Storm surge barriers: the New England experience

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 6:22 PM GMT on November 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 strongest hurricane to hit the Northeast since the 1800s. A destructive storm surge of 13 feet (4 meters) barreled though Long Island Sound into Stamford, Connecticut, inundating the downtown region and causing heavy damage ($6 million in 1938 dollars.) Sixteen years later, a storm surge from Hurricane Carol of 1954 inundated the city again, causing $3.4 million in damage. In response to these twin storm surge disasters, work was begun in 1965 on a 17-foot high, $14 million (1965 dollars) hurricane barrier. Completed in 1969, the barrier across Stamford Harbor is high enough to protect the city from a storm surge of 14.8 feet above mean sea level. Had the barrier been in place during Hurricane Carol, the Army Corps of Engineers estimates damage to Stamford could have been reduced by 85%.


Figure 1. Bedford Street looking south towards Broad Street in Stamford, Connecticut, after the Great New England Hurricane of 1938. Image credit: stamfordhistory.org.


Figure 2. The storm surge from Category 2 Hurricane Carol in 1954 batters the Edgewood Yacht Club near Providence, Rhode Island. Image credit: NOAA Photo Library.

The Providence storm surge barrier
Stamford isn't the only New England city that suffered destructive storm surges from the 1938 and 1954 hurricanes. The 1938 hurricane brought a storm surge that covered the commercial district of Providence, Rhode Island with 8 feet (2.5 m) of water, causing $16.3 million in damage. On August 31, 1954, Hurricane Carol produced a storm surge of up to 14.4 feet (4.4 m) in Narragansett Bay, surpassing that of the New England Hurricane of 1938. The resulting storm surge flooded downtown Providence with 12 feet (3.7 m) of water. Some entire coastal communities were nearly destroyed, and damage was estimated at $25.1 million. In response to the devastation wrought by these storms, a $15 million hurricane barrier 25 feet (7.6 m) high was built across the 1000-foot (300 m) entrance to Providence Harbor between 1961 - 1966.


Figure 3. A ship passes through the Providence, Rhode Island storm surge barrier. Image credit: Douglas Hill, EngScD, P.E., Stony Brook University.

The New Bedford storm surge barrier
New Bedford, Massachusetts lies near the end of a narrow bay, and narrow bays and river estuaries can act as funnels that focus storm surges to extreme heights if the hurricane's direction of motion is aligned so that the surge propagates up the bottleneck. In fact, the shape of the coast near New Bedford makes it the most vulnerable portion of the U.S. coast for a hurricane storm surge. The highest theoretical storm surge produced by NOAA's SLOSH model for the U.S. is 38.5 feet above mean sea level, for a Category 4 hurricane hitting New Bedford. Destructive storm surges hit New Bedford during the 1938 hurricane and 1954's Hurricane Carol, the latter storm causing $8.3 million in flood damages. A hurricane barrier 23 feet (7 m) high and 4900 feet (1500 m) long across New Bedford Harbor was completed in 1966 at a cost of $19 million (1966 dollars.) The barrier separates the New Bedford Harbor from Buzzard's Bay, and successfully kept out the 8 foot (2.5 m) storm surge from Hurricane Bob in 1991, and a 6.5 foot (2 m) surge from the January 1997 Nor'easter.


Figure 4.The 4,900 foot-long New Bedford, Massachusetts storm surge barrier as seen using Google Earth. The city of New Bedford lies to the north (top) of this image.


Figure 5.The four regions of the U.S. theoretically prone to storm surges in excess of 33 feet at the coast. These Maximum of the Maximum Envelope Of Waters (MOM) SLOSH model plots are for a maximum strength hurricane hitting at high tide. A theoretical peak storm surge of 33 - 34 feet (pink colors) is predicted by the SLOSH model for New York City near the JFK Airport (upper left), for the Big Bend region of the Florida Gulf Coast (lower right), and for the Intracoastal Waterway north of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (lower left). The highest theoretical surge occurs at New Bedford, Massachusetts (upper right): 38.5 feet for a Category 4 hurricane.

