Hurricane Irene pounds Puerto Rico, heads for Hispaniola

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:40 PM GMT on August 22, 2011

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Hurricane Irene strengthened into the season's first Atlantic hurricane at 5am EDT this morning as the eye moved over San Juan, Puerto Rico, and crossed into the ocean just north of the island. Overnight, Irene held its own as the eye passed over the most mountainous portion of Puerto Rico, the El Yunque region. Winds in the higher mountains likely reached Category 2 strength, 96 - 110 mph, according to measurements from the San Juan Terminal Doppler Radar, and the hurricane pounded the island with damaging winds and flooding rains, resulting in widespread tree damage and power failures that hit 800,000 people. The San Juan Airport recorded top winds of 41 mph, gusting to 55 mph, and 2.87" of rain, as of 9am AST. Tropical storm conditions affected the Virgin Islands, with St. Thomas recording sustained winds of 40 mph, gusting to 67 mph, and 4.03" of rain as of 6am AST today. At 7am EDT, the ship Horizon Trader measured sustained northeast winds of 69 mph and wave heights of 11.5 feet at 19°N, in the northern eyewall of Irene. Latest observations from an Air Force hurricane hunter aircraft indicate that Irene is slowly intensifying, with a central pressure of 989 mb observed at 9:42am EDT. The eyewall is not fully formed yet, with a gap on the south side. This gap will need to close off before the hurricane can undergo rapid intensification.


Figure 1. A direct hit: the center of Hurricane Irene passed directly over the Terminal Doppler Radar at San Juan, Puerto Rico between 4am and 5am AST this morning.

Track forecast for Irene
The computer models show good agreement that Irene will pass along the north coast of Hispaniola today, but just a slight wobble in Irene's track to take it farther offshore--or push it onshore, over the mountains--will have major impacts on the ultimate path and strength of the hurricane. A trough of low pressure is expected to move across the Eastern U.S. on Wednesday and Thursday, turning Irene more to the northwest by Wednesday. The 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. Irene's strength will also matter--a stronger Irene is more likely to turn northward earlier. The most popular solution among the models is to take Irene to the northwest through the Bahamas on Wednesday and Thursday, then into the Southeast U.S. coast in South Carolina or North Carolina on Saturday. Irene would then travel up the mid-Atlantic coast, arriving near Long Island, New York on Monday morning as a strong tropical storm or Category 1 hurricane. One of the models proposing this solution is our best model, the ECMWF. However, we have two other of our very good models suggesting a landfall near Miami on Thursday night is likely (the GFDL and UKMET models.) NHC forecaster Stacy Stewart gave some good reasons in this morning's discussion to favor a track close to the east coast of Florida, but just offshore. Last years' worst performing major the model, the NOGAPS, predicts that Irene will pass out to sea, missing the Southeast U.S. coast. Keep in mind that the average error of a 4-day forecast from NHC is 200 miles, and just a small deviation in the path of a storm moving roughly parallel to the coast will make a huge difference in where it ultimately makes landfall. The NOAA jet will be flying its first dropsonde mission into Irene today, which should result in a more reliable set of model runs first thing Tuesday morning.

Intensity forecast for Irene
Irene is embedded in a large envelope of moisture now, and wind shear is expected to remain low, 5 - 10 knots, for the next five days. With water temperatures very warm, 29 - 30°C, these conditions should allow for intensification except when land is interfering. Satellite loops show that Irene is steadily growing in size, which will protect the storm against major disruption by its passage along the north shore of Hispaniola today. The storm is lacking much development on its southwest side, where dry air is interfering with development. This dry air may help keep southern portions of the Dominican Republic and Haiti from receiving more than 3 - 6 inches of rain. There is at least a 30% chance that passage of the eye over Hispaniola will reduce Irene to a tropical storm tonight and into Tuesday. Due to Hispaniola blocking inflow of moist air from the south, Irene will likely compensate by building an even larger region of heavy thunderstorms to the north, offshore. Thus, when Irene's center finally moves well away from the coast on Tuesday, it will be a bigger storm, with the potential to spread hurricane conditions over a wider area later in the week when it intensifies. One limiting factor for intensification may be in the upper-level outflow pattern. The hurricane is lifting a huge amount of air from the surface to the upper atmosphere, and all that mass has to be efficiently transported away in order for the hurricane to intensify. Right now, upper level outflow is only well-established to the north and east, and the forecast outflow pattern for the coming five days is only moderately favorable. Overall, I think the official NHC forecast of a Category 3 hurricane by Thursday is the right one, though Irene could easily be a Category 2 or Category 4 storm.

