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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LMAO
Quoting presslord:
This could be a nightmare scenario for new England!!!!! My God...it's just horrifying to think about!!!! Seriously!!! This could do damage to a whole generation!!!! Has someone warned them FEMA is coming?!?!?!?!?!

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Quoting westernmob:
If Irene stays offshore long enough for a Long Island landfall, does this have the potential to be stronger than Gloria in 1985?
,very simular,i was living in ledyard,ct in sect when she made landfall,tree branches were 1 foot dep with large trees down everywhere
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she going west!!!
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1236. JeffM
Quoting presslord:
This could be a nightmare scenario for new England!!!!! My God...it's just horrifying to think about!!!! Seriously!!! This could do damage to a whole generation!!!! Has someone warned them FEMA is coming?!?!?!?!?!


+1

FEMA will be on the scene to create even more damage.
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Levi, what is your latest forecast track for Irene? Still got me in the TS force winds?
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1234. Levi32
A dropsonde north of the Bahamas shows that the low- mid-level atmosphere is still a bit dry.

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Quoting presslord:
This could be a nightmare scenario for new England!!!!! My God...it's just horrifying to think about!!!! Seriously!!! This could do damage to a whole generation!!!! Has someone warned them FEMA is coming?!?!?!?!?!

i just spewed my drink all over the computer screen...thanks Press. lol
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Quoting presslord:


Far more frightening than Irene...



Hahaha excellent
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Can someone tell Irene it's time to recurve North because it's getting closer to Florida and is not funny !!!!!
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Will the TWC go to storm alert mode?

Im pretty afraid now
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Quoting Levi32:


Well on the current NHC track, Friday morning puts the storm east of Florida and gives New England 48 hours until landfall there.

It should be noted that the storm is currently moving faster than forecast, and if that continues, the timetable may be bumped up a bit.


So would you guess they should have issued watches/warnings by Friday for the northeast? Of course, no one needs to wait for watches or warnings to get prepared.
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1228. Gorty
Quoting 69Viking:


I don't get why you find that funny. There are millions of people on the East Coast that could be affected by this storm. Although I don't always agree with the TWC what they are doing in warning the NE is a good thing, it takes a long time to get millions of people prepared and out of harms way.


Cause, who would of guessed western CT and western Mass would also be in it? I thought they would just keep me in high. Leading to believe I will receive stronger winds and more rain now than previously expected.
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Quoting Floodman:


How many New Yorkers even know about the '38 storm? The majority of them will not be ready and they will be in a world of hurt because, as you say, they figure "What's the big deal?"


Photos: Remembering The Great Hurricane Of '38
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Quoting Levi32:
Folks are used to storms weakening as they brush New England, and Irene will be no exception, but people don't realize that a Cat 1 in New England can do the same amount of total damage that a Cat 3 could do to states farther south, simply because of the extreme population density. It's a big deal, and Irene could even be a Cat 2 in New England, which becomes a disaster. It's not like it hasn't happened before with storms from history.


Additionally, there are a lot of old weak structures up in that area that haven't been hit by these kind of sustained high winds in decades. Not to mention brittle kinds of trees. S**t will be flying everywhere.

On the converse, the 2004 storms cleaned out a lot of the old weak structures in FL already and palm trees are designed by nature to survive hurricanes w/o falling.
Member Since: May 31, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 1208
This could be a nightmare scenario for new England!!!!! My God...it's just horrifying to think about!!!! Seriously!!! This could do damage to a whole generation!!!! Has someone warned them FEMA is coming?!?!?!?!?!
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Quoting Floodman:


How many New Yorkers even know about the '38 storm? The majority of them will not be ready and they will be in a world of hurt because, as you say, they figure "What's the big deal?"


Next to nobody here even knows this storm exists. Heck, I have a friend on vacation in Kitty Hawk and he didn't even know Irene posed a threat until I told him this morning.
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Good afternoon!
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Quoting Tropicsweatherpr:
Levi, there is no way that 90L makes it to the Caribbean with a negative NAO right?



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
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Quoting atmoaggie:
That and they don't have nearly as many regular wind events exceeding ~40 mph as the south. Lots of tree limbs and trees that haven't been as regularly tested, for the most part.

