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 WeatherfanPR:


I live in Carrollwood and yes we experienced that squall line with very heavy rain and lightning but no strong winds in my area.
,had 40-50mph winds here in srq,i posted a couple pics,i also saw a funnel out over the gulf
,shuld get another nasty round in abouta hrs,thatbline yesterday was that outflow boundry that was assiocaited with the low tgat died off sc,thatboundry got pushed allthe way accrross the state..anyone in my area notice how cool it was after the storms last night it was only 71* !!!

Member Since: October 5, 2007 Posts: 20 Comments: 4970
Even if you don't get TS force, or stronger, winds from Irene, expect some low lying areas to flood.

This is the EXTRATROPICAL Surge Guidance product, fairly coarse and probably wind-forced by NAM or GFS. It will not show the highest surge values.

Mid-Atlantic, some areas where water moving ~NW, then west, then SW gets trapped show the highest values. For example, I'd expect Willoughby Spit in Norfolk to be under, possible high levels along the St John's river in the Tidewater area.



In New England (the model only goes 96 hours out), it looks like all of New Jersey could get at least a few feet above normal and (yet to be shown) expect 10 feet above normal for Long Island, Rhode Island, SE Mass, IF Irene passes to your west.


Also worth noting: Spring tide coming with the new moon this weekend. Tidal ranges will go up a few feet:
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Adios All. NHC still right of guidance, near term. Down the center long term.

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Quoting WeatherfanPR:



thanks, I hope she received it.

Trust me. If I'm wrong you get double your money back!
Member Since: September 4, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 158
Expect TD #10 tomorrow.

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So whats going on with Irene, just got back from school and I see she has made it to cat 3, also see that there was a pressure reading of 954.
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Quoting Jax82:


Cant believe anyone would ride out the cane on Crooked island, that had to be a wild ride.
They live there. You're right about the ride. A guy in Mayaguana called in to the radio this a.m. and you could hear the wind howling in the background. He had somebody else's roof in his yard. It was eerie from 400 miles away.

Quoting robodave:
Has anyone compared its current location to the forecast NHC made 2 days ago? I'd like to do that, but don't know. Or compared the current forecast to the forecast 2 days ago. Both ideas are interesting.
NHC's Graphics Archive can help you do this.

Quoting SLU:
Damage reports coming from the Bahamas.
Thanks for this, SLU... nice to see the Tribune doing this.
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Quoting jaxgrl48:
i am really concerned for those up north.. southerners are used to hurricanes but those up north kinda shrug it off.. I just talked to my Mom and son whose in college in NJ.. they have this wait n see.. might get a little rain and some wind..the NJ beaches are really vulnerable too.. they are barrier islands which flood from the ocean and back bays.. and the local tv channels up there are not making much about it either.. not trying to be an alarmist but they should at least be getting some supplies in and such.. they think im overreacting.. im just worried..is there any chance this could possibly veer out and miss the northeast? i do appreciate your input.. thank you.


I can't speak for media outlets all over NJ or Philadelphia but here in S Jersey they are talking about it. Until the NHC actually issues something or makes a statement I think a lot of people will take a wait and see approach. Until then some people might consider all this just hype...they want something official. Personally, I have my batteries and other needs in already...but I'm not a last minute type person.
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Quoting PaulinJax:
I know we hear about sterring currents etc , but when exactly will she start to turn ?



She has already begun to turn NW, and she will likely begin a NNW-ward turn sometime tomorrow, with a more N-ward motion late tomorrow night or Friday morning.
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Quoting WeatherfanPR:


I live in Carrollwood and yes we experienced that squall line with very heavy rain and lightning but no strong winds in my area.


Strange, I live in Pinellas County, the rain and lighting was only short lived but we got blasted by wind.
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FINALLY have power. What did I miss?
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1329. NCSaint
Quoting PoconoLakefront:
Last time I watched TWC it was Lyons & I think Carver with a cameo by Hope



I quit watching after Bob Sheets retired. He at least did logical forecasting and explained the NHC computations. Didn't overhype, just the facts and reasonable warnings. I miss that guy!
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Quoting NoVaForecaster:


PLEASE let that happen, I would like nothing more than to see those morons get washed away for good!