Irene's impact on the Dominican Republic
Heavy rains from Irene have already reached the eastern tip of the Dominican Republic, where Punta Cana has seen wind gusts up to 29 mph this morning. The northeast coast of the country near Samana will receive the worst of Irene's wrath, with sustained winds of 50 - 70 mph and gusts above hurricane force likely to cause widespread tree damage and power outages today. Passage along the coast of the island may weaken Irene to a tropical storm by Tuesday morning, and wind damage in Puerto Plata may be less severe than at Samana. The capital of Santo Domingo will see lesser winds, perhaps 30 - 50 mph, with gusts to 60 mph. The main danger to the Dominican Republic will be Irene's torrential rains, which are likely to reach 20 inches in some mountainous regions, causing dangerous flash floods and mudslides.

Irene's impact on Haiti
No nation in the Caribbean is more vulnerable to hurricanes than Haiti, whose northern reaches are expected to receive torrential rains of 5 - 10 inches from Irene. During the 2008 hurricane season, four storms--Fay, Gustav, Hanna, and Ike--dumped heavy rains on Haiti, leaving over 1,000 people dead or missing. The path and intensity of Hurricane Irene are very similar to that of Hurricane Jeanne of 2004, which dumped 13 inches of rains on the nation's northern mountains. The rugged hillsides, stripped bare of 98% of their forest cover thanks to deforestation, let flood waters rampage into large areas of the country, killing over 3000 people, mostly in the town of Gonaives, the nation's 4th largest city. Jeanne ranks as the 12th deadliest hurricane of all time on the list of the 30 most deadly Atlantic hurricanes, and Irene's rains are capable of causing a similar disaster. During 2004 and again this year, ocean temperatures off the coast of Haiti were 1 - 1.5°C above average, one of the top five values seen in the past 100 years. Since more water vapor evaporates into the air from record warm waters, the potential for devastating floods from hurricanes is much higher in these situations. However, satellite images of Jeanne show the storm had much more moisture on its south side when it hit Hispaniola than Irene currently has, so I am hopeful that Irene's rains will not be as intense as Jeanne's were.


Figure 2. Track of Hurricane Jeanne of 2004, which followed a path very similar to what is expected from Hurricane Irene along the north coast of Hispaniola. Irene is not going to do a big loop like Jeanne did, though.

As bad as the hurricanes of 2004 and 2008 were, the January 2010 earthquake was far worse. Up to 316,000 may have been killed, and the capital city of Port-Au-Prince was devastated, leaving over 1.5 million people living under tarps during the 2010 hurricane season. Fortunately, Hurricane Tomas missed making a direct hit on Haiti, and Haiti escaped major loss of life during the 2010 hurricane season. This year, approximately 595,000 Haitians still live underneath tarps outdoors thanks to the earthquake, and these unfortunate people will be at risk of being swept away by flash flooding from Irene's torrential rains. However, Port-Au-Prince lies to the south of where Irene's main rains will fall, and I doubt the earthquake refugee camps will suffer from a major flooding disaster.


Figure 3. Hospital admissions (black bars) and death rate in percent (red line) for Haiti's cholera epidemic of 2010 - 2011. The cholera epidemic surged out of control after Hurricane Tomas dumped heavy rains on Haiti on November 4, 2010, with hospitalizations increasing by a factor of three for over a month. Over 3% of all people who contracted cholera died after Tomas' rains. However, sanitation and medical care improved in the following months, and the death rate fell by a factor of five to 0.7% by the summer of 2011. Another surge in cholera cases occurred in June 2011, doubling after heavy rainy season rains occurred. Cholera deaths doubled during the surge, but the death rate remained constant at 0.7%. Image credit: Pan American Health Organization.

