Category 2 Irene Approaches The Bahamas
As of 2am EDT, Hurricane Irene was located at 20.1N, 69.7W, 135 miles southeast of Grand Turk Island. It was moving west-northwest at 12 mph with maximum sustained winds of 100 mph, making it a Category 2 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale. Irene has a minimum central pressure of 978 mb. Hurricane warnings have been issued for the northern coast of the Dominican Republic from the Haiti board to Cabo Engano, the southeastern and central Bahamas, and the Turks and Caicos islands. Hurricane watches have been posted for the north coast of Haiti from Le Mole, St. Nicholas to the Dominican border and the northwestern Bahamas. Tropical storm warnings are in effect for all of Haiti and the southern coast of the Dominican Republic from Cabo Engano to Santo Domingo.
As of 5am EDT, Hurricane Irene was located at 20.3N, 70.1W, 105 miles southeast of Grand Turk Island. It was moving west-northwest at 12 mph with maximum sustained winds of 100 mph, keeping it a Category 2 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale. Irene has a minimum central pressure of 978 mb.
Figure 1 shows that Irene is maturing into a vigorous storm, with apparent waves in the western edge of the cirrus outflow.
Figure 1 IR satellite view of Irene taken at 135AM EDT, August 22, 2011
Irene is forecast to move to the north-northwest, passing over all of the Bahama islands by Thursday evening, at which points it starts curving to the north. Irene is forecast to make landfall in the US near Wilmington, NC Saturday evening. However, it is important to note that this is not a definitive forecast, the average forecast error for day 5 is 250 miles. The timing of Irene's recurvature depends on how quickly several small troughs of low pressure in the Northeastern US move to the east. After Saturday, Irene may pose a threat to the mid-Atlantic coastline and locations further north, but it is too early to make a skillful forecast for those regions.
NHC is forecasting for Irene to become a major hurricane (winds faster than 110 mph), within 24 hours, then reaching peak intensity at 130 mph (Category 4 storm) by 8pm EDT Thursday evening.
Forecast models and adaptive observations
The different forecast models are in rough agreement until Irene nears the Carolinas. The dynamical hurricane forecasting models, GFDL and HWRF, have Irene making landfall near Charleston, SC. NGFDL (a variant of the GFDL that uses NOGAPS for background conditions) has landfall near Morehead City, NC, and the GFS has Irene crossing the Outer Banks. The UKMET forecast track splits the difference, placing Irene near Myrtle Beach, SC at landfall.
To reduce the model spread, and improve the track forecast error, the NOAA Gulfstream IV and an Air Force WC-130J have been flying dropsonde missions north of Irene. A dropsonde is an meteorological instrument package dropped from a plane that can tell you the vertical profile of temperature, pressure, moisture, and winds. By flying these missions, the dropsondes can improve all of the numerical weather prediction models initial picture of the atmospheres, which improves the forecast. Also, NHC has asked NWS offices in the southeastern US that launch weather balloons to do so every 6 hours instead of the normal 12 hour frequency.
Figure 2 Official track forecast of Irene as of 2am.
The 00Z ECMWF forecast is available and Figure 3 shows the maximum wind speed over the next week for the eastern coast of the US. Green indicates tropical storm force winds, while yellow and orange are hurricane-force winds. The important thing is not to fixate on the predicted landfall location, but to see that Irene's winds will affect areas far away from landfall. The GFS, not shown, agrees with ECMWF that Irene will have a large area of tropical-storm force winds associated with it.
Figure 3 Maximum wind-speed in mph from the 00Z August 23 ECMWF forecast for the next week.
In the immediate future, Irene is expected to have a significant impact on the Bahamas and surrounding islands. Hurricane force winds are forecast to reach the southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos sometime this afternoon or evening. These locations can also expect 5-10 inches of rain. Three to six inches of rain are forecast over northern Hispaniola, with isolated areas receiving up to 10 inches. This could lead to flash flooding and mudslides in mountaineous terrain. NHC is predicting a storm surge of 9-13 feet above normal tide level for the southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos.
Outside of the islands immediately impacted by Irene, it is my judgement that everybody living on the eastern coast of the US should monitor Irene and review their hurricane preparations over the next few days.
Dr. Masters will have a new blog entry this morning, and Angela Fritz will be covering the afternoon. I'll be back on third shift tonight.
Thanks for reading,
Dr. Rob Carver