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 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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1089. 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?
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Hurricane Irene looking scary now. I wouldn't be surprised if it becomes a Cat 4 by tonight. Still moving NW with slight jogs here and there. We may see some tropical storm gust here in Florida. Will it cause the NHC to issue tropical storm warnings? Well they already have the marine warnings. But right now it doesnt look like it. Though, anything could change and we may see a warning. But the concern for major damage lies up north in the Carolinas and New England. Not looking good for them...
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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.


This is not looking good at all for the megalopolis......
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Quoting Hernando44:
Suggestion:

Do you think it's possible that Dr. Masters could
have it set up so that ONLY paid members would
see other paid members comments, and the non paid
members would only see other non paid members
comments? Hope you can understand what i'm saying.

Might stop alot of the trolling here!




There are a lot of things like that which would help make the experience better for *members* of the blog (i.e. limit a member's number of post in 24 hours, paid posting privileges, etc.) However, that would be counter-productive to what matters to wunderground: High page view stats driving demand to advertise on wunderground. Inotherwords, it's all about advertiser's money into the coffers of wunderground.
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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.


I saw someone post the 18z TVCN.
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This is a version of the GFS with a different initialization scheme, on track to replace the current GFS by next summer. It has consistently performed better than the op GFS. It has also been west of all the other models and very Euro-like in the 1 day I've been following it.

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me think <--------------- alot
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I just have to state this. NOAA is forecasting a CAT 2 Hurricane in Long Island at 100 MPH. Now even if the storm spares much of NYC and Long Island because of wind shift that would result in a smaller wind damage area. The area affected by STORM SURGE could be far worse. Even if you are getting a CAt1-2 storm that is weakening as the storm weakens from a CAT 3-4 it will p[ush the water in it's storm surge onto shore.

We saw this with HURRICANE KATRINA. She mad landfall as a CAT 3 but brought with her a 30 FT storm surge which was CAT 5 storm surge.
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1081. HarryMc
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.



You're mostly right Levi. There was a little hype last night but this morning Boston area was hearing "trending east on every advisory", now it is like the initial shock is over and will take a slap to the face or something dramatic to really energize folks.
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Quoting tropicalnewbee:


believe me I am but I like the info I glean from this blog. quite a few knowledgeable ppl here. Rita posted that 77w is when we should really start to worry and another blogger said TS conditions bak in the forecast for central fl.


I would be surprised at this point if we do not see at least a small period of sustained TS force winds in Brevard Thursday evening/Friday early morning. TS force winds out 205 from the center at 2PM advisory and Irene could intensify by then.

Lots of great people with solid info here. Several nut jobs as well! :D
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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 just seen that...but I think the CMC has always been a little more of the east predicting models. Not as extreme but always east
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Quoting AustinTXWeather:
If someone is in Raleigh, would they need to be concerned by the current setup we're seeing for Irene's path? I know it's important for all of the coast to watch, just was not sure about those a little further in. Clearly I'm not there but thinking of another who is.


No, not with the current path. May not even get any rain out of it.
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Quoting WeafhermanNimmy:


18z Models show this trend for over 24 hours now.


18z isn't even out yet.
The 12z ECMWF, the most reliable global model continues to show an east coast hit.
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1076. Jax82
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.


Did ya notice the cyclone right to the East of Irene on that run too? I thought that was interesting.
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
09L/MH/I/C3
RI FLAG (off)
MARK
24.00n/75.00w forecast point





ALWAYS FOLLOW NHC/TPC FORECASTS FOR ALL WARNINGS REGARDING THIS STORM


Irene riding the stairmaster!!!
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1074. nigel20
Quoting waterskiman:

Well duh

I said that because some are underestimating is power.
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Earl was a wobbly storm in this position last year, but Irene got him beat:) never seen a storm wobble so wide and stairstep so much
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Hickory,NC....should they be worried?
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1071. Levi32
Quoting RitaEvac:
933mb??



Likely overdone, but illustrates the danger for something as strong as a Cat 2 when it's in that position.
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Quoting DontAnnoyMe:


Agreed. It's as useless as a screen door on a submarine.


