Whichever of three possible tracks that Hurricane Matthew takes, the impact on New Jersey shouldn't be anywhere near as severe as it was from Superstorm Sandy, meteorologist Joe Cioffi said Tuesday.
"Where we live, track means everything," Cioffi said after Matthew made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane in western Haiti and headed toward eastern Cuba.
As of Tuesday, he said, it had three possible tracks -- none involving direct landfall in New Jersey, he said.
"However, it could be a stormy Saturday night and Sunday morning, especially along the New Jersey shore," Cioffi said.
One model takes the storm inland at the Carolinas before it weakens to a post-tropical storm -- "more like a late fall/winter-type storm" -- on its way toward east-central New Jersey and southwestern Connecticut.
Strong winds would diminish, with a "larger area of gales but a smaller area of hurricane-force winds" and heavy rain, for anywhere from 12 to 18 hours, Cioffi said.
The weekend also will have a quarter-moon, "which puts us in a low-tide cycle" and drastically reduces the threat of serious flooding, he said.
The worst-case scenario is also the most difficult to predict, Cioffi said.
It also takes Matthew in at the Carolinas but brings it out at Virginia Beach -- and sends it east of Atlantic City and south of Montauk on Long Island.
"This would more than likely produce a larger area of strong winds, possibly some hurricane-force winds -- or gusts, at least -- for coastal communities...and even some stronger winds inland" for New Jersey and Long Island," Cioff said.
"It would also produce a scenario of very heavy rains for about 12 hours from New Jersey to southern New England," he said.
That "would go a long way" toward breaking what has been a severe drought without a great deal of coastal flooding in New Jersey, he said.
"The fact that the track comes from the southwest instead of the southeast would make a big difference for New Jersey," Cioffi said. "In fact, the winds would eventually turn north along the New Jersey coast.
"Landfall from off the ocean into New Jersey seems unlikely. Landfall over Long Island from the south or south/southwest is a possibility. Also, we need to watch the onshore this week to see how high the waters are going into Saturday as a clue for Sunday."
The third -- and least likely -- scenario pushes the storm south of Long Island toward Cape Cod. There would be "pockets of major flooding" but none of it seriously damaging, Cioffi said.
"I'm not saying that any of these tracks is the one that's going to happen," he emphasized. "It's quite possible that this could wind up maybe it goes back to further offshore, in which case effects would be lessened even more.
"We still have to work those effects out."
Some things are certain, Cioffi said.
"What made Sandy especially destructive [to New Jersey] was the fact that it came in from the Southeast, which resulted in the tidal surge being pushed from the Bahamas right into our shoreline," Cioffi said. "There was no prior landfall.
"This was a generational event, since very few storms have ever tracked this way.
"Sandy came at a high-tide cycle near a full moon and came in near the actual high tide," he said. "It was a deadly and damaging combination."
Hurricane watches were extended northward Tuesday to include parts of Florida's eastern coast. These likely would be extended northward over the next few days to include the Carolinas, Cioffi said.
At the same time, a new threat was forming in the South Atlantic.
Although originally "outside the sphere of influence" of Matthew, Tropical Storm Nicole Cioffi likely "will get pulled in and absorbed by [it]," Cioffi said.
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