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Rumors of a major East Coast storm next week

While our benign late October weather persists I decided – reluctantly – that I needed to address the rumblings of a major storm for next week.  I was hoping to let this situation develop for a few more days but the weather blogosphere is blowing up with the discussion of a possible East Coast “Superstorm” next week just in time for Halloween.  First let me say that I still think it’s too early to fixate on any one solution;  it will take another several days of watching the models’ behavior to glean any significant trends toward agreement between numerical forecasts.  With that disclaimer…

It is still true that a large outbreak of cold air is headed our way by late this weekend.  A pattern shift is occurring that will allow the cold air pooled over Canada to spill into the eastern half of the U.S., which we all knew was inevitably going to happen this autumn.  That’s one piece of the “storm puzzle” for next week.   The other piece is newly formed Tropical Storm Sandy which is now in the Caribbean and will move northward over the few days.

Tropical Storm Sandy

Now for the interesting part.  Notice Sandy‘s track – per the National Hurricane Center’s graphic above – toward the end of the five day period.  As usual there is lots of model disagreement regarding exactly where the center of this tropical system will be at that time…that’s why this is known as the “cone of uncertainty”.  A couple of those models, one being the European, has been consistent in its forecast that Sandy will march northward very close to the East Coast as it intensifies into a major hurricane and then take an abrupt left turn and slam into the coastline somewhere around New Jersey or New York.

So what does this have to do with Fredericksburg weather, or the price of tea in China?  As in life timing is everything, and so it is with the European solution.  The proximity of Sandy to the coast could first mean tropical storm force winds over much of Virginia – including the ‘Burg – along with heavy rains and significant storm surge along the coast and up the Chesapeake Bay.  Then as it slams into the New Jersey / New York shoreline the European model has Sandy arriving at the same time the cold air does, quickly morphing the tropical system into a major nor’easter that would dump oodles of snow over much of the eastern U.S.  One “wild haired” forecast map I’ve seen – which I do NOT agree with by the way – shows up to two feet of snow from this system dumping on northern and western Virginia on Halloween.

Is this “doomsday scenario” for next week likely?  The probability is pretty low and there are plenty of forecast models that disagree with this setup, but there have been similar situations in recent memory (as in the Perfect Storm of Halloween 1991).  I still believe we won’t know anything definite to pin our hopes or fears on until late Thursday or Friday of this week.  Until then the only thing I am certain of is that next week will be much colder than our current wonderful weather, and the cooldown will begin late Sunday into Monday.

Now, should anyone be worried yet about this possibility?  I personally don’t think so as I believe the European solution is an outlier.  But since no one can yet say with certainty that it won’t happen it behooves all of us to stay aware of the forecast…just make sure you pay attention to official weather sources like the National Weather Service, or even the local DC and Richmond broadcast media outfits.  IMHO some of the other “out there” weather types are already hyping this potential situation in an irresponsible manner.