Another danger is that Irene's rains will worsen the cholera epidemic that surfaced after the earthquake. Cholera is a water-borne disease, and spreads readily after heavy rains. As of August 12, 2011, the 2010 - 2011 cholera epidemic had infected 419,000 Haitians, killing 5,968. After Hurricane Tomas passed on November 5, 2010, cholera cases exploded, with hospital admissions more than tripling for over a month. Similarly, heavy rains in June 2011 during the country's usual rainy season caused doubled cholera cases and deaths for several weeks. We can expect that Irene's rains will cause at least a doubling of cholera cases for a month or more. This will lead to several hundred additional cholera deaths, given the disease's 0.7% mortality rate this summer in Haiti (during June and July 2011, 95,212 cases were reported, with 626 deaths.) An increase in cholera deaths due to Irene's rains is also a concern in the Dominican Republic, where cholera has sickened 14,000 people and killed 92 as of the end of July.

Organizations Active in Haitian Relief Efforts:
Portlight disaster relief
Lambi Fund of Haiti
Haiti Hope Fund
Catholic Relief Services of Haiti

Links
For those of you wanting to know your odds of receiving hurricane force or tropical storm force winds, I recommend the NHC wind probability product.

Wunderground has detailed storm surge maps for the U.S. coast.

See my 2010 post, Haiti's tragic hurricane history.

An exceptionally active of hurricane season
Hurricane season is only one-third over, and we've already had almost a full years' activity already. Tropical Storm Irene is the 9th named storm this year, and an average season has just 10 - 11 named storms. Irene's formation date of August 20 ties 2011 with 1936 as the 2nd earliest date for formation of the season's 9th storm. Only 2005 was more active this early. However, the first eight storms of the year have done far less damage than is typical. All eight storms 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 4. 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.

Which model should you trust?
Wunderground provides a web page with computer model forecasts for many of the best-performing models used to predict hurricane tracks. So which is the best? Well, the best forecasts are made by combining the forecasts from three or more models into a "consensus" forecast. Over the past decade, NHC has greatly improved their forecasts by relying on consensus forecast models made using various combinations of the GFS, GFDL, NOGAPS, UKMET, HWRF, and ECMWF models. If you average together the track forecasts from these models, the NHC official forecast will rarely depart much from it, and the NHC forecast has been hard to beat over the past few years. The single best-performing model over the past two years has been the ECMWF (European Center model). This model out-performed the official NHC forecast in 2010 for 1-day, 2-day, 3-day and 4-day forecasts, and in 2009 for 4-day and 5-day forecasts. You can view ECMWF forecasts on our wundermap with the model layer turned on. The European Center does not permit public display of tropical storm positions from their hurricane tracking module of their model, so we are unable to put ECMWF forecasts on our computer model forecast page that plots positions from the other major models. As seen in Figure 5, over the past two years, the GFS and GFDL model have been the next best models, with the UKMET model not far behind. Last year, the NOGAPS model did very poorly, forcing NHC to come up with some new consensus models this year, the TCOA and TVCA, that do not include the NOGAPS model. For those interested in learning more about the models, NOAA has a great training video (updated for 2011.)


Figure 5. Skill of computer model forecasts of Atlantic named storms 2010. OFCL=Official NHC forecast; GFS=Global Forecast System model; GFDL=Geophysical Fluid Dynamic Laboratory model; HWRF=Hurricane Weather Research Forecasting model; NOGAPS=Navy Operational Global Prediction System model; UKMET=United Kingdom Met Office model; ECMWF=European Center for Medium Range Weather Forecasting model; TVCN=one of the consensus models that lends together all (or most) of the above models. Image credit: National Hurricane Center 2010 verification report.

Next post
There will be 2 - 3 posts per day in my blog this week during Irene, with Angela Fritz and Rob Carver doing some of the afternoon and evening posts.

Jeff Masters

Tropical Storm Irene hits Puerto Rico (lobdellJ)
Tropical Storm Irene hits the north coast of Puerto Rico
Tropical Storm Irene hits Puerto Rico
Tropical Storm Irene from Maunabo, PR (ronmil)
The first bands or Irene approaching Maunabo, Puerto Rico (SE corner)...
Tropical Storm Irene from Maunabo, PR
Irene (reefchild)
Irene @OPkB OceanParkBeach Puerto Rico 7pm
Irene

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Quoting nrtiwlnvragn:


You left out the 12Z HWRF DOOOOOOOOM for the Bahamas

Yeah but nobody cares about the Bahamas, so it's just doom (small letters) for them...

