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 lucreto:
Wow Irene is currently experiencing huge outflow issues due to Hispanola, and looks very disorganized would not be surprised to see the NHC make this a Tropical Storm later.


You're joking right? If anything from this point out NHC will be upgrading Irene. Storm is at one the healthiest peaks in its lifetime thus far, and continues to build out convection around the center which itself is surrounded in very cold, deep cloud tops...all signs of better organization and impending steady strengthening...
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1736. Drakoen
Quoting bwat:
Is it at all possible she is slowing down because she is feeling the influence of the weakness and is preparing to make a turn? Honest question, I'm still learning.


She is nearing the weakness but the flow under the base of the trough is very weak.
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1735. DFWjc
Quoting Tazmanian:



heck no a stall means it will have more time overe water be for land fall


i only ask, maybe something like the front north of it would cause some disturbance to the developing storm..
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Weather balloons launched from these locations at 18 Z:


(This is unusual and was specifically requested by NHC).
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
1733. intampa
i read the blog lots and really like all the personalities there are. one thing that will be fun is when the next storm comes through and it has florida in the cone ( which they all do at some point) even when florida is in the cone consistently like with irene .....people will discredit it because all along irene was going to florida.. its florida.. all models are gelling on florida. now look where its going. all those who say dont watch the models more than a couple of days out are right again.
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Irene appears to be trying to fill in that dry spot north of the core, too.
Member Since: June 29, 2009 Posts: 13 Comments: 5313

Topsail Island, NC, Pre-Bertha 1996

Lovely LARGE dunes

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Quoting DFWjc:


would a stall make it more or less of a monster storm?



heck no a stall means it will have more time overe water be for land fall
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Quoting Drakoen:


The ridge is keeping her from moving north. The faster the system is the farther west it can get because the trough would not be there in time to kick it out.
Sorry. I am at work and said that all wrong.

The trough is pulling it north, so a stall means to me that the trough is not picking Her up.
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1727. ncstorm
Quoting floodzonenc:
If it was Fran, I may have been driving the Hummer... LOL.  We were in Wrightsville Beach.



Oh I was farther inland..but it was the best sight to them roll up with water for our neighborhood..
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 13 Comments: 15643
1726. Grothar
Quoting Drakoen:


The ridge is keeping her from moving north. The faster the system is the farther west it can get because the trough would not be there in time to kick it out.


Drak, you are giving very good analyses today. Wish you did more of them. Very easy to understand.
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Quoting JohnsIslandJoe:

I'm not sure "wonderful" would be the word I would use for a major hurricane. I went thru the eye of Hurricane Hugo and I wouldn't wish that type of devistation on anyone. We had 4 walls left standing in my apartment and didn't have electricty for almost a month. It wasn't my idea of "wonderful".
again, that was sarcasm. I'm aware of major hurricane's strength and it's bad news for NC/SC.
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Been a while since anyone posted the Rainbow image of DOOOOOOM!!!

Member Since: September 1, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 447
Quoting NOLALawyer:


Well, a USA hit is the most likely scenario here, not the outlier. Maybe you meant to say you can't rule out a recurve?




dont put words in too my mouth



and no i did not meant too say it will recurve





i said i cant rule out that this storm could still hit the USA
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Quoting floodzonenc:
LOL... great minds think alike.  Also a Pirate here!  ARRRRGGGHHHH!



Well of course we have great minds! We are pirates!
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Quoting Stormchaser2007:
Increasing deep convection should be able to help rebuild that eyewall.



Definitely, shouldn't take as long as it did last time, especially since it doesn't really have to start from scratch.
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Quoting Bassfishing123:
I just found the site the other day and I like it so i joined..hope to pick up a few things here and there I have always liked the weather and this seems to be good site to learn.


Welcome... picked a heck of a time to get in da tent.

Give it some time, you'll figure out who to pay attention to and who to chuckle at.
Member Since: July 19, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 645
Ok, I don't understand, if everyone is saying it is moving further west, then why would Florida be out of the cone by tomorrow? That would make it more in the cone, correct?
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Quoting spayandneuter:


Aw rats! This was meant for Grandpato4..........I am quote-lexic!


Well, it's still good advice for everyone. LOL
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1714. ncstorm
thats a lotta of rain 5 day total

Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 13 Comments: 15643
1713. DFWjc
Quoting Tazmanian:




it means 2 things


1 it could move in the weak spot and go out too sea


or 2 the weak spot could close up and the storm could hit land all so the storm seem like it has stalled out a littl or slowed way day to the slower it moves the weak spot in the high will close up


would a stall make it more or less of a monster storm?
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Quoting kwgirl:
I agree with you. In the early days of TWC, I used to watch faithfully and it seemed that Cantore was NEVER where the storm hit. At first I thought it was poor forcasting, then I realized that he clucks when he walks. LOL Can't have the star of TWC being killed by a hurricane.


Now that NBC owns TWC, please send in Al Roker as a sacrifice. And the crowd cheers!

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There are actually three birds in the air right now... I can only display 2 at a time.



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Quoting Tazmanian:
i still cant rule out a USA hit


I don't think that's a hard thing to realize
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Increasing deep convection should be able to help rebuild that eyewall.

