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 TropicalWeatherGrl88:


Don't get to happy just yet it may shift more to the east over time seems to have a eat bias due to intensity


Not gonna happen.. Sorry.. The pattern will not allow it, as others have pointed out.
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2570. smuldy
Quoting KoritheMan:


It's true that you can never be certain in weather. I guess we'll see. But right now, I just don't see it. Anyone that knows me understands I don't wishcast -- I forecast. Big difference.
ya Kori you are def solid here; you kman levi and it seems bero def know your stuff always try to take in your take before offering mine

edit and miami and grothar and weatherguy03 cause i feel like a word i cant say on this blog not mentioning them as well
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Quoting ClydeFrog:
love the mis-information that goes on here, from people who have THINK they know what they are talking about....
Are you contributing at all?
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Quoting yesterway:


This is a public blog for people who enjoy weather. We do this for fun so please stop attacking..
The person types as if he/she still colors outside the lines on drawing books. Just ignore them.
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Quoting ClydeFrog:
love the mis-information that goes on here, from people who have THINK they know what they are talking about....


I love how your sentence makes no sense. Poof.
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 17 Comments: 10284
Quoting TropicalWeatherGrl88:


It's true that you can never be certain in weather. I guess we'll see. But right now, I just don't see it. Anyone that knows me understands I don't wishcast -- I forecast. Big difference.
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Quoting reedzone:
My forecast of the models to switch up the East Coast of Florida was right on! Expect the NHC track to point right at Miami at 5 a.m. as either a 70 mph. storm or minimal Hurricane. No this is NOT going out to sea, even scottsvb, who is a MET, can be off. This is not missing Florida, the pattern strictly pulls this right up the coastline.


Don't get to happy just yet it may shift more to the east over time seems to have a eat bias due to intensity
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Quoting ClydeFrog:
love the mis-information that goes on here, from people who have THINK they know what they are talking about....


This is a public blog for people who enjoy weather. We do this for fun so please stop attacking..
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Latest ECMWF ensemble run is out (0z)


144 hrs




168 hrs




Still goes to show that the individual ensemble members are taking Irene anywhere from the Mississippi river to Cape Hatteras. With the repositioning of the surface center further north, a track up Florida or just off Florida and into the Carolinas is slightly more likely than a track through the Gulf, but such a track into the Gulf can not be ruled out.
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love the mis-information that goes on here, from people who have THINK they know what they are talking about....
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Quoting ProgressivePulse:



Probably just south however, all the main action is N & E of the center. You'll experience all that Irene is at the time.
bad girl!
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2560. smuldy
Quoting barotropic:


I am in lighthouse point. Had eye of Wilma. No electric after Wilma for 9 days. But man right after passage we got that real nice cool air...mid 60's at night for like 3 nights. then the hot misery came in, remember that?
I do remember the cool air but my A/C was on again by the time the hot came back; but still going to Ocean dr every night to charge my phone at the Pelican or News was less than fun; and I also remember publix being on the west of Collins so taking 2 more days to get power than my friend Amanda who got it day 2 on the east side, hence my brilliant idea to hurricane 'party' at my friend Alex's should the storm hit seeing as she is on the east side of Collins in another modern high rise
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Quoting KoritheMan:


It would take a miraculous shift in the synoptic pattern to chug her out to sea. The subtropical ridge will be nosing westward into the southeast United States even while Irene is moving poleward.

Well maybe that ridge will suddenly break down 3 to 7 days from now. I'm just saying I would not be surprised. I'm not trying to forcast I am just simply saying the models show a whole lot of consistency with this storm. Things change only days before a landfall, but you know that I have read your posts on the blog, very good inputs you have btw.
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Quoting yesterway:


Kori is sold on that Florida landfall....


It's true that I'm still thinking Florida for a landfall point, but I'm not necessarily saying the track couldn't shift toward the Carolinas. I'm just saying I think recurvature is nigh impossible at this point. The synoptic pattern simply does not favor it.
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Quoting barotropic:


I am in lighthouse point. Had eye of Wilma. No electric after Wilma for 9 days. But man right after passage we got that real nice cool air...mid 60's at night for like 3 nights. then the hot misery came in, remember that?


