Large and intensifying Hurricane Alex bears down on northeastern Mexico, South Texas

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:23 PM GMT on June 30, 2010

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Hurricane Alex continues to intensify as it slowly bears down on the coast of northeastern Mexico. Brownsville long-range radar shows the spiral bands of Alex, which has dumped heavy rains of up to four inches in northeastern Mexico and near Brownsville, according to satellite estimates of rainfall. The Brownsville airport received 0.78" of rain in the hour ending at 8am CDT, and 0.61" in the hour ending at 9am CDT. Floods from Alex have already killed ten people--six in Nicaragua, and two each in El Salvador and Guatemala.


Figure 1. Snapshot of the Brownsville long-range radar showing Hurricane Alex approaching the coast.

The 7:12am CDT eye penetration of the Hurricane Hunters found a central pressure of 959 mb, a modest 2 mb drop from the reading four hours previous to that. They noted a very tiny eye, ten miles in diameter, with a gap in the northwest side. Tiny eyes like this tend to be unstable, and in the 9:05am CDT eye penetration, the Hurricane Hunters found that the inner eyewall had collapsed, and the pressure had risen 2 mb, to 961 mb. A new, much larger eye will form today as the day progresses. During these "eyewall replacement cycles", a hurricane will typically weaken a few millibars , and the strongest winds will spread out over a larger area as the hurricane conserves angular momentum. Thus, the hurricane still has about the same amount of destructive power, it is just spread out over a larger area. This tends to increase the hurricane's storm surge, but lessens the wind damage, since the extreme winds of the inner eyewall are no longer present. Satellite loops show a large, well-organized storm with increasing amounts of low-level spiral bands forming, and improving upper-level outflow. Data from last night's flight of the NOAA jet showed an unusually moist atmosphere surrounds Alex, so dry air is no longer a problem for it. It's a good thing Alex has less than a day before making landfall, or else is would be a large and very powerful major hurricane.


Figure 2. Visible light image of Tropical Storm Alex taken at 19:35 UTC (2:35 pm CDT) on June 29, 2010, by NASA's Aqua satellite. At the time, Alex was a tropical storm with 70 mph winds. Image credit: NASA.

Storm Surge
Traditionally, a storm's ranking on the Saffir-Simpson Scale--the familiar Category 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 rankings we always talk about--have also been used to quantify storm surge threat. However, large, weaker storms that cover a huge area of the Gulf of Mexico, like Alex, can generate a larger storm surge than a smaller but more intense hurricane with a higher Saffir-Simpson rating. Thus, the National Hurricane Center has formally discontinued use of the Saffir-Simpson scale to characterize storm surge, and is studying the possibility of issuing separate Storm Surge Warnings a few years from now. These would be in addition to their traditional Hurricane Warnings. To give us a better idea of a storm's surge potential, Dr. Mark Powell of NOAA's Hurricane Research Division has developed the Integrated Kinetic Energy scale to rank storms. The scale ranges from 0 to 6, and a parallel wind damage scale that runs from 0 to 6 is also generated. Alex had an Integrated Kinetic Energy of 2.6 on the 0 to 6 scale at 1:30pm CDT yesterday, and its destructive potential rating for winds was just 1.2. Thus, Alex's surge ranked alomst one-and-a-half categories higher in destructive potential than its wind. These numbers have probably increased by a full category since yesterday afternoon. NHC is giving a 40% - 60% chance of a storm surge of at least 3 feet affecting the Brownsville area, and 10% - 30% chance the surge will exceed 5 feet. In theory, a Category 2 hurricane moving WNW at 5 mph can bring a storm surge of up to 8 - 9 feet to the South Texas and northern Mexican coast.

Other Impacts
Alex is bringing bands of heavy rain to the coasts of Texas and Mexico, as seen on the Brownsville, Texas radar. Hurricane local statements with projections for how Alex will affect the coast are now being issued by the National Weather Service in Brownsville and Corpus Christi. Flooding damage from the expected 6 - 12 inches of rain from Alex will be the main concern. Wind damage is a lesser concern, since the core of Alex is making landfall in a swampy, sparsely populated region of Mexico. The combined wind, surge, and flooding damage from Alex may be similar to 2008's Hurricane Dolly, which hit near Brownsville. Dolly was a Category 2 hurricane offshore that weakened to a Category 1 hurricane with 85 mph winds when it made landfall, and did about $1 billion in damage. Dolly also generated two weak EF-0 tornadoes, and Alex is capable of generating a few tornadoes as well, according to the latest discussion from NOAA's Storm Prediction Center. The atmosphere is moderately unstable, there is plenty of moisture, and wind shear at low levels has been increasing this morning. The greatest threat for tornadoes will occur late this afternoon, on the right side of where the storm makes landfall.

