Across the calendar, there are a handful of weather forecasts that are really important — Easter, 4th of July, Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's. Oh, and Memorial Day Weekend, of course.

So far this week, the forecast for the holiday weekend has been tricky — it was clear early in the week that we'd be challenge by a mix of heat and rain. The timeline is finally becoming clear and, while it's not perfect, the weekend certainly won't be a total washout.

Thursday was a fantastic summerlike day, and Friday is gearing up to deliver more of the same. Skies will start bright and sunny, with just a few fair-weather clouds popping up during the afternoon. A stronger southwest wind (to 20 mph) will fueler even warmer temperatures. I think most high temps in NJ will reach the mid to upper 80s Friday afternoon. 90 is not out of the question. With the stiff land breeze, the sea breeze's cooling effect may be limited to barrier islands, so even the beaches will be on the warm side.

The NJ Department of Environmental Protection has posted an Air Quality Alert for Friday, which is pretty typical on the hottest days of the year. According to the alert, "a code orange air quality alert means that air pollution concentrations within the region may become unhealthy for sensitive groups." That includes the very young and the very old, in addition to those suffering from asthma, heart disease or other lung diseases. If you fall into one of those categories, you'll want to avoid strenuous activity or exercise outdoors during the heat of the day — air conditioning is your friend. Oddly enough, this alert is only in effect for Burlington, Camden, Mercer, Middlesex, and Monmouth counties. That's it.

I'll call Friday night partly cloudy. Humidity will begin to increase, prohibiting thermometers from falling below the mid 60s or so. It will remain dry and summery.

We'll have a steamy start to the holiday weekend proper, with both heat and humidity building for Saturday. High temperatures will peak in the 85 to 90 degree range for most of the state. A lighter ambient wind will allow the sea breeze machine to fire up — so beaches will be quite a bit cooler and more comfortable, in the 70s. (Therefore, I suspect they will be very popular).

However, increasing clouds will give way to some rain on Saturday. The latest guidance suggests an isolated shower is possible Saturday morning (especially in the vicinity of North Jersey). Then, more widespread showers and thunderstorms are expected to sweep into the state Saturday afternoon and evening. While the severe weather parameters are not coming together to create a bit problem, the heat and humidity of the day could lead to some loud and sudden storms. A few embedded downpours are possible too. Make sure you keep an eye on the sky during your beach and barbecue fun on Saturday.

Scattered rain remains in the forecast for Sunday too. It won't be a total washout, but everyone in New Jersey will probably get wet at some point. I don't want to offer a more specific timeline for the heaviest rain — morning vs. afternoon — because I've seen differing opinions. At the very least, it will be a cloudy and cooler day, with highs in the 70s.

The big improvement in the weekend forecast is actually Memorial Day Monday, as I'm reasonably confident the day will be mostly dry. There could be a few isolated showers around the Garden State, but things are looking much better for the multitude of parades and flag ceremonies scheduled for Memorial Day. Skies will still be cloudy, with seasonable high temperatures in the 70s.

There's quite a bit of uncertainty in the longer-term forecast. Our weather will be highly dependent on the track of an area of low pressure that will eject into the Atlantic Ocean from the Carolinas. At the moment, it looks like it will be close enough to keep thick cloud cover over New Jersey, but not close enough to send rain our way.

So while Tuesday looks mostly cloudy, we are expected to see a brief return to hot temperatures. Current forecast highs range from about 80 near the beach to around 90 around the Philly metro area. The day looks dry — we'll see if we have to add an isolated shower to the forecast as the day draws closer.

Wednesday and <bThursday don't look too bad. We'll still have mostly cloudy skies, with high temperatures somewhere between the mid 70s and lower 80s.

Dan Zarrow is Chief Meteorologist for Townsquare Media New Jersey. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter for the latest forecast and realtime weather updates.~

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