Yes, I do not do well with no a/c...
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Quoting smuldy:
not impossible, but some of us here could still get killed by a skirter, I'm on the island offshore that for some reason they call Miami Beach, and bayside so the surge could still kill my complex even Wilma did coming west to east well north of us, it just depends on how big it is when it tightens, and if it is like the globals suggest or if land interaction does tear it down to a strong TS/ weak Cat 1. If the latter is the case I will be broadcasting til power goes out live on the other blog. Should it be the former, I will probably head to Collins to a more modern building at one of my friends' places and will stream if/as long as possible. Could miss us altogether though, and depending on the strength thats a great thing for me. Went through Wilma and had no power for 4 days, don't need that again.


I am in lighthouse point. Had eye of Wilma. No electric after Wilma for 9 days. But man right after passage we got that real nice cool air...mid 60's at night for like 3 nights. then the hot misery came in, remember that?
Member Since: August 22, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 652
In any case, we are still talking about something that is 5-6 days out where a storm could have a lot of land interaction or little. A lot can and probably will change with track forecasts and strength forecasts.
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 17 Comments: 10284
Quoting reedzone:
My forecast of the models to switch up the East Coast of Florida was right on! Expect the NHC track to point right at Miami at 5 a.m. as either a 70 mph. storm or minimal Hurricane. No this is NOT going out to sea, even scottsvb, who is a MET, can be off. This is not missing Florida, the pattern strictly pulls this right up the coastline.


Where do you live Reed?
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It is a very close call with Irene. Everybody from Key West to Outer Banks,N.C. should pay close att. to this one. We all seen the models,they will shift once this storm cranks up!
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Quoting reedzone:
My forecast of the models to switch up the East Coast of Florida was right on! Expect the NHC track to point right at Miami at 5 a.m. as either a 70 mph. storm or minimal Hurricane. No this is NOT going out to sea, even scottsvb, who is a MET, can be off. This is not missing Florida, the pattern strictly pulls this right up the coastline.


Sounds a little dogmatic there...
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Quoting KoritheMan:


It would take a miraculous shift in the synoptic pattern to chug her out to sea. The subtropical ridge will be nosing westward into the southeast United States even while Irene is moving poleward.


Kori is sold on that Florida landfall....
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My forecast of the models to switch up the East Coast of Florida was right on! Expect the NHC track to point right at Miami at 5 a.m. as either a 70 mph. storm or minimal Hurricane. No this is NOT going out to sea, even scottsvb, who is a MET, can be off. This is not missing Florida, the pattern strictly pulls this right up the coastline.
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Looks like it has been reforming again, this time to the SW.
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Quoting TropicalWeatherGrl88:


Wouldn't be surprised. I also wouldn't be if another trough came from behind that one and pushed her out to sea, not saying I see that right now, just saying I wouldn't be surprised...hmmm


It would take a miraculous shift in the synoptic pattern to chug her out to sea. The subtropical ridge will be nosing westward into the southeast United States even while Irene is moving poleward.
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Quoting RyanFSU:
I guess it's not a surprised that the poorly-formed center of circulation was pulled under the curved band of convection. With that curved band present, an eyewall should be quite easy to form. I'd expect rapid intensification and have a hurricane, soon. Irene moving at 22 mph is impressive -- reminds me of Dean and Felix in 2007 that hauled ass through the Caribbean.
...and those were Category 5s.
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2545. smuldy
Quoting barotropic:


I am going to bet that the updated forecast track will put Irene on a pathe between the bahamas and Floridas east coast. Not on Floridas east coast, but off shore. This would be a fortunate trend for florida, not so for those further north. Several of the models are already right on the east coast or offshore. I think, if anything the trend will be east, not west. Just...IMO.
not impossible, but some of us here could still get killed by a skirter, I'm on the island offshore that for some reason they call Miami Beach, and bayside so the surge could still kill my complex even Wilma did coming west to east well north of us, it just depends on how big it is when it tightens, and if it is like the globals suggest or if land interaction does tear it down to a strong TS/ weak Cat 1. If the latter is the case I will be broadcasting til power goes out live on the other blog. Should it be the former, I will probably head to Collins to a more modern building at one of my friends' places and will stream if/as long as possible. Could miss us altogether though, and depending on the strength thats a great thing for me. Went through Wilma and had no power for 4 days, don't need that again.

edit killed is a bad word for a superstitious former bostonian like myself so let me repost with 'not like' lol
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Quoting yesterway:


If that happened it would be reasonable to say that the storm would intensify as it moved north?


We are entering the peak of the season. the waters are real warm off florida not to mention the gulf stream, I think the basic are in place for that. The TPC has mentioned that in the discussion.
Member Since: August 22, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 652
Quoting ProgressivePulse:
Night / Morning All. Eastward shift w/ landfall in Broward County @ 5am, right on the TVCN.



CYA & thanx
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Quoting farhaonhebrew:
direct hit to us in P.R?



Probably just south however, all the main action is N & E of the center. You'll experience all that Irene is at the time.
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Quoting barotropic:


I am going to bet that the updated forecast track will put Irene on a path between the bahamas and Floridas east coast. Not on Floridas east coast, but off shore. This would be a fortunate trend for florida, not so for those further north. Several of the models are already right on the east coast or offshore. I think, if anything the trend will be east, not west. Just...IMO.


Wouldn't be surprised. I also wouldn't be if another trough came from behind that one and pushed her out to sea, not saying I see that right now, just saying I wouldn't be surprised...hmmm
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Night / Morning All. Eastward shift w/ landfall in Broward County @ 5am, right on the TVCN.

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direct hit to us in P.R?
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Quoting smuldy:
Ya you are totally right there i did mean 12z for the CMC


Yes, the 12Z CMC takes Irene over western Cuba and northwards again. It was likely so far west because it didn't develop Irene for around 36 hours.
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Quoting barotropic:


I am going to bet that the updated forecast track will put Irene on a path between the bahamas and Floridas east coast. Not on Floridas east coast, but off shore. This would be a fortunate trend for florida, not so for those further north. Several of the models are already right on the east coast or offshore. I think, if anything the trend will be east, not west. Just...IMO.


If that happened it would be reasonable to say that the storm would intensify as it moved north?
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Latest observations at 4 eastern from Guadeloupe, which is west of the center by around 75 miles, is light rain with a pressure of 1007mb and falling with winds from the west at 7mph.
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Quoting TropicalWeatherGrl88:


EDIT:Irene will be there for the trough to grab her.


I am going to bet that the updated forecast track will put Irene on a path between the bahamas and Floridas east coast. Not on Floridas east coast, but off shore. This would be a fortunate trend for florida, not so for those further north. Several of the models are already right on the east coast or offshore. I think, if anything the trend will be east, not west. Just...IMO.
Member Since: August 22, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 652
Quoting MississippiWx:


The trof digging in over the Eastern Seaboard should put an end to that quick speed in a day or two.
Yep, NHC 11PM discussion mentioned a declaration as well
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2533. smuldy
Quoting NICycloneChaser:


I was talking about the 00Z, assumed you were as it's the most recent run. And again, whilst the GFDL had it in the Yucatan Channel, the weakness is north of it, the storm would still not move west of New Orleans. And there is no 18Z CMC.
Ya you are totally right there i did mean 12z for the CMC
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Quoting smuldy:
If I'm not mistaken the 18z showed the storm approaching the Yucatan before turning northward as it ignored the trough altogether. And the GDFL 18z, CMC 18z, and UKMET 18z all had Irene's circulation hugging the coast of SA at the 24 hour mark.


