Irene roars into life; may become the season's first hurricane

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 12:03 AM GMT on August 21, 2011

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Tropical Storm Irene roared into life this evening, transitioning from a tropical wave to a 50 mph tropical storm in just a few short hours. An Air Force hurricane hunter aircraft in the storm was finishing up its mission when it suddenly came across a region with intense thunderstorms and surface winds of 50 mph. The aircraft found that a center of circulation had barely closed off on the southwest edge of this region, though the plane found almost no winds from the west around the circulation center. The 6:10pm EDT center fix found a central pressure of 1007mb, which is quite high for the observed 50 mph winds. Dry air to the north and west is slowing development, as well as moderate wind shear of 10 - 20 knots, as analyzed by the University of Wisconsin CIMSS group. Infrared satellite loops and radar out of Martinique show the storm is poorly organized, with no evidence of spiral bands. The center of Irene is expected to cross over the Caribbean island of Dominica early Sunday morning, but the heaviest thunderstorms lie to the north of the center, and will affect Guadeloupe, Antigua, and St. Kitts and Nevis.


Figure 1. Evening satellite image of Irene.

The computer models have shifted southwards since yesterday, and now take Irene south of Puerto Rico on Monday, and along the south shore of the Dominican Republic on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Irene should pass near or over southern Haiti, Eastern Cuba, and Jamaica. On Wednesday and Thursday, the models agree that a trough of low pressure will dip down over the Eastern U.S., which is likely to turn Irene to the north. The exact timing and strength of this trough varies considerably from model to model, and will be critical in determining where and when Irene will turn to the north. We can expect that Irene will impact Central Cuba, the Bahamas, and the Florida Keys on Thursday, but it is uncertain whether Irene's turn to the north will take the storm into the Gulf of Mexico or not. Irene most reminds me of Tropical Storm Fay of 2008. Fay formed just off the coast of Puerto Rico, and was never quite able to get organized enough to become a hurricane, due to passage over Hispaniola and Cuba. Fay topped out as a strong tropical storm with 70 mph winds, and did over $500 million in damage in the U.S., mostly due to flooding rains in Florida that accumulated to over 25 inches in a few areas. Fay also dumped heavy rains on Hispaniola, triggering flooding that claimed eight lives.


Figure 2. Track of Tropical Storm Fay of 2008.

Irene will be battling dry air and moderate wind shear of 10 - 20 knots through Sunday, and it will take the storm 1 - 3 days to build up an eyewall and intensify into a hurricane. Irene is more of a threat than Tropical Storm Emily of early August was, since Irene has closed off a center farther east than Emily did and has more time to organize before encountering Hispaniola. I don't think passage over Hispaniola will destroy Irene, since it is a fairly large storm, and is likely to be a hurricane by then. However, if Irene follows the NHC forecast, it will have an extended encounter with Hispaniola and Cuba on Tuesday through Wednesday that will probably weaken the storm below hurricane force. Keep in mind that the average error for an official 5-day forecast from NHC for a developed storm is 200 - 250 miles. Irene could easily miss Florida and move up the East Coast and hit North or South Carolina, or pass through the Florida Keys and into Gulf of Mexico, ending up who knows where. Given the uncertainties, this weekend would be a good time to go over your hurricane preparedness if you live anywhere in the Caribbean, Bahamas, or U.S. coast, since Irene could well be paying you a visit as a tropical storm or hurricane sometime in the next week.

Harvey hits Belize
Tropical Storm Harvey made landfall at 2pm EDT on Saturday near Dangriga Town, Belize, as a tropical storm with 60 mph winds. Harvey continues to dump very heavy rains on northern Guatemala, Belize, and portions of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula as the storm tracks westwards at 12 mph. Dissipation is expected Sunday as the storm pushes inland. Harvey was a small storm, and the strongest winds were confined to a short stretch of coast near where the center came ashore. Winds at Belize City, Belize on Saturday topped out at 15 mph.


Figure 3. Radar image of Harvey taken at 11:30am EDT on Saturday, August 20, 2011, a few hours before landfall in Belize. A small closed eye is visible just south of the offshore islands of Belize. Image credit: Belize National Meteorological Service.

