Every day is a new day in weather forecasting.
Eastern North Carolina residents woke up Wednesday to news that Hurricane Matthew’s projected track had shifted east and away from the coast, a significant change from projections the day before that put the area on high alert. The hope is that the track will continue east and potential impacts on the local area will continue to lessen as the storm approaches but there is still the chance Hurricane Matthew could shift back west.
“The models have the track trending off the coast. We’re watching for the possibility that it could shift back west; we’ll see if the consistency holds,” said Meteorologist-in-Charge Rich Bandy with the National Weather Service in Newport, which includes Onslow County in its forecast area.
Bandy said weather forecasting deals in “probabilities” and tropical systems such as hurricanes are particularly complex.
Hurricane hunters fly into storms to collect weather data and multiple computer models are available to assist in forecasting. But hurricane hunters can only get sample portions of a storm system and each computer model uses slightly different variables.
Technology is always evolving but weather forecasting is not an exact science, Bandy said.
“We’re a lot more accurate than we were even 10 years ago but forecasting is still complicated. All the models are handled in different ways and there are so many complexities involved,” Bandy said.
Bandy said hurricanes go through natural cycles and there are interactions with other weather systems to consider.
No storm is the same and each forecast is different.
There has been uncertainty with Hurricane Matthew from the start.
“There have been a lot of shifts back and forth in all the models,” Bandy said.
Tuesday night the projections changed and many of the models started showing a track that is more favorable for Eastern North Carolina.
The National Weather Service office in Newport has begun issuing local briefings and the 5 a.m. Wednesday briefing indicated that a majority of models keep the center of Matthew off the coast and curve it back to the south.
“The forecast now keeps the center of Matthew off our coast to the south and east, reducing impacts for our area. The threat of dangerous life threatening conditions has diminished with the new forecast track, but we urge continued caution across Eastern North Carolina. We are hopeful this model trend continues and the most significant impacts are not realized in Eastern North Carolina. However it is too early to completely let our guard down. It is still within the margin of error for the storm to pass very close to or over our coastal areas,” the briefing states.
Bandy said uncertainty remains and it is important to be vigilant and for the public to monitor the forecast.
Even a small shift in the track can make a big difference in what impacts a storm brings to an area.
“The tricky part with hurricanes is that when they are close to land a shift of even 20 to 30 miles in the track can make a big difference in the type of impacts an area may see,” Bandy said.
Bandy said even with the current track the local area could see some tropical force winds and rain. The hope is the track continues offshore so that there is less impact.
Still, Bandy said, storms can change even as they close in on area.
While a smaller storm, Hurricane Arthur in 2014 put the area on high alert as it approached just before the Fourth of July holiday. The North Carolina coast was expected to get the brunt of the storm but coastal communities were back in business with little impacts following the storm.
Bandy said they hope the current forecast will prove to be true but forecasters continue to urge caution.
“Don’t let your guard down just yet,” Bandy said.