Powerful Category 3 Irene enters the Bahamas

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 3:49 PM GMT on August 24, 2011

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Powerful Category 3 Hurricane Irene stormed through the Turks and Caicos Islands overnight, bringing hurricane-force winds, torrential rains, and storm surge flooding. On Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands, where half of the population of these islands live, winds reached a sustained 65 mph at a personal weather station at Pine Cay, and the pressure bottomed out at 989 mb. The eyewall of Irene missed the island, with the center of the storm passing about 60 miles to the southwest. The center of Irene passed about 60 miles to the northwest of Grand Inagua Island, and Category 1 hurricane conditions were probably experienced on that island. Damage in the Turks and Caicos is likely to be much less than the $50 - $200 million wrought by Category 4 Hurricane Ike of 2008, since Irene's eyewall missed populated islands.


Figure 1. Morning satellite image of Irene.

Monday, Irene hit Puerto Rico as a tropical storm with 70 mph winds, but reached hurricane strength as it emerged into the Atlantic northwest of the capital of San Juan. One drowning death is being reported from the island, and the storm dumped up to 20 inches of rain in some areas. About 11% of the island was still without power this morning, and numerous roads were closed due to flooding and landslides. Irene did an estimated $17 million in damage to agriculture and $2 million to ports in Puerto Rico. Satellite estimates suggest that Irene has brought only 1 - 2 inches of rain to Haiti. With Irene now pulling away from Hispaniola, Haiti can expect only another 1 - 2 inches from the hurricane, and appears to have dodged a major bullet. Heavy rains of 3 - 6 inches were common across the Dominican Republic, where moderate flooding but no deaths occurred.


Track forecast for Irene
Continuing dropsonde missions by the NOAA jet have helped to significantly narrow the uncertainty in the 1 - 3 day forecasts from the computer models. Irene will track through the central Bahamas today, the northwestern Bahamas on Thursday, and approach the Outer Banks of North Carolina on Friday. However, the models still diverge considerably on their 4 - 5 days forecasts, and we don't know if Irene will plow up the mid-Atlantic coast into New Jersey, as the GFDL model is predicting, hit New England between Long Island, NY and Massachusetts, as the ECMWF, GFS, and HWRF models are predicting, or miss the U.S. and hit Canada, as the NOGAPS model is predicting.

Intensity forecast for Irene
Latest data from the Hurricane Hunters shows that Irene has paused in its intensification cycle. A gap has opened in the eyewall, and the central pressure has remained constant at 956 - 957 mb over the past few hours. However, the hurricane is embedded in a large envelope of moisture, and wind shear is expected to remain low to moderate, 5 - 20 knots, for the next three days. With water temperatures very warm, 28 - 30°C, these conditions should allow for intensification to a Category 4 storm sometime in the next two days. Satellite loops show that Irene is well-organized, with excellent upper-level outflow, and impressive spiral banding.

Irene's impact on the Bahama Islands
Irene is making a direct hit on Crooked Island (population 350) in the Bahamas, and will continue west-northwest and hit Rum Cay (population 80) and Cat Island (population 1700) late tonight. These unfortunate islands will bear the full brunt of Irene's 115+ mph winds and 8 - 13 foot storm surge, and suffer major damage that will take months to recover from. Major damage is also likely on Long Island (population 3000) and San Salvador Island (population 1000.) Shortly after midnight tonight, winds at the capital of Nassau, home to 70% of the population of the Bahamas, will rise above tropical storm force, and increase through the night. By late morning on Thursday, sustained winds will peak on Nassau at just below hurricane force, 60 - 70 mph. Nassau will miss the brunt of the storm, and I expect the airport should be able to re-open on Friday. Winds on Grand Bahama Island in Freeport will rise above tropical storm force late Thursday morning, and increase to a peak of 45 - 60 mph late Thursday afternoon. Grand Bahama will also miss the brunt of the storm, but Abaco Island to its east will likely experience Category 2 hurricane conditions Thursday afternoon. However, Abaco will probably miss the right front eyewall of Irene with the strongest winds and highest storm surge.