Alex in historical context
Alex is the first June hurricane since Hurricane Allison of 1995. Allison briefly became a minimal 75 mph hurricane before weakening and hitting the Florida Panhandle as a tropical storm. Alex is the strongest June hurricane since Hurricane Bonnie of 1986, which had 85 mph winds. Bonnie was the first hurricane I flew into as a member of the Hurricane Hunters. Bonnie made landfall along the upper Texas coast, and caused less than $20 million in damage. If Alex strengthens to 90 mph winds, it will be the strongest June hurricane since Hurricane Alma of 1966, which had 125 mph winds as it skirted the Florida Keys. There have been only ten hurricanes in May or June since 1945; only four of these were major Category 3 or higher storms.

Track forecast for Alex
All of the models take Alex to the west or west-northwest into northern Mexico by early Thursday morning. However, the steering currents are fairly weak, and Alex could stall and move erratically at times today. I don't anticipate that this weakness in the steering currents will allow Alex to move northward and make landfall in Texas. After landfall, the ridge of high pressure forcing Alex westward should remain in place and strengthen, keeping Alex's remnants over northern Mexico for several days.

Intensity forecast for Alex
Alex is over a region of ocean with moderately high total ocean heat content . Wind shear has fallen to a low 5 knots, and is projected by the SHIPS model to remain in the low range, below 10 knots, through landfall. The combination of low wind shear, moderately high ocean heat content, and plenty of moisture should allow Alex to continue to intensify today. Alex's pressure is already characteristic of a Category 3 hurricane, but the storm is so large that it is taking time for the winds to catch up to the pressure falls. It is unlikely that Alex's winds will be at Category 3 strength at landfall, since the storm is undergoing an eyewall replacement cycle, and does not have time to build a tight inner eyewall with strong winds before landfall. A Category 2 storm at landfall looks more likely.

Elsewhere in the tropics
The latest run of the NOGAPS model predicts the formation of a tropical disturbance in the Western Caribbean on Monday. None of the other models is showing anything brewing over the coming seven days.

Wind and ocean current forecast for the BP oil disaster
Alex is generating very rough conditions over the Deepwater Horizon blowout location, with 6 - 8 foot waves and 3 - 4 foot swells. Strong southeast to south winds of 15 - 25 knots will blow over the oil slick region today through Thursday, according to the latest marine forecast from NOAA. The resulting currents will push oil to many protected bays and estuaries that haven't seen oil yet. In addition, the 1 - 2 foot storm surge Alex is generating along the Louisiana coast will act to push oil deep into some low-lying marshlands. While this oil will be diluted some by the wave action, the impact of the oil and accompanying toxic dispersants on the marshlands is of concern. The latest trajectory forecasts from NOAA and the State of Louisiana show oil will also move westward along the central Louisiana coast towards the Texas border. Winds will decrease to 10 - 15 knots Friday through Monday but remain out of the southeast, keeping the pressure on the regions of coast in Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi that are seeing oil hit their shores this week.

Resources for the BP oil disaster
Map of oil spill location from the NOAA Satellite Services Division
My post, What a hurricane would do the Deepwater Horizon oil spill
My post on the Southwest Florida "Forbidden Zone" where surface oil will rarely go
My post on what oil might do to a hurricane
NOAA's interactive mapping tool to overlay wind and ocean current forecasts, oil locations, etc.
Gulf Oil Blog from the UGA Department of Marine Sciences
Oil Spill Academic Task Force
University of South Florida Ocean Circulation Group oil spill forecasts
ROFFS Deepwater Horizon page
Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery from the University of Miami

Next post
Either Rob Carver or myself will do an update late this afternoon or this evening.

Jeff Masters

Hurricane Alex (LRandyB)
Weather inbound to Hurricane Alex.
Hurricane Alex
Hurricane Alex (LRandyB)
Weather inbound to Hurricane Alex.
Hurricane Alex
Hurricane Alex (LRandyB)
Flight deck view from a WC-130J Hurricane Hunter aircraft
Hurricane Alex

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Morning,

As Alex comes ashore, please feel free to comment on my blog (link) any impacts you are getting from Alex (trying to get a sense of what kind of impacts Alex is producing). To people in S Texas and N Mexico, stay safe!

