Irene an extremely dangerous storm surge threat to the mid-Atlantic and New England

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:55 PM GMT on August 25, 2011

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Back in 1938, long before satellites, radar, the hurricane hunters, and the modern weather forecasting system, the great New England hurricane of 1938 roared northwards into Long Island, New York at 60 mph, pushing a storm surge more than 15 feet high to the coast. Hundreds of Americans died in this greatest Northeast U.S. hurricane on record, the only Category 3 storm to hit the Northeast since the 1800s. Since 1938, there have been a number of significant hurricanes in the Northeast--the Great Atlantic hurricane of 1944, Hazel of 1954, Diane of 1955, Donna of 1960, Gloria of 1985, Bob of 1991, and Floyd of 1999--but none of these were as formidable as the great 1938 storm. Today, we have a hurricane over the Bahamas--Hurricane Irene--that threatens to be the Northeast's most dangerous storm since the 1938 hurricane. We've all been watching the computer models, which have been steadily moving their forecast tracks for Irene more to the east--first into Florida, then Georgia, then South Carolina, then North Carolina, then offshore of North Carolina--and it seemed that this storm would do what so many many storms have done in the past, brush the Outer Banks of North Carolina, then head out to sea. Irene will not do that. Irene will likely hit Eastern North Carolina, but the storm is going northwards after that, and may deliver an extremely destructive blow to the mid-Atlantic and New England states. I am most concerned about the storm surge danger to North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and the rest of the New England coast. Irene is capable of inundating portions of the coast under 10 - 15 feet of water, to the highest storm surge depths ever recorded. I strongly recommend that all residents of the mid-Atlantic and New England coast familiarize themselves with their storm surge risk. The best source of that information is the National Hurricane Center's Interactive Storm Surge Risk Map, which allows one to pick a particular Category hurricane and zoom in to see the height above ground level a worst-case storm surge may go. If you prefer static images, use wunderground's Storm Surge Inundation Maps. If these tools indicate you may be at risk, consult your local or state emergency management office to determine if you are in a hurricane evacuation zone. Mass evacuations of low-lying areas along the entire coast of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia are at least 50% likely to be ordered by Saturday. The threat to the coasts of New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine is less certain, but evacuations may be ordered in those states, as well. Irene is an extremely dangerous storm for an area that has no experience with hurricanes, and I strongly urge you to evacuate from the coast if an evacuation is ordered by local officials. My area of greatest concern is the coast from Ocean City, Maryland, to Atlantic City, New Jersey. It is possible that this stretch of coast will receive a direct hit from a slow-moving Category 2 hurricane hitting during the highest tide of the month, bringing a 10 - 15 foot storm surge.


Figure 1. The scene in Nassau in the Bahamas at daybreak today. Image credit: Wunderblogger Mike Theiss.

Irene a Category 3 over the Bahamas, headed northwest
Hurricane Irene tore through the Bahama Islands overnight, bringing hurricane-force winds, torrential rains, and storm surge flooding to Crooked Island, Long Island, Rum Cay, and Cat Island, which all took a terrific pounding. Eleuthera and Abaco Island will receive the full force of Irene's eyewall today, but the eyewall will miss capital of Nassau. Winds there were sustained at 41 mph, gusting to 66 mph so far this morning, and I expect these winds will rise to 50 - 55 mph later today. Wunderblogger MIke Theiss is in Nassau, and will be sending live updates through the day today. Winds on Grand Bahama Island in Freeport will rise above tropical storm force late Thursday morning, and increase to a peak of 45 - 55 mph late Thursday afternoon. Grand Bahama will also miss the brunt of the storm. Irene is visible on Miami long-range radar, and the outer bands of the hurricane are bringing rain to Southeast Florida this morning.

