Nature is amazing, challenging and befuddling all at once.
One week ago, we noted how quiet the tropics were this year, about one-fifth the normal activity for this time of year, and how conditions didn’t seem to favor any development of tropical storms. Chantel had come and gone in less than 24 hours, and a potential Dorian in the southeastern Caribbean appeared to have numerous obstacles blocking it from developing into a tropical storm, never mind a hurricane.
And now Florida is on the precipice of a major hurricane. Even after it formed earlier this week, the National Hurricane Center gave it low odds to reach the strength we’re seeing now. As a tropical storm, it was expected to cross Puerto Rico, where the mountains figured to leave it tattered even as it re-emerged over water. And those remnants had a string of islands to cross before reaching southern Florida, further hampering it from strengthening into a major hurricane.
Instead, the system jogged just a bit north Wednesday, and that was a game-changer. It missed Puerto Rico, Hispaniola and the Bahamas, and instead plopped into the warm waters of the Atlantic, just as storm-reducing wind shear abated. It’s the perfect recipe for massive storm growth.
As much as scientists have learned about forecasting, that turn north was so slight in the grand atmospheric scheme of things that it’s almost impossible to forecast accurately. It’s no different than how meteorologists are poring over the most detailed reports they can muster, yet still struggle to narrow Dorian’s strike zone on Florida’s coast.
As of Friday afternoon, what they’re seeing is scary. A landfall with winds of 140 mph is becoming more probable, yet the biggest danger may be rain. On Twitter, Weather Channel hurricane expert Rick Knabb called it “the worst kind of hurricane” because it may stall over some of Florida’s most populous areas. Expect to see comparisons with Hurricane Harvey that stalled over Houston two years ago, causing catastrophic flooding.
The storm track has it eventually turning north and up the East Coast, so a week from now we could be seeing its remnants in the form of tropical rain. But that’s much too far out to call.
In the meantime, we have kind of a Goldilocks forecast for the holiday weekend in the Monadnock Region. Saturday will be great, with sunny skies, low humidity and temperatures in the mid-70s. Sunday will be OK, with generally cloudy skies, and the chance of an afternoon shower. Monday looks lousy, with showers throughout the day, some of them heavy.
It could be worse, of course. You could have a trip planned to Disney World.