You can also find the entire synoptic history of Alex on my blog as well.
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Quoting reedzone:


Exactly, now howd you do that? I certainly can't put a moving image on paint and draw on it. LOL


You can draw on an animated gif.
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396. IKE
Quoting Thundercloud01221991:


look at the outflow right around the eye


I've got goose bumps on my arms with that view.
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Short GOES visible Animation reveals a system moving to the NW prehaps making landfall just south of the border and potentially giving southern Texas the worst of this storm.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30833
Good morning all.....of all mornings to finally lose it and sleep right through the morning, my body just had to do it today. Apparently I missed a lot. Alex is gaining more latitude than every single model thought yesterday before landfall....he continues to defy them with a vengeance. It appears that the NW move I was concerned about sneaking closer to the southern periphery of the ridge to his north is occurring, and he has indeed bombed out pressure-wise to the pressure of a Cat 2 or weak Cat 3, but seems to be slowly weakening or holding steady for now.
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Quoting jpsb:
Now I am worried.

Me too!
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look at the outflow right around the eye
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391. IKE
Quoting xcool:
scare ride for him.


I would have left Brownsville...too close for comfort.
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Landfall about 40 miles South of Brownsville at about 7PM
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Quoting IKE:


Agree...I feel for him...
Me too, let's hope that Alex doesn't intensify too much. Looking at graphs and maps it is likely that Alex will make it to moderate category 2 strength before making landfall. Hope he is all shuttered up and prepared to lose power.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21194
388. xcool
steering flow weak
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Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
If you extrapolate motion from the beginning of the loop Alex is likely to make landfall very near the Texas/Mexico border, but we all know that this motion can change in a heart beat.



In the last position it might seem a little bit south of your extrapolated track. I no it's just a "what would happen if..." but I'm still thinking that soon it will feel the ridge and begin to curve to the wnw.
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Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
If you extrapolate motion from the beginning of the loop Alex is likely to make landfall very near the Texas/Mexico border, but we all know that this motion can change in a heart beat.



Exactly, now howd you do that? I certainly can't put a moving image on paint and draw on it. LOL
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385. xcool
scare ride for him.
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384. jpsb
Quoting StormW:
I just ain't buying this right now:

Now I am worried.
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383. Daveg
Quoting IKE:


Looks headed, at this time, coming in just south of Brownsville....bad news for them...they'll be on it's north and east side. Looks like a possibility of a bad hit for that city.


Aye, and any distance closer it moves to Brownsville means more rain we'll get here in Central and South Texas. Already expecting 6 - 8 inches.

I feel for the folks in Brownsville. Absolutely no drainage there. Going to get very messy.
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Quoting reedzone:


I don't see that happening. I see it hooking WNW, maybe West in a few hours, making landfall tonight. Heading around the ridge, some remnant moisture could get into the Southwest, but the mountains will likely drain Alex out.


I will cheer for that outcome! i will fear the other...for the people underneath I will say some prayers as the flooding maybe the worst of this with rain swollen rivers taking much of their lives away in Northern Mex.
Member Since: June 26, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 383
Quoting AstroHurricane001:


Significant storms and winds over the oil spill, yikes...


this is only the start

can't stop nature
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water already in the ditches
birds are flying like little fitches
oh what a storm, what a pain
it brings so much rain

wrote a poem about whats going down over here.
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Latest microwave image:

Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 47 Comments: 11709
Quoting AussieStorm:


Significant storms and winds over the oil spill, yikes...
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375. IKE
Quoting xcool:
POOR ROB :(


Agree...I feel for him...
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Quoting toasterbell:
Hey y'all... I have a newbie question, if you don't mind. Last night and this morning, the spaghetti version of the HWRF model has shown it making landfall in Mexico, then reversing direction and coming close to re-emerging in the Gulf. I understand that coming from just one model, this isn't likely, but can anyone tell me what the model is seeing that comes to steer the storm back East? Thanks, Loretta.


two words

hurricane ivan
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If you extrapolate motion from the beginning of the loop Alex is likely to make landfall very near the Texas/Mexico border, but we all know that this motion can change in a heart beat.

Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21194
372. IKE
Quoting AstroHurricane001:


Texas won't have to wait for the eyewall to get the heaviest rains, since it's coming onshore already. But it looks like the center of the storm around the eye has strengthened significantly by radar just in the last three hours.