Irene is currently undergoing an eyewall replacement cycle, where the inner eyewall collapses, and a new outer eyewall forms from a spiral band. During this process, the hurricane may weaken slightly, and it may take the rest of today for a new eyewall to fully form. Satellite imagery shows a lopsided pattern to Irene, with less cloud cover on the storm's southwest side. This is due to upper level winds from the southwest creating about 10 - 20 knots of wind shear along the storm's southwest side. We can hope that the shear will be strong enough to inject some dry air into the core of Irene and significantly weaken it today, but I put the odds of that happening at only 10%. The most likely scenario is that Irene will complete its eyewall replacement cycle later today or on Friday, then begin intensifying again. Wind shear is expected to stay moderate, 10 - 20 knots, for the next three days, ocean temperatures are a very warm 29°C, and Irene has an upper-level high pressure system on top of it, to aid upper-level outflow. None of our intensity forecast models show Irene growing to Category 4 strength, though the last 4 runs of the ECMWF global model--our best model for forecasting track--have intensified Irene to a Category 4 hurricane with a 912 - 920 mb pressure as it crosses over Eastern North Carolina.

Track forecast for Irene
The models have edged their tracks westwards in the last cycle of runs, and there are no longer any models suggesting that Irene will miss hitting the U.S. The threat to eastern North Carolina has increased, with several of our top models now suggesting a landfall slightly west of the Outer Banks is likely, near Morehead City. After making landfall on the North Carolina coast Saturday afternoon or evening, Irene is likely to continue almost due north, bringing hurricane conditions to the entire mid-Atlantic coast, from North Carolina to Long Island, New York. This makes for a difficult forecast, since a slight change in Irene's track will make a huge difference in where hurricane conditions will be felt. If Irene stays inland over eastern North Carolina, like the ECMWF and GFDL models are predicting, this will knock down the storm's strength enough so that it may no longer be a hurricane once it reaches New Jersey. On the other hand, if Irene grazes the Outer Banks and continues northwards into New Jersey, like the GFS model is predicting, this could easily be a Category 2 hurricane for New Jersey and Category 1 hurricane for New York City. A more easterly track into Long Island would likely mean a Category 2 landfall there.

Category 2 landfalls may not sound that significant, since Hurricane Bob of 1991 made landfall over Rhode Island as a Category 2, and did only $1.5 billion in damage (1991 dollars), killing 17. But Irene is a far larger and more dangerous storm than Bob. The latest wind analysis from NOAA/HRD puts Irene's storm surge danger at 4.8 on a scale of 0 to 6, equivalent to a borderline Category 3 or 4 hurricane's storm surge. Bob had a much lower surge potential, due to its smaller size, and the fact it was moving at 32 mph when it hit land. Irene will be moving much slower, near 18 mph, which will give it more time to pile up a big storm surge. The slower motion also means Irene's surge will last longer, and be more likely to be around during high tide. Sunday is a new moon, and tides will be at their highest levels of the month during Sunday night's high tide cycle. Tides at The Battery in New York City (Figure 3) will be a full foot higher than they were during the middle of August. Irene will expand in size as it heads north, and we should expect its storm surge to be one full Saffir-Simpson Category higher than the winds would suggest.


Figure 2. Predicted tides for the south shore of New York City's Manhattan Island at The Battery for Sunday, August 28 and Monday, August 29. High tide is near 8pm EDT Sunday night. Tidal range between low and high tide is 6 feet on Sunday, the highest range so far this month. A storm surge of 10 feet would thus be 10 feet above Mean Lower Low Water (MLLW, the lowest tide of the year), but 16 feet over this mark if it came at high tide. Image credit: NOAA Tides and Currents.

