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:
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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Quoting emguy:


Nigh time model runs portray a weaker ridge, and this storm has been no different night after night with a more eastward bias, only to shift back west by day. Most folks are probably more hyped on the nightly eastward shift tonight due to the relocation of the center that occurred, but the results of the relocation are already starting to look negligible at best as the storm is plodding west toward where it was expected to be on next forecast point.

So on that note...The Gulf is still in the cards, just as much as it has been all along.
I think you are overestimating this effect. Models certainly do account for diurnal pressure cycles. Additionally, there is a far more logical explanation for he shift east, and that would be the low level center repositioning further north.

Quoting yesterway:


So a Gulf entry is not a favorite now?
Still a possibility, but its less likely right now.
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Quoting emguy:


Nigh time model runs portray a weaker ridge, and this storm has been no different night after night with a more eastward bias, only to shift back west by day. Most folks are probably more hyped on the nightly eastward shift tonight due to the relocation of the center that occurred, but the results of the relocation are already starting to look negligible at best as the storm is plodding west toward where it was expected to be on next forecast point.

So on that note...The Gulf is still in the cards, just as much as it has been all along.


I agree. I also think we may see a track just south of west for a short time as well, before getting to a WNW track.
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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.


That's an entirely unscientific claim, though.
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Quoting smuldy:
Not true per se: we can say this will not go west of New Orleans if it survives the islands no matter what the GDFL showed earlier, and we can say this will not go so far east on recurvature that the Bahamas would not feel an effect should it take the eastern most possibility. Now I have no idea what this person actually said, so were it more outlandish than that, and definitive, then ya stone away lol.


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.
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2516. 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.
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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


I believe thats also possible. If anything South florida MAY get lucky.
Member Since: August 22, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 652
Quoting StarnzMet:
MississippiWx do you think this storm could surprise some and head more north into Hispaniola? If the bigger blob to the north wins out could see a northward change in the track?


The center should be pretty well established by now, but even then, a track close to or over Hispaniola is very possible.
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 17 Comments: 10159
Not to mention it seems as though Florida has some sort of shield of protection around over the last several years.
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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


I appreciate your view and your boldness to state it. Thanx...
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Quoting HurricaneHunterJoe:
is 1730Z 10:30 PACIFIC COAST TIME?


Yes
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2510. smuldy
Quoting Barkeep1967:



A very good hunch. nobody with any kind of education would eliminate anything at this point. NOBODY
Not true per se: we can say this will not go west of New Orleans if it survives the islands no matter what the GDFL showed earlier, and we can say this will not go so far east on recurvature that the Bahamas would not feel an effect should it take the eastern most possibility. Now I have no idea what this person actually said, so were it more outlandish than that, and definitive, then ya stone away lol.
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Quoting Barkeep1967:



A very good hunch. nobody with any kind of education would eliminate anything at this point. NOBODY


Funny as well. He is the king advocate of not trusting anything beyond 3 days. So, take his advise, lol.
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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
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MississippiWx do you think this storm could surprise some and head more north into Hispaniola? If the bigger blob to the north wins out could see a northward change in the track?
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Quoting barotropic:


I would eliminate texas.......almost!! LOL


Hahahahaha...
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Quoting Barkeep1967:



A very good hunch. nobody with any kind of education would eliminate anything at this point. NOBODY


Well then that means that anybodies opinion is a good as the next...
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Quoting yesterway:


Thank you for pointing that out :-)


Welcome B-)
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Quoting Barkeep1967:



A very good hunch. nobody with any kind of education would eliminate anything at this point. NOBODY


I would eliminate texas.......almost!! LOL
Member Since: August 22, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 652
Quoting yesterway:


How do you know that scott is not a PhD?



A very good hunch. nobody with any kind of education would eliminate anything at this point. NOBODY
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Quoting ProgressivePulse:



Yes, briefly. Click on the Storm09 tab instead of the 97 tab. The 97 tab is no longer active once Irene formed. They are pretty slow at removing things from the model page. Rightly so as they are probably getting ready to activate EOC's


Thank you for pointing that out :-)
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Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 17 Comments: 10159
is 1730Z 10:30 PACIFIC COAST TIME?
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Quoting yesterway:


Silly boy


That's me.
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2497. smuldy
Quoting RyanFSU:
If I had to make bets, I'd always go with the ECMWF global model over the NCEP GFS. Lately, the Canadian model has been outperforming GFS. It has a similar landfall location as ECMWF in 6-days.