More storm surge barriers needed
Storm surge barriers in Stamford, New Bedford, and Providence have already proved their worth and prevented damages more than the cost of their construction. For example, the Stamford barrier kept out the storm surge from the December 1992 Nor'easter, which neighboring New York City suffered storm surge flooding of it subway system and roads that caused hundreds of millions in damage. Similar barriers in the Netherlands and England's Thames River have also proved their worth, and multi-billion dollar storm surge barriers are nearing completion in St. Petersburg, Russia and the Venice Lagoon in Italy. Many more such barriers will be needed world-wide in the coming decades, because of sea level rise.
Sea level rose an average of 7 inches (18 cm) during the 20th century. The 2007 report of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted global sea level rise of 0.6 - 1.9 feet (18 - 59 cm) by 2100--excluding the contribution from melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. Several studies published since that report predict much higher levels of sea level increase will occur if one includes the melting from Greenland and Antarctica, For example, a 2008 paper published by Pfeffer et al. in Science concluded that the "most likely" range of sea level rise by 2100 is 2.6 - 6.6 feet (80 - 200 cm.) If these higher sea level rise estimates prove correct, storm surge damage could easily double of triple, particularly if climate change makes the strongest storms stronger. A Report to Congress by FEMA (1991) estimated that existing development on the U.S. coast would experience a 36 - 58% increase in annual damages for a 1-foot rise in sea level, and a 102 - 200% increase for a 3-foot rise. Much of this additional damage would result from storm surges riding on top of heightened sea levels. As I'll report on in future blog posts in this series, even if the sea level does not rise this century, there are three locations along the U.S. coast that should immediately begin planning to install hurricane storm surge barriers: New York City, Galveston/Houston, and Tampa Bay.

Jeff Masters

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324. hydrus
4:40 AM GMT on November 27, 2011
Quoting Grothar:


What am I, chopped liver? Look at post #302.
.Did you read post #303? ..?..And chopped liver aint so bad...:)
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22712
323. SPLbeater
4:40 AM GMT on November 27, 2011
Quoting washingtonian115:
Yes!.We had a very down right boring snow season.The only snowfall that most people remember is from the January 26 snowstorm.


das my birthday, Jan. 26. i felt good last january, celebrating my birthday with Category 4 Cyclone Wilma at peak intensity in Sw Pacific, heh
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4488
321. hydrus
4:35 AM GMT on November 27, 2011
Hurricane Alice in December of 1954 near the Virgin Islands. Alice survived into 1955 making it a rare one indeed..
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22712
320. xcool
4:32 AM GMT on November 27, 2011
brb later
Member Since: September 26, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 15684
319. Grothar
4:32 AM GMT on November 27, 2011
Quoting hydrus:
Greetings..Have not seen you in quite some time. Hope you had a good Thanksgiving.


What am I, chopped liver? Look at post #302.
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 71 Comments: 27210
318. xcool
4:32 AM GMT on November 27, 2011
hydrus .;0
Member Since: September 26, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 15684
317. hydrus
4:31 AM GMT on November 27, 2011
Quoting washingtonian115:
Yes!.We had a very down right boring snow season.The only snowfall that most people remember is from the January 26 snowstorm.
It will be interesting to see how this winter pans out with the La-Nina and all....
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22712
316. hydrus
4:29 AM GMT on November 27, 2011
Quoting xcool:


00z GFS
Greetings..Have not seen you in quite some time. Hope you had a good Thanksgiving.
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22712
315. washingtonian115
4:28 AM GMT on November 27, 2011
Quoting hydrus:
We gots over a foot and a half here last winter...he he..........Jealous aint cha..:)
Yes!.We had a very down right boring snow season.The only snowfall that most people remember is from the January 26 snowstorm.
Member Since: August 14, 2010 Posts: 10 Comments: 17836
314. hydrus
4:27 AM GMT on November 27, 2011
1957,s Hurricane Audrey just before landfall..Very deadly June hurricane..
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22712
313. xcool
4:26 AM GMT on November 27, 2011


00z GFS
Member Since: September 26, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 15684
312. hydrus
4:26 AM GMT on November 27, 2011
1958,s mean Helene off the Carolina,s..
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22712
311. hydrus
4:21 AM GMT on November 27, 2011
Cool radar pic of 1960,s Hurricane Donna over Florida..
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22712
310. hydrus
4:18 AM GMT on November 27, 2011
Quoting sunlinepr:
CMC keeps showing that storm? in 96 hrs.



GFS

The CMC is smoking them extra fat today..
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22712
309. hydrus
4:17 AM GMT on November 27, 2011
Weird radar pic of 1960,s Hurricane Abby in the Caribbean.
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22712
308. sunlinepr
4:15 AM GMT on November 27, 2011
CMC keeps showing that storm? in 96 hrs.