Just need a little Flex Seal...

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Quoting Tazmanian:
no recon?


NOAA P3 is scheduled to takeoff at 4:00PM EDT. The Gulfstream IV is currently up releasing dropsondes.
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1068. Ryuujin
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.



That is the second or third time that it has done that and the Euro is pretty solid. Btw, Levi did you see the WV of the nearest shortwave? It has really flattened out e-w, IMO.
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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.
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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.



They don't, I'm sure my cousins in NJ don't have a clue either. I think they'll get their wakeup call in a big way when the winds start blowing
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Quoting CybrTeddy:


You got a magic ball?


18z Models show this trend for over 24 hours now.
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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.



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, kinda ignorant to do.
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1063. 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.
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why is there no recon party in are hurricane
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Quoting Levi32:
Not meaning to hype, but I get the feeling folks in New England don't even care about Irene much right now.


Strongly disagree.
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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.



They just upped our chances for storms here in central IL for today associated with the shortwave the NE is praying to come save the day. Looks to be trending slightly stronger than the last 12 hr model run.

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Quoting philliesrock:
Looks like another WNW wobble is occurring. Irene may go slightly south of the 8pm NHC position.


Looks to still be moving ever so slightly to the left of the trop forecast points
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1058. nigel20
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Quoting Abacosurf:
And all the other islands she is crossing now and tomorrow....Wake up son.


I mean the CONUS there. It's not going to hit that. You know what I meant.
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Don't forget!!! Jeff, Shaun, Tim...and the Ga Tech chick will be on the radio @ 4:30pm EDT
Member Since: August 13, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10492
Levi there is no way that 90L makes it to the Caribbean with a negative NAO right?
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933mb??

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Quoting Ryuujin:
Like I said in another post, if you want to get rid of 90% of the trolls make it a mandatory 24-48 hour wait for approval. That will keep most of the trolls away


It's already 24. Only thing that will keep them away is everyone elses behavior.
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1052. Jax82
I think her inner eyewall is collapsing, it does look like a pinhole now.
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Quoting nigel20:
This is a large and extremely large and dangerous storm, so people in Irene's path must take extreme caution.

Well duh
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
09L/MH/I/C3
RI FLAG (off)
MARK
24.00n/75.00w forecast point





ALWAYS FOLLOW NHC/TPC FORECASTS FOR ALL WARNINGS REGARDING THIS STORM


Nice....very good info. Looks like a west shift on the last few frames but likely another jog N and then west so really more of a WNW.
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Quoting CybrTeddy:
Afternoon all! Irene is a monster, and 90L looks like it will become Jose.


Very true. To my knowledge Jose (if it forms)shouldn't be a problem for anyone. At the moment anyways...
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Quoting KNAStorms92:
...pinhole?


Exactly what im thinking, Irene is probably strengthening a bit
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Quoting WeafhermanNimmy:



Well discounting PR. I mean it's not going to hit the US East coast. Trust me on this.


You got a magic ball?
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If someone is in Raleigh, would they need to be concerned by the current setup we're seeing for Irene's path? I know it's important for all of the coast to watch, just was not sure about those a little further in. Clearly I'm not there but thinking of another who is.
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Quoting WeafhermanNimmy:



Well discounting PR. I mean it's not going to hit the US East coast. Trust me on this.
And all the other islands she is crossing now and tomorrow....Wake up son.
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Quoting muddertracker:


teh..priceless!


What teh heck are you talking about sir ^_^
???????????????????????

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So the models have nudged to the west a little bit but are still waaaaaaay away from South Florida. I'm thinking I only need to run around screaming, arms flailing for about thirty seoonds now and I should be good.
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Quoting hurricanejunky:


I think the whole karma thing needs to go.


Agreed. It's as useless as a screen door on a submarine.
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1041. 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.

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1040. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
09L/MH/I/C3
RI FLAG (off)
MARK
24.00n/75.00w forecast point





ALWAYS FOLLOW NHC/TPC FORECASTS FOR ALL WARNINGS REGARDING THIS STORM
Member Since: Posts: Comments:

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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.