Figure 2. Wind distibution around Irene as of 1330 UTC (9:30am EDT) August 24, 2011. Irene was a Category 3 hurricane with 115 mph winds at the time. Hurricane force winds (yellow colors) extended over Crooked Island to the storm's northwest, and over Mayaguana Island to the east. Image credit: NOAA/AOML. Irene is a large storm, and its potential storm surge damage rated 3.9 on a scale of 0 to 6, with its wind damage potential rated at 2.5 on a scale of 0 to 6.

Irene's impact on the Southeast U.S.
Long-period ocean swells from Irene will reach the coast from Florida to North Carolina tonight, and continue to build as the storm approaches. The outermost rainbands of the hurricane will reach South Florida by Thursday morning, and spread over much of the eastern coastal portion of Florida during the day Thursday. If Irene follows the official NHC forecast through the Bahama Islands, the storm's expected radius of tropical storm-force winds of 130 - 170 miles will keep tropical storm conditions just off the east coast of Florida. Sustained winds of 20 - 30 mph can be expected along the coast of Florida during Irene's point of closest approach, and rainfall amounts of 1 - 2" will be common along the coast. Georgia, which could use the rain, will get very little. It is unlikely any airport in Florida or Georgia will need to close for Irene.

Late Friday night or early Saturday morning, Irene's outer spiral bands will move over the southern coast of North Carolina and the northeastern portion of South Carolina, and tropical storm-force winds of 39+ mph will arrive. Winds will steadily increase to hurricane force on the Outer Banks by Saturday night. The main damage from Irene in North Carolina will come from the storm's flooding rains of 4 - 12" that will fall in coastal areas. Fortunately, this region is under moderate to severe drought, so the damage will not be as severe as that experienced during Hurricane Floyd of 1999. Significant wind damage can be expected in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and considerable storm surge damage may occur along the shores of Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds. If Irene's eye misses making landfall in North Carolina, total damage from the storm should be less than $200 million, and could be considerably less than that.


Figure 3. Sea surface temperatures for August 24, 2011. Temperatures of 26°C (79°F) are typically needed for a hurricane to maintain its strength (black line). This boundary lies just off the southern coast of New Jersey this year, which is much farther north than usual.


Figure 4. Predicted 5-day rainfall for the period ending Monday morning, August 29, at 8am EDT. Image credit: NOAA/HPC.

Irene's impact on the mid-Atlantic and New England
The impact of Irene on the mid-Atlantic and New England is highly uncertain at this point, because we don't know if the core of the storm will miss the coast or not. In general, the heaviest rains will fall along a 100-mile swath just to the west of where the center tracks, and the worst wind and storm surge damage will occur to the east. If the core of Irene stays offshore, the mid-Atlantic and New England may escape with a few hundred million dollars in damage from flooding due to heavy rains and storm surge. If Irene hits Long Island or Southeast Massachusetts, the storm has the potential to be a $10 billion disaster. Irene is one of those rare storms that has the potential to make landfall in New England as a Category 2 or stronger hurricane. It is difficult for a major Category 3 or stronger hurricane crossing north of North Carolina to maintain that intensity, because wind shear rapidly increases and ocean temperatures plunge below the 26°C (79°F) level that can support a hurricane. We do expect wind shear to rapidly increase to a high 30 - 50 knots once Irene pushes north of Delaware, which should knock the storm down by at least 15 - 30 mph before it reaches New England. However, this year sea surface temperatures 1 - 3°F warmer than average extend along the East Coast from North Carolina to New York. Waters of at least 26°C extend all the way to Southern New Jersey, which will make it easier for Irene to maintain its strength much farther to the north than a hurricane usually can. During the month of July, ocean temperature off the mid-Atlantic coast (35°N - 40°N, 75°W - 70°W) averaged 2.6°F (1.45°C) above average, the second highest July ocean temperatures since record keeping began over a century ago (the record was 3.8°F above average, set in 2010.) These warm ocean temperatures will also make Irene a much wetter hurricane than is typical, since much more water vapor can evaporate into the air from record-warm ocean surfaces. The latest precipitation forecast from NOAA's Hydrological prediction center shows that Irene could dump over 8 inches of rain over coastal New England.