An exceptionally active early part of hurricane season
It's been a strangely hyperactive season for weak storms in the Atlantic so far this year. Tropical Storm Irene is the 9th named storm this year, and its formation date of August 20 ties 2011 with 1936 as the 2nd earliest date for formation of the season's 9th storm. Only 2005 had an earlier date. The first eight storms this year have stayed below hurricane strength, making 2011 the first hurricane season since record keeping began in 1851 to have more than six consecutive tropical storms that did not reach hurricane strength. As I discussed in Friday's post, a major reason for this is the lack of vertical instability over the tropical Atlantic so far this year. We've had a large amount of dry, sinking air over the tropical Atlantic, and the usual amount of dry, dusty air from the Sahara, both helping to keep the atmosphere stable and stop this year's storms from intensifying into hurricanes. Hurricane activity typically ramps up big-time by August 20, with more than 80% of all the hurricanes and 65% of all the tropical storms occurring after that date. At our current pace, 2011 will become the second busiest Atlantic hurricane season on record, with 24 - 27 named storms. There are only 21 names in the list of names for a hurricane season, so we may have to break out the Greek alphabet again in late October this year, as occurred in 2005. Ironically, this was the last time the current set of names was used in the Atlantic, so 16 of this year's 21 names are repeats of 2005. I'm not too happy about seeing another hurricane season challenge the Hurricane Season of 2005 in any way, and let's hope we don't retire another five names this year, like occurred in 2005! With vertical instability much lower this year than in 2005, and that year having already seen one storm (Dennis) retired by this point in the season, I doubt that will happen, though.


Figure 2. The annual cycle of average hurricane frequency in the Atlantic. Historically, about 35% of all the tropical storms and 15% of all the hurricanes will have occurred by August 20.

Invest 98L near the Cape Verde Islands
A tropical wave near Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Africa, Invest 98L, is spreading heavy rains and strong gusty winds to those islands today. So far this morning, top sustained winds measured in the Cape Verde Islands were 23 mph at Mindelo. 98L has a long stretch of ocean to cross before it could affect any land areas. Approximately 70 - 80% of all tropical cyclones that pass this close to the Cape Verde Islands end up curving out to sea and not affecting any other land areas, according to Dr. Bob Hart's excellent historical probability of landfall charts. The latest set of long-range model runs go along with this idea, and I'd be surprised if 98L threatens any land areas.

Jeff Masters

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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Just looking at Floyd's path, this is starting to remind me of the system. Expected to hit Florida at first, but instead turns to the north and hits here.

Here is Floyd's path. My parents always told me that this was the only hurricane I've been in middle of when I was living in Carolinas the first 6 years of my life. Moved to Missouri, lived there for 8 years, back to Carolinas 2 years ago.
Member Since: August 1, 2011 Posts: 28 Comments: 8046
adding insult to injury....next weekend is labor Day...there will be millions of additional souls along the coast...which will drastically complicate evacuations, etc....
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Quoting hahaguy:
So if Irene crosses PR an skirts the northern coast of Hispaniola would that mean the trough could pull i north without affecting FL?


Probably not, since the trough will pull the system up gradually, not rapidly.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:


Why 11 P.M.? You meant A.M. right?
Quoting Thrawst:


You mean 11 a.m ?
Lol, yeah, 11a.m.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21194
Quoting liljade:
Is there any chance Irene could get in the western GOM?


There's always a chance. Irene could end up going up the west coast or east coast of Florida. Irene could also end up just off shore either coast.

But as of right now, somewhere over the state of Fl. is the most likely path.
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3615. Relix
Puerto Rico Wuggers! How's stuff going? Here in Levittown some lines are forming in the gas stations. Once has a line of like 20 cars. Very calm winds but cloudy so and cool. I moved my cars around so they aren't affected by any falling trees or anything. No shutters, though that may change if it does strengthen.
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Since Irene is a bit further north than originally projected, it could transverse almost the entire length of Hispanola, which should weaken it considerably. It may not feel the effects of any weakness in the ridge as much at that time unless it strengthens quite a bit, so we'll see if it edges a bit further west after it emerges on the NW side of Hispanola before making that right turn.
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3613. ncstorm




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3612. hahaguy
So if Irene crosses PR an skirts the northern coast of Hispaniola would that mean the trough could pull i north without affecting FL?
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...HARVEY STILL A TROPICAL DEPRESSION...POTENTIAL FOR HEAVY RAINS CONTINUES OVER PORTIONS OF SOUTHEASTERN MEXICO...
10:00 AM CDT Sun Aug 21
Location: 17.7°N 92.6°W
Max sustained: 30 mph
Moving: W at 13 mph
Min pressure: 1006 mb
Member Since: July 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 5725
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Just looking at Floyd's path, this is starting to remind me of the system. Expected to hit Florida at first, but instead turns to the north and hits here.


