Tropical Storm Fay: Heavy rainfall ‘spreading’ in U.S. Northeast

Tropical Storm Fay, the earliest sixth-named storm in modern history, is swirling off the East Coast Friday and threatens to bring severe conditions to several areas this weekend.

The National Hurricane Center said in its 11 a.m. EDT update that the storm was 40 miles southeast of Cape May, N.J., and 170 miles south of New York City. Tropical storm conditions and heavy rainfall are “spreading” northward along the Mid-Atlantic coast, the center said.

The storm had maximum sustained winds of 60 mph and was moving northward at 12 mph.

A tropical storm warning was in effect for the coast from Fenwick Island, Del., to Watch Hill, R.I., including Long Island and Long Island Sound. A warning means that tropical storm conditions are expected inside the warning area within 36 hours.

The formation of Fay on Thursday afternoon allows another record to be added as it’s the earliest named “F” storm to form in the basin in the satellite era, which dates back to the 1960s.

“Fay will be a mostly heavy rain producer but could still bring wind gusts of 50-60 mph along coastal areas of eastern Long Island and over eastern coastal areas of New England,” AccuWeather senior meteorologist and lead hurricane expert Dan Kottlowski said.

The system is forecast to drift on a general north to northeast track through this weekend. This path will take the feature right along the mid-Atlantic coast and inland over New England and Atlantic Canada.

“Exactly how close to the coast this system tracks as it moves northward will generally dictate how much strengthening takes place,” AccuWeather senior meteorologist Randy Adkins said.

“A path 100 miles off the mid-Atlantic coast increases the likelihood of strengthening to a moderate tropical storm as the system would be over warm water for a longer period of time as opposed to hugging the coast or just onshore of the coast,” Adkins explained.

While a “hug-the-coast” scenario might still allow a depression to form and maintain itself or reach minimal tropical storm status, immediate coastal waters are significantly cooler than those over the Gulf Stream and the land will offer a lot of wind resistance. That frictional resistance would limit strengthening.

Fay is not expected to become a hurricane, forecasters said.

Heavy rainfall will tend to be limited to the immediate mid-Atlantic coast through Friday night. Downpours can be heavy enough to lead to urban flooding problems.

There are no other significant candidates for a tropical depression or storm over the Atlantic basin this weekend.

Waters around the coast and offshore from North Carolina through the lower part of the mid-Atlantic are sufficiently warm, about 82 degrees in several places, to support a tropical system, while wind shear in the region is not strong.

Mid-Atlantic cities that are most likely to receive downpours from the feature include Norfolk, Va.; Salisbury, Md.; Dover, Del.; Atlantic City, N.Y.; and New York City.

Those with plans at the beach may have them interrupted by downpours and locally gusty winds for about a 12- to 24-hour period until the storm passes.

As the storm moves northward this weekend, some heavy rain is likely to wrap westward. This, combined with the geography of New England that extends farther to the east into the Atlantic, should produce drenching rainfall for a time over much of the region through the end of the week and into Saturday.

This means that much of New England, which has been in a worsening drought situation could be quenched by the tropical system, assuming it tracks just inland.

Fay has unseated another entry in a long list of 2005 tropical storms that held early-season records since the satellite era of the 1960s. The earliest sixth-named storm on record was Franklin during the record-breaking 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, the same season which produced Hurricane Katrina in late August.

Looking beyond Fay, the next two named storms on the Atlantic list for 2020 are Gonzalo and Hanna.

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