'Hurricane' Schwartz: Hermine 'worst-case scenario' storm?

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Lee and Gary Moulton walk from their home along what is left of a road that was destroyed by Hurricane Hermine in the Alligator Point community of Franklin County, Fla., Friday, Sept. 2, 2016.

BAD TIMING

Of all weekends for a Tropical Storm or Hurricane to threaten, Labor Day weekend may be the worst. It’s the last chance for many folks to enjoy the beaches.

The ocean is way warmer than Memorial Day or the 4th of July. And September can mean nice, comfortable weather compared to the extreme heat of the heart of summer. And now a “sneaky” tropical storm may ruin the holiday for a lot of people.

WHY IT’S A 'SNEAKY' STORM

You remember the names. Sandy, Irene, Floyd, Gloria (well, maybe not back that far-Gloria was 31 years ago). The storms that made an impact on our memories all came from the Atlantic Ocean. They are became major hurricanes-at least a category 3 with winds over 110 mph. We followed them for days. The drama kept building as the storm got closer. Public officials-from mayors to governors-were all over TV advising their constituents.

And Hermine? It was a disorganized mess until two days ago. It barely became a Category 1 hurricane - top winds reached 80 mph. It was going to hit the Gulf coast of Florida and track inland. Historically, storms like that don’t turn into big problems in our area. They usually start moving faster as they get closer, and race out to sea. Hermine is the rare exception.

Governor Christie has declared a state of emergency in New Jersey. But, as of this time, no evacuations have been ordered, let alone “advised.”  This may have to change, and people at the Jersey Shore and Delaware Beaches need to be prepared in case evacuations become necessary. After all, Hermine continues to behave exactly how a “worst-case scenario” storm might behave.

WHY IT’S A DANGEROUS STORM

As many surprised folks found out with Sandy (and 44 years ago with Tropical Storm Agnes), storms that run into “blocking patterns” in the upper atmosphere can cause enormous problems. Agnes was merely a Tropical Depression in 1972 when it slowed down, curved to the left, and then stalled over Pennsylvania, creating the worst flooding in the state’s history (records that still stand in many places). Sandy was a weakened hurricane that turned into a “post-tropical” or “hybrid” storm, and made a rare, sharp left turn directly into New Jersey. It caused record storm surges at the beaches in the northern half of New Jersey, New York City, and Long Island. We all remember Sandy.

But since Sandy wasn’t a classic hurricane, it didn’t get the attention it deserved. Mayor Bloomberg of NYC played it down in a press conference I will never forget (yelling at the TV is something one remembers). After all, it wasn’t a hurricane anymore, so it must be less dangerous, right? Wrong. Who was advising him? And Governor Christie downplayed the threat right around the same time. Who was advising him? The same person as the one briefing Bloomberg?

Are we about to see a rerun here? The population of the New Jersey and Delaware Beaches swells to near-record levels for this big weekend. The weather has been great at the beaches this summer, and the forecast made days ago for this weekend looked good, too. But Hermine has changed that-big time! Remember, Sandy hit in late October, when the beaches were practically deserted. A sudden evacuation in this case would be more than scary. 

I’M TRULY CONCERNED ABOUT THIS WEEKEND

My meteorology background includes specializing in disasters and disaster preparedness. When I worked for the National Weather Service, that was my main job. It was about educating the public, emergency management, and even the media about being prepared in case a weather disaster hit. I designed “drills” for entire states, writing a believable scenario so we could test the response. My scenario involved a hurricane hitting on Labor Day weekend.

Friday night, Mayor Guardian of Atlantic City had just issued a press release canceling beach concerts this weekend (good), but also saying: “Atlantic City’s casinos and restaurants will still be open for business. If you want to come on down to Atlantic City early Saturday and ride out the storm inside one of our luxurious casinos or hotels, there will be no better place to be this Labor Day weekend.” (No better place? Is he kidding?)

My advice: Stay home if you’re already inland. If you must go to the shore, plan on coming back tonight at the latest. And tell your friends and relatives the same thing (which I have done to my friends and relatives). If you live at the shore, be prepared to “hunker down” for a few days-perhaps without power, and perhaps cut off by flooded roads. And take everything off balconies, porches, and lawns and bring it inside.

There are some uncertainties still remaining about Hermine and its’ effect on our beach areas, but it is pretty clear that, at best, the weather will be cloudy, rainy, windy, and miserable Sunday and Monday.

COASTAL FLOODING FORECASTS-RECORDS?

If any part of our coastline will end up with record levels of coastal flooding, it would be Cape May, N.J. and the Delaware beaches. These areas were not hit nearly as hard with Sandy as places to the north.

Here’s the place to get the latest official briefing from the National Weather Service:
http://www.weather.gov/media/phi/current_briefing.pdf

 At this time, the worst flooding is expected Monday morning, with major coastal flooding from Cape May down to the Delaware beaches. If Hermine gets even stronger than predicted, or stalls longer than predicted, some records could fall. The combination of major coastal flooding AND tropical downpours would cause a lot of flooding of streets in shore towns, and could even block escape routes by flooding parts of highways.

It is especially important to monitor updates on this rare and dangerous storm. If you have any interests at or near the shore, please keep up-to-date on developments this weekend. The NBC10 App is a great way to do that-no matter where you are in the area.

Glenn “Hurricane” Schwartz
Chief Meteorologist
NBC10 Philadelphia