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 hurricanehunter27:
Wow just noticed that they had 3 planes cheacking out what is ahead of Irene. They must be expecting somthing huge.


I forget which, but saw a model with triplets earlier? yikes...
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Irene is gonna probably become a Cat 4 storm.....JUST SAYN
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Quoting nrtiwlnvragn:
1837. atmoaggie

Date challanged today? That was the count for yesterday's 18Z GFS.
Wait, no it isn't.

Nice try, figured I did it again...

But, that plot says through 18 UTC, 8/22.

What date is it where you live?
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
Quoting atmoaggie:
*sigh*

I'm too male for multitasking, I suppose.


It autoupdated for you.
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From out to sea to TX, this blog has it all
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1882. 7544
Quoting Seflhurricane:
I have a feeling the models will shift towards the west again ,in my opinion it's going to come closer to se florida


its ok let them stay there so fla will still get some effects espeacailly if when she blows up it could be expanding enough to the west with her big size
Member Since: May 6, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 6810
Wow just noticed that they had 3 planes cheacking out what is ahead of Irene. They must be expecting somthing huge.
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I see no track change with this model , se fla is in the 3 day cone and the ts wind probability is still high here in miami
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Quoting nrtiwlnvragn:
1837. atmoaggie

Date challanged today? That was the count for yesterday's 18Z GFS.
*sigh*

I'm too male for multitasking, I suppose.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
Quoting lucreto:


Precisely... no of course not what a dumb question this thing will never enter the Gulf it is a fish storm.
Dumb question u trippin first of all. second of all they got people saying that the trough is lifting out and the A/B high is tryna build back thats y i asked. So before you say a dumb question get your facts straight.
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1876. drj27
Quoting SeaMule:
notice in the RGB loop, how much LARGER the storm in total square miles is getting. it will take longer to wind up....however, and unfortunately....it will be a larger storm

Look for another katrina or andrew...imho

and it will head into the GOM
its not going into the GOM where do you see this?
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1875. bwat
Im working out of town, staying in sanford, nc. Just watch wral forecaster really downplay the system. Big difference from the mets around home. the wral met pretty much said yeah, its projected to come over us, but 1 out of three times the storm is outside the cone.....what kinda screwed up mets yall get in this neck of the woods?
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Quoting MyrtleCanes:
have a hard believing Irene will weaken north of the bahamas over the gulf stream


Where does it show it weakening? Other than after projected landfall.
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Quoting Drakoen:
Atmo, can you post the link to the 18z upper air data from the launches when they come in?
The most info can probably be gleaned from the SPC presentation of them: http://www.spc.noaa.gov/exper/soundings/11082218_ OBS/
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
Thanks to Taz and the others that responded to my questions. As always, I appreciate the information given on this site. Helps to understand things a little better when you ask questions. Back to reading now. Thanks...
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1837. atmoaggie

Date challanged today? That was the count for yesterday's 18Z GFS.
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IRENE IS MOVING TOWARD THE WEST-NORTHWEST OR 295 DEGREES AT 11
KNOTS. CURRENTLY...THE MOTION OF THE HURRICANE IS BEING CONTROLLED
BY A NARROW SUBTROPICAL RIDGE TO ITS NORTH. HOWEVER...THE FUTURE
TRACK WILL DEPEND ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF A LARGE MID- TO UPPER-LEVEL
TROUGH ALONG THE EAST COAST OF THE UNITED STATES. THIS PATTERN WILL
INDUCE A GRADUAL NORTHWESTWARD AND THEN NORTHWARD TRACK THROUGH THE
FORECAST PERIOD WITH A SLIGHT DECREASE IN FORWARD SPEED. THERE IS
MORE CONFIDENCE IN THE FORECAST SINCE MOST OF THE TRACK MODELS...
WITH THE EXCEPTION OF THE GFDL...HAVE NOW FOLLOWED THE LEAD OF THE
ECMWF MODEL. THE GUIDANCE IS NOW IN BETTER AGREEMENT IN TURNING
IRENE NORTHWARD ALONG 78 OR 79 DEGREES LONGITUDE. ALTHOUGH IT IS
STILL TOO EARLY TO BE CERTAIN...THE GUIDANCE TREND CONTINUES TO
LESSENS THE THREAT TO SOUTH FLORIDA BUT INCREASES THE THREAT TO THE
CAROLINAS.

DO NOT TO FOCUS ON THE EXACT FORECAST TRACK...ESPECIALLY AT DAYS 4
TO 5...SINCE THE MOST RECENT 5-YEAR AVERAGE ERRORS AT THOSE FORECAST
TIMES ARE 200 AND 250 MILES...RESPECTIVELY.
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Quoting Seflhurricane:
I have a feeling the models will shift towards the west again ,in my opinion it's going to come closer to se florida


That may be true once the 00z data gets in.
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great news for Tampa Bay Area, not so good for the Carolinas !!!
Member Since: August 23, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1583
Quoting atmoaggie:
Most certainly was.

