Oct. 22 satellite image

A satellite photo from midday Friday shows a break in the clouds along the West Coast, and stormy weather approaching from the northwest. Where this storm lands will determine how bad local Washington coast weather will be this Sunday. Meanwhile, an exceptionally strong AR5 force atmospheric river is about to pummel the San Francisco Bay area.

PACIFIC COUNTY — There is still much uncertainty as of 1 p.m. Friday regarding local impacts from a strong bomb cyclone off the Washington coast. However, even if it doesn't make a direct hit on the Washington coast, meteorologists see a potential for dangerous weather Sunday.

"The very latest forecasts of sea level pressure for Sunday morning from both the U.S. and European models [are] predicting the strongest Northwest storm in history with pressures below 945 hPa. Just crazy. Equivalent to a category three hurricane," University of Washington Meteorology Professor Cliff Mass said in a 12:40 p.m. Friday blog post.

Where will the hammer fall?

Mass said the exact path of the storm remains uncertain. Earlier Friday, the National Weather Service (NWS) downplayed risk to the Washington/Oregon coast.

Forecasting models have been fairly inconsistent between two scenarios: the brunt of a powerful storm either making landfall at the northern tip of Washington through the Strait of Juan De Fuca, or hitting the northern end of Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

Being farther to our north, the latter is the best scenario for Washington.

However, if the storm intersects with the northern tip of our state, there is a potential for strong winds in excess of 80 mph along with significantly high seas between 30-40 feet.

Thursday vs. Sunday

This approaching storm comes close on the heels of an intense low-pressure area that brushed our area Thursday without producing locally impressive precipitation or wind. (The WSU weather station on Pioneer Road recorded two-thirds of an inch of rain Thursday.)

“The offshore storm [Oct. 21] was one of the strongest on record, with the sea level pressure in its center dropping to around 951 hPa in the range of a category three hurricane,” Mass said Thursday.

“I have studied such intense mid-latitude cyclones (low-pressure areas) for years, and the lowest central pressure in the historical record off our coast is 950 hPa,” he added.

The storm brewing offshore now for possible arrival this Sunday could be even stronger. "942 hPa [predicted] central pressure," Mass wrote in his Thursday blog. "Never has a storm with such low pressure moved this far south to the waters immediately offshore of the Pacific Northwest. Not even the 1962 Columbus Day Storm (which was only 955 hPa)."

Weather Service sees tornado possibility

However, the NWS has so far downplayed the local significance of the approaching system and, as of today, Oct. 22, doesn’t expect the Sunday storm itself to move into the state.

Nevertheless, NWS is expressing some worries.

“A sizable, by our standards, coastal tornado threat will exist on Sunday,” the NWS Portland stated. “Most likely Sunday afternoon and evening, that appears at least on par to Oct. 14, 2016, when we have several low topped supercells move onto the Oregon coast and produced a tornado in Oceanside and an EF2 tornado in Manzanita.”

Pacific County had around 10 tornado or severe thunderstorm warnings on Oct. 14, 2016.

Whether the region will reach the threshold for a high-wind warning or coastal flood watch from high seas is still uncertain. The current NWS forecast suggests winds between 40-50 mph for the coast and significantly lesser gusts inland.

The biggest threat right now, according to the NWS, is the severe thunderstorms on Sunday that could have the potential for tornadoes and waterspouts, along with sudden intense rainfall and gusty winds.

With a razor clam harvest now underway and set to run through Oct. 25, diggers should think twice about venturing onto local beaches. High run-ups are a distinct possibility.

"The strong winds and vast size of the storm will send large swell and wind-driven waves onto our coast, with some getting to 30 ft or more. Be careful if you go wave watching," Mass said Friday.

Pacific County Emergency Management Director Scott McDougall encourages residents to invest in an NOAA Weather Radio and have batteries and extra ones ready for adverse weather. Other good preparatory steps include making sure vehicles are fueled up, having easy-to-prepare meals on hand, securing any outdoor items that might blow away, and getting some cash from the ATM in case of lengthy power outages.

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