Come on, DJ Paulie Dee is pretty cool.
Member Since: September 4, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 158
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Irene is still having a little dry air problem...You can see the outflow boundaries on the western side of the storm.



Well you're always going to find relatively drier air on the west side of any storm, drier sinking air always occurs out ahead of hurricanes on the north and west side. Often times its not necessarily deep layer dry air. Usually out ahead of tropical cyclones you get high surface moisture trapped in the low layers below sinking air above, often supporting a very muggy and hot feel, and fast moving low topped showers are common, which is basically what you're seeing on the west side of Irene. Irene is actually a very well balanced and structured hurricane.
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Quoting BobinTampa:
just checking in. Is Tampa in the clear now?


Yes, West Florida is in the clear. But we may get some gusty winds tomorrow and Friday.
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Quoting tatoprweather:


Can you explain this?


Leaving the office now however, quickly and applying to the current situation. The NAO deals explicitly with the strength of the Bermuda High and The Islandic Low. Positive NAO means stronger high and stronger low, opposite for negative.
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Quoting kflhuds05:
Happy 29th anniversary Hurricane Andrew down in Homestead, FL...as we are all fixated on another monster in the region...Hurricane Irene, who shall leave her own trail of destruction and scary stories for decades to come and go!

Hudson, FL weather




Mhmm I was in Kendall in Miami-Dade county. Walking around after the storm and even looking back at the pictures now is something I'll never really comprehend.
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Quoting Tazmanian:
the storm is comeing closeer and closer too FL evere day and it still have not seen march of a turn


Dude, caffeine is not your friend.
Member Since: September 4, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 158
Levi I absolutely love your tropical tidbits thank you for making them you do a wonderful job, keep it up man!
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Quoting Tazmanian:
the storm is comeing closeer and closer too FL evere day and it still have not seen march of a turn


The turn was not foretasted until early tomorrow morning.
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 292
I know we hear about sterring currents etc , but when exactly will she start to turn ?

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Quoting TruthCommish:


I just sent her a text. She said another 12 hrs and 32 mins. It'll happen.



thanks, I hope she received it.
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Complete Update

TS BUSTED FORECAST ALIBI





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1315. 996tt
Leaving in the am for Cocoa and Sebastian Inlet and hoping Irene keeps her butt far enough off shore to send a nice 12 + swell without too much blown out chop. Should be sweet when winds shifts and she goes by late Friday. She is now welcome to turn NE and stay off shore as much as possible. Heres to following those Eastern outliers and shift even further east.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:



Pretty much..
Member Since: December 18, 2006 Posts: 7 Comments: 2687
Quoting WeatherfanPR:


I live in Carrollwood and yes we experienced that squall line with very heavy rain and lightning but no strong winds in my area.
I was asleep at the time, knocked out from the amount of work I got the first day of school.
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When's the next recon going into Irene?
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Eye cloud filled, ERC may have begun..or has one?
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4488
1310. HarryMc
Quoting Levi32:


If the storm reaches the forecasted position off the SE US coast on Friday morning and the track still takes the storm over New England, then watches would be issued 48 hours in advance by the NHC.


I was reading about that a while back. WATCH is issued 48 hours in advance, was 36 hours until 2010 season. WARNING is 36 hours in advance, was 24 hours until 2010 season.

Combined Watch and Warning is if marginal between tropical storm and hurricane and they aren't sure which will prevail... combined flag set is one square solid red and one square red with black square inside. I can't remember ever actually seeing a combined status though.

Trivia.
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Quoting Levi32:


I like this morning's NHC track, though slightly farther west over the outer banks. That would have a shot at bringing Wilmington tropical storm conditions, though it will depend on how much the western side expands before then, as the largest part of the wind field is still to the east.


Think Floyd's landfall point is too far west for Irene?

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She has been on a base course of 305 since this AM @ 5... wobbles... trochoid motion (yes, you can see it rolling down the base course line, watch over time... little humps in the motion on the NE side of the base course) notwithstanding, the course from 5AM to right now is still 305/306... and she is left of track by ~20 miles wrt to the 250200Z track forecast... which is pretty good forecasting overall... but the left bias is a bit disconcerting... also the steering levels (350 - 850) have a little bridge between the highs... that disappears at 250... so if she continues to strengthen, she will see the opening at 250mb...
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Too early for gov. to issue evacuation orders?
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Quoting ProgressivePulse:



Just to add.

