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Saturday morning storm update and a meteorologist geek out

STORM WATCH: Click here for complete, continuing coverage.

The latest on the “Frankenstorm”:  Sandy‘s large size is creating tropical storm force winds over 400 miles from the center of the storm and is the basis for the following graphic.

Given where the center will come ashore – now most likely somewhere between Delaware and the New Jersey coastline – this graphic shows the Fredericksburg area having at least a 30% chance at tropical storm force winds (not gusts, but constant winds >39 mph).  The forecast rainfall update is shown in the next graphic, with the ‘Burg sitting squarely in the 4-6 inch zone:

Sandy will begin the transition from tropical system to “extratropical” about the time the center reaches our latitude, i.e. east of the Virginia Beach area.  When will conditions start to deteriorate?  Sunday afternoon into Monday, continuing through Tuesday.

Now why are meteorologists “getting their geek on” with this event?  It is obvious that the approaching system is going to adversely affect millions of people on the U.S. East Coast.  Meteorologists understand that and are collectively  sobered by the magnitude of what may happen but they are still fascinated by the unfolding events.  This is primarily due to the fact that meteorology is just about the only science that cannot be studied in a laboratory.

Most other scientific disciplines can be learned about by setting up experiments in a controlled setting and then varying one parameter at a time to see what happens.  Not so with the weather…the laboratory is Nature herself and the conditions are anything BUT controllable.  This time Nature has gathered several major ingredients – a hurricane morphing into a nor’easter, a strong southward push of cold Canadian air, a “blocking” system out in the Atlantic, and a full moon with its strong tidal effects – and poured them all into the atmospheric mixing bowl over the eastern U.S.  This is providing meteorologists with an unparalleled and perhaps historic setup from which they can gather data that have not been available to them previously.

But, you might say, haven’t we seen big systems like this before, e.g.  the “Perfect Storm” in October 1991 and the “Superstorm” of March 1993?  Yes, but given the technology available today that didn’t exist in the early 90′s we have the ability to gather much more detailed data from the current set of atmospheric conditions than ever before.  So the opportunity to better understand the weather by observing Nature’s uncontrolled laboratory experiment like this one is tantalizing meteorologists while providing a sobering realization that we really don’t know as much about weather as we’d like to or need to.

Meanwhile, continue with your preparations and buckle up.  This looks a lot like an Isabel (2003) reprise for the Fredericksburg area…only perhaps a bit worse.