Meteorologist Dan Zarrow breaks down the potential weather and coastal impacts of the Atlantic Ocean's newest tropical system.

Social media caught fire yesterday, as the National Hurricane Center upgraded Tropical Depression 11 to Tropical Storm Joaquin (pronounced wah-KEEN). And, more importantly, the forecast track of Tropical Storm Joaquin took a sharp turn to the north... making a beeline right toward New Jersey. As you might guess, that means we could see some intense tropical rainfall, gusty winds, and pounding surf this weekend. However, extreme tropical weather is far from a sure thing for the Garden State.

No watches or warnings have been issued yet for New Jersey. Here is the latest data on the storm and the current official forecast track from the National Hurricane Center...

National Hurricane Center forecast for Tropical Storm Joaquin, as of 11am Tuesday 9/29.

This forecast is a mess. It is important to note that the white "cone of uncertainty" does not represent the size or extent of the storm. It shows the most likely location of the center of the storm through Sunday. It's a big cone. And as of the latest official forecast, New Jersey has once again fallen out of the cone.

So there remain a ton of question marks regarding exactly where Joaquin will end up and when. Tropical Storm Joaquin presents a tremendous forecasting challenge, as there are several variables affecting our confidence of the track and timing of this storm beyond Thursday. At this point, it is safe to say that there is a high likelihood that New Jersey will see *some* weather and/or coastal impacts from this system. Heavy rain currently presents the biggest potential threat from Joaquin, followed by the chance for gusty winds and coastal flooding. It is certainly worth discussing and worth watching, as the forecast continues to evolve, but nothing is set in stone just yet.

Meteorologists use messy visualizations called spaghetti plots to show several models' forecast track solutions on one image. (Note: it looks like spaghetti... hence the name!) This morning's spaghetti model track guidance paints a precarious picture for New Jersey, as several solutions placed the storm's center right over New Jersey sometime on Saturday. The latest spaghetti plot shows a much messier display, with a number of models that point the storm in a different direction.

Spaghetti plot showing models tracks of Tropical Storm Joaquin center, as of 8am Tuesday. (Image from WeatherBell Analytics)

Because of the high degree of uncertainty surrounding Joaquin, we present three potential scenarios that could play out through this weekend. Ultimately, Joaquin could follow one or a combination of several of these tracks... As the forecast continues to evolve, we will keep you updated with to how the storm track is trending.

Track #1: Direct Hit

Tropical Storm Joaquin Direct Hit Track Illustration (Base map from NOAA / National Hurricane Center)

The atmosphere truly seems to be conspiring against New Jersey and the Northeast U.S. with this storm setup. An area of low pressure over the Southeast U.S. will likely combine with a blocking high pressure over the North Atlantic Ocean to sharply turn Joaquin to the north by Thursday morning. As Joaquin rides along the jetstream, it could point toward a potential New Jersey landfall. (Or at least close enough.)

As you can imagine, out of our three scenarios, this one would cause the most extreme tropical storm conditions. Widespread rainfall totals of 3 to 7+ inches are possible, which could cause some pretty serious flooding of streets, rivers, and streams. Tropical storm force winds over 40 mph will be possible - certainly enough to bring down trees and power lines, and blow lawn furniture and shingles across town. Storm surge in the neighborhood of 3+ feet could lead to coastal flooding.

Track #2: Inland

Tropical Storm Joaquin Inland Track Illustration (Base map from NOAA / National Hurricane Center)

If the aforementioned shift to the north does not happen, Joaquin may continue westward and end up making landfall along the Atlantic coast somewhere south of New Jersey. (Maybe as far south as the Carolinas.)

Under this scenario, the heavy rain threat (3 to 7+ inches) would remain as the intense tropical moisture transports up the coast. Wind would be less of an issue... although wind gusts to about 30 mph are a sure bet, no matter which track happens. The biggest benefit under this scenario would be the reduced threat for storm surge and coastal flooding, as the storm cuts inland before it can churn up the waters off the Jersey Shore.

Track #3: Out to Sea

Tropical Storm Joaquin Out to Sea Track Illustration (Base map from NOAA / National Hurricane Center)

OK, this is where meteorologists could take some heat for this forecast... There are a few standout models that rapidly pull Joaquin out to sea before it can have any direct impact on the United States.

Given the high pressure that is shifting toward the North Atlantic, this solution buffs atmospheric logic a bit. But the Euro (along with a couple other outliers) solution is hard to ignore completely. If the storm jogs to the right (east) a bit, the rain forecast decreases for New Jersey (but might not disappear completely). Wind gusts to 40 mph will still be possible, due to the pressure gradient alone. Rough surf and some degree of coastal flooding could still be an issue, even if the storm's closest pass is hundreds of miles away from the Jersey Shore.

We are taking the forecast for Tropical Storm Joaquin seriously and hitting it hard on the air, because the potential weather and surf impacts are very serious. If this "almost nothing" scenario comes to fruition as the storm takes a turn out to sea, I couldn't care less... I would much rather us be prepared and know the potential risks than to be caught unaware and unprepared. Wouldn't you?

Additional Considerations

  • Intensity: One element of Joaquin that models seem to mostly agree upon is the storm's intensity - holding steady as a Tropical Storm for the time-being. Let's please be very careful about calling Joaquin "just" a tropical storm - Irene was "just" a tropical storm at landfall, and Sandy was "just" an extratropical storm. The rain, wind, and rough surf potential of tropical systems can never be underestimated.


  • Antecedent Soil Moisture: Our ground has been incredibly dry, with Moderate Drought conditions for a significant part of northeastern New Jersey. However, heavy rain is in the forecast for much of the state on Wednesday, and additional showers will keep the ground saturated through the start of Joaquin's impacts on Friday. So Joaquin will potentially hit with an already-wet ground... that means the flash flooding and river flooding threats will be greater, and will likely happen faster.


  • Coastal Erosion: The Jersey Shore has been battered by an angry ocean, strong rip currents, and coastal flooding for over a week. This has already caused some pretty significant erosion of some of our beaches and dunes. Additionally, tides are currently on the high side, as the moon makes its closest pass of the year to the earth. Really not a great situation with an impending tropical storm... While Sandy-esque flooding is unlikely, it won't take much to cause significant impacts along the vulnerable Jersey Shore.


  • The Bottom Line: There are still a number of question marks surrounding the track and timing of Tropical Storm Joaquin's impact on New Jersey. It's a messy and odd storm to forecast! For now, the time has come to start ringing precautionary alarm bells, as the forecast track for Tropical Storm Joaquin looms perilously close to New Jersey. I've kept precise forecast details in this post to a minimum, since much of this forecast is subject to change widely. But keep in mind that all three of the scenarios laid out in the post have at least *some* significant impact on New Jersey's weather and/or surf. It is critically important for everyone in New Jersey to keep a close eye and ear on this forecast - we will continue to keep you updated online and on-air.

Dan Zarrow is the Chief Meteorologist for Townsquare Media New Jersey. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter for your latest forecast.