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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PREV DISCUSSION... /ISSUED 256 PM CDT SAT AUG 20 2011/
VERY HOT AND HUMID CONDITIONS WILL CONTINUE ACROSS NORTH TEXAS
WITH THE WORST HEAT INDICES BEING ACROSS THE EASTERN HALF OF NORTH
TEXAS THROUGH MONDAY. WE HAVE EXTENDED THE EXISTING HEAT ADVISORY
THROUGH MONDAY EVENING. NORTHWEST PARTS OF THE ADVISORY AREA WILL
LIKELY BE SEEING SLIGHTLY LESS HUMIDITY...BUT AMBIENT HIGH
TEMPERATURES AROUND 105 DEGREES WHICH IS STILL VERY OPPRESSIVE AND
DANGEROUS.

AS NOTED IN EARLIER UPDATE TODAY...WE WILL BE MAINTAINING THE
POTENTIAL FOR ISOLATED SHOWERS AND STORMS ACROSS THE EASTERN RED
RIVER VALLEY AND ALONG/EAST OF THE I-45 CORRIDOR. THIS IS WHERE
THE BEST AND DEEPEST MOISTURE CURRENTLY RESIDES AND WHERE A WEAK
SHORTWAVE DISTURBANCE EASING SOUTHEAST ACROSS EASTERN OKLAHOMA
WILL TRACK. WITH THE HEAT AND INVERTED V SOUNDING PROFILES DOWN
LOW...CANNOT RULE OUT SOME GUSTY WINDS WITH ANY COLLAPSING...
STRONGER ACTIVITY THROUGH SUNSET. WE ARE HEDGING OUR BETS AND
LEANING TOWARD THE NAM12...SREF...AND ECMWF SOLUTIONS THAT A WEAK
OUTFLOW BOUNDARY FROM OKLAHOMA CONVECTION OVERNIGHT MAY SET UP
ACROSS NORTHEAST COUNTIES AND PLAY A ROLE FOR WIDELY SCATTERED
SHOWERS AND THUNDERSTORMS SUNDAY AFTERNOON THROUGH MONDAY NIGHT
GENERALLY NORTHEAST OF A BOWIE...D/FW...ATHENS LINE. IT MUST BE
STRESSED THAT ACTIVITY WILL BE RELATIVELY ISOLATED AND SHORT-LIVED
WITH DROUGHT CONCERNS CONTINUING.

ELEVATED FIRE WEATHER CONCERNS WILL CONTINUE AS WELL WITH THE
DROUGHT AND VERY DRY FUELS AROUND THE REGION...BUT THANKFULLY
WINDS SHOULD REMAIN LOW AND KEEP THE THREAT FOR WILDFIRES DOWN.

MEDIUM RANGE MODELS DO CONTINUE TO INDICATE THE MOST INTENSE PART
OF THE UPPER HIGH SHIFTING TO THE WEST AND POSSIBLY ALLOW SOME
WEAK NORTH/NORTHWEST FLOW TO OCCUR ACROSS EAST TEXAS BY THE LATTER
HALF OF THE WEEK. A WEAK FRONT APPEARS TO EASE INTO NORTH TEXAS ON
THURSDAY WITH ANOTHER SLIGHT CHANCE OF SHOWERS AND STORMS ACROSS
MAINLY THE SOUTHEAST HALF OF NORTH TEXAS WHERE RICHER MOISTURE
WILL RESIDE AHEAD OF THE FRONT.

AS FOR THE TROPICS...NOTHING HAS CHANGED WITH REGARDS TO THE
SYSTEM NOW MOVING INTO THE EASTERN CARIBBEAN AND LIKELY TO BE
NAMED IRENE IN THE NEAR FUTURE. BASICALLY...MODELS CONTINUE TO
AGREE ON KEEPING AN UPPER TROUGH OVER THE EASTERN CONUS AND
PULLING THIS SYSTEM UP THROUGH THE FLORIDA PENINSULA. AT LEAST
RELATIVELY SPEAKING...HIGH TEMPERATURES WILL MODERATE A BIT BY
NEXT WEEKEND AND POSSIBLY FALL BELOW 100 DEGREES. TIME WILL TELL.