GFS

Member Since: August 2, 2010 Posts: 21 Comments: 9882
307. sunlinepr
4:12 AM GMT on November 27, 2011
Member Since: August 2, 2010 Posts: 21 Comments: 9882
306. hydrus
4:11 AM GMT on November 27, 2011
Here,s a cool radar pic of 1961,s Hurricane Carla..Extra large and very powerful..
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22712
305. hydrus
4:02 AM GMT on November 27, 2011
Quoting washingtonian115:
Dammit!!!! I'm hun'in ya down right now!!!
We gots over a foot and a half here last winter...he he..........Jealous aint cha..:)
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22712
304. washingtonian115
3:54 AM GMT on November 27, 2011
Quoting hydrus:
Mets are saying possible accumulation here on the plateau...WUZUP GRO..!
Dammit!!!! I'm hun'in ya down right now!!!
Member Since: August 14, 2010 Posts: 10 Comments: 17836
303. hydrus
3:52 AM GMT on November 27, 2011
Quoting HurricaneSwirl:


Macon, GA. I'm also greatly looking forward to the drought relieving rain coming our way, and am hoping to possibly squeeze out some snow showers as well.(hence the wishcasting of this ULL to the south and east) :)
Mets are saying possible accumulation here on the plateau...WUZUP GRO..!
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22712
302. Grothar
3:47 AM GMT on November 27, 2011
Quoting hydrus:
Good evening Hurricane Swirl. Where ya at?..I am in Middle Tennessee gettin ready for a lot of rain.


Hello!
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 71 Comments: 27210
301. washingtonian115
3:46 AM GMT on November 27, 2011
You know I was going back and looking through some of my old movies and decided to watch one called macross plus(came out in 94 just when I was finishing school and about to graduate).And herd one of the songs again.I had forgotten how beautiful it was.It's called wanna be an angle.I had the soudtrack.But it got all scratched up.It's worth over 200 bucks now.Link
Member Since: August 14, 2010 Posts: 10 Comments: 17836
Quoting hydrus:
Good evening Hurricane Swirl. Where ya at?..I am in Middle Tennessee gettin ready for a lot of rain.


Macon, GA. I'm also greatly looking forward to the drought relieving rain coming our way, and am hoping to possibly squeeze out some snow showers as well.(hence the wishcasting of this ULL to the south and east) :)
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Quoting HurricaneSwirl:
Me likey the 00Z NAM when I looked at it on Twisterdata though. It actually is slightly further S and E, which puts me under the 546 500mb heights for 9 hours instead of 3 hours like in previous runs.
Good evening Hurricane Swirl. Where ya at?..I am in Middle Tennessee gettin ready for a lot of rain.
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22712
good sein the blog aint dead(yet) lol.
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4488
WTIO31 PGTW 270300
MSGID/GENADMIN/NAVMARFCSTCEN PEARL HARBOR HI/JTWC//
SUBJ/TROPICL CYCLONE 05A (FIVE) WARNING NR 005//
RMKS/
1. TROPICAL CYCLONE O5A (FIVE) WARNING NR 005
O1 ACTIVE TROPICAL CYCLONE IN NORTHIO
MAX SUSTAINED WINDS BASED ON ONE-MINUTE AVERAGE
WIND RADII VALID OVER OPEN WATER ONLY
---
WARNING POSITION:
270000Z --- NEAR 10.3N 72.7E
MOVEMENT PAST SIX HOURS - 305 DEGREES AT 12KTS
POSITION ACCURATE TO WITHIN 070 NM
POSITION BASED ON CENTER LOCATED BY SATELLITE
PRESENT WIND DISTRIBUTION:
MAX SUSTAINED WINDS - 035KT, GUSTS 045KT
WIND RADII VALID OVER OPEN WATER ONLY
REPEAT POSIT: 10.3N 72.7E
---
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4488
Me likey the 00Z NAM when I looked at it on Twisterdata though. It actually is slightly further S and E, which puts me under the 546 500mb heights for 9 hours instead of 3 hours like in previous runs.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting weatherh98:


well 2 degrees celcius could have snow i suppose which is minly where the snow pops up. I noticed while looking at the temperature charts that where snow is predicted its is considerably cooler up to near 5 degrees farenheit


Yeah, 2 degrees Celsius. But I'm talking about 6. It's not going to make it all the way down as frozen precip if the surface is at 43 degrees Fahrenheit, even with the mid levels below freezing. Although with the southern snowstorm this February it was snowing at 41 in some locations in Alabama (it snowed at my house at 38, we got a dusting) so I guess it COULD, but it's still not an ideal temperature to be at.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Day & Night
Hourly Forecast
Chance of Precipitation
Snow
Hi 31° RealFeel® 27°
Day

WSW at 5 mph
Gusts: 18 mph
Cold with snow
Max UV Index: 1 (low)
Thunderstorm Probability: 0%
Amount of Precipitation: 0.01 in
Amount of Rain: 0.00 in
Amount of Snow: 1.2 in
Amount of Ice: 0.00 in
Hours of Precipitation: 3 hrs
Hours of Rain: 0 hrs

From accuweather on Dec.10, Bethel, ct, hey it's a long ways off, but it's the thought that counts!
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Quoting weatherh98:


Ive seen a slushy snow fall at 38 before changing over at 39


Strong high pressure can definetly push that cold air south...leading to a cold-core upper-level low where the cold air pools up.

