Hurricane Earl Upgraded To Category 3, Expected To Graze New York

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Hurricane Earl has just been upgraded to a Category 3 storm, and the National Hurricane Center now predicts that after striking the Carribean islands of Barbuda, St. Barthelemy, Anguilla, and St. Maartin in the northernmost Lesser Antilles Islands tonight and Monday morning, the storm is likely to graze the Eastern seaboard from Virginia all the way to Maine, including New York, beginning on Friday and continuing into Saturday.

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It's time to make final
preparations and get ready to ride out the storm if you live in the
northern Lesser Antilles Islands tonight, as Hurricane Earl
is on your doorstep. Earl continues to intensify steadily, though not
explosively. An Air Force Hurricane Hunter aircraft found a central
pressure of 972 mb at 7:38 pm EDT. This is a significant drop of 13 mb
in ten hours. As is usually the case, it takes six or so hours for a
hurricane's winds to respond to a major pressure change, and Earl's
winds are now beginning to ramp up. Top flight level winds at 10,000
feet seen by the Air Force were 106 mph. Using the usual rule of thumb
that the surface winds are 90% of the 10,000 foot flight level winds
gives one surface winds of 97 mph, which is right at the border of Cat
1/ Cat 2 strength. Top winds seen at the surface by the Air Force's SFMR
instrument were lower, 78 mph, but a NOAA research P-3 in the storm
recently saw surface winds of 88 mph. I expect that the Air Force will
be measuring Cat 2 surface winds before their mission is over tonight. Martinique radar
shows that Earl has a large, 35 mile wide eye. Earl initially formed a
smaller eye, but this collapsed almost immediately, and the larger
diameter eyewall took over--kind of an instant eyewall replacement cycle
right as the eye initially formed, something I don't recall ever seeing
before. The latest eye report from 7:38 pm EDT showed that the
temperature difference from outside the eye to inside the eye had
increased from 3°C to 8°C in just 1 1/2 hours. This is a huge spike in
temperature, and indicates that Earl may be on the verge of a period of
more rapid deepening, which will likely carry it to Category 3 or 4
strength by Monday night. Recent satellite imagery
shows the storm is lopsided, with much more intense thunderstorm
activity on the southern side. This is due to 10 knots of wind shear
from strong northerly upper level winds, courtesy of the outflow from
Hurricane Danielle. This shear has steadily decreased today, and will
continue to decrease tonight and Monday.

Figure 1. Radar image of Earl taken at 8:45 pm AST. Image credit: Meteo France.

Track forecast for Earl
Latest radar animations out of Martinique and St. Maarten
show that the eye of Earl is on track to pass just to the northeast of
the islands of Barbuda, St. Barthelemy, Anguilla, and St. Maartin in the
northernmost Lesser Antilles Islands tonight and Monday morning. Since
the eye is so wide, it appears that portions of the southern eyewall
will pass over these islands. The southern eyewall is where the NOAA
aircraft just measured 88 mph winds, so Barbuda could well see sustained
winds of 90 mph for a period of up to two hours, since the storm is
moving near 14 mph and has a 35-mile wide eye. Since Earl will probably
start intensifying rapidly in the next few hours, Anguilla, the last
island in the path of Earl's southern eyewall, could see sustained winds
near 95 - 105 mph between 7am - 9am AST. These are worst-case
scenarios, and hopefully Earl's southern eyewall will barely miss these
islands, bringing winds just below hurricane force.

The latest
set of model runs (18Z, 2pm EDT) show Earl shooting the gap between
Bermuda and the U.S. East Coast over the next five days, and none of the
models take Earl ashore over the U.S. North Carolina is now outside the
cone of uncertainty. Recall that the average error in a 5-day track
forecast is about 300 miles, so it is still too early to be confident
Earl will miss the U.S. The most likely landfall location, were Earl to
hit the U.S., would be Cape Cod, Massachusetts. A more likely landfall
location appears to be Nova Scotia or Newfoundland, but it is too early
to say which province is most at risk.