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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1140. Levi32
The eye of Irene continues to undergo trochoidal oscillations, which is the "stair-steeping" effect people talk about. The overall motion remains northwest, with short-term wobbles ranging from west to north.
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Quoting Levi32:


Every model set between now and landfall will get successively more accurate, so there's not really a specific set to be looking for. Tonight's 0z runs will likely again have fresh recon data in them from the G-IV plane. Friday will probably be the day that we start to seal the deal with Irene in terms of her track up the eastern seaboard.


Thanks - just Friday may be a bit too late for some of them to get out if needed.
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Looks like 90L could be a long tracking and powerful system too, its already quite massive.


The computer model tracks are ridiculous, there is no consensus at all. It could go North ASAP or go into the Caribbean.


Irene continues to be NE US bound though, with a possible landfall in the outerbanks. Conditions in the outmost counties of Virginia like Virgina Beach could experience conditions similar if not worse than Isabel.
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fyi:

SENIOR DUTY METEOROLOGIST NWS ADMINISTRATIVE MESSAGE
NWS NCEP CENTRAL OPERATIONS CAMP SPRINGS MD
1933Z WED AUG 24 2011


GOES E RSO EXTENSION...
GOES E RSO HAS BEEN EXTENDED ALL THE WAY TO MON 29/12Z
IN SUPPORT OF MONITORING HCN IRENE ALL ALONG THE EAST
COAST EVEN TO PROJECTED LANDFALL.


$$
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Everytime someone feels the need to announce to everyone that they *poofed* someone, I in turn *poof* the *poofer*.

Wait, did I just...

*poofs self*
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Quoting TropicalXprt:


Oh here we go again...I predict this comment page is heading west for 3 pages discussing the PR territorial zone...
If you are going to quote me, have the decency to keep it in context. I was responding to another post.
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1133. JeffM
I was just in Nags Head on Friday. First time to the OBX. If the track holds, it may not look the same as it did last weekend.
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On Irene's current path, how far onshore would Irene's tropical storm force winds come ashore NC?
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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.
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.)
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1130. Levi32
Quoting newportrinative:


Jeez, people in NE are aware of the dangers of a CAT 1 or 2 Levi. This isn't the dark ages. In every scenario there will be those that do or don't take a storm seriously.


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.
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NHC is not always right. They had Katrina landing in the middle of the Florida panhandle.

http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/archive/2005/KATRINA_grap hics.shtml
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1128. Thaale
Quoting Levi32:
The 12z Euro is back to a NNE track across Hatteras and then right into Long Island, passing very close to the Jersey coast. This is an extremely bad storm track, so bad that folks probably don't even have a clue yet in New England. If this comes to pass, it would be worse than a direct hit on the Carolinas as a Cat 4.

Not meaning to hype, but I get the feeling folks in New England don't even care about Irene much right now.


I've talked to three people in Boston today and they were all aware of the Irene situation and her being pointed right at them. I'm just not sure they have any idea of what preps to make.
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Quoting MississippiWx:
If Irene were farther north right now, she would probably be in the same location as the upper low offshore of the Carolinas. In other words, if the steering currents didn't change, Irene would most likely end up where the upper low is currently. However, since the steering is going to keep changing as the trof approaches from the west and the high breaks down to the east, Irene's path will be farther east than the upper low as the steering currents are basically the same all the way up to 200mb. I think that gives us a good clue as to where Irene will eventually go.



But the trough looks to be flattening out some, so that may not be an accurate depiction of where she will end up.
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Quoting Levi32:
The problem is the 3rd trough that comes around as Irene is coming towards the outer banks. See where it is? It's very far to the north, and the jetstream is over Canada. That means the storm will want to come north and phase with the trough as the ridge to the east of it remains bulky. The center of the ridge is due east of Virginia, which implies a track that doesn't curve much until it's up into Long Island.

12z GFS 72-hour 500mb:



Levi - friends and family in Long Island and in the Boston area. Given the statements in your video update, are thursday's runs still the ones to wait for, or is their enough of a pattern change to believe that it most likely will end up in the NE? Sorry if this is a repeat, and you have answered already - blog is moving fast.
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Quoting Jax82:
Irene is currently over these islands.
The eye is moving towards the next island up, Long Island, now. Initial reports from the South of Acklins beginning to come in.

I'm updating my blog as I get new information about local conditions, so you can check there for details.
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1123. Levi32
Quoting daddyjames:
Levi - friends and family in the boston area. Given your video update, are Thursday's models still the ones to wait for?
Already gave them the heads up, so they are aware and preparing.


Every model set between now and landfall will get successively more accurate, so there's not really a specific set to be looking for. Tonight's 0z runs will likely again have fresh recon data in them from the G-IV plane. Friday will probably be the day that we start to seal the deal with Irene in terms of her track up the eastern seaboard.
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the last 3 frames have been almost due west..just a tad north of that
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i've noticed a slight flattening on the northern bands of irene. is this the sign that the bands are reaching the high? thanks!
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Quoting WeafhermanNimmy:
Heading out to sea. Trust me! No one in the USA is going to be impacted with Irene.
Don't know if this was addressed already, but there has been a fatality in the U.S. caused by Irene. Someone drowned in Puerto Rico as a result of weather.
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1119. DVG
It seems to me that the low in Ontario has gone as far south as it's going to. It appears to be turning to the NE. The trailing end of it's tail appears to be flattenning. The low off Ga is holding it's own, so far. The 950-969 mb steering has the Tx high and Atlantic high almost pinching off near SC.

No idea if this means anything different or not.
Member Since: August 29, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 259
Quoting sarahjola:
i bet everyone on the e. coast wishes this would hurry up and be done with. lol! i'm sure they are thinking " if its comming just hurry up and come, and if its not just hurry up and pass" all this anticipation is killing me, i can only imagine how they feel. waiting to make a decision on katrina was unbearable and katrina came way faster. there wasn't a week or more of but clinching. lol! wish the best for all on e. coast. hope it just goes away.