(**SARCASM!!** I know some bloggers are from there and are very concerned, so don't take it as an insult!)
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Of the top 10 analog tracks, the realistic possibilities only include Jeanne as a hit possible FL landfall...which included a loop out at sea.

All of the other realistic analog tracks are NC landfalls or recurve out to sea.
See it here: http://moe.met.fsu.edu/~acevans/models/al092011_a nalogs.png
(It says redistribution prohibited.)

Of course, no 2 hurricanes behave quite the same...
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
Irene has slowed to 12 MPH. If she slows any more then you might have to start wondering if the ridge will build back in a block her from turning north.
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Quoting Patrap:


Well there goes her eye. Just re-cycling or is this an actual weakening because of Hispaniola?
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I know the focus is on Irene, but I noticed the 12z GFS develops 3 CV storms in a row in the next several days.
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Be curious as to why GFDL is hanging on to the Western solution. All other models moving east. The 12Z GFS has it even further east now.

Must be due to interpolation of timing and strength of troughs and impact on the ridge??
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Quoting yonzabam:
How many billions of dollars damage would a cat 4 slamming into Miami do, I wonder? I think it could surpass Katrina. $50 billion, maybe?


The 1926 Miami Hurricane, if repeated, would be slated to do approximately $100-150 billion damage.
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929. Jax82
Kinda stinks we wont have radar on Irene for a loooooooong time. Her eye is moving out of range.
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Quoting PrivateIdaho:


this seems vaguely familiar.
It's like the 1935 Miami Hurricane.
Member Since: August 18, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 994
Quoting Bluestorm5:
Do you really work for WCSC TV Charleston??? You aren't acting like a pro...


Pretty positive he does...And he is absolutely correct. Storms typically are targeted for Florida and then the projected path moves up the cost. That said, no storms plays strictly by historical data. Everything is up in the air right now. When the global 00z runs come out in the early am; I expect we'll have a better general idea.
Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 16511
Quoting WCSCTVCharleston:



Im not a troll just my opinion just like everyone on here can post theirs


Well it definitely won't be going OTS.
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Quoting ncstorm:


but my question when something as a cat 5 hits an area, where would you evacuate to..effects of a category 2/3 would be felt inland for about the whole state..



Fran lifted 17 massive trees out by their roots in my yard, and we were without utilities for 14 days - up here in Chapel Hill. And so began my fixation on all storms tropical.
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Quoting poknsnok:
pressure up storm weakening


A 1mb pressure rise in a hurricane is not indicative of a general weakening trend.
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Hi all. I saw the 2pm update and saw that TS force winds now extend out 185 miles. Seems all the weather forecasters in my area say I will be safe in East Central Florida,how far is Irene going to miss to the east of the peninsula? I mean 185 miles is pretty wide wind field.
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Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128259
Quoting yonzabam:
How many billions of dollars damage would a cat 4 slamming into Miami do, I wonder? I think it could surpass Katrina. $50 billion, maybe?


Andrew is a good measuring stick.
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Quoting FLdewey:


Maybe... or she might do the full recurve.

Either way I agree - we're paying for it.

Who knows maybe it'll stimulate the economy.
HECK, A COUPLE CAT 5 LANDFALLS AND A FEW LARGE EARTQUAKES,THE WHOLE COUNTRY WILL BE WORKING AGAIN
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Not sure where Angela is, but this blog session is re-re right now without her.
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pressure up storm weakening
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Quoting DookiePBC:
OK...so let me recap.

GFDL = DOOOOOOOOOOOM since it brings a big cane into Florida

All other models = DOOOOOOM (notice less O's) since it brings a big cane into a non-Florida, non-New Orleans location.



this
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Quoting RitaEvac:
NHC better have a bunker

Wiki says they have a building rated for a very strong Cat 5.
Member Since: August 18, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 994
Quoting DookiePBC:
OK...so let me recap.

GFDL = DOOOOOOOOOOOM since it brings a big cane into Florida

All other models = DOOOOOOM (notice less O's) since it brings a big cane into a non-Florida, non-New Orleans location.