Yeah well...the NHC it's self says how the models are in excellent agreement. I don't see a Floyd like path happening.
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Quoting WeatherNerdPR:

And I'm in a Hurricane Watch.
The press said that the NWS on San Juan is a call conference with NHC to see if the watch will be changed to a hurricane warning to P.R
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Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
Expect no major shifts in the 11p.m cone.



Why 11 P.M.? You meant A.M. right?
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3607. liljade
Quoting P451:
Irene still at 50mph? That's a big surprise to me. She really looked like she was wrapping up and getting ready to intensify.

Look at her last night: Watch her suck the LLC into the convection and begin to wrap up. You would think hours after this the system was going to intensify.





And, here she is now. It would appear the islands disrupted her and that is clearly visible on this imagery. Also some dry air may be getting in there.




I do see she did pop north as we all discussed last night that it looked like it was happening.

Is there any chance Irene could get in the western GOM?Texas really,really needs the rain!
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3606. Thrawst
Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
Expect no major shifts in the 11p.m cone.



You mean 11 a.m ?
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Quoting WeatherNerdPR:

And I'm in a Hurricane Watch.


word
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http://www.ssd.noaa.gov/goes/flt/t2/vis-l.jpg

Irene DEAD CENTER over St. Kitts island area in that image....I think the current positioning of Irene is still a very slight amount too far south this morning...
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sorry, triple post!deleted!
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Just looking at Floyd's path, this is starting to remind me of the system. Expected to hit Florida at first, but instead turns to the north and hits here.
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Quoting WeatherNerdPR:

Really?


Yup
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Expect no major shifts in the 11a.m cone.

Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21194
3597. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
it crosses ne tip of PR from here up the spine of bahama she goes models are off to the left
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 176 Comments: 55653
Quoting ncstorm:
From Allan Huffman

Because, in about 3-5 days the upper level pattern over Emily will become very favorable for intensification and it will be moving over very warm waters near Cuba and potentially in the Florida Straits. If Irene does not move across Hispaniola, we could have a major hurricane crossing the eastern portions of Cuba heading towards the south Florida coastline. I think the storm will skirt very near the south shore of Hispaniola and thus some weakening will occur, but I do not think the storm will fall apart.

Beyond this the global models have come into better agreement overnight showing a more easterly track with a turn NW through eastern Cuba and a close pass to southeast Florida before moving N or NNW near the northern Florida/Georgia/southern South Carolina coast. The 6z GFS has shifted a bit east and is close to the ECMWF and GGEM. This means a definite risk for anywhere from Miami to Cape Hatteras. I have not ruled out a western Florida hit either or an eastern Gulf threat, there is still a great deal of uncertainty. There is also a big risk for very heavy rains in the southeast and possibly the mid-Atlantic from this as well after landfall so that will have to be watched.

I hope to post again this afternoon after the 12z guidance and dissect each model a bit more.

You know it could get ugly for USA when Allan is saying MAJOR hurricane toward SE USA as one of many possible paths.
Member Since: August 1, 2011 Posts: 28 Comments: 8046
Quoting P451:
Irene still at 50mph? That's a big surprise to me. She really looked like she was wrapping up and getting ready to intensify.

Look at her last night: Watch her suck the LLC into the convection and begin to wrap up. You would think hours after this the system was going to intensify.





And, here she is now. It would appear the islands disrupted her and that is clearly visible on this imagery. Also some dry air may be getting in there.




I do see she did pop north as we all discussed last night that it looked like it was happening.



I doubt the islands affected the system, since they are so insignificant (size wise). The main problem Irene faced last night was dry air intrusion, which appears to be mixing out at this time.
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Quoting P451:


Looking on radar her core seems ragged and broad. She needs to tighten that up before she can tighten the rest of the system up.

Those islands are like fingers sticking up into the atmosphere and it is clear they tore through here - look at the SW imagery I posted a little bit back (blue enhancement) and you can see the islands carved paths through her cloud deck.

Also it's clear dry air has gotten in there. She has to mix that out in order to intensify.

All in all given her present appearance and her track solution you just can't figure out her intensity forecast. Pretty much every door is open. From remaining a strong TS to becoming a major hurricane is possible.



