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 watchdog40:
I am not sure how everyone is so sure on where the storm is going and discounting the gom so quickly when the storm is so far awy? Just asking. I live in the Panahndle and don't want to be caught off guard.
I think you are OK in the Florida Panhandle but just keep an eye on Irene, the trough coming down from the north is suppose to turn Irene North then Northeast.
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1636. Drakoen
According to this, Irene has a ways to go to rebuild her eyewall:

Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30565
Quoting Grandpato4:


Thank you. I just hate to leave if we don't have to since my wife is sick. I am wondering if we would be fine in our home because we do have a dune and are set back from that a bit more.


I am not a doom and gloom person, but keep your eye on this storm. If over the next 24 hours or so, it looks to be headed your way, and your wife is ill, you need to be where you are safe and have available care. Do not take chances - especially being ocean front. You have the potential of being cut off from those who can help you. Listen to your local forecast and, if evacuation is recommended, heed the recommendation. Better to leave and say, "that was nothing" than the alternative. I have had to evacuate before, and I have no regrets about it. I lived to tell the tale. You take care. No need to panic, just use common sense:-)
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Quoting Abacosurf:
I watched Floyd eat through a 40 foot high dune 100 feet back. This was on a 7 mile long island in Abaco which storm surge mostly went around. You will have a storm surge....

If your dune is bigger than that and your house is built 30' above sea level than sure.....What the heck....

If it is over cat 3 you have got to leave IMO.


My job is to respond to disasters and if I have learned nothing from doing this for years, it's that it is always safer to leave and leave early. If you get into trouble during the storm, and you mentioned your wife being sick, then you should make plans to leave because you will not be able to get anyone to come out to help you in the middle of the storm. You will be on your own and have to ride it out. They will not allow first responders to go out in the middle of a storm, it's for their safety and to be able to keep the around to work the aftermath. So, better safe than sorry and if you make reservations at someplace nice, you can just consider it a mini vacation, or use this opportunity to visit some family and get that obligation out of the way!! Then you can go home after it passes and everyone will be happy. There is nothing to lose by leaving, but lots to lose by staying. Why worry yourself, just go someplace safe and enjoy!!
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It looks as if Irene has been drifting very slowly towards the NW. If that direction holds or even a WNW to NW track for the next day or so, that's very good news for Florida, with Irene probably missing the state by a wider margin than currently anticipated.

I know it's a little early to rule a Florida miss out completely, but the system seems to be continuing to gain latitude more than projected.
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Quoting Grandpato4:


If he is headed to Atlantic Beach then we are probably going to get lucky. Isn't Cantori normally the one that misses the storm?


I don't know about that. I always considered him the Angel of Death. If he shows up in your town, get out. LOL.
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So, if I am getting this right...

- Irene is building a strong inner core due to the very deep convection.


- Irene doesn't have a good rest of the system because of dry air for the time being.
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1628. Drakoen
Quoting hurricanealley:


Will her current stall effect her track?


Yes. The models that want to take her farther west have her moving faster.
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1627. 7544
wow if irene did stalled that gives time for the ridge to build back in correct ?
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Quoting Grandpato4:


I am not the only old man here..


No, you're not.
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Quoting oceanblues32:
ok i was gone for awhile has irene interacted with hispanola or not really am in the ft lauderdale area and it is still pretty humid and hot the thought of losing power is not a pleasant one...




its staying this off shor too the WNW wish all so look like it has stall its moveing vary little or not at all
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1623. JNCali

Quoting TampaSpin:
If PressLord would re-emerge into a dress......it might scare the hell out Irene and send her Packing.......ROFLMAO
LOL  he could jump on a jet ski, head into the Atlantic playing a flute and the Irene would follow him!!
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Quoting Grandpato4:


If I recall correctly Hazel did quite a bit of damage well inland.
yep... 100 MPH winds as far as Philly. My grandpa (not alive anymore)remembered the storm as being the worst ever.
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Quoting Grandpato4:


I am not the only old man here and I am quite adept at computers thanks to a class or two.


Ok, then I'll take your word.
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the trough is there but its leaving fast and with irenes stalling we'll see
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Quoting WeatherNerdPR:

Horrible, and still don't have power. Thank god for power generators.


So, packed more of a punch than expected?
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Quoting gregcowd:
When do you think either tropical storm/hurricane watches or warnings will be issued for South Florida, if even at all?


Wait and see what the NHC dictates and where the storm goes. Watches are made 48 hrs prior, warnings 36 hours.
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thanks! but i can't see it. do i have to click on something? tia!
1571. charlottefl 8:13 PM GMT on August 22, 2011 +0
Quoting sarahjola:
can someone please post this chart? tia!

Quoting USAFwxguy:
Went back through to check and nobody covered the CIMMS update.

Notice at low levels that the trough is seen lifting out and the ATL ridge is nosing toward the west, to the north of Irene:

-3hr


Current:


Also of note is the TX high eastern periphery weakening.