Looks headed, at this time, coming in just south of Brownsville....bad news for them...they'll be on it's north and east side. Looks like a possibility of a bad hit for that city.
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its gonna ride the coast, wait and watch. All the way to mexico and florida like rider storm.
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Hey y'all... I have a newbie question, if you don't mind. Last night and this morning, the spaghetti version of the HWRF model has shown it making landfall in Mexico, then reversing direction and coming close to re-emerging in the Gulf. I understand that coming from just one model, this isn't likely, but can anyone tell me what the model is seeing that comes to steer the storm back East? Thanks, Loretta.
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Quoting SiestaCpl:


Reed did you see my note to Kman? The issue of a push back into the gulf of Alex b y that trough should be considered..if this occurs, how far into the gulf will Alex go..and where will a second land fall occur. with pressure readings around 960 Alex will not die quickly on land. He will be ready to re-intensify if he is pushed to the coast. In any case TX is in for a hard ride.


I don't see that happening. I see it hooking WNW, maybe West in a few hours, making landfall tonight. Heading around the ridge, some remnant moisture could get into the Southwest, but the mountains will likely drain Alex out.
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
With such a big storm, perhaps the Beta Effect is coming into play. And since winds are moving across such a great latitude, perhaps the Beta Effect is greater than anyone expected.


Clearly.
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Quoting ftpiercecane:

The 30' swells will be breaking offshore depending on the depth of the water off of the beach. The deeper the water the closer the big swells will break, the shallower the water the more offshore they will break. This will contribute to the surge as alex approaches.


So it's good to know that the waves themselves are not the actual surge coming ashore. But does that mean there will be 100-ft waves breaking onshore over South Padre?!?
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WWUS40 KWNS 301544
WWP0

TORNADO WATCH PROBABILITIES FOR WT 0430
NWS STORM PREDICTION CENTER NORMAN OK
1044 AM CDT WED JUN 30 2010

WT 0430
PROBABILITY TABLE:
PROB OF 2 OR MORE TORNADOES : 60%
PROB OF 1 OR MORE STRONG /F2-F5/ TORNADOES : 20%
PROB OF 10 OR MORE SEVERE WIND EVENTS : 10%
PROB OF 1 OR MORE WIND EVENTS >= 65 KNOTS : 10%
PROB OF 10 OR MORE SEVERE HAIL EVENTS : <05%
PROB OF 1 OR MORE HAIL EVENTS >= 2 INCHES : <05%
PROB OF 6 OR MORE COMBINED SEVERE HAIL/WIND EVENTS : 40%

&&
ATTRIBUTE TABLE:
MAX HAIL /INCHES/ : 0.5
MAX WIND GUSTS SURFACE /KNOTS/ : 60
MAX TOPS /X 100 FEET/ : 550
MEAN STORM MOTION VECTOR /DEGREES AND KNOTS/ : 09035
PARTICULARLY DANGEROUS SITUATION : NO

&&
FOR A COMPLETE GEOGRAPHICAL DEPICTION OF THE WATCH AND
WATCH EXPIRATION INFORMATION SEE WOUS64 FOR WOU0.

$$
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 47 Comments: 11709
Quoting Chucktown:


Yea, me too. Usually watches are in effect well ahead of the first feeder bands that reach shore.


One was issued for Brownsvile and vicinity about 10 minutes ago.....bout time huh?
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Member Since: January 24, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 529
362. xcool
POOR ROB :(
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Quoting hurricanejunky:
CycloneOz live right now in Brownsville!
Link

You are not authorized to view this page
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Beta Effect?
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Quoting IKE:


Texas won't have to wait for the eyewall to get the heaviest rains, since it's coming onshore already. But it looks like the center of the storm around the eye has strengthened significantly by radar just in the last three hours.
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
1900hurricane I can't remember seeing a 3" PW either.

chucktown I am mildly surprised a tornado watch wasn't issued for south TX already!


Yea, me too. Usually watches are in effect well ahead of the first feeder bands that reach shore.
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357. Asta
Quoting StormW:
I just ain't buying this right now:

I'm with you on this one Storm...
Member Since: July 4, 2008 Posts: 30 Comments: 1024
Quoting reedzone:
Not trying to be annoying, but people need to be aware that the NHC and models are already off on the storm. This is my latest forecast based on the trend and pattern of Alex. Yes, it will eventually turn westward, but I believe this will make landfall a bit south of the borderline. I'm very confident on this forecast.