The visible satellite image this morning IMO shows Irene improving each frame...all banding is more mature...and center gradually getting its act together....
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Quoting SavannahStorm:
TWC upping their very scientific "Threat Level"




I think they should rename it the Entertainment Channel with a subscript of "If you want to know the weather, go look outside."
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Quoting WPBHurricane05:
Weird how the recon VDM has a pressure of 1007 mb, yet Saint Kitts is reporting a pressure of 1002 mb and a south wind.


Really?
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Quoting Jedkins01:
If Irene moves straight over the interior of Hispanola like all model guidance is calling for, well, the possibility exists that Irene will degenerate into a remnant low, not saying it will, but it sure can happen.
Definitely plausible.

This storm is struggling along for the most part at this point. vertically off by 30 miles.

However, the environment looks like it will allow strengthening once it is north of the islands.

Can't let the guard down by any means.
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000
URNT12 KNHC 211426
VORTEX DATA MESSAGE AL092011
A. 21/14:00:00Z
B. 16 deg 55 min N
062 deg 48 min W
C. 850 mb 1472 m
D. 46 kt
E. 046 deg 42 nm
F. 123 deg 53 kt
G. 046 deg 80 nm
H. 1007 mb
I. 15 C / 1523 m
J. 17 C / 1524 m
K. NA / NA
L. NA
M. NA
N. 1345 / 08
O. 0.02 / 10 nm
P. AF300 0209A IRENE OB 08
MAX FL WIND 53 KT NE QUAD 13:34:30Z
20NM L/V CENTER ELONGATED NE TO SW
;
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21194
Product: Air Force Vortex Message (URNT12 KNHC)
Transmitted: 21st day of the month at 14:26Z

Aircraft: Air Force Aircraft (Last 3 digits of the tail number are 300)
Storm Number & Year: 09L in 2011
Storm Name: Irene (flight in the North Atlantic basin)
Mission Number: 2
Observation Number: 08
A. Time of Center Fix: 21st day of the month at 14:00:00Z
B. Center Fix Coordinates: 16°55'N 62°48'W (16.9167N 62.8W)
B. Center Fix Location: 27 miles (43 km) to the S (190°) from Basseterre, Saint Kitts and Nevis.

C. Minimum Height at Standard Level: 1,472m (4,829ft) at 850mb
D. Estimated (by SFMR or visually) Maximum Surface Wind: 46kts (~ 52.9mph)
E. Location of the Estimated Maximum Surface Wind: 42 nautical miles (48 statute miles) to the NE (46°) of center fix
F. Maximum Flight Level Wind Inbound: From 123° at 53kts (From the ESE at ~ 61.0mph)
G. Location of Maximum Flight Level Wind Inbound: 80 nautical miles (92 statute miles) to the NE (46°) of center fix
H. Minimum Sea Level Pressure: 1007mb (29.74 inHg)
I. Maximum Flight Level Temp & Pressure Altitude Outside Eye: 15°C (59°F) at a pressure alt. of 1,523m (4,997ft)
J. Maximum Flight Level Temp & Pressure Altitude Inside Eye: 17°C (63°F) at a pressure alt. of 1,524m (5,000ft)
K. Dewpoint Temp & Sea Surface Temp (collected at same location as temp inside eye): Not Available
L. Eye Character: Not Available
M. Eye Shape: Not Available
N. Fix Determined By: Penetration, Wind, Pressure and Temperature
N. Fix Levels (sfc and flt lvl centers are within 5nm of each other): Surface and 850mb
O. Navigation Fix Accuracy: 0.02 nautical miles
O. Meteorological Accuracy: 10 nautical miles
Remarks Section - Remarks That Were Decoded...
Maximum Flight Level Wind: 53kts (~ 61.0mph) in the northeast quadrant at 13:34:30Z
Remarks Section - Additional Remarks...
20NM L/V CENTER ELONGATED NE TO SW
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Quoting P451:


I wouldn't mind a good breezy rainstorm up north here in NY though. Last decaying tropical system I went through was Hannah.


Looks like we might get a Floyd from this one.
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Weird how the recon VDM has a pressure of 1007 mb, yet Saint Kitts is reporting a pressure of 1002 mb and a south wind.

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Quoting sullivanweather:


Wow! Hey Bob!


Hey Sully! Good to see you around again!!
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Quoting Bluestorm5:
Really looking like Irene is going directly over Puetro Rico and shaves the north coast of Hispaniola. Not being doom-caster or wish-caster (do not want Category 3/4 toward my area of course).