The NAO is trending back positive from it's low two days ago @ -0.76617E+00.

Current NAO (Could be why the models are trending west in the short term.)

-0.10917E+01


Can you explain this?
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Irene has moved 1.4W and 1.0N since 10:45 UTC.


What is that? A mixture between WNW and NW?
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1304. kaiden
Quoting Fotograffa:


I watch now and then but not in the morning. Can't handle Stephanie Abrams at all!!


And now on with Al Roadkill its a big laugh and giggle show.
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Quoting Jedkins01:


Hey don't worry, Irene isn't going to Florida, current steering currents would have to change drastically for that to happen.

By the way, since you live in Tampa now, how was that squall line for your area yesterday? I unfortunately was in Calc 2 class, so I couldn't experience it, but it produced a 51 mph gust at my house.


I live in Carrollwood and yes we experienced that squall line with very heavy rain and lightning but no strong winds in my area.
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Quoting kflhuds05:
Happy 29th anniversary Hurricane Andrew down in Homestead, FL...as we are all fixated on another monster in the region...Hurricane Irene, who shall leave her own trail of destruction and scary stories for decades to come and go!

Hudson, FL weather




1 decade off. 19th Anniversary..
Member Since: December 18, 2006 Posts: 7 Comments: 2687
the storm is comeing closeer and closer too FL evere day and it still have not seen march of a turn
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Quoting wolftribe2009:
based upon my experience in watching hurricanes. The "Pin Hole" eye that Irene has now is the most dangerous eye since they normally come with rapid intensification. NOAA stated in hurricane Wilma that the hurricane had the dreaded pin hole eye. We remember Wilma.


That would be a good point if Irene actually had a pinhole eye. But it's more like a small eye that is cloud-filled and trying to stave off the commencement of an eyewall replacement cycle.
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Concerning people choosing to ignore warnings. The price of your own freedom is allowing others to make bad decisions.
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Quoting Levi32:


SC is out of the NHC cone, but with these storms, you always want to keep a close eye on it until you see it physically passing east of you. South Carolina should keep their eyes peeled until it is obvious that they are safe. Right now, a major hurricane moving up the length of the Bahamas is not something to just ignore.
mmm... using lessons from Hugo, I agrees with you. However, Outer Banks landfall is more likely. This storm is so large that it could reach Triangle if it hit Morehead City directly (according to WRAL, that is...)
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Quoting NoVaForecaster:
Someone bring out the DOOM:CON chart, as it may be time to upgrade the threat level, like TWC did!


"Game over man.....game OVER!"

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Quoting charlottefl:


Jedkins, that line looked nasty on radar what kind of weather station do you have there?


Lacrosse pro, a little cheaper than some of the other ones, I got it years ago and it still works great.
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Quoting ChrisDcat5Storm:
she going west!!!



Still barely NW however, she will miss the next TFP by about 20 miles left and about 3 hours early, meaning Irene is moving faster than anticipated.
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Quoting kflhuds05:
Happy 29th anniversary Hurricane Andrew down in Homestead, FL...as we are all fixated on another monster in the region...Hurricane Irene, who shall leave her own trail of destruction and scary stories for decades to come and go!

Hudson, FL weather




Close 19th
Member Since: September 4, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 158
Quoting wxgeek723:
Living in South Jersey I'm a little apprehensive about the forecast calling for a category 2 off our coastline.


I'm in S Jersey too. Get your supplies now before the things you need are gone.
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Quoting wxobsvps:


you have source for that? been looking for that kind of product. thanks


Tropical Atlantic
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You just can't predict these storms. Still remember Hugo - it didn't do what they said it was going to do. I think everyone from northern Florida up through Cape Cod needs to be watching Irene and not just on the coast. This storm is huge and Hugo was still a Cat 1 when it hit Charlotte which is over 200 miles from where it hit landfall!
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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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