As Hurricane Isaias churns near the Bahamas, computer forecast model guidance is suggesting where the latest storm in the active 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season will go next. While some tropical cyclones make landfall and dissipate, and others near the Mid Atlantic coast and curve out to sea, it is becoming more likely than not that Isaias will follow a worst-case scenario track, impacting much of the U.S. East Coast from Florida to Maine. The only saving grace to the forecast is Isaias won’t be a strong hurricane when it moves up the coast. Nevertheless, major impacts are expected in the coming days.
Right now, Hurricane Isaias is located roughly 50 miles south of Nassau, Bahamas, has maximum sustained winds of 85 mph, features a minimum central pressure of 987 mb or 29.15 inches, and is moving northwest at 12 mph.
On its current trajectory, Isaias is forecast to approach Florida’s east coast, although forecast guidance is split as to whether the center will move on-shore or not. Either way, severe winds, heavy rains, and storm surge flooding will be a problem for the Sunshine State.
Beyond Florida, it appears Isaias will move up the east coast. The official National Hurricane Center forecast brings Isaias into the Carolina coast as a strong tropical storm and pushes it north along the coast, blasting places like eastern Virginia, much of Maryland, all of Delaware and New Jersey, southeastern New York, and much of southern and eastern New England with high winds, heavy rains, and a continued threat of storm surge flooding.
Individual computer forecast models paint a similar scenario, reflecting the center of Isaias just inland or hugging the coastline on most of its journey to the New England coast.
For now, the National Hurricane Center has a Hurricane Warning in effect for Florida from Boca Raton to the Volusia/Flagler County Line while a Hurricane Watch is up for Hallandale Beach to south of Boca Raton, Florida. A Storm Surge Watch is also in effect from Jupiter Inlet to Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida while a Tropical Storm Warning is in effect from north of Ocean Reef to south of Boca Raton, Florida and for Lake Okeechobee.
A Hurricane Warning means that hurricane conditions are expected somewhere within the warning area. A warning is typically issued 36 hours before the anticipated first occurrence of tropical-storm-force winds, conditions that make outside preparations difficult or dangerous. Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion. A Hurricane Watch means that hurricane conditions are possible within the watch area. A watch is typically issued 48 hours before the anticipated first occurrence of tropical-storm-force winds, conditions that make outside preparations difficult or dangerous. A Storm Surge Watch means there is a possibility of life- threatening inundation, from rising water moving inland from the coastline, in the indicated locations during the next 48 hours. A Tropical Storm Warning means that tropical storm conditions are expected somewhere within the warning area within 36 hours.
These watches and warnings will likely need to be issued further up the coast. Based on the current forecast path for Isaias, Tropical Storm Watches may need to be issued soon for the Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York.
While Isaias probably won’t be a strong hurricane when it pushes into the Mid Atlantic and New England states, it will likely be a destructive tropical storm similar to past damaging tropical storms that have impact the region.
One such storm was Floyd in 1999. While Floyd initially made landfall as a hurricane into the North Carolina coast, it weakened to tropical storm status by late on September 16. The storm gradually lost its tropical characteristics as it quickly moved through the Delmarva Peninsula, eastern New Jersey, Long Island, and New England. Late on September 17, Floyd transitioned into an extratropical cyclone near the coast of southern Maine. Even though Floyd was “only” a tropical storm, it left a trail of death and destruction from North Carolina to Maine. In Virginia, Floyd created $101 million in damages and claimed 4 lives. In Washington, DC, damaging winds knocked down trees and power-lines; a wind gust of 56 mph was recorded at the Children’s National Medical Hospital. Maryland and Delaware were hit by flooding rains that caused more than $100 million in damages. In Delaware alone, 171 homes were damaged with 33 destroyed. New Jersey then saw its worst natural disaster in the state’s history at the time; 7 people were killed while major floods washed away homes and entire communities. More than 1,500 homes were damaged and 284 were destroyed in the Garden State, leaving more than 1,000 people homeless, with Middlesex, Somerset, and Bergen Counties among the worst hit. Even away from the coast, Pennsylvania was not spared; there, Floyd killed 13 people, largely due to drownings, fallen trees, or heart attacks, and another 40 people were severely injured. The hurricane left about $60 million in damage, mostly related to its heavy rainfall. Floyd continued adding to its damage and death toll as it moved into New York state, with many left without power for a prolonged period of time.