I was talking about the 00Z, assumed you were as it's the most recent run. And again, whilst the GFDL had it in the Yucatan Channel, the weakness is north of it, the storm would still not move west of New Orleans. And there is no 18Z CMC.
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Quoting KoritheMan:


That's an entirely unscientific claim, though.


Agree, it is just my opinion. Always seems at the last second, here comes a trough. Or anything that does come this way is so dead it's just thunderstorms by the time it gets here.
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Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 17 Comments: 10284
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2528. smuldy
Quoting NICycloneChaser:


The GFDL wasn't showing a path west of New Orleans, the run ended while Irene was over western Cuba, from there it would move north, then likely north east into the Florida west coast. While that path seems a little more unlikely now, it isn't out of the question. UKMET does something similar.
If I'm not mistaken the 18z showed the storm approaching the Yucatan before turning northward as it ignored the trough altogether. And the GDFL 18z, CMC 18z, and UKMET 18z all had Irene's circulation hugging the coast of SA at the 24 hour mark.


edit: and reguardless of what they said I can rule that out because they a) deepened the storm despite ignoring the trough and b) the Continental ridge was strong in every run save one GFS outlier that brought it up to NOLA and then west into TX 4 days ago; this storm could go into the gulf east of central Louisiana and not impact Florida, but given the setup that is unlikely, and likely the window is the panhandle to the Bahamas.
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Quoting RyanFSU:
I guess it's not a surprised that the poorly-formed center of circulation was pulled under the curved band of convection. With that curved band present, an eyewall should be quite easy to form. I'd expect rapid intensification and have a hurricane, soon. Irene moving at 22 mph is impressive -- reminds me of Dean and Felix in 2007 that hauled ass through the Caribbean.


The trof digging in over the Eastern Seaboard should put an end to that quick speed in a day or two.
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 17 Comments: 10284
Quoting NICycloneChaser:


It's little more than coincidence. There's no new atmospheric feature to block all tropical cyclones.


Hmmm.
Member Since: August 22, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 652
I cant count how man times 5-7 days out it looks like Fl then a day later its GA Then SC Then NC this always happens as long as I can remmeber since I began following tropical cyclones from Charleston SC since 1994. History tells us with a storm in the current location Irene is in 9/10 times its a east coast storm not a gulf storm. History does not lie computer models 7 days out do.
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TD.Harvey_6amGMT_ATCF : Starting 20August_6amGMT and ending 21August_6amGMT

The 4 shorter line-segments represent TropicalDepressionHarvey's path,
the longest line-segment is the straightline projection, and the 4 unconnected dots are
the highest points of Yucatan(state), QuintanaRoo, Campeche(state), and Belize.

Using straightline projection of the travel-speed&heading derived from the ATCF coordinates spanning the 6hours between 12amGMT then 6amGMT :
TD.Harvey's travel-speed was 21mph(33.8k/h) on a heading of 276.5degrees(West)
TD.Harvey was headed toward dissipation over southern Mexico

Copy&paste isj, 19.945n89.393w, 18.099n88.9w, 17.9n89.467w, 16.494n89.046w, mtt, 16.3n85.7w-16.7n87.0w, 16.7n87.0w-17.0n88.3w, 17.0n88.3w-17.3n89.6w, 17.3n89.6w-17.5n91.5w, mdb, 17.3n89.6w-18.0n97.5w into the GreatCircleMapper for more info

The previous mapping (for 21August_12amGMT)
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Quoting NICycloneChaser:


Yes
Thanks

and the guy stated Irenes going to South Carolina, but he could be wrong if i remember correctly
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Quoting TropicalWeatherGrl88:
Well I am going to go out on a limb and say that eventually Florida may be taking out of that cone. It always seems these troughs come down sooner the, later and if a already stronger Irene then the models forcast will be there and it will grab her. This is why I agree with scottsvb


EDIT:Irene will be there for the trough to grab her.
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Quoting TropicalWeatherGrl88:
Not to mention it seems as though Florida has some sort of shield of protection around over the last several years.


It's little more than coincidence. There's no new atmospheric feature to block all tropical cyclones.
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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.