3 HRS AGO:



CURRENT:



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Irene's gonna be a pesky one. I think shes just trying to fool the models. Just when you "experts" think you have a handle one she stalls out, and has you scratching your head.
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Quoting Seflhurricane:
Drak does it look like the nhc is going to shift the track east again


Any further east and it'll be a fish storm (apologies to the inhabitants of PR for the insensitivity).
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Quoting Grandpato4:


If I recall correctly Hazel did quite a bit of damage well inland.


Yes. Some of the highest wind gusts ever recorded in Mid Atlantic cities like Philadelphia and Baltimore came from Hazel.
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Quoting lowerbamagirl:


My mom was in that rehab/nursing center right across the street from the Hard Rock and we moved her about two weeks before. I remember going to see what happened to the nursing home and was never able to even locate where it had been. Lived in Mobile at the time and had a fair amount of damage ourselves...never understood why there was so little coverage of the truly devestated areas. Used to camp at Waveland and went last year...still devastated!


We always figured we weren't newsworthy because our governor pulled it all together and got things taken care of pretty quickly. We love Haley Barbour. Glad you got your mother out when you did. Since Katrina I keep 2 weeks worth of food and lots of water and ice on hand during hurricane season. It was dangerous here afterward, people murdered for ice, etc. I don't want to have to leave my house after the storm hits.
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looks like it stuck alot blogger already think this one is "out of here"
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Quoting Drakoen:


Slight shift east. Much of Florida should still be in the coast. Perhaps western Florida will be out of the cone.


Will her current stall effect her track?
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Quoting TampaSpin:


NO Question that would be the Case unless she becomes a much larger Storm which might make the hook a little sharper......but, i don't think the turn would be that great even with a CAT 5.....This has a Possible HUGO storm all over it.


Yeah, unfortunatley this will probaly be an historical event that will take place. Loss of life, homes and businesses. What a bad situation
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Looks like Irene is moving again off to the NW, can't wait to see how strong she's gotten. Those cold cloud tops seem to be here to stay!
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Quoting P451:


Very nice. 5 hours ago but very nice. Aqua might be hitting it soon. Maybe a 17z shot or so.

Aqua usually visits there at about 19 Z...so images available soon.

Unless the swath missed Irene.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
1606. wpb
guess the nhc has thrown the gfdl
model in the trash
Member Since: May 28, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 573
Quoting Bluestorm5:
I may have to buy shutters at this rate... people building house near me will leave debris all over the place.


Tell you what, shutters or that 3/4" plywood we used (have the shutters now) are worth their weight in gold for peace of mind alone.
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ok i was gone for awhile has irene interacted with hispanola or not really am in the ft lauderdale area and it is still pretty humid and hot the thought of losing power is not a pleasant one...
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 207
Quoting Tazmanian:
with this stalling sooner then forcast look for the mode runs too turn back W


I was wundering about just that
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I may have to buy shutters at this rate... people building house near me will leave debris all over the place.
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How likely is it that Irene does end up curving out to sea?
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1596. Drakoen
Quoting Seflhurricane:
Drak does it look like the nhc is going to shift the track east again


Slight shift east. Much of Florida should still be in the coast. Perhaps western Florida will be out of the cone.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30565
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:


How'd it go?

Horrible, and still don't have power. Thank god for power generators.
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Quoting gregcowd:
When do you think either tropical storm/hurricane watches or warnings will be issued for South Florida, if even at all?


Currently the forecast for S. FL is tropical storm conditions possible Wed Night-Thurs.

If they're gonna do it, and if they feel it's necessary, they'll do it in the next day or so.
Member Since: July 19, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 645
Quoting gregcowd:
When do you think either tropical storm/hurricane watches or warnings will be issued for South Florida, if even at all?
Very likely ts watches tomorrow
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If PressLord would re-emerge into a dress......it might scare the hell out Irene and send her Packing.......ROFLMAO
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Quoting gregcowd:
When do you think either tropical storm/hurricane watches or warnings will be issued for South Florida, if even at all?


Tomorrow.
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Quoting HadesGodWyvern:


IRENE


Ah ok, thanks!
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Gregcowd definately tomorrow by 5 if they still think it is a threat
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Quoting Grandpato4:


If he is headed to Atlantic Beach then we are probably going to get lucky. Isn't Cantori normally the one that misses the storm?
Other way. When Jim Cantore goes to a place, he is known to scare people away from the area because when he's there... something bad happens. Anyway, he might go to Wilmington this time because this is unlikely it'll curve to the Banks and shave it again as usual. This is HAZEL all over again...
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Quoting gregcowd:
I live in South Florida(West Palm Beach. I fly out for a business trip on Wednesday morning. Do I need to put up my shutters or should my house be safe from Irene?


Leave them off. What's your address. I'll come by and loot, I mean check on your place.

Seriously If you are leaving on Wednesday I'd put your shutters up just to be safe.
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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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