I will just say this; the UKMET was one of the ones on the western periphery last run, and is now on the eastern edge. I'd take the Euro over the GFS generally, but the GFS has done quite well this year. Was the first to see Arlene, and nailed what Emily would do 48 hours out when she split after dying over Hispanola, so trough split storms aside, I wouldn't be as fast to discount it this year.
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Quoting yesterway:
ProgressivePulse are you still with us?



Yes, briefly. Click on the Storm09 tab instead of the 97 tab. The 97 tab is no longer active once Irene formed. They are pretty slow at removing things from the model page. Rightly so as they are probably getting ready to activate EOC's
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2495. emguy
Quoting yesterway:


So a Gulf entry is not a favorite now?


Nigh time model runs portray a weaker ridge, and this storm has been no different night after night with a more eastward bias, only to shift back west by day. Most folks are probably more hyped on the nightly eastward shift tonight due to the relocation of the center that occurred, but the results of the relocation are already starting to look negligible at best as the storm is plodding west toward where it was expected to be on next forecast point.

So on that note...The Gulf is still in the cards, just as much as it has been all along.
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Quoting KoritheMan:


Well, I'm pretty sure no one is a PhD, because PhDs are degrees/rewards, not people. :)


Silly boy
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Quoting GTcooliebai:
I doubt it will move much more east, at least not with the way the Ridge is shown hugging the east coast.


Well you may be right. I live in SE FLorida andI dont want to see anyone with a big problem like Irene. But I will say that I dont think its completely out of the question that Irene misses south florida and stays just offshore on its way North to either N Florida coast or the Carolinas. I think that is a realistic pos
Member Since: August 22, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 652
Quoting Barkeep1967:


Whew glad you are here and know more then those guys with those pesky masters degrees. gmafb nobody knows yet and pretending you do is assanine at best


another sane person! thank you
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Quoting yesterway:


How do you know that scott is not a PhD?


Well, I'm pretty sure no one is a PhD, because PhDs are degrees/rewards, not people. :)
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Quoting Barkeep1967:


Whew glad you are here and know more then those guys with those pesky masters degrees. gmafb nobody knows yet and pretending you do is assanine at best


How do you know that scott is not a PhD?
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no HH for several hours
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Quoting GTcooliebai:
I doubt it will move much more east, at least not with the way the Ridge is shown hugging the east coast.


Where are you located?
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Quoting scottsvb:
I dont see this coming to florida.... I think its more of a Puerto Rico-Hispaniola and Bahamas and
a threat to the Carolinas in 6 days. My assumptions are usually correct so Its a good bet 60% or
more that this might only bring some squalls at most to the east coast of Florida.

Reasons... Formation of the center is further NE.. Model trend on the ECMWF is more east near Nassau and I think it will end up just east of there heading NNW by Thurs near 25N and 76W and get no closer than 79W making landfall in S Carolina.

I could be wrong... but this was suppose to form around 15N and 63W by Sunday morning.. it's already around 16.2N as of this post and 61W... only chance this has of making Florida is a west turn on Sunday (cause its more WNW right now) and its LLC get pulled W of the midlevel Circulation over Haiti due to landfall around 18N and 70W

Whew glad you are here and know bettaround Port-A-Prince Haiti and then going inland over SE Cuba keeping this a 50mph Tropical Storm until it comes off around 78W and 23N...but that just probably not going to happen...probably come off near Labadee Haiti moving WNW and moving NW thru middle of the Bahamas.


Whew glad you are here and know more then those guys with those pesky masters degrees. gmafb nobody knows yet and pretending you do is assanine at best
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Quoting barotropic:


I would say the chances of that are less than it seem lest eve. Clearly the models have shifted east and Irene relocated North. I will be interesting to see if the eastward shift of the late track continues.
I doubt it will move much more east, at least not with the way the Ridge is shown hugging the east coast.
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2485. emguy
Quoting GTcooliebai:
I've been noticing that on RGB & DVORAK, it seems to have resumed a general westward heading, still looks like the COC is at 16N 60.4W.
It's good to remember that Irene remains nested in a larger low pressure envelope from which she evolved, and she may "gyre" a little bit within. She kinda formed in the NE side, so as she moves along, and probably contributed to the reformation. From here, a bend from the west to the west southwest would not surprise as she moves about the northern half of this envelope. With time, that broader envelope she is in will phase out as she continues to become more established.
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Quoting yesterway:


So a Gulf entry is not a favorite now?


No.
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It looks to me as if a WNW motion from here, and Irene could stay north of the islands. That would be a very bad scenario for the Bahamas and the US east coast.
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Quoting yesterway:


So a Gulf entry is not a favorite now?