You left out the 12Z HWRF DOOOOOOOOM for the Bahamas
Member Since: September 23, 2005 Posts: 14 Comments: 11156
Quoting NASA101:
12Z GFDL - landfalling as CAT4/5 right on Miami!!



this seems vaguely familiar.
Member Since: August 29, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 5236
Be back soon... good news here is WRAL Raleigh is starting to prepares people for the storm. Irene was on TV when I went to pizza place (had to walk for a mile to there since my car is at repair shop)
Member Since: August 1, 2011 Posts: 28 Comments: 8007
Quoting Patrap:
IRENE appears to be slowing some




I noticed that, could cause a change in track.
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Quoting ncstorm:


You would have to evacuate some of GA, all of SC and some of NC coastlines..


If it continues like it's going now, It looks like the people in the Columbia, SC area had better get ready for a bunch of visitors from the coast! (better start booking your rooms now!) We'll have horrendous traffic jams as people travel through Columbia on their way from Charleston all the way up to Myrtle Beach! Fun Fun Fun!
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Is there a link to a DR radar?
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How many billions of dollars damage would a cat 4 slamming into Miami do, I wonder? I think it could surpass Katrina. $50 billion, maybe?
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Quoting stillwaiting:
somes trying to follow the path emily made imo


Wrong side of Hispaniola.
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"Fogettaboutit"
Member Since: August 18, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 67
Quoting HurricaneDevo:
This blog is in hyper-drive. I leave for a couple of hours, and there are already 840 comments?


The blog is so active that you missed that statement by 13.... LOL
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Quoting Bluestorm5:
Hey, MississippiWX, are you agreeing with models shifting even more east and missing SC/NC? Or Florida to NC is still not off the hook? Getting little nervous here in Raleigh...


I'm not really agreeing with it too much. Florida could be less at risk, but still very much in bull's eye according to the latest GFDL. Of course, the GFDL has been the western outlier the entire time, along with the UKMET. Anyway, I don't see her going out to sea. A more gradual turn should be expected and she should move due north for a while. The due north motion is probably what will put SC/NC in harm's way. Let's just hope the trend continues as we head out in time because someone could very much be dealing with at least a Cat 3 or 4 storm in the next few days.
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902. wpb
gfdl has a good history with developed ts. guess they have discounted it even thought its 12z run has little land interfence from hispanola compared to the prior 5 runs.
maybe levi can explain....
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Quoting Patrap:



Pat would you mind posting that hurricane survival thing with the cartoon that looks like Hercules on it? TIA
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Quoting RitaEvac:
NHC better have a bunker

Ya no joke
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Quoting Patrap:
IRENE appears to be slowing some




Hardly moved now for over 2 hours
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OK...so let me recap.

GFDL = DOOOOOOOOOOOM since it brings a big cane into Florida

All other models = DOOOOOOM (notice less O's) since it brings a big cane into a non-Florida, non-New Orleans location.
Member Since: September 1, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 447
Bluestorm5:

I am here just east of greensboro not to far from you guess we will see what happens.....just want to say I am new and nice work you guys do on here thanks from NC.
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GFDL is saying another Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 for Florida, but not as strong as 200 MPH.
Member Since: August 1, 2011 Posts: 28 Comments: 8007
SO could the GFDL solution still play out, or has the model just gone crazy?
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893. 7544
remeber when max mayfield was head of the nhc the gfdl was their model to follow lol
Member Since: May 6, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 6812
892. Jax82
Da models are going to play games with our heads for at least another day or two. Thats why its way to early to predict a precise landfall location. Preparation is key in case Irene calls your number.
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Quoting RyanFSU:
12z GFDL -- Category 5 into Miami: doom scenario and track with 50-100$ billion in damage


Would like to have your professional imput.
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What does the 12Z GFDL see? The ridge is back- stronger than ever, with a weakened trough in recession?
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Quoting MississippiWx:


Considering the GFS, doesn't go out to 20 days, we don't really know what occurs then. :-)

I know what you mean, though. Just giving you a hard time.


haha true....of course I am not taking runs 360 hrs out that seriously...but more of an indication that this season may be one of the more actives that we have seen...
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NHC better have a bunker

Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9630
Anyone know what kind of winds that nice new "eye" type ferris wheel in myrtle beach can handle...wonder if those things are rated for cat 3+ ?...
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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.