05


Member Since: July 31, 2011 Posts: 5 Comments: 807
I know my iggy list is growing by leaps and bounds today. I fail to understand when a situation is this serious why people intentionally throw out misinformation and idle bs. BTW from experience I find that people that call others gay without reason are usually living in their moms basement. just sayin
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
2119. gugi182
the tropical storm streak of this year is over?
Member Since: August 3, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 177
Quoting Stormchaser2007:


No, it would be steered WNW or NW into the SEUS.

I really don't see how this could go OTS.


go crazy wit yer acronyms
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting OracleDeAtlantis:
I think that's a slot of dry air now, also. That donut hole is not were the COC is.
you're right it's south of there, If it were day you can track it with visible, but night you can't really see in the lower levels.
Member Since: August 31, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 5628
Quoting gugi182:
You guys think they should start to put HURRICANE WATCHES OR WARNINGS for Puerto Rico?


If we do indeed have a new center, maybe.
Member Since: June 9, 2007 Posts: 4 Comments: 15776
meh

if i were to judge from this ascat this would be just a strong wave

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Quoting weatherman12345:
but would such a situation lead to the system missing fla all together or...


No, it would be steered WNW or NW into the SEUS.

I really don't see how this could go OTS.
Member Since: June 9, 2007 Posts: 4 Comments: 15776
2113. wxhatt
Quoting CaneHunter031472:


Completely agree. Whoever states that the NHC is innacurate better have the evidence to prove it.
Quoting CaneHunter031472:
For all of those making a big deal out of what the CFC is saying, The GFDL is much more accurate than this other models once the storm has formed. I think that in the next runs the GFDL should start moving to the east as well because the scenario with the trof is setting itself this way. One the GFDL start following suit we can be much more sure about posible impacts to Florida.


Precisely! This is going more East now with the center reformation, and clearly moving more NW.
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Quoting Stormchaser2007:
Recon will be very helpful.



Would be more helpful right now. LOL.

I'm afraid our streak of weak tropical storms may end with a bang.
Member Since: June 29, 2009 Posts: 13 Comments: 5300
2111. scott39
Quoting Patrap:
TS IRENE Floater - Water Vapor Loop
Due W IMHO
Member Since: June 13, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 6730
It is my personal opinion based or IR RGB, pressures out of Dominica and Guadeloupe of about 1009MB, and Dominica radar, that the center is on the SW edge of the convection, you can see it if you look close at the RGB, and it is moving north or West, but I don't think by much.
Member Since: December 18, 2006 Posts: 7 Comments: 2685
Little more to north and it's on Hurricane Fran's track... good lord.
Member Since: August 1, 2011 Posts: 28 Comments: 7896
Expect the new BAMM models to shift to the East Coast of Florida. Exactly what my thinking has been all along for Irene, just can't go much further to the west with that darn TX ridge in place. The trough in Alaska pumps the ridge in TX, thus creating a stronger ridge. While a weakness is eroding the Atlantic Ridge, as well as the next trough, which is expected to pick up Irene and possibly move her up the Coastline.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
AREA FORECAST DISCUSSION
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE SAN JUAN PR
1120 PM AST SAT AUG 20 2011

.UPDATE...TROPICAL STORM IRENE DEVELOPED THIS AFTERNOON EAST OF
THE LESSER ANTILLES. IRENE IS GETTING IMPRESSIVELY BETTER ORGANIZED
IN LATEST SATELLITE IMAGES...WITH VERY STRONG CONVECTION DEVELOPING
NEAR AND AROUND THE LOW LEVEL CENTER. UPPER LEVEL ATMOSPHERIC
CONDITIONS ARE FAVORABLE FOR FURTHER DEVELOPMENT. AT 1100 PM
AST...0300 UTC...THE CENTER OF TROPICAL STORM IRENE WAS LOCATED
NEAR LATITUDE 15.3 NORTH...LONGITUDE 59.9 WEST. IRENE IS MOVING
TOWARD THE WEST NEAR 22 MPH...35 KM/H...AND A MOTION TOWARD WEST-
NORTHWEST AT A SLOWER RATE OF SPEED IS EXPECTED DURING THE NEXT 48
HOURS. ON THE FORECAST TRACK...IRENE WILL PASS THROUGH THE LEEWARD
ISLANDS EARLY SUNDAY...AND MOVE INTO THE NORTHEASTERN CARIBBEAN
SEA LATER ON SUNDAY. IRENE IS EXPECTED TO PASS NEAR 90 MILES SOUTH
OF PONCE LATE SUNDAY INTO MONDAY MORNING...WITH TORRENTIAL
RAINFALL AND TROPICAL STORM FORCE WINDS AFFECTING MOST OF THE
ISLAND.

