Fay satellite image
Visible satellite image of Fay at 9:50 a.m. EDT Friday, July 10, 2020. (Image credit: NOAA/RAMMB)

Tropical Storm Fay is bringing heavy rains to the mid-Atlantic and northeast U.S. as the storm heads north towards an expected landfall in New Jersey or New York by Friday evening.

At 11 a.m. EDT Friday, July 10, tropical storm warnings were up for much of the coast of Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. These are the first warnings issued for a tropical cyclone by the National Hurricane Center for these states since Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. Flash flood watches were in effect from the Delmarva Peninsula to southern New England. These areas, which include Philadelphia, also experienced heavy rain and flooding earlier this week.

Figure 1. Radar image of Fay at 10:55 a.m. EDT Friday, July 10, 2020. (Image credit: National Weather Service Mt. Holly, NJ, via Mark Nissenbaum)

Fay brought torrential rains to the coasts of Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey on Friday morning. Ocean City, Maryland, received up to 5.5 inches of rain Friday morning, causing flooding of roads. According to weather.com, flooding of roads and residential areas was reported also near Long Neck, Delaware, and flash flooding was occurring in Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island.

At 11 a.m. EDT Friday, July 10, satellite and radar loops showed that Fay was generating a large amount of heavy thunderstorm activity over the mid-Atlantic and northeast U.S., and the coastal waters. The storm was moving northwards at 12 mph, and had maximum sustained winds of 60 mph and a central pressure of 999 mb.

On Friday morning, a Weatherflow station at Lewes, Delaware, reported a sustained wind of 40 mph (65 km/h) and a wind gust of 50 mph (80 km/h). A National Ocean Service observing site at Lewes reported a sustained wind of 40 mph (64 km/h) and a wind gust of 49 mph (79 km/h).

The circulation center of Fay was exposed to view Friday morning, a result of moderate wind shear, some dry air, and cooling sea surface temperatures. Ocean temperatures beneath Fay were about 25 degrees Celsius (77°F), which was over one degree C (1.8°F) above average.

Figure 2. Sea surface temperatures on July 8, 2020, with two positions of Tropical Storm Fay overlaid. Fay formed at 5 p.m. EDT Thursday, July 9, over the warm waters of the Gulf Stream off of the coast of North Carolina, but moved north into much cooler waters. (Image credit: NOAA)

Forecast for Fay

With Fay over cool water of about 25 degrees Celsius (77°F), no significant strengthening before landfall is expected. Heavy rain will be primary threat from Fay, which will cause a few areas of moderate flooding as it moves inland over New Jersey and New York on Friday and Saturday, dumping two to four inches of rain. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, much of the region that will be affected by Fay’s heavy rains is abnormally dry. Fay is unlikely to cause significant damage (in excess of $10 million).

Figure 3. Track of all tropical cyclones to affect New Jersey from January through July, between 1851 – 2019. The most recent named storm to affect the state in July was Tropical Storm Bertha in 1996. (Image credit: NOAA)

A prolific start to the Atlantic hurricane season

Fay is the sixth named storm in the Atlantic so far in 2020, which is a record amount of early-season activity. Fay beat the previous record for earliest formation of the season’s sixth storm – and fifth storm.

Prior to 2020, the earliest formation of the season’s “E” storm was Emily on July 12, 2005; the first “F” storm was Franklin on July 22, 2005. Formation of the season’s sixth storm usually occurs on September 8, according to climatology. The last designation of the name Fay for an Atlantic storm, for Hurricane Fay in 2014, did not occur until October 10; Fay of 2020 occurred three months earlier than that.

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Final Update on Fay: Fay made landfall around 5 p.m. EDT July 10 as a tropical storm with 50 mph winds, just north-northeast of Atlantic City, New Jersey. Fay was the third named storm to make landfall in the U.S. this year. Tropical Storm Bertha hit South Carolina with 50 mph winds on May 27, and Tropical Storm Cristobal hit Louisiana on June 7 with 50 mph winds.

The last time the U.S. had three landfalls so early in the year was in 2005, when Hurricane Dennis hit the Florida Panhandle at 3:30 EDT July 10 (Arlene and Cindy made landfalls earlier in the year). The record earliest third landfall in the U.S. is held by Hurricane Three of 1886, which hit Florida on June 30.

Bob Henson contributed to this post.

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Jeff Masters

Jeff Masters, Ph.D., worked as a hurricane scientist with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990. After a near-fatal flight into category 5 Hurricane Hugo, he left the Hurricane Hunters to pursue a...