+100 just get past my latitude so I can get on with life and pray for those North of me!
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Quoting Tazmanian:





you dont want too no


Hatteras and ocracoke would be "bare" islands and we would have a few new inlets...
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1116. Levi32
The problem is the 3rd trough that comes around as Irene is coming towards the outer banks. See where it is? It's very far to the north, and the jetstream is over Canada. That means the storm will want to come north and phase with the trough as the ridge to the east of it remains bulky. The center of the ridge is due east of Virginia, which implies a track that doesn't curve much until it's up into Long Island.

12z GFS 72-hour 500mb:

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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.


Jeez, people in NE are aware of the dangers of a CAT 1 or 2 Levi. This isn't the dark ages. In every scenario there will be those that do or don't take a storm seriously.
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If Irene were farther north right now, she would probably be in the same location as the upper low offshore of the Carolinas. In other words, if the steering currents didn't change, Irene would most likely end up where the upper low is currently. However, since the steering is going to keep changing as the trof approaches from the west and the high breaks down to the east, Irene's path will be farther east than the upper low as the steering currents are basically the same all the way up to 200mb. I think that gives us a good clue as to where Irene will eventually go.

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Quoting kmanislander:
Good afternoon.

It looks like Irene could be on the verge of another round of deepening with the pressure down to 954 mbs.

Sub 950 becomes very serious business.


Everything she did today was during diurnal minimum, tonight she will get her chance at anything she wants.

CAT 4 with 930 mb is not at all out of the question and NHC has it becoming a "weak" 4.
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Quoting CybrTeddy:


18z isn't even out yet.
The 12z ECMWF, the most reliable global model continues to show an east coast hit.
WOW!!

Been out in a boat all day.... Looks like the models have trended slightly west....is that true?

I was hoping she would clear east of Abaco but that does not look to be the case. Yikes.
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Quoting NEwxguy:
Trust me we care what's going on with Irene,this has caught our attention big time,some are slow to react,but we are going to be ready,besides we Jim Cantore coming to RI, what more do we need?


"Jim Cantore here on top of the Fox Point Hurricane Barrier. The wind is so strong I can barely stan..."

"Jim? Jim are you there??" Ok, back to Joe in the studio for a storm center update!"
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Remember this blog is 12 hrs ahead of the media, what we've been seeing this morning and up to now will be on the 10-11 o clock news tonight.
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Levi:

What should people in western Massachusetts, western New Hampshire, and Vermont expect? Tropical Storm conditions? TIA
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1108. Titoxd
Quoting Levi32:
Gotta love how the 12z CMC seemingly magically turns Irene parallel to the SE US coast at the last second, avoiding a direct landfall in the Carolinas. That run is too close for comfort.


Yeah, that's not going to happen. We all know that the Canadian model tends to have a lot of spurious cyclogenesis, and that's causing it to overestimate the influence 98L will have on Irene.
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I think it's been said before, but for what it's worth...storms can "step" in their advancement. SO it looks like they wobble a bit west, and then wobble a bit north.....it's not always an even NW movement. Your eyes "see" it wobbling only in one direction, but when you watch every second, you won't get the true picture. Don't watch it so closely. Wait and watch the trend of it's track.
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Quoting HurricaneIsabel:
What would a direct hit cat 4 do to cape hatteras..?





you dont want too no
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Levi - friends and family in the boston area. Given your video update, are Thursday's models still the ones to wait for?
Already gave them the heads up, so they are aware and preparing.
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Quoting DontAnnoyMe:


It's already 24. Only thing that will keep them away is everyone elses behavior.


Or just make it a paid only blog. Heck, the $10 annual sub fee is less than a buck a month!
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1102. Ryuujin
Quoting newportrinative:


Uuuumm, yeah they do. My family is in RI and CT and they are watching the storm closely. Don't know why a statement like that would be made.


Because probably 70% of the New York/Boston/DC metro area aren't worried about it.
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1101. CHinFL
Quoting Jax82:
I think her inner eyewall is collapsing, it does look like a pinhole now.

What factors determine when an eye wall will collapse and do they re-build at a consistent size or does it vary a lot?
Thanks
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Ok Im gone. Peace out.
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Thanks DontAnnoyMe
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Notice this guy doesn't put his feet on the screen cover? cuz the bottom would fall out on him, just like the bottom gonna fall out in the NE with everybody's pants down

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Quoting TexasHurricane:
Hickory,NC....should they be worried?


Not a bit, with the current NHC track.
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Quoting MidwestGuy:
me think <--------------- alot


Hush! Don't even think that!
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Good afternoon.

It looks like Irene could be on the verge of another round of deepening with the pressure down to 954 mbs.

Sub 950 becomes very serious business.
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1093. oakland
Quoting ecupirate:


Just need a little Flex Seal...



LOL
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Quoting nrtiwlnvragn:


NOAA P3 is scheduled to takeoff at 4:00PM EDT. The Gulfstream IV is currently up releasing dropsondes.



is that the same noaaa from this AM and last night?
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1091. 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.
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Quoting Levi32:
The 12z Euro is back to a NNE track across Hatteras and then right into Long Island, passing very close to the Jersey coast. This is an extremely bad storm track, so bad that folks probably don't even have a clue yet in New England. If this comes to pass, it would be worse than a direct hit on the Carolinas as a Cat 4.

Not meaning to hype, but I get the feeling folks in New England don't even care about Irene much right now.





Roger that, Levi. Not too thrilled with that track myself here in SE VA - but definitely much worse for the upper mid atlantic and NE.
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About JeffMasters

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.