I would say the chances of that are less than it seem lest eve. Clearly the models have shifted east and Irene relocated North. It will be interesting to see if the eastward shift of the late track continues.
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ProgressivePulse are you still with us?
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_________________TM
DOOMCON
_________________
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Quoting TomTaylor:
Latest Water Vapor image with old NHC forecast points




Satellite imagery clearly shows that this storm is much further north than its projected path due to the LLC getting better positioned under the MLC. Water vapor and TPW imagery indicates that the surrounding environment is very moist and that outflow is great under the nice upper level anticyclone. SSTs and TCHP are certainly plenty. Shear is light and the storm is fairly well stacked.

Models are in pretty strong agreement and have been very consistent as far as the track is concerned. Obviously, they will shift further north/east given the new center fix, but the trajectory or shape of the track shouldn't change much. As a result, Florida to the Carolinas are about the main concerns as far as the US is concerned. In the Caribbean, the northern lesser Antilles, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, and the Bahamas will all have to prepare as the storm will effect these areas. Overall, all conditions point to further intensification. Obviously, it has some work to do with structure and organization, but after that, land will be just about the only issue as far as intensification.


So a Gulf entry is not a favorite now?
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Quoting emguy:
Nothing has really changed with Irene in the general track philosophy since the relocation (at least as far as the governing weather patterns are concerned). Interesting note about that re-location though, there is a slight auto correct going on in that it is moving due west instead of a more west north westerly direction. In fact, the longer loop of the radar since the relocation would imply maybe just a smidge south of due west movement. so the short turn jump in lattitude may be just that, a short term jump with little change in longer term results. Good news for Puerto Rico is now that Irene has an established circulation, it's unlikely to reform north again. In that scenario, as long as it does not bend west north west soon, the anticipated impacts should not be any worse than already forecasted.
I've been noticing that on RGB & DVORAK, it seems to have resumed a general westward heading, still looks like the COC is at 16N 60.4W.
Member Since: August 31, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 5628
Latest Water Vapor image with old NHC forecast points




Satellite imagery clearly shows that this storm is much further north than its projected path due to the LLC getting better positioned under the MLC. Water vapor and TPW imagery indicates that the surrounding environment is very moist and that outflow is great as a result of the nice upper level anticyclone. SSTs and TCHP are certainly plenty. Shear is light and the storm is fairly well stacked.

Models are in pretty strong agreement and have been very consistent as far as the track is concerned. Obviously, they will shift further north/east given the new center fix, but the trajectory or shape of the track shouldn't change much. As a result, Florida to the Carolinas are about the main concerns as far as the US is concerned. In the Caribbean, the northern lesser Antilles, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, and the Bahamas will all have to prepare as the storm will effect these areas. Overall, all conditions point to further intensification. Obviously, it has some work to do with structure and organization, but after that, land will be just about the only issue as far as intensification.

out for now, later all.
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Quoting weatherguy74:
I usually hold my comments to a minimum however I just thought I'd chime in here. First off RyanFSU I love your site that you have up as it's a big help to those who like all the models detailed on one page.
Looking at the Martinique radar you can see on the last frame a slight movement back to the WSW. Just an observation from me and as usual to the regulars keep up the good work. :P

Quoting emguy:
Agreed!


Hah I was just about to say agree to you as well. :P
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Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
Not really. Antigua reporting winds towards the NE at 22mph, which would sorta make sense since I see the circulation WSW of there.

Yessir.
Guadeloupe reporting west winds at 5mph as of 3am. not sure how accurate Wunderground is though.
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2473. emguy
Quoting weatherguy74:
I usually hold my comments to a minimum however I just thought I'd chime in here. First off RyanFSU I love your site that you have up as it's a big help to those who like all the models detailed on one page.
Looking at the Martinique radar you can see on the last frame a slight movement back to the WSW. Just an observation from me and as usual to the regulars keep up the good work. :P
Agreed!
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TS.Irene's_6amGMT_ATCF : Starting 20August_6amGMT and ending 21August_6amGMT

The 2 eastern line-segments represent TropicalStormIrene's path
and the westernmost line-segment is the straightline projection.

Using straightline projection of the travel-speed&heading derived from the ATCF coordinates spanning the 6hours between 12amGMT then 6amGMT :
TS.Irene's travel-speed was 19.3mph(31.1k/h) on a heading of 306.6degrees(NNW)
TS.Irene was headed toward passage over CarlisleBay,Antigua ~4&1/2 hours from now

Copy&paste eis, 14.1n52.8w, 14.3n54.9w, 14.6n57.2w-15.0n59.0w, 15.0n59.0w-16.0n60.4w, anu, 15.0n59.0w-17.005n61.83w into the GreatCircleMapper for more info
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maybe this is better
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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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