I agree with that, for the time being.

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3583. scott39
Quoting P451:
Irene still at 50mph? That's a big surprise to me. She really looked like she was wrapping up and getting ready to intensify.

Look at her last night: Watch her suck the LLC into the convection and begin to wrap up. You would think hours after this the system was going to intensify.





And, here she is now. It would appear the islands disrupted her and that is clearly visible on this imagery. Also some dry air may be getting in there.




I do see she did pop north as we all discussed last night that it looked like it was happening.

Would a weaker Irene go farther W and be a farthest S model run? I dont think a 60 mile relocation means much in track shift IF Irene is not a developing storm in the process. Close proximity to land and also dry air would not allow developement and a turn so soon to the NW. IMO
Member Since: June 13, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 6912
Quoting P451:
Irene still at 50mph? That's a big surprise to me. She really looked like she was wrapping up and getting ready to intensify.

Look at her last night: Watch her suck the LLC into the convection and begin to wrap up. You would think hours after this the system was going to intensify.





And, here she is now. It would appear the islands disrupted her and that is clearly visible on this imagery. Also some dry air may be getting in there.




I do see she did pop north as we all discussed last night that it looked like it was happening.



It appears mid level COC as seen clearly on radar is all the way up just over or just west of St. Kitts up at 17.3N....radar seems to reflect that circualtion moving west with a slight northward component. Seems as though Irene may not be stacked.
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Quoting WeatherNerdPR:
Seems like it's gonna clip SW PR...


right through Sabana Grande where i live :(
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My local NWS statement in Raleigh, NC....

THE UPPER LEVEL PATTERN WITH A SIGNIFICANT WEAKNESS EXPECTED IN THE
UPPER RIDGING OVER THE EASTERN UNITED STATES IS ONE THAT WILL HAVE
TO BE WATCHED LATE WEEK... FOR POTENTIAL TRACK/STEERING OF TROPICAL
CYCLONE IRENE. THE LATEST MODEL GUIDANCE IS IN GENERAL AGREEMENT
WITH THE NHC FORECASTS. THE EUROPEAN OPERATIONAL MODEL CONTINUES TO
THREATEN THE SE US COAST WITH IRENE BY LATE WEEK INTO THE WEEKEND.
THEREFORE... WE WILL MAINTAIN OUR CURRENT FORECAST WITH INCREASING
CHANCES OF SHOWERS FRI-SAT. EVERYONE ALONG THE EASTERN SEABOARD
ESPECIALLY IN THE SE US SHOULD KEEP UP TO DATE WITH THE LATEST
FORECASTS FROM THE NHC AND NWS.


SEE THE NEW NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE RALEIGH FACEBOOK PAGE OR THE
NWS RALEIGH WEB PAGE FOR DETAILS. -BADGETT

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I do not usually disagree with HH data and fixes...But, I do think that we will see a better center fix north of 17...Just my opinion though.
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Really looking like Irene is going directly over Puetro Rico and shaves the north coast of Hispaniola. Not being doom-caster or wish-caster (do not want Category 3/4 toward my area of course).
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3576. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
09L/TS/I/C0
MARK
17.55N/62.25W
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 176 Comments: 55653
Quoting rkay1:
I think we are ignoring the real threat. If Irene trolls the entire state of FL, we're going to have massive flooding from the bloggers from this site crying themselves to sleep.

Or alot of bloggers getting something they have wished for and that's being impacted by a hurricane. They ask for it all the time, yet they don't know what they are really wishing for. It's not just a hurricane they get, it's the flooding, the lose of life, the lose of power for days. They don't think about these things. I am glad i live in a part of Australia that doesn't get cyclones, we do get there remnants but they hit with less than a full blown cyclone of any category.
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Irene is moving towards the WNW ATM.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Good morning everyone.

I see we had fairly significant changed with Tropical Storm Irene last night. First, it ingested dry air, which was limited intensification for at least the rest of the morning. Secondly, the center formed farther north than expected, which is the significant jump northward the NHC noted was possible last night.


And I'm in a Hurricane Watch.
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Quoting chrisdscane:
she wont strenthen much until she stacked it may be a while
...she's stacked.
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If you take the 30 image loop from NASA/MSFC Interactive GOES Data Selector, Irene has NOT moved west overnight.

It has moved mainly NW.
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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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