Another storm to impact the region was Tropical Storm Irene. After making landfall on North Carolina as a category 1 hurricane, it moved north, making a second landfall at Brigantine, New Jersey on August 28, 2011. Making landfall with winds of 70 mph, Irene moved over water again, hugging the New Jersey coastline. Later that morning, Tropical Storm Irene made landfall again with 65 mph winds in the Coney Island neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. The storm would replace Floyd as New Jersey’s costliest natural disaster. It also created incredible damage and claimed lives into New England, leaving 48 people dead and creating a damage total of $13.5 billion.
Another notable non-hurricane storm to impact the U.S. East Coast was Sandy in 2012. In October of that year, Sandy moved ashore in Brigantine, New Jersey as an extratropical cyclone. Sandy killed 37 and causing nearly $30 billion in damages, surpassing Floyd and Irene as the Garden State’s biggest natural disaster. Widespread devastation occurred, particularly on Long Beach Island and the Barnegat Peninsula, where the Seaside Heights boardwalk collapsed into the ocean. Further north, storm surge flooding caused massive destruction along the Raritan Bay and traps thousands in Hoboken. All of New Jersey Transit’s commuter rail operations are affected, with some lines out of service for over a month. Sandy also causes the worst power outage in state history, blacking out over 2 million households. Sandy created equal devastation around New York City and across western Long Island, where coastal communities were inundated by a significant storm surge.
While Isaias won’t produce the storm surge flooding that Sandy did, it could create the freshwater flooding and wind damage issues that Floyd and Irene did.
Expected impacts and timing:
- Hurricane conditions along the east coast with threat of storm surge flooding and heavy rains. Isolated tornadoes.
- Early Sunday AM to early Monday AM
- Tropical storm conditions possible at the immediate coastline; threat of storm surge.
- Monday Morning
- South Carolina
- Weak hurricane or strong tropical storm conditions likely; extremely heavy rains, very strong winds, even away from the coast. Storm surge flooding likely along portions of the coast. Isolated tornadoes possible.
- Most of Monday
- North Carolina
- Weak hurricane or strong tropical storm conditions across the eastern half of the state. Heavy rains, strong winds, and coastal storm surge flooding possible. Some tornadoes possible in the coastal plain.
- Monday PM into Monday Night
- Strong tropical storm conditions expected; heavy rain, gusty winds. Some coastal flooding and beach erosion. Risk of an isolated tornado or two.
- Late Monday Night / Early Tuesday
- Tropical storm conditions expected over the eastern half of the state; rain likely state-wide. Flooding downpours likely. Gusty winds. Coastal flooding and beach erosion. Risk of an isolated tornado or two.
- Early Tuesday
- Tropical storm conditions expected state-wide with serious flooding issues possible. Gusty winds. Coastal flooding and beach erosion. Risk of an isolated tornado or two. Waterspouts possible at the shore.
- Early Tuesday
- New Jersey
- Tropical storm conditions expected statewide. Significant fresh water flooding likely; storm surge flooding possible along with damaging wind gusts and beach erosion at the coast. Some tornadoes possible. Waterspouts possible at the shore.
- Tropical storm conditions likely in the southeastern and eastern portions of the state; rain expected into central and west-central portions of the state. Significant fresh water flooding likely in eastern portions of the state. Risk of an isolated tornado or two.
- New York
- Tropical storm conditions likely in the southeastern part of the state, including all of New York City and Long Island. Urban flooding possible. Flash flooding possible. Damaging wind gusts and beach erosion at the coast; risk of storm surge flooding around New York City and the south shore of Long Island. Risk of isolated tornadoes and waterspouts.
- Tropical storm conditions possible at the coast; wind-swept rains elsewhere. Flooding conditions possible. Some storm surge possible along Long Island Sound.
- Late Tuesday / Early Wednesday
- Rhode Island
- Tropical storm conditions possible; heavy rains, gusty winds expected state-wide. Threat of fresh water and storm surge flooding. Isolated tornadoes or waterspouts possible.
- Tropical storm conditions possible, especially over the eastern half of the state. Gusty winds, flooding rains expected; storm surge flooding and beach erosion possible along south and east facing shores.
- New Hampshire
- Heavy rains, strong winds expected over the southern third of the state.
- Heavy rains, gusty winds, rough surf expected over coastal Maine. More severe impacts possible further inland depending on the future track of Isaias.
- Wednesday / Early Thursday
Tropical cyclones, including Hurricane Isaias, could have erratic behavior with fluctuating intensity and shifts in trajectory. Conditions could quickly change, prompting new watches or warnings as the storm moves along the coast. Despite today’s forecast track, it is important that everyone from Florida to Maine closely monitor the storm, prepare for its impacts, and take efforts to protect life and property until the threat has completely passed.