The warmest snow I experienced when I lived in NC was around 42F...there was a very cold upper-level low overhead at the time...so this seems like that kind of event...

However for you snow lovers in the south...such an event is "extrafun" (not-fun)...LOL
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Quoting NCHurricane2009:


That's true...you pointed out that the spin-up in the 00Z NAM precip field is an upper-level low...which is a cold cored entity. So its not hard to imagine a wet snow that develops aloft in the cold core vortex...then reaches the ground as melting snow at 2 deg C....


Ive seen a slushy snow fall at 38 before changing over at 39
Member Since: June 17, 2011 Posts: 11 Comments: 6539
Quoting NCHurricane2009:


Extratropical is a dumb word in meteorology...its a confusing word...

Extratropical means "non-tropical"...just like "extraterristerial" means non-terristerial or "out of this world...." Definetly not expecting any tropical development if that's what you thought I meant...

So I meant to say that I am expecting so a major non-tropical (extratropical) low along the cold front...and I was thinking that swirl over the Mississippi River valley in that model was a strong non-tropical low along the front....


Oh okay and the etomology is extra-beyond tropical- tropical anyway YEs its a very cold upper level low so maybewhat you are saying is happening as we speak, because i know that this low is splitting from the main one, this will be very windy as the gradiant is HUGE
Member Since: June 17, 2011 Posts: 11 Comments: 6539
Quoting weatherh98:


well 2 degrees celcius could have snow i suppose which is minly where the snow pops up. I noticed while looking at the temperature charts that where snow is predicted its is considerably cooler up to near 5 degrees farenheit


That's true...you pointed out that the spin-up in the 00Z NAM precip field is an upper-level low...which is a cold cored entity. So its not hard to imagine a wet snow that develops aloft in the cold core vortex...then reaches the ground as melting snow at 2 deg C....
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Quoting weatherh98:


It wont go over water though, it will quickly be lifted north almost immediatley after the loop ends, in fact the low you see is not the actual frontal low, the front formed an upper level low wrapping back around with precipitation in the form of snow.Now if you are saying that as the frontal system moves south into the carribean and forms something, i suppose that this is possible but I havent sseen model support. The only way anything could come of it would be west to southwest carribean as the gom is quite cold for tropical development of any kind.


Extratropical is a dumb word in meteorology...its a confusing word...

Extratropical means "non-tropical"...just like "extraterristerial" means non-terristerial or "out of this world...." Definetly not expecting any tropical development if that's what you thought I meant...

So I meant to say that I am expecting so a major non-tropical (extratropical) low along the cold front...and I was thinking that swirl over the Mississippi River valley in that model was a strong non-tropical low along the front....
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Quoting HurricaneSwirl:


That run is incredibly warm. 6 degrees Celsius is the low on the big day? The temps better be off on that XD.


well 2 degrees celcius could have snow i suppose which is minly where the snow pops up. I noticed while looking at the temperature charts that where snow is predicted its is considerably cooler up to near 5 degrees farenheit
Member Since: June 17, 2011 Posts: 11 Comments: 6539
Quoting NCHurricane2009:


Well...there is a sharp upper-level trough over the central US with strong covergence on its west side supporting the 1046 mb high...simultaneously it has divergence on its east side supporting a north-south cold front with a few extratropical low pressure centers along that front....

That 1046 mb high pressure will drive cold air southward. Because upper-level troughs exist due to cold air below them...this means the upper trough will only get sharper (more amplitude). A sharper upper trough will increase the divergence moreso over that cold front...and somewhere a rapidly developing surface extratropical cyclone will spin up as it takes advantage of that increasing divergence....

That 00Z NAM model you posted showed a precip field that looked like a very mature extratropical cyclone over the Mississippi valley....