Figure 5. Soil moisture profiles from yesterday show that a region of very moist soils ranking in the top 1% in recorded history (dark green colors) lie over northern New Jersey, Southeast New York, and Northeast Pennsylvania. Image credit: NOAA/CPC.

Tropical storm-force winds and heavy rains will move into Eastern Virginia Saturday afternoon, and push northwards to Delaware and coastal Maryland by late Saturday night. Tropical moisture through a deep layer of the atmosphere will also stream well ahead of Irene into New England on Saturday afternoon and evening, bringing what is called a "Predecessor Rain Event" (PRE). The Washington D.C., Baltimore, and Philadelphia airports will be right at the edge of the heavy rain and high wind area, and it currently appears they will not have to close for an extended period. The Philadelphia and New York City airports may not be as lucky, and it is possible they will suffer extended closures Sunday morning and afternoon. By late Sunday night, Irene's rains will move north of New York City, allowing the airports to re-open. The highest potential for damaging fresh-water flooding is in northern New Jersey, Southeast New York, and Northeast Pennsylvania, where soil moisture is near record high levels, and there is nowhere for the rain to go (Figure 5.) Heavy rains of 4 - 12" are likely across all of coastal New England if Irene passes within 100 miles of shore.

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.

Elsewhere in the tropics
A tropical wave far out in the eastern Atlantic about 200 miles southwest of the Cape Verde Islands, Invest 90L, is showing signs of organization. NHC is giving this disturbance a 50% chance of developing into a tropical depression by Friday. Several of our models do develop 90L into a tropical storm by early next week, but long-range models are showing that this system will not be a threat to any land areas over the next seven days, and will probably move too far north to ever be a threat to land.

Internet radio show on Irene at 4:30pm EDT today
I'll be discussing Hurricane Irene on a special edition of our Internet radio show, the Daily Downpour, today (Wednesday) at 4:30pm EDT. Fellow wunderground meteorologists Shaun Tanner, Tim Roche, and Angela Fritz will also be there. Listeners can email in or call in questions. The email address to ask questions is broadcast@wunderground.com.

Jeff Masters

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Quoting tiggeriffic:


actually, if that were true, there would not be a "CONE"...not saying forecasting is easy, but no one can predict with unequivicable accuracy...they watch what is to each direction, what way is it moving and what NORMALLY would happen and forecast on that information...sometimes it is right, sometimes not... that is why they have percentages...


Why wouldn't there be a cone? I didn't say the forecasts were perfect. Just saying that predicting where small t'storms will or won't pop up is much harder than predicting the movement of large-scale features.
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Quoting WaterWitch11:


how about solar flares and earthquakes, do they have a connection?


You are changing the subject.
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Quoting definer:
Would anybody have any stats about an area being impacted by a substantial earthquake AND a hurricane within days of each other?

Ken

Probably happened quite a lot in Japan over recorded history but I don't know which site you could look on!
Afternoon everybody.
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Think of the eye of the storm as a spinning top, within a spinning flat plane. The top is going to bob left and right within the flat plan, however the flat plane is moving along on it's steady path.
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Quoting wunderweatherman123:
oh ok lol and on infrared the pink colors around her eye are starting to diminish does that mean weaking or just temporary?


It means that her eyewall is still struggling with dry air, and is not closed at the moment.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26647
Quoting Bluestorm5:
WRAL is saying storm is so big that they are expecting tropical storm force winds over Triangle. I live on eastern edge of Triangle, so I'm expecting 50-75 mph winds. Shift to west by 30 miles meant that I'm dealing with Category 1 winds.