&&

.AVIATION...BAND ASSOCIATED WITH TROPICAL STORM IRENE WILL AFFECT
TIST...TISX...TNCM..AND TKPK OVERNIGHT. THEREFORE...IFR CONDITIONS
WIL BE POSSIBLE ACROSS THESE TERMINALS IN +TSRA.
Member Since: July 31, 2011 Posts: 5 Comments: 807
2106. Gearsts
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2105. gugi182
You guys think they should start to put HURRICANE WATCHES OR WARNINGS for Puerto Rico?
Member Since: August 3, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 177
Quoting Stormchaser2007:
Recon will be very helpful.



Too bad there's no recon for several more hours.
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 17 Comments: 10159
I think that's a slot of dry air now, also. That donut hole is not were the COC is.
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Keep in mind the NHC did say this at 11pm:

A HURRICANE WATCH COULD BE REQUIRED FOR PUERTO RICO TOMORROW IF
THERE IS A SIGNIFICANT NORTHWARD ADJUSTMENT TO THE TRACK FORECAST.
Member Since: June 29, 2009 Posts: 13 Comments: 5300
I live in Melbourne, i think Irene will lash us hard
fortunately we will not face a large storm surge with the current forecast track
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
2099. cabice
Quoting wxhatt:


That probably won't happen anymore. This new center shift is much further to the north and east. This will keep it well offshore FL and up the coast into NC.


You'e been pimping a NC landfall harder than Dennis Hof.
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Recon will be very helpful.

Member Since: June 9, 2007 Posts: 4 Comments: 15776
Quoting Stormchaser2007:
New position may allow Irene to skirt WNW of Hispaniola and avoid Cuba altogether.

That's a bad mix.


Exactly.
Member Since: June 29, 2009 Posts: 13 Comments: 5300
Quoting Stormchaser2007:
New position may allow Irene to skirt WNW of Hispaniola and avoid Cuba altogether.

That's a bad mix.



sure is
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 114696
2095. Patrap
TS IRENE Floater - Water Vapor Loop
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Looks to have reformed to the North putting the center closer to a direct hit on the Leeward Islands including Puerto Rico. 2:00 AM Advisory should show the jog to the North. PR residents will have little time to prepare for tropical storm conditions. Also, the system may approach Hurricane strength Sunday afternoon or evening. Based on this motion storm could pass closer to the NE coast of PR. Unless, I am missing something here. . .
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2093. scott39
Track from the NHC should be the same unless they have a recon plane out there tonight?
Member Since: June 13, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 6730
Quoting AllStar17:
If Irene has relocated its center...Puerto Rico would appear to be in greater danger than Hispaniola. If the storm moves over Puerto Rico then it would slide just NORTH of Hispaniola. Looks to be moving more west-northwestward in this loop (at least to my untrained eyes).

Link


Nope...I think you are right too...she looks to be tracking more north than the NHC cone says it should...it will likely go over or just S of Puerto Rico and then N coast of DR....
Member Since: September 15, 2009 Posts: 436 Comments: 3599
Quoting Drakoen:


Likely the coordinates will be an extrapolation from the track forecast until they get recon in.


It is nice to see you on the blog again! I always like to hear your thoughts. I was thinking that same thing. However, I do see exactly what you are on Shortwave IR loops.
Member Since: June 29, 2009 Posts: 13 Comments: 5300
Quoting Abacosurf:
The potential is there for this to be a cane by the time it reaches PR. Which is why they should have hurricane warnings up. Pronto.