(Yes, I know there are exceptions, such as Mt Washington.)
,late autum cold fronts often bring gusty winds over 40 mph to the region,i use to live their,problem will be the sustained winds and saturated grounds,theyr use to gusts but 6+ hrs of sustained ts winds would bring down many older latge trees ,theirs going to be alot without power,maybe milloions
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1220. dewfree
mistake . yes i made one so im saying .
i did not post hugo on this forum .took a min to remeber exactely where i was and how i followed this storm like the other guy said his mom i was foloowing the storm via weather channel like most others at the time . but i was posting just not on any forum wasnt untill 97 that i joined the online group . before that i played with software on pc without internet . weather has always been greatest intrest so i followed all kinds of weather during the time and yes i was in charelston about 30 days after storm getting in on some of that hugo money . charelston is and was a very nice town .people there are friendly sort . somewhat the same sort you might find in savanah . im 45 years old and remeber everything in long term just ometimes i t takes a minute to gather those memmories in accuracy . so many to go threw you know . so unlike some i am correcting the story , but remeber the forecast tracks as it were yesterday . 1200 miles out is was suupose to recurve and just clip the outter banks . 600 miles out savanah .turn came between 400 and 300 miles out . now be very careful when you post about trolls . everyone here has a right to be here and give thier opinion . that is forecasting by the way opinion . education or not .
do not cattle and follow the group .mavericks have more claim to fame then anyoneand are ussually the ones i listen to because it is thier thought processes
that lead to cutting edge tech that others always seem to follow like cattle later on when that tech has become old . be the one instead to cut the edge and see what others do not . study and be yourselves reproved. dew
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If Irene stays offshore long enough for a Long Island landfall, does this have the potential to be stronger than Gloria in 1985?
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Quoting Hoynieva:


Billions? Really? That would mean over 600 million non-Americans actually care about the US weather enough to install a satellite which will receive TWC's signal. Try again.


The Weather Channel actually doing weather is like MTV going back to music. All TWC is now is documentaries and pushing the "green" agenda. CEO of TWC Dr. Heidi Cullen said before that "any meteorologist that doesn't believe in man made global warming should have their credentials taken away". That kind of stuff is not simply serving the public by detailing the weather.
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Quoting willdunc79:
I'm in NC south central and local news(wral) the met. said comp. m odels are trending east & Irene may not even hit Nc at all.


Well, that isn't true...
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Quoting tinkahbell:
Dear Irene,

You are really throwing a kink in my plans. Moving a child into college for her freshman year in Washington, D.C. during a Cat 2/3/7 hurricane is not my idea of a good time. Not to mention the fact that I may have to leave early and return to Delaware so I can welcome, my parent, sister, brother in law, nephew, 3 cats and 2 dogs into my home. You are a colossal p.u.t.a. Just sayin'.
Love, Tink


Umm, tink? If this thing tracks right they will come to your house only to ride out the storm as the worst of it runs over the top of you...not meaning to be the bearer of bad news, but, well, you know...
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Quoting atmoaggie:
That and they don't have nearly as many regular wind events exceeding ~40 mph as the south. Lots of tree limbs and trees that haven't been as regularly tested, for the most part.

(Yes, I know there are exceptions, such as Mt Washington.)


Yes I know building codes aren't great here, but a lot of old buildings in the northeast are waiting to get ripped to shreds. I noticed too that when Ive spent time up north power goes out twice as easy from thunderstorms as it does here. I'm sure newer buildings are built stronger, but I'm talking about old homes and old urban structures.


Also, trees down here are much stronger, Ive seen 70 to 80 mph thunderstorm wind events that fail to bring more than some tree limbs down, and maybe some old trees rotting on the inside. Where as 40 to 50 mph wind events do all kinds of damage up north to vegetation.

Now, on occasion when we have been affected by hurricanes in the Tampa Bay area, even 40 to 50 mph winds long term does as much damage as severe thunderstorm events at 60 to 70 mph due to long term persistence for hours as apposed to a few minutes in thunderstorms at most. So, when you're talking 60 to 70 mph like we had in Frances in Jeanne, that did an amazing amount of damage here because we had hours of that combined with bursts of extremely intense rain which helps to weigh down everything from roofs to trees, to power line supports when combined with wind. The wall of water in tropical cyclone rain bands I believe adds extra applied force to the wind. My rain gauge has shown that 4 to 5 inches per hour in short bursts is common in heavy bands. Hurricane cores can be quite a bit heavier.
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Quite disappointed that I'm going to be out of town for the only possible hurricane in NYC in many years and long before I lived here.
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Quoting willdunc79:
I'm in NC south central and local news(wral) the met. said comp. m odels are trending east & Irene may not even hit Nc at all.


Models have actually shifted a tad west in the latest runs.
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Ill tell them...  Im supposed to fly up there on monday... 


Guess that is a canceled trip..
Quoting Floodman:


How many New Yorkers even know about the '38 storm? The majority of them will not be ready and they will be in a world of hurt because, as you say, they figure "What's the big deal?"