Dang that's alot, that's basically what i'm expecting in Wilmington right now
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Quoting FtLauderdale55:
Not being a FLA wishcaster - as a mathmatical formulation, it does not take more than 6 more western jogs (or wobbles) such as have been seen over the las 120 minutes in the SAT photos - to move the present fine western TS margin (western line) presently in place along south FLA at the coastline to potentially move inland 50 miles +/- at the least, some rather sustained TS force wind between lat 26.5 and say Brevard countly given the seemingly ever increasing expansive size of Irene.

Moreover the NHC much sought frequency bursts to steer and initiate the Northern turn have not only not apeared - those that have have not had the desired effect or stregnth to do so - at least as of this moment.

There is certainly enought Lat left for more westward tracking of at least the margins of this dangerous and large Cat 3 for the southern FLA landmass - also for the record if you review the last 4 days tracking NHC forcast we are several hundred miles past their predicted breakpoint for such a NW-North turn.

So for any thinking person to proclaim that Florida coastline land mass is out of the picture to me - is wishcasting.


Agreed. And as a Brevard County resident, watching VERY closely. At roughly 28N and 80.5W would really love to see that right angle turn the NHC and models have been predicting. Any time now would be great!
Member Since: August 18, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 32
Quoting SCwannabe:


I never trust anything that is man made.


Must be a lonely life.
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Anyone care to chime in on the disaster potential associated with the number of nuke plants on the Eastern Seaboard?
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Quoting Zaphod:
Ideally the cone would incorporate error bar knowledge for the current storm, and maybe to an extent it does, but if the cone is calculated based on long-term average accuracy it will tend to be too broad for a much-measured storm and too narrow for a path sensitive to initial conditions.


Someone correct me if I'm wrong on this but I think the cone only captures 2/3 of the probability.
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Quoting FtLauderdale55:
Not being a FLA wishcaster - as a mathmatical formulation, it does not take more than 6 more western jogs (or wobbles) such as have been seen over the las 120 minutes in the SAT photos - to move the present fine western TS margin (western line) presently in place along south FLA at the coastline to potentially move inland 50 miles +/- at the least, some rather sustained TS force wind between lat 26.5 and say Brevard countly given the seemingly ever increasing expansive size of Irene.

Moreover the NHC much sought frequency bursts to steer and initiate the Northern turn have not only not apeared - those that have have not had the desired effect or stregnth to do so - at least as of this moment.

There is certainly enought Lat left for more westward tracking of at least the margins of this dangerous and large Cat 3 for the southern FLA landmass - also for the record if you review the last 4 days tracking NHC forcast we are several hundred miles past their predicted breakpoint for such a NW-North turn.

So for any thinking person to proclaim that Florida coastline land mass is out of the picture to me - is wishcasting.


BINGO !!!
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local news here in Morehead City, NC said although models are all showing very far east they think it could be a little too far east. They made note that Eastern NC will very likely be seeing hurricane conditions on Sat either way. They also were very clear in that there were two pivotal points to watch...when it turns North, and when it turns past North to more East. They were very clear that any variation in those could cause major differences in conditions on saturday.

Excellent report in my opinion

(this was on WCTI 12)
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Quoting Levi32:
Thanks Dr. Masters.

Good morning.

Blog update:

Tropical Tidbit for Wednesday, August 24th, with Video

Awesome forecast. Thank you, as always, for posting!
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Quoting rwdobson:


That is a much, much harder task than forecasting the movement of a huge and powerful feature like a hurricane.


actually, if that were true, there would not be a "CONE"...not saying forecasting is easy, but no one can predict with unequivicable accuracy...they watch what is to each direction, what way is it moving and what NORMALLY would happen and forecast on that information...sometimes it is right, sometimes not... that is why they have percentages...
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Crazy how I moved from New England to South Carolina and saw more hurricane action back there than I have here (though I am thankful for that!). All I can remember is Hurricane Gloria when I was 6 years old and being scared to bits when an old, massive tree fell on our house and broke the roof in several places. Up to that point it was kind of an interesting storm but after going through that I took those storms a lot more seriously as I grew up. Hope everyone up there is preparing.
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Quoting knightdog:


That's silly.


how about solar flares and earthquakes, do they have a connection?
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Quoting Chucktown:


Well, forecast models have come a long way in 22 years. When you see every model tightly clustered like they are now and Irene now at a 305 heading, confidence grows considerably that Irene will continue on course.
Exactly. But those who keep insisting that Irene is sure to hit Florida because they are seeing it move in a WNW direction at this very moment are not paying any attention to the advances in tropical weather forecasting that have taken place over the past 22 years.

I wonder how many people would ignore the advances that have taken place in electronic communications over the past 22 years? Did anybody here have an iPhone back in 1989? How about a tablet or a plasma TV? What were those like in '89? Or if you are too young and were not yet born then, ask your parents.
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Quoting mrpuertorico:


wow well i hope the storm comes for just you and swallows you hole making the world a better place and oh yeah welcome to my ignore list you jerk!!!!

+1000 Agree. Karma is a B%^$h
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Thanks levi !! excellent as usual!!
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It is well known that intensity and path are interrelated, and that intensity forecasting has less skill than path.

I'm pretty sure the modelers have error bars and sensitivity analysis as a byproduct of their models, but of course each model would differ and if they tried to make all the data available there would be total information overload for a public who can't seem to grasp what a 3-day error cone really means.

It would be interesting to know how sensitive the path forecast would be for a Cat deviation either way -- say Cat 3, 4, or 5 -- for the next few days.

Ideally the cone would incorporate error bar knowledge for the current storm, and maybe to an extent it does, but if the cone is calculated based on long-term average accuracy it will tend to be too broad for a much-measured storm and too narrow for a path sensitive to initial conditions.

Of course there is always the option to simply wait and see. Perish the thought!
Member Since: October 5, 2005 Posts: 15 Comments: 3239
Not being a FLA wishcaster - as a mathmatical formulation, it does not take more than 6 more western jogs (or wobbles) such as have been seen over the last 120 minutes in the SAT photos - to move the present fine western TS margin (western line) presently in place along south FLA at the coastline to potentially move inland 50 miles /- at the least, some rather sustained TS force wind between lat 26.5 and say Brevard countly given the seemingly ever increasing expansive size of Irene.

Moreover the NHC much sought frequency bursts to steer and initiate the Northern turn have not only not apeared - those that have have not had the desired effect or stregnth to do so - at least as of this moment.

There is certainly enought Lat left for more westward tracking of at least the margins of this dangerous and large Cat 3 for the southern FLA landmass - also for the record if you review the last 4 days tracking NHC forcast we are several hundred miles past their predicted breakpoint for such a NW-North turn.

So for any thinking person to proclaim that Florida coastline land mass is out of the picture to me - is wishcasting.
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I would feel better if they were adjusting forecast track because didn't believe models 100%.
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The models miss very little when hurricanes are in this region. They appear to have the troughs and ridges well sussed. Track forecasting has improved a lot in recent years, but they still underestimate intensities, perhaps not wanting to be accused of alarmism.
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116. 900MB
Quoting bwi:
12z GFS still looks not bad for DC, but not great for New England.


Yep, that looks very bad for Long Island and NE.
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Levi, thanks for the tropical tidbit. Easy to understand and great explanation for the novices like myself.
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Quoting Levi32:


You answered your own question.
oh ok lol and on infrared the pink colors around her eye are starting to diminish does that mean weaking or just temporary?
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Quoting marknmelb:
Ok based on the 100Am update and a 956 MB storm here are the wind fields