Irene's storm surge potentially extremely dangerous for the mid-Atlantic coast
Irene's large size, slow motion, arrival at high tide, and Category 3 strength at landfall in North Carolina will likely drive a storm surge of 8 - 10 feet into the heads of bays in Pamlico Sound, and 3 - 6 feet in Albemarle Sound. As the storm progresses northwards, potential storm surge heights grow due to the shape of the coast and depth of the ocean, though the storm will be weakening. If Irene is a Category 1 storm as it crosses into Virginia, it can send a storm surge of 4 - 8 feet into Chesapeake Bay and Norfolk. I give a 50% chance that the surge from Irene in those locations will exceed the record surges observed in 2003 during Hurricane Isabel. The region I am most concerned about, though, is the stretch of coast running from southern Maryland to Central New Jersey, including Delaware and the cities of Ocean City and Atlantic City. A Category 1 hurricane can bring a storm surge of 5 - 9 feet here. Irene's large size, slow movement, and arrival at the highest tide of the month could easily bring a surge one Category higher than the storm's winds might suggest, resulting in a Category 2 type inundation along the coast, near 10 - 15 feet. This portion of the coast has no hurricane experience, and loss of life could be heavy if evacuation orders are not heeded. I give a 30% chance that the storm surge from Irene will bring water depths in excess of 10 feet to the coasts of Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey.


Figure 3. The height above ground that a mid-strength Category 2 hurricane with 100 mph winds would push a storm surge along the Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey coasts in a worst-case scenario. The image was generated using the primary computer model used by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) to forecast storm surge--the Sea, Lake, and Overland Surge from Hurricanes (SLOSH) model. The accuracy of the SLOSH model is advertised as plus or minus 20%. This "Maximum Water Depth" image shows the water depth at each grid cell of the SLOSH domain. Thus, if you are inland at an elevation of ten feet above mean sea level, and the combined storm surge and tide (the "storm tide") is fifteen feet at your location, the water depth image will show five feet of inundation. This Maximum of the "Maximum Envelope of Waters" (MOM) image was generated for high tide and is a composite of the maximum storm surge found for dozens of individual runs of different Category 2 storms with different tracks. Thus, no single storm will be able to cause the level of flooding depicted in this SLOSH storm surge image. Consult our Storm Surge Inundation Maps page for more storm surge images of the mid-Atlantic coast.


Figure 4. The height above ground that a mid-strength Category 2 hurricane with 100 mph winds would push a storm surge along the New Jersey coast in a worst-case scenario. Water depths could reach 6 - 8 feet above ground level in Ocean City and Atlantic City, and up to 16 feet along less populated sections of the coast.

Irene's storm surge may flood New York City's subway system
The floodwalls protecting Manhattan are only five feet above mean sea level. During the December 12, 1992 Nor'easter, powerful winds from the 990 mb storm drove an 8-foot storm surge into the Battery Park on the south end of Manhattan. The ocean poured over the city's seawall for several hours, flooding the NYC subway and the Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corporation (PATH) train systems in Hoboken New Jersey. FDR Drive in lower Manhattan was flooded with 4 feet of water, which stranded more than 50 cars and required scuba divers to rescue some of the drivers. Mass transit between New Jersey and New York was down for ten days, and the storm did hundreds of millions in damage to the city. Tropical Storm Floyd of 1999 generated a storm surge just over 3 feet at the Battery, but the surge came at low tide, and did not flood Manhattan. The highest water level recorded at the Battery in the past century came in September 1960 during Hurricane Donna, which brought a storm surge of 8.36 feet to the Battery and flooded lower Manhattan to West and Cortland Streets. However, the highest storm surge on record in New York City occurred during the September 3, 1821 hurricane, the only hurricane ever to make a direct hit on the city. The water rose 13 feet in just one hour at the Battery, and flooded lower Manhattan as far north as Canal Street, an area that now has the nation's financial center. The total surge is unknown from this greatest New York City hurricane, which was probably a Category 2 storm with 110 mph winds. NOAA's SLOSH model predicts that a mid-strength Category 2 hurricane with 100-mph winds could drive a 15 - 20 foot storm surge to Manhattan, Queens, Kings, and up the Hudson River. JFK airport could be swamped, southern Manhattan would flood north to Canal Street, and a surge traveling westwards down Long Island Sound might breach the sea walls that protect La Guardia Airport. Many of the power plants that supply the city with electricity might be knocked out, or their docks to supply them with fuel destroyed. The more likely case of a Category 1 hurricane hitting at high tide would still be plenty dangerous, with waters reaching 8 - 12 feet above ground level in Lower Manhattan. Given the spread in the models, I predict a 20% chance that New York City will experience a storm surge in excess of 8 feet that will over-top the flood walls in Manhattan and flood the subway system. This would most likely occur near 8 pm Sunday night, when high tide will occur and Irene should be near its point of closest approach. Such a storm surge could occur even if Irene weakens to a tropical storm on its closest approach to New York City.


