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Posted at 10:00 AM ET, 08/19/2008

In Focus: Fay's Foggy Future

By Jason Samenow
Radar: Latest southeast radar loop from the National Weather Service showing Tropical Storm Fay. Click on image to expand. Refresh page to update.

As Tropical Storm Fay batters south Florida today, it has already created a legacy as a frustratingly fickle storm. Predicting both its path and power has perplexed forecasters since it emerged as an infant wave one week ago. Dubbed the "The Joker" by Wunderground meteorologist Jeff Masters for its erratic development, Fay may still have quite a few tricks up its sleeve. In just two days, it could smack Florida for a second time before re-emerging in the Gulf of Mexico or it could strike the Southeast coast before finally tracking inland. Will the rain-deprived metro region ever be affected?

Keep reading for more about fickle Fay's fate. For our local weather outlook, see our full forecast.

Computer model track forecasts for Tropical Storm Fay (left) and the National Hurricane Center track forecast from 11 p.m. last night (right). Courtesy Colorado State University and the National Hurricane Center.

The scatter in Fay's possible future track is illustrated by both the messy conglomeration of computer model forecasts (above left), and the large cone of uncertainty showing where Fay mayor may not go in the next several days according to the National Hurricane Center (above right). That's not to mention the circular shaded area representing where the storm could be by the weekend (i.e. pretty much anywhere in the Southeast or in the northern Gulf of Mexico).

Projections of Fay from two computer models for Thursday morning. Courtesy Penn State University.

Several computer models are suggesting Fay may make a second landfall near Savannah, Georgia or the southern South Carolina coast Thursday. The two models in the image above, which intensify Fay to hurricane strength, illustrate that scenario. If Fay takes such a track, it would probably then move westward over the interior Southeast and Tennessee Valley before turning north towards the Ohio Valley this weekend.

Projections of Fay from the GFS model Thursday morning, Friday afternoon and next Monday afternoon. The green contoured areas, showing low pressure, represent Fay. The orange-red contours depict high pressure. Courtesy Penn State University.

In another scenario, Fay crosses the southern Florida peninsula today, stalls off the east coast of Florida (left panel), then re-crosses the peninsula late this week (middle panel) before re-emerging in the Gulf of Mexico over the weekend. Then Fay could threaten the Florida panhandle, the Mississippi/Alabama coastline and/or even New Orleans early next week (right panel above).

In none of these scenarios would Fay or its remnants have a significant impact on DC area. A large area of high pressure is going to park itself to our north and northeast Wednesday through the weekend, most likely suppressing Fay to our south and west -- too far away to provide much moisture. This high pressure system is prominently displayed as the orange and red shaded areas in the above figure.

It's unfortunate that we'll probably miss out on any tropical moisture from Fay. Parts of our region (especially to the south) could really use the rain. Having said that, with Fay's penchant for unpredictability, it's premature to entirely rule out rain chances. We'll keep you posted on its twists and turns.

By Jason Samenow  | August 19, 2008; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Tropical Weather  
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Next: PM Update: Brief Heat Begins Retreat


Needing more rain down here in Lancaster County, SC, than even in DC and the forecasters are also hedging now on whether we'll see any impact from Fay.

Also interesting, and this is the second time I've seen this (TS Erin last year was the first as it moved across west central OK), Fay appears to have intensified as it made landfall. I followed the radar signature and prior to landfall, especially last evening, there was no distinct eye. However, for the past few hours, the radar indicated a symmetrical eye feature and, at times, a nearly complete eyewall. If Fay crosses Lake Okechobee (not out of the question based on its recent movements), it may not weaken much at all before moving back over water again. And if it moves back over water around, say, Ft. Pierce, it will have plenty of time and warm ocean water to refuel before making its third landfall. This is a very interesting storm indeed.

Posted by: Steve Wasko | August 19, 2008 10:29 AM | Report abuse

Just saw the most recent GOES floater. The visible satellite image shows Fay forming an eye while about 30 miles east of Ft. Myers (over land). NHC calls it an eye-like feature. This is something new to me: land-resistant tropical system. . .

Posted by: Steve Wasko | August 19, 2008 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Just saw the most recent GOES floater. The visible satellite image shows Fay forming an eye while about 30 miles east of Ft. Myers (over land). NHC calls it an eye-like feature. This is something new to me: land-resistant tropical system. . .

Posted by: Steve Wasko | August 19, 2008 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Current: 88F, 30.01, steady. No significant clouds.

"Land-resistant" tropical storms are known over the Indian subcontinent during the SW monsoon [this time of year]. Wind speeds as high as 60 mph have been recorded. As in the case of peninsular Florida, the land is low and flat where these storms occur, and humidity is high. Much of Bangladesh is only ca. 30 ft.or lower above sea level and flat; hence even a moderate tropical cyclone may result in massive storm surge flooding with high loss of life [exacerbated by flimsy Bangladesh/Indian housing and high population density.]

Posted by: El Bombo | August 19, 2008 11:32 AM | Report abuse

Looks from the latest radar that Fay will cross over Lake Okechobee which brings me to ask whether such a relatively- compared to oceans- small body of ( I assume ) very warm water can impact a full scale hurricane?

Posted by: MDScot | August 19, 2008 12:22 PM | Report abuse

A lake like Lake Okechobee could certainly impact a tropical system. I've seen where Lake Erie/Ontario have had effects on tropical transitioning to baroclinic systems and sustained their windfields/strength. Fay, though, doesn't seem to need a lake to sustain its strength, it's doing just fine over land right now without a great deal of assistance from a body of water.

Posted by: Steve Wasko | August 19, 2008 1:05 PM | Report abuse

I never thought that xkcd would be so spot on when it came to this hurricane season:

(OK, ignore the way-into-the-Atlantic part, but the Florida part could be right)

Posted by: John | August 19, 2008 1:19 PM | Report abuse

Can anyone comment on the factors that influence stability/predictability in a tropical system's track? I wonder specifically what combination of internal (to the storm) and external (location, temperature, presence of other systems) factors might cause a storm track to be more or less predictable. Any ideas why Fay has meandered so?

Posted by: ~sg | August 19, 2008 2:14 PM | Report abuse


I saw that xkcd comic a few weeks ago, and had been waiting for a relevant time to use it here on the blog. Curses for scooping me!

Posted by: Jamie Jones, CapitalWeather Gang | August 19, 2008 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Following up on ~sg's comment, I seem to remember Charlie from 2004 taking a few peculiar twists and turns like this too. That storm was in a similar location of Florida to this one too. Maybe just coincidence, or is there some geographic explanation?

Posted by: Southside FFX | August 19, 2008 2:55 PM | Report abuse

The thing that's most unusual about Fay is the consistency in strength. The track so far is remarkably consistent with what was forecast as early as Saturday morning just after it had emerged from Hispaniola and was rather disorganized.

Posted by: CapitalClimate | August 19, 2008 3:50 PM | Report abuse

As I suggested 30 hrs. ago on this site, blocking high pressure would severely hinder Fay's northward movement toward the mid Atlantic.

This was when the TPC was still bringing Fay our way.

Some unfortunate folks in the southeast may receive humongous amounts of rain while we stay high and dry.

We may ultimately be impacted, but not in the usual progression of the elements.

Posted by: Augusta Jim | August 19, 2008 5:46 PM | Report abuse

I've never seen on turn 90 degrees left before.

Posted by: katman | August 19, 2008 7:33 PM | Report abuse

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