At this point I would not be surprised to see this at 90MPH within 24 hours.


yeah im pumped to surf this... where u from? i see u surf too?
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Quoting bwat:
Im from eastern nc, but until hh get in there and find a true CoC, Im not gonna worry about it too much just yet. Far to many times I have heard people say how incorrect the NHC was about a storm, and in the short term look of things they appeared to be correct. But if you go back and look at archives of the NHC's track of different storms, then look at their actual paths, they've pretty much been nailing them for the last 5 or so years. Not going into panic mode until I see the NHC cone overtop of me.


Concur.
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2088. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 169 Comments: 53296
New position may allow Irene to skirt WNW of Hispaniola and avoid Cuba altogether.

That's a bad mix.
Member Since: June 9, 2007 Posts: 4 Comments: 15776
If Drak's center position is indeed correct...then the storm has relocated about 100 miles to the north.
Member Since: June 29, 2009 Posts: 13 Comments: 5300
Quoting sunlinepr:
Do we have a COC in the last frames"



lol do we have it missing PR to the north
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2084. bwat
Quoting Swpepper:
Speaking as someone who lives in eastern NC - Elizabeth City to be exact - I can say we would happily welcome Irene... to an extent. If she stays a TS or borderline Cat 1, we would heartily welcome the rain. If we're looking at Cat 3+, then I hope it stays just far enough offshore to give us the rain. The models are interesting though; this is one to watch.
Greeting from Hertford! New Hope to be exact.
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you no the IR may be fooling you makeing you think it may be moveing NW in fac too me it looks like it moveing W too WNW
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 114696
I live near Gainesville Florida. I am waiting to see which path this thing takes. West coast I leave and drive far and spend money. East coast I stay put. The problem with a system like this moving up Florida from the south is that you essentially have to leave Florida to find safe haven. Kind of nerve racking waiting....
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2081. Drakoen
Quoting AllStar17:
2:00 am advisory position will be interesting.


Likely the coordinates will be an extrapolation from the track forecast until they get recon in.
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Quoting serialteg:


well its still not a cane... i think lol

anyone got new quickscats or ascats or dvoraks? while i go take a bath this heat makes me icky
The potential is there for this to be a cane by the time it reaches PR. Which is why they should have hurricane warnings up. Pronto.

At this point I would not be surprised to see this at 90MPH within 24 hours.
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Quoting KoritheMan:
If this is truly the start of an eastward shift in the models, they are reflecting what history is: that the east coast is way overdue.
Well, Irene is little to south of Hurricane Fran's track.

Member Since: August 1, 2011 Posts: 28 Comments: 7896
2078. Gearsts
Quoting sunlinepr:
Do we have a COC in the last frames"

Hopefully Dry air O,O
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Wow...70 posts in just under a few minutes...this blog is under super-duper-RI....LOL!
Member Since: September 15, 2009 Posts: 436 Comments: 3599
Quoting Walshy:


Hurricane Ivan dumped over 20inches of rain over western North Carolina after hitting Florida. Luckily, I received only 8 inches.


Holy smokes 20 inches of rain with hurricane Ivan? That's crazy.
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If Irene has relocated its center...Puerto Rico would appear to be in greater danger than Hispaniola. If the storm moves over Puerto Rico then it would slide just NORTH of Hispaniola. Looks to be moving more west-northwestward in this loop (at least to my untrained eyes).

Link
Member Since: June 29, 2009 Posts: 13 Comments: 5300
First off People get ahold of yourselves.. This storm is just beginning.

2ndly... The COC is still on the SW side of the convection near 15.7N or we will know when recon goes out there.. yeah they will do a 2am cords from the NHC but they need recon cause even radar imagry is poor right now due to the midlevel COC alittle to the NE of the LLC.

3rd... There is too much time and things that can make this go east of Florida mostly affecting the bahamas or even into the GOM. We will have a better idea by 00Z runs tomorrow and even better by Monday-Tues when we know how much land interaction took place with Hispaniola and then Cuba on Weds. Hispaniola might knock off the LLC and push it more W while the midlevel center moves WNW north of Haiti... we just dont know yet. So lets not think of Florida or where it will go until we see what it does in Hispaniola and where it comes off and how strong this is still.
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In 24 hrs CMC has made an enormous shift to the NE; from S of Havana over the open waters of the Carribean (day 7) to South florida (day 6). Forecasts even beyond day 3 are not to be taken as gospel.
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2071. Patrap
IR Unenhanced
TS IRENE

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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.