Photobucket


Reed did you see my note to Kman? The issue of a push back into the gulf of Alex b y that trough should be considered..if this occurs, how far into the gulf will Alex go..and where will a second land fall occur. with pressure readings around 960 Alex will not die quickly on land. He will be ready to re-intensify if he is pushed to the coast. In any case TX is in for a hard ride.
Member Since: June 26, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 383
RE: 340

Me neither, Storm.
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most animals know when to get out of the way during a hurricane, but not an oil spoil caused by men.
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URGENT - IMMEDIATE BROADCAST REQUESTED
TORNADO WATCH NUMBER 430
NWS STORM PREDICTION CENTER NORMAN OK
1045 AM CDT WED JUN 30 2010

THE NWS STORM PREDICTION CENTER HAS ISSUED A
TORNADO WATCH FOR PORTIONS OF

THE LOWER AND MIDDLE TEXAS COAST
COASTAL WATERS

EFFECTIVE THIS WEDNESDAY MORNING AND EVENING FROM 1045 AM UNTIL
800 PM CDT.

TORNADOES...HAIL TO 0.5 INCH IN DIAMETER...THUNDERSTORM WIND
GUSTS TO 70 MPH...AND DANGEROUS LIGHTNING ARE POSSIBLE IN THESE
AREAS.

THE TORNADO WATCH AREA IS APPROXIMATELY ALONG AND 45 STATUTE
MILES EAST AND WEST OF A LINE FROM 35 MILES NORTHEAST OF CORPUS
CHRISTI TEXAS TO 40 MILES EAST SOUTHEAST OF MCALLEN TEXAS. FOR A
COMPLETE DEPICTION OF THE WATCH SEE THE ASSOCIATED WATCH OUTLINE
UPDATE (WOUS64 KWNS WOU0).

REMEMBER...A TORNADO WATCH MEANS CONDITIONS ARE FAVORABLE FOR
TORNADOES AND SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS IN AND CLOSE TO THE WATCH
AREA. PERSONS IN THESE AREAS SHOULD BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR
THREATENING WEATHER CONDITIONS AND LISTEN FOR LATER STATEMENTS
AND POSSIBLE WARNINGS.

DISCUSSION...HURRICANE ALEX CONTINUES TO MOVE TOWARD EXTREME NE
MEXICO...LEAVING S TX IN THE RIGHT FRONT QUADRANT OF THE STORM
CIRCULATION. LOCAL VWP/S HAVE SHOWN AN INCREASE IN LOW-LEVEL
FLOW/SHEAR OVER THE PAST FEW HOURS...AND EMBEDDED SUPERCELL
STRUCTURES ARE TENDING TO SURVIVE CLOSER TO THE COAST WITH TIME IN
THE BANDS N OF THE STORM CENTER. GIVEN THE PRESENCE OF 77-80 F
DEWPOINTS...SURFACE-BASED INSTABILITY...AND INCREASING VERTICAL
SHEAR...THE PROBABILITY OF A FEW TORNADOES WILL SLOWLY INCREASE
THROUGH THE AFTERNOON.

AVIATION...TORNADOES AND A FEW SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS WITH HAIL
SURFACE AND ALOFT TO 0.5 INCH. EXTREME TURBULENCE AND SURFACE
WIND GUSTS TO 60 KNOTS. A FEW CUMULONIMBI WITH MAXIMUM TOPS TO
550. MEAN STORM MOTION VECTOR 09035.


...THOMPSON
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Quoting DestinJeff:
South TX needs to hope that Alex gets his West on soon.

Still a major factor is where exactly that ridge is centered, and at what stregnth. I don't think the midwest US will cut it enough to get Alex to landfall anytime soon ...

Longer he is in water the more we need to concern ourselves with other steering influences coming from the west.


I don't think the wind is a big concern but flooding certainly is. When we worked Dolly in 08 the flood damage was much worse than wind damage except for South Padre Island. Of course, if Alex intensifies rapidly, we could have wind issues also. I'm on standby for damage assessments in the Valley but at this point, I'm thinking mostly for flood. I guess we will know by this time tomorrow.
My own county (Kinney) way up the Rio Grande is under a flash flood watch until tomorrow night. We have a local meeting this evening to discuss flood issues and evacuation plans. It could be an interesting couple of days.
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350. IKE
Quoting StormW:
I just ain't buying this right now:



Needs an adjustment to the north a tad....
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349. xcool
NW HMMM
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Pretty impressive wave heights

Member Since: January 24, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 529

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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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