Hurricane Irene -- keep checking your local warnings. That's the best assessment of our first major Atlantic Hurricane of the season. We're always aware when talking of this kind of storm of the importance of understanding their destructive nature when getting excited about the surfing potential, with Irene already wreaking havoc and a strong possibility of East Coast landfall after its destructive jaunt through the Caribbean, the main theme here has to be one of caution, but nonetheless we're a surf forecasting site so lets break down the possibilities.
Right now the 'most probable' track for Hurricane Irene is increasingly northward moving through the Bahamas and tracking just offshore of the Florida coast before impacting North Carolina as a major hurricane on Sunday. However it's worth understanding both the variability of different forecast used to create this consensus and the potential margin for error in the 'most probable' track. The GFS wind model we use to drive our surf forecasts shows a much more rapidly curving path moving the storm away from the coast with the centre passing 65 miles from Cape Hatteras, where the HWRF hurricane model shows impact with South Carolina. The NHC themselves publish error figures of an average 200-250 miles after 4-5 days. The bad news is where previous possible paths might have brushed the coast and storms have, in recent times, been kept away from land by dominant high pressure systems, in this case the likelihood is impact and only a small proportion of models suggest the storm taking a track avoiding all landfall.
So from a surfing perspective from Florida through to North Carolina for later in the week the outlook is for potentially damaging winds and large storm surf. There will be a fairly lengthy window before the storms arrival when smaller long period swell from the initial stages of the storm will be seen for most East coast breaks. From Tuesday night the hurricane models suggest small longer period swell in the waist to chest high range should start to show on the outer banks, smaller further south and arriving a little later further north. New Jersey potentially sees similar conditions on Wednesday but with increasingly strong southerly winds (not related to this storm) throwing a wind sea into the mix that'll all but obscure the longer range stuff come Wednesday afternoon. Beyond this significant surf and winds are likely for potentially the entire East Coast, we'll keep our detailed 5 day hurricane swell models updated here.