Previous



And current



Question for the experts, Levi are you there? I know stronger storms track more pole ward-North, but are stronger storms able to control the environment around them more (i.e not as influenced by troughs, etc.) Thanks ahead of time for your expertise
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Quoting HurricaneIsabel:
How is it unsettling? there's no way this will make landfall anywhere in the US.
Cape Hatteras,Is not part of the U.S.?
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WRAL is saying storm is so big that they are expecting tropical storm force winds over Triangle. I live on eastern edge of Triangle, so I'm expecting 50-75 mph winds. Shift to west by 30 miles meant that I'm dealing with Category 1 winds.
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Quoting marknmelb:
Ok based on the 100Am update and a 956 MB storm here are the wind fields

Previous



And current



Looks like the High has pushed east a little.
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Quoting SCwannabe:


They can barely forecast if were going to get thunderstorms on any given day


That is a much, much harder task than forecasting the movement of a huge and powerful feature like a hurricane.
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Quoting willdunc79:
news here in Fayetteville, NC said we should be fine & it may just miss NC completely. said models are still trending east.


Remember this blog is 12 hrs ahead of the media
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102Hrs 12zGFS
Where's the northeast hiding under there?
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Quoting wunderweatherman123:

levi can you tell me the difference between the trough that recurves irene and the trough that recurved earl from last year? irene is further south and west of earl and irene has a 50/50 chance of ACTUALLY MAKING LANDFALL IN NORTH CAROLINA AND NEW ENGLAND unlike Earl. thanks


You answered your own question.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26647
Quoting SCwannabe:


They can barely forecast if were going to get thunderstorms on any given day


Easy there, weather forecasting is not an exact science. Don't watch the forecast then if you think you can do a better job.
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isn't there a slosh model that can be looked at? i can find all the info about it but not the model it self. thanks....
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Quoting Dunkman:


Don't you think computers are a little better now than they were 22 years ago?


I never trust anything that is man made. Only God above controls the weather.
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Ok based on the 1100Am update and a 956 MB storm here are the wind fields

Previous



And current

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news here in Fayetteville, NC said we should be fine & it may just miss NC completely. said models are still trending east.
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Quoting RitaEvac:
Regardless of what happens, this storm is going to have a GIGANTIC wind field by the time it's in the NE, and that alone is gonna shock people up there. Put it this way, after the quake, and what is awaiting the NE, these folks will think the world is coming to an end literally
ride the bicycle by the catholic church everyday yesterday a 5 pm it was packed. the hurricane and earthqk. that drove throngs of people to confess i figured. so on the way back worn out and tired noticed a sign out front of the church. it said " bingo 5pm tuesday"
Member Since: September 11, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 4576
Quoting TropicalXprt:


Keep being a smart ass. Lookup quotes from Cytranic before Hurricane wilma pounded South Florida. I said the eye would pass over broward county and was called a troll, liar, idiot, wishcaster. What happened?

The ridge is not as strong as it was yesterday. This storm followes the path of least resistance. Check out the outflow on the cane. A strong ridge would be noticed in the outflow. This storm looks exactly like a west heading andrew.


With all due respect, with my untrained eye, I can see compression on the northwest side of Irene from the ridge via visible satellite imagery; I'm hardly a trained meteorologist. It looks like a cushion protecting the Florida peninsula.

NOAA SSD Tropical Atlantic - Visible Loop
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Quoting SCwannabe:


They said Hugo was going to miss CHS too...


Don't you think computers are a little better now than they were 22 years ago?
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Quoting Chucktown:


Well, forecast models have come a long way in 22 years. When you see every model tightly clustered like they are now and Irene now at a 305 heading, confidence grows considerably that Irene will continue on course.


They can barely forecast if were going to get thunderstorms on any given day
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92. bwi
12z GFS still looks not bad for DC, but not great for New England.
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Quoting SCwannabe:


They said Hugo was going to miss CHS too...


and i DID NOT LISTEN TO THEM...i was laughed at when buying stuff...told i was nuts...then the same people knocked on my door wanting what i had cuz they were not prepared...go figure...by no means am i saying we are gonna take a direct hit from Irene...don't get me wrong...but i am saying models can be wrong and you should ALWAYS be ready
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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.