“It looks like it will affect us one way or another."
That is how the National Weather Service in Mount Holly is describing the potential impacts of Hurricane Irene on the Jersey Shore. Meteorologists are advising coastal residents to plan ahead for a nasty weekend, but not to panic, just yet.
As of 2 p.m. Tuesday, Irene was situated about 55 miles south of the Grand Turk Island. The Category 2 hurricane's maximum recorded wind speed by a Hurricane Hunter plane was 100 mph.
The National Hurricane Center is currently predicting that the storm will make an initial landfall off the southern North Carolina coast by late Saturday night, but New Jersey is not out of the woods. In the updated forecast track at 2 p.m. Tuesday, New Jersey remained in the 5-day cone of uncertainty.
“New Jersey is going to be impacted in some way this weekend – particularly Sunday – by the storm, but this far out the exact forecast track can be off by 200 to 300 miles. Of course, that will make a huge difference in how we're affected,” Meteorologist Bob Wanton of the Mount Holly National Weather Service told Patch Tuesday morning.
Irene is expected to intensify throughout the day on Tuesday and into Wednesday. The storm could reach the strength of a major hurricane (category 3 or higher) later today.
“Irene is growing in strength. Once Irene gets passed the influences of the island if Hispanola, Irene is going to intensify rapidly because the nearly 90 degree waters are primed for tropical development," NYNJPAWeather.com Meteorologist Steven DiMartino told Patch during a Tuesday interview.
But a lot of uncertainty remains. The storm's exact track and forecasted strength remain up in the air.
“It looks like the storm should clip the Carolina coast, and then how it affects our area remains uncertain. The storm could come right over us, or go off to the northeast and remain over the Atlantic waters. Either way, it's a serious situation,” Meteorologist Bob Wanton warns.
A look at a 'spaghetti drawing' of current weather forecast models around mid-day Tuesday showed a variety of solutions for the system's exact track by Sunday. However, most models have the storm within 100 miles of that Atlantic City coast by midday Sunday.
"When the system gets here, we could be dealing with a storm that has the strength of anything from a tropical storm to a Category 2 hurricane. The storm could dump anywhere from 2 to 10 inches of rain regardless depending on how it interacts with land. That kind of rain fall would create flash flooding no matter where you are,” Meteorologist Steven DiMartino said.
The storm's exact track will be determined the speed of a trough (a large weather front) in the Great Lakes. If the front moves slowly the storm will track up the coast, according to DiMartino. If the front moves quickly out of the Great Lakes, it could push the storm further off the coast, alleviating a lot of problems. A worst case scenario would place the storm just off the New Jersey coast on Sunday, according to DiMartino.
“If the storm is just off of the New Jersey coast, we'll see winds driving the waters into the coast for hours, and that is a bad situation for costal flooding and beach damage,” he said.
But there is the potential for a more encouraging track.
“If the storm is further east that'd be the case scenario. If that were the case, we'd see a little rain and gusty winds at the shore, but inland areas could have sun shining,” DiMartino said.
Wanton agreed that the storm could also pose large problems for coastal communities.
We have a new moon, and that could cause some real coastal flooding problems along the coast, depending on how the storm tracks in here,” Wanton said. “It's been an extremely wet August. There's just so much water that anything would cause problems let alone this much tropical moisture."
And just as the Ocean County Office of Emergency recovers from dealing , preparations are underway for Hurricane Irene.
“We're watching the storm closely, but we still have a long way to go,” Sheriff's Office Christine Tasullo told Patch Tuesday afternoon.
Tasullo says the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) prepares for the worst case in situations like this through annual drills.
“Of course, any storm that impacts a summer weekend is more serious for us because of the influx of seasonal visitors that we'll have, but we're prepared for that,” Tasullo said.
The OEM will continue to work with the state police and National Weather Service to adjust their plans accordingly.
“Right now, it is just important for everyone to monitor the forecasts. We're not going to wait until the last minute to make any decisions, but the soonest we would make a decision ahead of the storm would likely be Thursday,” she said. “In the mean time, watch the forecasts, listen to the radio, and just be aware of the storm.”
Over the weekend, that residents should always review their hurricane preparedness materials in August. Tasullo said the Ocean County OEM has updated their website has also updated their website with the latest hurricane resources.
Meteorologists agree that it is good to prepared, but not to panic.
“I wouldn't suggest running out to the store and stocking up, just yet. Monitor the forecasts, and keep in mind that the weekend could be very nasty, that's all,” DiMartino said.
He did, however, encourage residents to prepare for flooding.
“With such a rainy August, it's a good idea for homeowners to do some preparing for potential floods. After all, we've seen nearly 600% of our monthly rainfall for August already. So I'd suggest just double checking things in your yards and basements that would help to fight a flood,” he said.