Weather balloons are launched ~18 UTC, take about 50 minutes to get up to 11 mb, and data is constantly received back at the ground station.

GFS runs in assimilation mode for 3 hours, so any observations that come in until 21 UTC get included.

And GFS had considerably more Fixed land station raobs than usual for 18 UTC:


(Though, I have no idea why so many on August 4...Emily?)


My apologies. I stand corrected.
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1866. Walshy
east trends
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Quoting Jax82:
Visible



by the looks of this loop 275-280? when irene came across PR she came back over water just a bit west of san juan i believe. her current position appears froma more westerly or jusst a tad north of westerly...no?
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Quoting lucreto:


Precisely... no of course not what a dumb question this thing will never enter the Gulf it is a fish storm.


Ignore this user, they are a troll. Everyone needs to report him, as I have, so we can clear his clutter out of the blog.
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I have a feeling the models will shift towards the west again ,in my opinion it's going to come closer to se florida
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The Eye is about to open as a nice EYE is building.
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Quoting bigwes6844:
Wait so u mean it will get in the GOM
very little chance now. Florida/Carolinas still target.
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1859. Levi32
Good afternoon.

The new 5pm NHC track is still into South Carolina as a Cat 3, generally agreeing with the Euro from 12z, though slightly left of it. The discussion from Avila was great, highlighting that Florida still shouldn't rest easy, and that the ingredients are there for Irene to strengthen into a dangerous hurricane.

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# 1820 interstatelover7165 I really like the probability figures.
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Quoting Walshy:


If the trend does not stop I think Irene could recurve out altogether.


i agree...i see a good chance it WILL recurve especially if the models continue to trend East
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1855. SeaMule
notice in the RGB loop, how much LARGER the storm in total square miles is getting. it will take longer to wind up....however, and unfortunately....it will be a larger storm

Look for another katrina or andrew...imho

and it will head into the GOM
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Quoting MyrtleCanes:
have a hard believing Irene will weaken north of the bahamas over the gulf stream


I think you're misreading the forecast intensities. The only reason they forecast Irene to be weaker on the last marker is because she will have made landfall, and will be weakening due to land interaction. Based on the current forecast, she is expected to make landfall as a 115mph Category 3 storm...
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How NAM foresees the 500mb heights moving in the 24 hours following 12 UTC:



(Dark to light.)

Need to remember to keep up with this after following runs.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
1852. ncstorm
STORM SURGE WILL ALSO RAISE WATER LEVELS BY AS
MUCH AS 5 TO 8 FEET ABOVE NORMAL TIDE LEVELS OVER THE SOUTHEASTERN
BAHAMAS...AND THE TURKS AND CAICOS...AND 7 TO 11 FEET OVER THE
CENTRAL BAHAMAS. NEAR THE COAST...THE SURGE WILL BE ACCOMPANIED BY
LARGE AND DANGEROUS WAVES.
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 13 Comments: 15276
1851. lilbitt
what ever happen to i think the name was storm something can't remember the last part of the name but he was always on here i think he worked for some weather station. miss his forecast.
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I call Irene moving east of the Outer Banks and missing the East Coast.
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22% chance of tropical storm winds for Raleigh this far out? Yikes.
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Quoting atmoaggie:
No, they surely are in 18 Z GFS (given it's 3 hour assimilation cycle).A better handle on mid and upper level conditions. Better tracking of the trough, etc.
Will also give better, more thorough initial condition data to the 06 Z and 18 Z GFS model. (We usually only have this data at 0 and 12 UTC.)

And, as GFDL and HWRF use GFS for synoptic initial and boundary conditions, hopefully a better handle on conditions in those, as well.


The 18Z data went into the NAM, I'm sure it will be in the GFS


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I refuse to put any trust in the NAM models as long as they're initializing the storm as a 1008 mb low.
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1844. ncstorm
We currently have a tornado warning here..
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 13 Comments: 15276
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Quoting rmbjoe1954:


Is this what the GFDL has taken into consideration?


I don't know,ask the pro's
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Quoting cloudburst2011:



2 things have to happen the a/b high has to shift over the eastern gom and the high over texas pulls back nw towards the 4 corner area...then texas has irene in there back yard..


Irene in Texas? Is this a joke?
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1840. Drakoen
Atmo, can you post the link to the 18z upper air data from the launches when they come in?
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1839. JNCali
Anyone seen Levi yet? I know he was busy earlier today...
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Wait so u mean it will get in the GOM
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Quoting afwxguy86:


It won't be on the 18Z run. The 18Z run is already being completed, it will be in the 00Z run.
Most certainly was.

Weather balloons are launched ~18 UTC, take about 50 minutes to get up to 11 mb, and data is constantly received back at the ground station.

GFS runs in assimilation mode for 3 hours, so any observations that come in until 21 UTC get included.

And GFS had considerably more Fixed land station raobs than usual for 18 UTC:


(Though, I have no idea why so many on August 4...Emily?)
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461

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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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