May 4, 2015

Tropical system could affect Outer Banks by week's end


Social media, weather websites, and television have been jammed today with speculation that a subtropical or tropical system could form in the area of the Bahamas mid-week and threaten the southeast coast with nasty weather by week's end almost a full month before the official beginning of the hurricane season.

Forecasters are looking at low pressure forming along the remnants of a dying cold front in the western Atlantic between Cuba and the Bahamas over the next few days.  Some computer models are suggesting that the low could take on tropical or subtropical characteristics by the end of the week.

However, the models vary greatly on whether the storm will become tropical, how strong it might be, and what direction it might move in.

According to the National Hurricane Center's Tropical Weather Outlook, "This system could gradually acquire some subtropical characteristics by Thursday or Friday as it
moves generally northward at a slow forward speed."

The Hurricane Center today gave the system a 30 percent chance of being a tropical or subtropical storm in the next five days.

"More than likely, it will be hybrid system," John Cole, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Newport, N.C., said today. He also stressed that it was unclear at this point where the system will move and when.

The GFS -- or American -- model, he said, takes the storm into South Carolina Thursday night into Friday, while the European model keeps the storm well offshore.  In the European scenario, the low would head back west toward the southeast coast, hang offshore for a few days, and then weaken and get picked up by another front coming through early next week.

Strong high pressure to our north, Cole said, will work to keep whatever system develops mostly south of the Outer Banks, but the pressure gradient could also contribute to gusty northeast and east winds late in the week.

No matter what the eventual path and strength of the low pressure, forecasters say that the Outer Banks could see indirect coastal impacts late in the week -- gusty winds, heavy seas, rip currents, and perhaps rain.

The Outer Banks' east-facing beaches were beat up again over the weekend by gusty northerly winds and heavy seas in the wake of a cold front that passed through the area on Friday.

Large waves at high tide during a full moon took a toll on the north Buxton oceanfront, where six houses have already been declared "unsafe" for habitation. Waves beat on the oceanfront structures again and water rushed through the streets behind the breached dunes.

On the northern Outer Banks, the N.C. Department of Transportation closed a section of Highway 12 at the end of Kitty Hawk Road early Saturday after waves from the storm washed away 500 feet of dune in this area, as well as sand from under the road. DOT recognized the safety hazard and closed the road in advance of any possible collapse. A portion of the northbound lane did collapse Saturday evening, resulting in 200 feet of pavement damage.

Now that waves have calmed down, DOT was preparing to get temporary repairs started before the end of the day today. In order to open the road to traffic, crews will remove all damaged pavement and refill the area back up with sand. Once the sand is in place, they will then pave the area so traffic can be restored as soon as possible. The department currently expects the road to reopen to traffic by the end of the week.

While this work is taking place, NCDOT staff will work on preparing plans and acquiring necessary permits for the reconstruction of the dune. A timeframe for reconstruction is not available at this time.

Highway 12 is currently closed to through traffic between White Avenue and East Balchen Street. Local traffic can access houses and businesses along the road within the closure limits -- but cannot cross the area where the damage took place. Through traffic will continue to use a signed detour.

If the coastal low off the southeast does become a hurricane, it would be unusual this early in the season, but not unheard of.

According to weather records dating back to 1851, 39 tropical storms have formed in the Atlantic basin before June 1. The last time this happened was in 2012 when two tropical systems formed in May -- Alberto and Beryl.  Beryl came ashore in north Florida as a tropical storm after meandering around in the ocean.

If this system does become tropical or subtropical, it will be named Ana.

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