Hurricane Earl is a bit stronger as of late Wednesday night, packing maximum sustained winds of 140 mph. This makes Earl a category 4 storm once again. As I mentioned during the afternoon, the expected turn was already showing up and this trend has continued through the night. This increases my confidence that the storm will stay east of the coastline and turn away from the Mid-Atlantic after making its closest approach to Cape Hatteras later this evening. Earl is currently moving to the north-northwest, clearly influenced by a ridge building to its east over the Atlantic. The storm will continue its turn to the north and then northeast, as a strong trough moving across the Great Lakes helps to push it along and increase its forward speed. A Hurricane Warning remains in effect along the North Carolina coast, with a Hurricane Watch for the Virginia, Maryland and Delaware coastline. A Hurricane Watch is also in effect up in New England, along the Massachusetts coast, including Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Earl is expected to threaten parts of southern New England later Friday.
For Richmond and central Virginia, I do not expect any impact from Earl. However, despite the fact I believe Earl will pass well east of the Virginia coast, Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore probably won’t escape the rather large circulation of the storm. Hurricane force winds currently extend outward from the center about 90 miles, which won’t be an issue for Virginia Beach if the storm continues on the forecast track. However, tropical storm force winds extend outward from the center 230 miles and may impact the immediate coast later tonight and early Friday morning, along with some of the outer rain bands. Assuming no dramatic change to the track takes place, the only place I see getting potential hurricane force winds is the Outer Banks, particularly the southern portion. So this is likely to be a glancing blow, and hopefully many coastal residents will breathe a sigh of relief as the storm quickly moves northeast Friday morning.
The worst of the storm will hit the Outer Banks later today and tonight. Any impacts for Hampton Roads and the Virginia coast will be later tonight into early Friday morning. The major issue will be the potential for minor to moderate flooding over the Tidewater region, along Chesapeake Bay. Storm surge values are expected to peak at 1.5 to 3 feet during high tide Friday afternoon. Significant swells will bring a high risk of strong rip currents through Friday. The combination of the storm surge and high surf (large breaking waves are expected to peak at 14 to 18 feet) may cause significant beach erosion along the coast, particularly from Virginia Beach south.
Believe it or not, there’s plenty of other action in the tropics. Tropical Storm Fiona has turned to the northwest, away from the northern Leeward Islands. The environment ahead of the storm is not favorable, and Fiona may very well weaken and dissipate in the wake of Earl. Meanwhile, the newest storm on the map is Gaston. Gaston is out in the eastern Atlantic and is a minimal tropical storm at this time. However, it is quite possible that it strengthens into a hurricane by the weekend. There is some conflicting data regarding Gaston, and we’ll just have to keep a close eye on it for the next several days. Since its track is a bit farther south than Earl or Fiona, it certainly has some potential to be a major player down the road. Stay tuned…