Figure 5. The height above ground that a mid-strength Category 2 hurricane with 100 mph winds would push a storm surge in a worst-case scenario in New York City.


Figure 6. Flooded runways at New York's La Guardia Airport after the November 25, 1950 Nor'easter breached the dikes guarding the airport. Sustained easterly winds of up to 62 mph hit the airport, pushing a large storm surge up Long Island Sound. The storm's central pressure bottomed out at 978 mb. Image credit: Queens Borough Public Library, Long Island Division.

The rest of New England
The entire New England coast is at high danger of receiving its highest storm surge in the past 50 years from Irene, though the exact locations of most danger remain unclear. If North Carolina takes a bullet for us and reduces Irene below hurricane strength before the storm reaches New England, the surge will probably not cause major destruction. But if Irene misses North Carolina and arrives along the New England coast as a hurricane, the storm surge is likely to cause significant damage. I urge everyone along the coast to familiarize themselves with their storm surge risk and be prepared to evacuate should an evacuation order be issued.

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.

The National Hurricane Center's Interactive Storm Surge RIsk Map, which allows one to pick a particular Category hurricane and zoom in, is a good source of storm surge risk information.

Wunderblogger Mike Theiss is in Nassau, and will be sending live updates through the day today.

Landstrike is an entertaining fictional account of a Category 4 hurricane hitting New York City.

Elsewhere in the tropics
Tropical Depression Ten in the far Eastern Atlantic 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.

Portlight mobilizes for Irene
The Bahamas have been hit hard by Irene, and unfortunately, it appears that the Northeast U.S. may have its share of hurricane victims before Irene finally dissipates. My favorite disaster relief charity, Portlight.org, is mobilizing to help, and is sending out their relief trailer and crew to the likely U.S. landfall point. Check out this blog to see what they're up to; donations are always needed.

Jeff Masters

Irene in the Dominican Republic (DRHT)
Flooding caused by Heavy Rains from Irene making the Rivers Rise and flooding nearby communities.
Irene in the Dominican Republic
Irene in the Dominican Republic (DRHT)
Flooding of the River Nigua in the Dominican Republic and people that were forced to leave their homes behind.
Irene in the Dominican Republic
Hurricane Irene (LRandyB)
The sun peeking over the top of the eyewall
Hurricane Irene
Hurricane Irene (LRandyB)
By the fourth pass, Irene had a pretty well developed eyewall
Hurricane Irene

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NAVY on the move...ships going out to sea...
Member Since: September 16, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 3650
Quoting AusTxWthrGrl:
People who won't consider evacuating sometimes are in denial, but sometimes they don't have the information they need to make an informed decision. They think that they can find a structure that is high enough and sturdy enough to prevent them from being injured. What they don't consider, because they've never experienced it, is what a living hell the aftermath can be.
or simply they want to experience it. Because of inexperience.
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Quoting reedzone:
NHC is doing a FANTASTIC job with the track of Irene, right on the forecast points!


Yep. So far. Hopefully that changes and they get it wrong because it was too far west!
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Quoting help4u:
Joe b called this storm 2 weeks ago. I do disaster relief and he has been right on with this storm!


Even a blind man can hit the balloon if you give him enough darts.
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2PM center puts it 231 miles from my doorstep in Viera, FL. Tropical storm force winds now extend up to 290 miles from center! Currently winds 25 gusting to 31 and sun shining as we wait on our first outer band!