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Living in South Jersey I'm a little apprehensive about the forecast calling for a category 2 off our coastline.
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Quoting Fotograffa:


And Cape Cod...


And lots of other places. Nor'easters generally have tropical storm force winds.
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Quoting presslord:


Far more frightening than Irene...



+ about a million or so
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I'm in NC south central and local news(wral) the met. said comp. m odels are trending east & Irene may not even hit Nc at all.
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Quoting wpb:
brian norcross still there?



Yes. He is the hurricane specialist. Dr. Rick Knabb is the hurricane expert.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:


Ok, maybe it was an exaggeration, but still...A lot of people watch TWC.


Yes, I understand your point, just wanted to bring that down to a more believable number, such as say, 50-100 million.
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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.


"WILMA HAS DEVELOPED THE DREADED PINHOLE EYE. REPORTS FROM THE AIR
FORCE RESERVE HURRICANE HUNTER INVESTIGATING WILMA BETWEEN 19Z AND
23Z INDICATED A 7-8 N MI WIDE EYE...WITH THE CENTRAL PRESSURE
DROPPING FROM 970 MB TO 954 MB IN 3 HR 14 MIN."
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1204. wpb
Quoting AllStar17:
TWC should go into Storm Alert mode if they want ratings.
brian norcross still there?
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Quoting stexram:


Lets hope nippers makes it through without too much damage.
Yea. I helped build the pool and the new double decker decks there with the new kitchen in 98-99.

Just talked to Michael Roberts. Johnnys dad. He said they are ready.
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Quoting Gorty:
TWC has put all of southern New England in the extreme threat level LOL.


I don't get why you find that funny. There are millions of people on the East Coast that could be affected by this storm. Although I don't always agree with the TWC what they are doing in warning the NE is a good thing, it takes a long time to get millions of people prepared and out of harms way.
Member Since: August 25, 2006 Posts: 1 Comments: 3077
Quoting Levi32:


Well obviously people like you on a website like this are going to care. I've just been hearing a lot on TV about how people are accusing the media of overhyping this storm and that it won't be a big deal. It's been a while since New England has had a bad storm. The last one to really roar through there was Floyd 12 years ago, and the bigger storms are buried even farther down in history. I guess I'm just making sure the concern is voiced here, although as I said, most of you here already know, which is why you're here.


How many New Yorkers even know about the '38 storm? The majority of them will not be ready and they will be in a world of hurt because, as you say, they figure "What's the big deal?"
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Quoting Misogynist:
The people would never get educated if scientists only talked to scientists.
+1000!!
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Houston, we have lost visual on the eye, over.
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The smaller the eye the more enhanced wind speeds within the eyewall increase because of less circumference to pass through.
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1197. DVG
Quoting trunkmonkey:
I live in Indiana, there is a trough that is suppose to come thru Indiana around 1600 to 2400hrs, folks it's no where near Indianapolis,
The reason I mention this, is suppose to be the guiding feature that takes Hurricane Irene up the east coast,
Here is what I have to say, with the delay of the trough, this will have an impact on the track of Irene.
The forward speed of Irene will also have an effect on the track.The storm is 429 miles south south east of Miami Fl. the speed is 12 MPH or 35 hours away from landfall, the later the trough comes the further west the storm travels, which changes everything.
All need to watch this trough and it's timing to see if the models are correct.


I was also thinking as this has wobbled for 3 hours at a time west, as close as it is 2 or 3 wobbles west is maybe 50 mi closer to WPB.
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TWC should go into Storm Alert mode if they want ratings.
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Dear Irene,

You are really throwing a kink in my plans. Moving a child into college for her freshman year in Washington, D.C. during a Cat 2/3/7 hurricane is not my idea of a good time. Not to mention the fact that I may have to leave early and return to Delaware so I can welcome, my parent, sister, brother in law, nephew, 3 cats and 2 dogs into my home. You are a colossal p.u.t.a. Just sayin'.
Love, Tink
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1194. Levi32
Quoting Tropicsweatherpr:
Levi, there is no way that 90L makes it to the Caribbean with a negative NAO right?


Probably not. If the system northwest of 90L is any indication, the ridge is far too weak there in the central Atlantic.
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Quoting Hoynieva:


Billions? Really? That would mean over 600 million non-Americans actually care about the US weather enough to install a satellite which will receive TWC's signal. Try again.


Ok, maybe it was an exaggeration, but still...A lot of people watch TWC.
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1191. JeffM
Cat 1-2 winds on the upper EC is going to cause major power problems due to downed trees. The ground up there is saturated and it won't take much to knock down a ton of trees.
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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.
Member Since: July 22, 2010 Posts: 6 Comments: 752

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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.