It was a slow start to hurricane season for the East Coast and Caribbean – a few tropical storms, some minor hurricanes, a bit of flooding. And for waveriders, very little significant swell. But, as if someone pressed the "puree" button on the blender, the Atlantic Ocean just came churning to life this week.
Hurricanes are a tradition on the East Coast; the storms mark the arrival of waves during the otherwise unremarkable summer season, waves that can be surfed in a pair of trunks, as opposed to those surfed in icy 5-mils all winter. Hence, the thirst for serious juice at the end of the usual wave drought sets the hype meter into overdrive.
Occasionally it pans out.
And occasionally, someone's neighborhood falls into the sea.
But summer 2018 was predicted to be just an average year, a bit of a breather after the extremes of 2017 that had brought the double edged sword of hammering surf and human suffering. Along with a historic run of surf came over $200 billion in damage in the U.S..
With an El Nino pattern setting up to sheer apart potential storms and water temps a bit cooler than average, this looked to be a quiet year. In a rare meteorological event, the month of August didn't see a single Atlantic hurricane. Seasonal outlooks backed down on earlier predictions. It was looking to be a bust for swell.
So when the forecasts detected a tropical wave coming off the Coast of Africa with potential for development back on August 28, there was a quiet but collective excitement.
That storm would develop eventually into Tropical Storm Florence … Flo … a fun name, a flirty name. Those are always memorable swells. And at first, it was predicted to simply stay far from land sending some average swell to everyone from Martinique to Maine.
But through the work week, Hurricane Flo proved the forecasters wrong. As the surf world watched the World Tour descend on a predictable man-made wave in Lemoore, CA, Mother Nature was showing how unpredictable she can be. Flo intensified from a Tropical Storm to a raging Category 4 storm in 24 hours, then hinted at creeping further west than originally thought.
As of Friday afternoon, the National Hurricane Center’s five day forecast has Flo off the southeast coast of the U.S., still heading west/northwest heading as a major hurricane.
Will there be waves?
Oh hell yeah.
East Coast buoys are already picking up small swell at 9 and 10 seconds and the models have 20-foot-plus swell around Florence. Wave heights will jump significantly by early week. Swell won't be an issue.
What could be a problem for East Coasters are the latest model runs, which now suggest more likelihood of a landfall somewhere between Florida and Nova Scotia. Granted, that's a pretty good swath of coastline, but with the storm still so far off, there are a lot of variables at play.
Hurricane Florence is undergoing some wind shear right now, but she will move into an area over the weekend that will allow her to really feel her oats. She might be an angry Cat 4 by early next week with winds over 130 mph.
This could mean solid surf for the Caribbean. But when the surf peaks on the East Coast there could be a lot of winds associated with it, much of those onshore. More importantly, a landfall of a major hurricane would likely be catastrophic with the entire region feeling effects, which could range from washout weather to evacuations and serious danger.
This is the reality for those on the Atlantic Ocean: the eternal love and hate that comes with hurricane season. The same system that sets one beachbreak or point reeling could swallow an entire barrier island. The difference between a crack in a ridge of high pressure, a few mile’s deviation from a track model or a couple more feet of storm surge can have serious implications.
Again, this storm is days away. The tracks and intensification forecasts will change a dozen times. But one thing is as certain as every wave coming out of Kelly Slater's fun wavepool some 4,000 miles away – it's going to be a little more interesting than August.
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