Everyone from the Carolinas north: Be prepared, listen to your local EMC instructions, and stay safe!
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nash i live at 33.9n 78.7 weat could it get bad here nmb sc
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Power could be out for days people,stock up on water. Get to a safe structure by all means necessary!
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Quoting Speeky:


Just wanted to know more :)

I am planning to leave on Friday. I am going to try and get to my parents house in upstate new york. Hopefully it wont be too bad up there


Good plan. Might want to leave early as soon as possible though because traffic could be very bad. Beware of flooding upstate if they are in a low lying area... but definitely safer inland.
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People who won't consider evacuating sometimes are in denial, but sometimes they don't have the information they need to make an informed decision. They think that they can find a structure that is high enough and sturdy enough to prevent them from being injured. What they don't consider, because they've never experienced it, is what a living hell the aftermath can be.
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Quoting WxTracker15:

Not a site, GREarth.

cool...thanks...something that's free for a change :)
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Time: 17:34:00Z
Coordinates: 26.4833N 77.1833W
Acft. Static Air Press: 697.0 mb (~ 20.58 inHg)
Acft. Geopotential Hgt: 2,698 meters (~ 8,852 feet)
Extrap. Sfc. Press: 947.9 mb (~ 27.99 inHg)
D-value: -
Flt. Lvl. Wind (30s): From 108° at 14 knots (From the ESE at ~ 16.1 mph)
Air Temp: 16.6°C (~ 61.9°F)
Dew Pt: 6.6°C (~ 43.9°F)
Peak (10s) Flt. Lvl. Wind: 17 knots (~ 19.5 mph)
SFMR Peak (10s) Sfc. Wind: -
SFMR Rain Rate: -
(*) Denotes suspect data
Member Since: April 23, 2011 Posts: 104 Comments: 14870
Quoting mojofearless:

Either evacuate or prepare to engage in some nasty urban camping scenarios for at least a week. Run from the water - hide from the wind. If you are in a surge-prone area, leave. If not, decide how uncomfortable you're willing to be post-storm and plan accordingly to mitigate the discomfort. Fresh water. Non perishable food. Disposable plates cups and utensils. Baby wipes. Hand sanitizer. A weapon. Flashlights and extra batteries. A few tarps in case your windows blow out. And cash!!!
You have to figure that you could be completely on your ownfor a week or so with contaminated tap water, glass everywhere, no stores open, potential looting- all that fun stuff. Prepare for the worst and corss your fingers for the best.


Don't FORGET:

Someplace to poop.
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Quoting carcar1967:







Fire Phasers, Photon torpedoes full spread


The shields and the warp drive are down, Captain! I'm giving you all she's got!
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680. Asta
For those of you who have never been through a hurricane,
here is a link to Ready.gov to help you prepare.
It is by no means comprehesive, but a good place to start.
And if the authorities tell you to evacuate-please listen.
Dr. Masters post is very clear.
http://www.ready.gov/america/getakit/index.html
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Quoting Torgen:


Tigg, I'm... I'm afraid press is seeing other bloggers.

(chokes back a sob)


<------reaching for a Kleenex...sniff, sniff, sniff... and btw Nash...ummmm....is there a program to find how far out the winds are reaching on the west side...
Member Since: September 16, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 3650


Here's a microwave shot of that western feeder band. The dry area between that band and the eye is filling in as I type and should make Irene an annular CAT 4, possibly by 11pm. The stronger she is the further East she can go.. Just a thought.
Member Since: August 5, 2005 Posts: 2 Comments: 80
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you know there was a lady here that posted about being on cape cod and how its hard to evacuate when your employer doesnt take the storm serious. same thing happens in florida. i work for a large insurance company call center. they dont close for anything and i was here in the 2004 2005 storms and they didnt close even with watches and warnings in the area. if you didnt go to work you got hit with an unexcused absence. florida is a right to work state... they dont care. it is true that some people are hampered from preparing because of this problem.
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674. Jax82
I still think its crazy to see a Major Hurricane and the eye on Miami radar, and no watches and warnings for FL, i know why there isnt any, but its still crazy non the less.
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673. SLU
With a 10th named storm on the way, and the second half of the season climatologically speaking producing more storms than the first half, we may very well see levels of activity comparable to 2010 at least in terms of named storms.