It wont go over water though, it will quickly be lifted north almost immediatley after the loop ends, in fact the low you see is not the actual frontal low, the front formed an upper level low wrapping back around with precipitation in the form of snow.Now if you are saying that as the frontal system moves south into the carribean and forms something, i suppose that this is possible but I havent sseen model support. The only way anything could come of it would be west to southwest carribean as the gom is quite cold for tropical development of any kind.
Member Since: June 17, 2011 Posts: 11 Comments: 6539
Quoting weatherh98:


00z nam


That run is incredibly warm. 6 degrees Celsius is the low on the big day? The temps better be off on that XD.
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Quoting weatherh98:


What are you talkin about willis


Well...there is a sharp upper-level trough over the central US with strong covergence on its west side supporting the 1046 mb high...simultaneously it has divergence on its east side supporting a north-south cold front with a few extratropical low pressure centers along that front....

That 1046 mb high pressure will drive cold air southward. Because upper-level troughs exist due to cold air below them...this means the upper trough will only get sharper (more amplitude). A sharper upper trough will increase the divergence moreso over that cold front...and somewhere a rapidly developing surface extratropical cyclone will spin up as it takes advantage of that increasing divergence....

That 00Z NAM model you posted showed a precip field that looked like a very mature extratropical cyclone over the Mississippi valley....
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Quoting NCHurricane2009:

SMACK to the forehead...why didn't I think of that? LOL...I don't want to be the volunteer for that test....even in the name of science...but I guess the answer is already out there because of underwater exploration....


Wow...is that a deeply-occluded extratrpoical cyclone parked over the Mississippi valley with rain/snow mix (just guessin' because of the shape of the precip fields). I am expecting some sort of major extratropical development along this front...the 1046 mb high pressure behind is certainly a warning sign of impending extratrpoical development along the front...


What are you talkin about willis
Member Since: June 17, 2011 Posts: 11 Comments: 6539
Link to N/S Indian Ocean still image from 00:00Z time
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4488
Quoting weatherh98:


simple test of that see how far down a person can go into the ocean and still live, and get the atmospheric equivalents

SMACK to the forehead...why didn't I think of that? LOL...I don't want to be the volunteer for that test....even in the name of science...but I guess the answer is already out there because of underwater exploration....

Quoting weatherh98:


00z nam

Wow...is that a deeply-occluded extratrpoical cyclone parked over the Mississippi valley with rain/snow mix (just guessin' because of the shape of the precip fields). I am expecting some sort of major extratropical development along this front...the 1046 mb high pressure behind is certainly a warning sign of impending extratrpoical development along the front...
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Not much change with 05A...as of 2100Z 35kt winds gusts 45kts, moving NW around 12kts or so
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4488
Havin fun with my new indoor helicopter (AKA the gyropter)
It's hard to control, but I think i finally got the hang of it, there is a throttle, a 360 turning and much more. got it for 40$ all though the only cons is that it takes a while to master, it takes 6 batteries, and it must charge from around 10-30 minutes with around 5-10 minutes for it to run out of juice. Alot of fun though. (yes I know this is very off topic.)
Member Since: October 22, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 2556
Quoting NCHurricane2009:


Wow! 1085 mb! I never imagined surface pressures on earth could get that high....

I wonder if there is an upper pressure limit where we can't tolerate...perhaps getting a headache or sick...


simple test of that see how far down a person can go into the ocean and still live, and get the atmospheric equivalents
Member Since: June 17, 2011 Posts: 11 Comments: 6539


00z nam
Member Since: June 17, 2011 Posts: 11 Comments: 6539
Quoting HurricaneSwirl:


Yeah. Hopefully that cold air can survive the trip all the way down here.

And after doing a google search, it seems that the highest barometric pressure ever recorded was around 1085 mb in Siberia during the winter. Yikes. I would have never guessed. Link


Wow! 1085 mb! I never imagined surface pressures on earth could get that high....

I wonder if there is an upper pressure limit where we can't tolerate...perhaps getting a headache or sick...
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Quoting NCHurricane2009:


The system that has attracted your fancy (with chanes of snow)...is it the system currently crossing the central US?

One thing that I am impressed with is the very intense 1046 mb high pressure center behind it...which will definetly help in pouring cold air southward....

That is one heck of a high pressure by the way...I wonder what the strongest surface high pressure of all time is?


Yeah. Hopefully that cold air can survive the trip all the way down here.

And after doing a google search, it seems that the highest barometric pressure ever recorded was around 1085 mb in Siberia during the winter. Yikes. I would have never guessed. Link
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Quoting HurricaneSwirl:
18Z NAM running. Hoping for just a little bit more south and east than the last run.


The system that has attracted your fancy (with chanes of snow)...is it the system currently crossing the central US?

One thing that I am impressed with is the very intense 1046 mb high pressure center behind it...which will definetly help in pouring cold air southward....

That is one heck of a high pressure by the way...I wonder what the strongest surface high pressure of all time is?
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18Z NAM running. Hoping for just a little bit more south and east than the last run.
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