the only model that picked up the left hook of Hurricane Sandy into New Jersey a few years ago.  That makes the forecast have much lower confidence than usual.

If you are in the Southeast anywhere from Georgia to Virginia (and even on the east coast of Florida) you need to pay attention to the developing storm.  The storm is already at the top end of what was predicted in intensity, and so could be stronger than expected.  The path could vary significantly from what the National Hurricane Center is predicting.  A few of the models even show it moving into northeast Georgia, although that has a low probability of occurring.  But if it does curve left towards land sooner than predicted, that would make landfall earlier than expected too, perhaps as early as Saturday.

Major impacts from this storm are related to rainfall.  Many of the areas that are likely to be traversed by Joaquin have had inches of rain in the last few days, making the soils saturated.  If additional rainfall from around the storm fall on top of the saturated soil, there is going to be flooding in river channels and low-lying areas.  Rainfall in the next seven days could easily top a foot of rain in some locations.

Coastal flooding is also likely since tides are already running high from the nearer-than-usual full moon and onshore wind will pile up more water near the coast in addition to heavy wave action.  Landfall would also bring storm surge to the coastal areas.

Trees are much more likely to fall in saturated soils, even in moderate winds.  That will lead to the potential for wide-spread power outages which could last for days if they have to be repaired tree by tree.

If you are in the area that has any reasonable chance of being affected by the storm, you need to monitor the forecasts carefully to see how they change over time.  Do not assume that once you have seen a forecast it is going to stay constant–this is a situation with more than ordinary uncertainty, even though the National Weather Service is doing extra data collection to improve their model output.  The forecast is going to change and impacts will become more certain as time goes on.

Here are some blogs I like that discuss the situation with the models and potential impacts:

Matt Daniel for EarthSky

Mike Smith Enterprises

Dr. Jeff Masters, Weather Underground

If you want to geek out on models then check out www.spaghettimodels.com and www.tropicaltidbits.com.

There are many sites that can provide help with hurricane and flood planning and protection.  Don’t wait until the last minute to gather supplies, gas up the car, prepare for power outages, and protect family and valuables.

If you are planning to go to the Georgia-Alabama football game on Saturday, you can check with AthensGAWeather for updated forecasts.  Please note that due to heavy rain in the area for the last few days, some of the big overflow parking lots on grass that are usually available in Athens are closed for this game, so parking is going to be a mess even if we get nothing from Joaquin.

Currently I don’t expect to see major impacts from Joaquin in Georgia.  Most likely some scattered showers and blustery conditions which will add some spice to the game.  But conditions could be far different than this if Joaquin takes a different path so keep paying attention, especially if you have outdoor activities planned anywhere in the region near the storm.

Source: NOAA

Source: NOAA