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Quoting muddertracker:

What pay site did this come from?

Not a site, GREarth.
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Quoting tiggeriffic:


question Patrap...what generally is the speed that a storm has a harder time to turn? I know they usually slow down when they are going to make one...didn't know if there was a scale like the MB for strength kinda thing TIA


Im no met and I would assume that is a subjective Storm to Storm situational thing. They go at the Mercy of Steering Aloft, and momentum has it's role as well.

The Guidance for Irene is well understood atm as to track pretty much.

But wigs and wags affect the downstream soulution's as a rule.
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NHC is doing a FANTASTIC job with the track of Irene, right on the forecast points!
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Quoting tiggeriffic:


HEY HEY HEY...that is the line you reserve for ME!


Tigg, I'm... I'm afraid press is seeing other bloggers.

(chokes back a sob)
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Quoting starbuck02:
Just got our first little squall in Jacksonville. Nothing big but still noticeable considering Irene is about 500 miles away.

I was noticing that, I am at NAS and the breeze has picked up and there are some good showers around
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Quoting WxTracker15:

What pay site did this come from?
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The Latest
*Click on graphics to enlarge (once clicked on they can be further enlarged in the new window by clicking on them)


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Quoting Neapolitan:

You should read the responses you received the first time you asked seven minutes ago... ;-)


Just wanted to know more :)

I am planning to leave on Friday. I am going to try and get to my parents house in upstate new york. Hopefully it wont be too bad up there
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Quoting carcar1967:







Captain, shields are down 70%


"Raaaaisssse them!!!"

"I can't!!!"

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Quoting ncstorm:
Wilmington is under a hurricane watch now..Carolina Beach is under a voluntary evacuation..


Link?
Member Since: September 1, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 4
Dropsonde in the eye found 950mb pressure with 12kt winds. The vortex message will likely show something like 949mb.
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Quoting nash28:
Irene is wobbling. This isn't a change in motion.

But we are at the 11th hr so to speak, so even a 50 mile westward OR eastward deviation is huge!


Your right! Being in the 11th hour does make it huge
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Quoting klaatuborada:


I can already hear it.

"All hands abandon ship, All hands abandon ship"







Fire Phasers, Photon torpedoes full spread
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NE will have it's rude awakening soon, as we watch it unfold
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Quoting Speeky:
Kind of fearing for my life right now in NYC. What should I do?


evacuate!
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Edit: Wilmington is under a tropical storm watch now..Carolina Beach is under a voluntary evacuation..
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Enhanced Infrared (IR) Imagery (4 km Mercator)


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Quoting Speeky:
Kind of fearing for my life right now in NYC. What should I do?


Listen to the local emergency warnings and do what you're told.
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bad footage...
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Quoting klaatuborada:


Bob - 1991


Except, Bob was starting from further east and had already turned north. But overall, I agree, very similar
Member Since: September 1, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 4
Quoting Patrap:


question Patrap...what generally is the speed that a storm has a harder time to turn? I know they usually slow down when they are going to make one...didn't know if there was a scale like the MB for strength kinda thing TIA
Member Since: September 16, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 3650
Quoting Speeky:
Kind of fearing for my life right now in NYC. What should I do?


Stop reading this forum and contact the local emergency management office to get details on what are NYC's recommended preparations, and hurricane plans.
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@Grothar

I live in Chicago but I have coworkers at an office in NYC. I swear to god their response when I asked if they were considering evacuating was "We don't evacuate" and that was it. Their apartments are made from brick so they think they're good.
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Just got our first little squall in Jacksonville. Nothing big but still noticeable considering Irene is about 500 miles away.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CUdYXpLmYPg&f eature=channel_video_title

idk how to hyperlink...fail haha

And my phone is fail as you can see
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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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