Impressive Earl intensifying, turning up coast
Earl has reached its greatest strength as it starts to turn up the East Coast, but probably offshore. At 11 p.m., the category 4 hurricane, positioned 520 miles SSE of Cape Hatteras, had maximum sustained winds of 140 mph. This is a very impressive hurricane as evident in its very symmetrical appearance on satellite imagery and well-defined eye.
The storm is now moving more towards the north than the northwest -- which is important -- because this turn reduces, but does not eliminate, the risk that the storm will come ashore on the North Carolina Outer Banks.
Veteran meteorologist Dave Tolleris, at wxrisk.com writes:
As of 6:00 PM and 7:00 PM this evening the the satellite data clearly shows that hurricane EARL has turned due North. This is much sooner than midday forecasted models and track has been calling for. . . . As a result the odds are significantly increased that EARL will pass EAST of Cape Hatteras...
On the other hand, the National Hurricane Center, suggests what Tolleris observed was merely a northward wobble not a major turn:
HOWEVER THE MEAN MOTION APPEARS TO BE ABOUT 330/16 [which is just west of north]. NO SIGNIFICANT CHANGES HAVE BEEN MADE TO THE FORECAST TRACK
Irrespective of the exact track, because of the storm's massive size and intensity (hurricane force winds extend 90 miles from the center), hurricane force winds may still impact the Outer Banks with tropical storm force winds a threat (but not a certainty) for the VA/MD/DE beaches.
With the storm seeming to peak in intensity now, the question becomes how much of its strength will it retain when it nears the coast? Wunderground's chief meteorologist Jeff Masters believes Earl will remain at least a Category 3 storm until after it moves beyond North Carolina's latitude:
The latest SHIPS model forecast shows wind shear [turning of the wind with height which tears apart storms] will remain moderate, about 15 knots, through Friday afternoon. This should allow Earl to maintain major hurricane status as it passes North Carolina early Friday morning. By Friday night, as Earl gets caught in the jet stream and accelerates to the northeast, wind shear will rise to 20 - 30 knots and ocean temperatures will plunge to 20°C, resulting in considerable weakening. Earl will still probably be a Category 1 or 2 hurricane early Saturday morning, when it will make its closest approach to New England
In an earlier post, Masters discussed how sea surface temperatures off the coast of the mid-Atlantic are unusually warm - which may help Earl sustain its intensity farther north than usual.
We'll post more information on Earl tomorrow, including new analysis by our Greg Postel, our hurricane expert, and an up-close look at possible impacts for local beaches.
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