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Quoting DontAnnoyMe:


At the rate you're worrying about it, you'll be a cardiac case casualty. Stop the hype.
I'm known to overhype stuff in my family... sorry. I do know it still can go somewhere else or other stuff. I am expecting a major to SC/NC coast, but things can happen in a hurry. Last night, I talked to Levi and ask him if this is another overhyped NC canes that recuvrves (Hurricane Earl for example)? He said it's not recurving for sure, but not sure where it'll hit either.
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Quoting Tazmanian:
i still cant rule out a USA hit


Well, a USA hit is the most likely scenario here, not the outlier. Maybe you meant to say you can't rule out a recurve?
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Quoting KATRINABILOXIGIRL:
Can you please explain to me what this means? I see what you are talking about but not sure how it all works. Thanks in advance...




it means 2 things


1 it could move in the weak spot and go out too sea


or 2 the weak spot could close up and the storm could hit land all so the storm seem like it has stalled out a littl or slowed way day to the slower it moves the weak spot in the high will close up
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1703. bwat
Quoting Drakoen:


The ridge is keeping her from moving north. The faster the system is the farther west it can get because the trough would not be there in time to kick it out.
Is it at all possible she is slowing down because she is feeling the influence of the weakness and is preparing to make a turn? Honest question, I'm still learning.
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1700. Drakoen
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:


Okay.

Drak, do you see any other factors going against Irene other than that dry air? Also, where do you believe it will make landfall and at what intensity AT THIS TIME?


Dry air will be the main factor and the low level inflow getting disrupted as Irene gets closer to Hispaniola is the other factor. It's hard to say where it will make landfall because the models keep shifting around. I'll be able to give you a better idea tomorrow.
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Air Force releasing dropsondes off of the east coast
Date: Near the closest hour of 20Z on the 22nd day of the month
Highest Mandatory Level For Which Wind Was Reported: 300mb
Coordinates: 31.0N 77.1W
Location: 210 miles (338 km) to the SE (126°) from Charleston, SC, USA.
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Starting to fill in the gap to the north, strengthening should resume in 24 hours or so.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:


Nice, err...explanation.
It's a little dramatic but accurate. It's no fun going through a hurricane. Plus Dad has to pay thousands of dollars.
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Based on the size of Irene, I think that it is likely (almost inevitable) that they will issue TS Warnings eventually along the FL coast. Considering that this should be a major hurricane at the point that it reaches the latitude of S FL, the TS windfield will be large enough to incorporate the eastern coastline of the state. That is if the center comes anywhere within 150 miles of the FL coastline. JMO
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:


Okay.

Drak, do you see any other factors going against Irene other than that dry air? Also, where do you believe it will make landfall and at what intensity AT THIS TIME?


Yeah, and who will win the wildcard this year?
lol
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Quoting Bluestorm5:
Wonderful... a historical storm as MY FIRST HURRICANE to experience. In fact, 85% of NC have never experienced an major hurricane before... Hugo was 22 years ago and it's time for East Coast to get monster storm again, sadly.

I'm not sure "wonderful" would be the word I would use for a major hurricane. I went thru the eye of Hurricane Hugo and I wouldn't wish that type of devistation on anyone. We had 4 walls left standing in my apartment and didn't have electricty for almost a month. It wasn't my idea of "wonderful".
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PER NOAA MHC

.LONG TERM /TUESDAY NIGHT THROUGH MONDAY/...
AS OF 2 PM MON...FAIRLY QUIET WX EXPECTED TUE NIGHT AND WED AS
HIGH PRES PASSES OFFSHORE TO THE N. AS LOW LVL FLOW VEERS TO THE
SE WED INTO THU COULD SEE SOME SHRA ESPCLY SRN TIER SO KEPT SMALL
POP THESE AREAS.

ALL EYES WILL BE ON IRENE LATE IN THE WEEK AND INTO THE WEEKEND.
COULD BEGIN TO GET THE FIRST BANDS OF TROPICAL MOISTURE LATER FRI
SO CONT CHC POPS THRU THE DAY AND INCREASED TO LIKELY FRI NIGHT
SRN TIER. TRACK FROM NHC AND MDL OUTPUT CONTS TO SHIFT THE TRACK
OF IRENE TO THE E. STILL PLENTY OF UNCERTAINTY THIS FAR OUT BUT
LOOKING MORE LIKELY THAT SIGNIFICANT IMPACTS WILL OCCUR ACROSS ERN
NC GIVEN CONSENSUS THAT IRENE WILL BE TRACKING IN THE GENERAL AREA
OVER THE WEEKEND.
BASED ON THIS INCREASED POPS TO LIKELY ALL AREAS
SAT INTO SUN. APPEARS SYSTEM WILL BE LIFTING TO THE N LATER SUN
INTO MON SO GRAD DECREASED POPS FROM S TO N INTO MON. CLOUDS AND
PRECIP WILL KEEP LOWS IN THE 7OS WITH HIGHS IN THE 80S OVER THE
WEEKEND. ALL INTERESTS SHLD CONT TO MONITOR LATEST FORECASTS FROM
NHC FOR IRENE.
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1692. scCane
What time will the next model runs have the updated upper-air synoptics incorporated in them?
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Quoting islander101010:
how come shes not taking the bait?




she has stalled thats why
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1689. Drakoen
Quoting scooster67:
If the ridge is what was pulling Her north, but now She is stalling. Wouldn't this tend to push Her back West alittle due to the ridge building back in?


The ridge is keeping her from moving north. The faster the system is the farther west it can get because the trough would not be there in time to kick it out.
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Quoting ChrisDcat5Storm:



big weekness
Can you please explain to me what this means? I see what you are talking about but not sure how it all works. Thanks in advance...
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I just found the site the other day and I like it so i joined..hope to pick up a few things here and there I have always liked the weather and this seems to be good site to learn.
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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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