Fiona barrelling toward Bermuda, then will make direct hit in eastern Canada
The storm was chugging along at Category 4 strength and even though it will stay far away from the East Coast, it could affect the Outer Banks and Bermuda on its way to Canada.
A hurricane warning was issued for Bermuda on Thursday by the island territory’s meteorological service as Fiona continued its northward track in the Atlantic as a Category 4 hurricane.
The first storm to achieve major hurricane status of the 2022 Atlantic season, Fiona strengthened to a Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph (215 k/mh) early Wednesday morning. By Thursday morning, the hurricane was about 455 miles (735 km) southwest of Bermuda and moving north-northeast at a speed of 13 mph.
A westward jog in Fiona's track since this weekend may be just enough to keep the hurricane's dangerous and damaging eye wall to the west of Bermuda. However, based on the latest forecast track, hurricane-force gusts are likely to impact the islands from late Thursday into early Friday.
Bermuda is expected to be spared the worst of Fiona’s wrath, but AccuWeather meteorologists are sounding the alarm for Atlantic Canada, which is expected to receive the full brunt of Hurricane Fiona’s impacts this weekend. Even though the storm won’t be a major hurricane by the time it reaches the Gulf of St. Lawrence region, some areas could be at risk for extreme damage.
Building codes on Bermuda are strict and require that structures are designed to handle 110-mph sustained winds and higher gusts. Still, some power outages are likely on the islands, and AccuWeather forecasters have rated Fiona a 1 on the AccuWeather RealImpact™ Scale for Hurricanes for the islands of Bermuda.
Rough seas will build in the waters surrounding Bermuda on Thursday. Forecasters say operators of cruise and shipping vessels may want to avoid the area as a precaution until after Fiona has moved away.
Waves stirred up by Fiona will propagate outward for hundreds of miles in the form of large swells that can bring dangerous surf conditions to much of the Eastern Seaboard of the United States through this week.
"Visitors and residents of the Outer Banks and many coastal locations will have to deal with powerful rip currents and beach erosion from Fiona for a good portion of the week," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alan Reppert said.
Category 4 Hurricane Fiona is seen on AccuWeather RealVue™ satellite early Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022.
Erosion, especially along southeastern facing beaches from Massachusetts through Florida, could be severe. The Outer Banks of North Carolina will especially be at risk in areas where beach restoration has not been completed following significant issues left behind by a spring storm -- and increasing episodes of erosion that the region faces due to climate change.
Fiona's hurricane-force winds extend up to 70 miles (110 km) from the center of the storm, while tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 205 miles (335 km). The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) hurricane hunters, fresh off a unique mission to the Cabo Verde Islands off the northwest tip of Africa, are collecting data on Fiona and had located the eye of the storm Wednesday night.
Fiona's rainfall is likely to be heavy enough to trigger urban flooding across Bermuda, but since rainwater is captured and repurposed there, heavy precipitation may be somewhat beneficial.
Two factors could lead to Bermuda facing the wrath of a full-blown major hurricane Thursday into Friday: if Fiona were to grow substantially in size or if its track were to shift farther to the east, the island group would be subject to much more dire conditions.
Fiona is forecast to pass to the west of Bermuda as a Category 4 hurricane, which means a storm's maximum sustained winds are between 130 and 156 mph (209-251 km/h) on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.
Fiona to make landfall in Canada
Once Fiona clears Bermuda, AccuWeather forecasters expect the storm to cruise on a northeasterly track toward Atlantic Canada and remain away from the shoreline of the U.S.
Sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic on Sept. 20, 2022. (AccuWeather)
About 1,000 miles farther to the north of Bermuda, the coastline of Atlantic Canada protrudes much farther to the east, compared to the U.S., and is occasionally a target for hurricanes. With progressively colder waters prevalent over the North Atlantic, due to the icy Labrador Current, powerful hurricanes often quickly lose their punch or transform into tropical wind and rainstorms.
But this year, water temperatures have been running 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit (6-11 C) higher than average over the North Atlantic, especially just south of Atlantic Canada, and those warmer-than-usual waters may result in less weakening of the hurricane or a slower transformation to a rainstorm. Water temperatures range from near 60 F (16 C) near the coast of Nova Scotia to 84 F (29 C) off the southeast coast of New England.
As of 8 a.m. EDT Thursday, Fiona was located about 1,210 miles (1,950 km) south-southwest of Halifax, Nova Scotia.
A dip in the jet stream over eastern Canada late this week will likely allow Fiona to take a path into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, western Newfoundland or possibly northern Nova Scotia from Friday night to Saturday.
Much of the coastline surrounding the Gulf of St. Lawrence is hilly and not prone to widespread storm surge flooding like areas along the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coasts of the U.S. But, should the storm track into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, high water levels and significant coastal flooding can occur in the region, and the storm could make a mess for maritime operations in the region.
"Fiona will bring widespread power outages due to high winds, flooding due to torrential rain and isolated storm surge and massive seas offshore and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist and Canada Weather Expert Brett Anderson said.
Strong winds from Fiona over the North Atlantic just south of Newfoundland and the Gulf of St. Lawrence can allow swells to build to 40 feet (12 meters) or higher.
As the storm encounters the colder waters of Atlantic Canada, then lands and begins the transformation from a hurricane, a tremendous amount of wind energy and rain will expand outward in the region.
The heaviest rains are likely to shift to the west and north of the storm center, and the strongest winds may focus near the center and to the east of the track.
"St. John's, located in the eastern part of Newfoundland, may be hit with very strong winds, even if the center of the storm tracks much farther west near the Gulf of St. Lawrence," Anderson said. "While only a light to moderate amount of rain is likely in St. John's, power outages and coastal flooding could be more of a threat to the city and its heavy population."
The storm track and behavior may allow some of the heaviest rain to reach Halifax, Nova Scotia. Portions of the Canadian province and others are in need of rain, but not the magnitude that Fiona can deliver, which will likely result in flooding. The full brunt of the storm in terms of both high winds and torrential rain and pounding seas may be felt near Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.
"There is the possibility that Fiona could set low barometric pressure records in the region," Anderson said. "The central pressure of the storm may dip to or below the Atlantic Canada record of 27.76 inches of Mercury (940.2 millibars) around the time of landfall Friday night to early Saturday." That record was set during a non-tropical storm on Jan. 21, 1977, in St. Anthony, Newfoundland, and Labrador.
Fiona will be a "rare storm," according to AccuWeather Chief Meteorologist Jon Porter. Not only will Fiona remain rather intense for a tropical system heading toward Atlantic Canada due to the warmer water, but its track will also be a bit unusual as it is expected to make a northwestward jog, making a direct hit.
"In September, there have only been 11 named tropical systems that made landfall as a hurricane in Atlantic Canada since 1944," AccuWeather Senior Weather Editor and Meteorologist Jesse Ferrell said.
The strongest hurricane to hit Atlantic Canada since the 1940s was Hurricane Ginny, a Category 2 storm in 1963. Maximum sustained winds at the time of landfall near Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, were 105 mph (165 km/h). The most recent hurricane to hit the region was Larry last year as a Category 1 on Marticut Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, with maximum winds near 80 mph (130 km/h).
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