Wildfire smoke shrouds Denver; climate change expected to increase Western fires

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:16 PM GMT on June 13, 2012

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Colorado's third largest fire in recorded history, the High Park Fire, shrouded Denver and Fort Collins in acrid smoke Tuesday, causing an increase in emergency room visits related to smoke inhalation. The fire, currently burning fifteen miles west of Fort Collins, Colorado, covered over 43,000 acres (68 square miles) as of Tuesday. Firefighters reported that it was only 10% contained, and was exhibiting "extreme" behavior. A lightning strike triggered the fire on Saturday. While fire fighters try to control the southern edge of the fire, the northern perimeter is burning out of control. Six hundred eighty people and 100 fire engines are working on the ground to contain the blaze, along with air support from air tankers and helicopters. The fire has killed one person, burned 100 structures, and cost $1.6 million to fight so far. An air pollution action day has been declared for Wednesday all along the Front Range of the Rockies, from Denver to Fort Collins, due to smoke from the fire. Air pollution levels from smoke will be unhealthy for sensitive groups.


Figure 1. Fire burns in trees behind homes in the High Park wildfire near Fort Collins, Colorado, on Monday, June 11, 2012. (AP Photo)

Beetles, climate change, and Colorado fires
According to the Denver Post, the High Park Fire is burning in an area where 70% of the trees that have been killed by mountain pine beetles; the insects have devastated forests in western North America in recent years. As our climate change blogger, Dr. Ricky Rood explains, the pine beetle is killed (controlled) by temperatures less than -40°F. This is at the edge of the coldest temperatures normally seen in the U.S., and these cold extremes have largely disappeared since 1990. In Colorado, the lack of -40°F temperatures in winter has allowed the beetles to produce two broods of young per year, instead of one. The beetles are also attacking the pine trees up to a month earlier than the historic norm.


Figure 2. The historical mountain pine beetle (MPB) univoltine life cycle (above calendar arrows and linked by black arrows) and the observed MPB bivoltine life cycle (below calendar arrows and linked by red arrows). Univoltine means one brood per year, and bivoltine means two broods per year. Calendar arrow colors represent monthly temperature regimes: blue for less than 0°C, yellow for 0°-4.99°C, orange for 5°-9.99°C, and red for 10°C and higher. From Mitton and Ferrenberg, "Mountain Pine Beetle Develops an Unprecedented Summer Generation in Response to Climate Warming". This figure appeared in Dr. Ricky Rood's blog, "A Hot Day's Night: The Beetles".

A letter from the field in Colorado
Our climate change blogger, Dr. Ricky Rood, is in Boulder, Colorado this summer, and had this report on the fire Tuesday:

Saturday morning Iz and I were driving along 95th Street to Longmont to the Fairgrounds. We saw the initial plume; Iz said, "Looks like a volcano." At that time it was Colorado clear, with blue skies. The plume got to the top of its ascent and kicked off a little convection that looked like cauliflower. For the next few hours you could see the fire grow by the trunk of the plume getting thicker. It mostly blew to the east, with an occasional white cloud topping. It seemed to double in size every couple of hours.

By Sunday, the smoke was spreading all over the state. We had a couple of cool days with a northerly component in the wind. It filled up the sky, here, with haze - most of the day could not see Long's Peak. Part of the day couldn't see the foothills, say Flagstaff Mountain, which is about 8 miles away. Even with the wind moving around to the south, it's remained hazy. Today it has smelt of campfire-like smoke most of the day. Woke up sneezing. There is fine dust drawn to my computer screen and key board, which is at this point simply dirty. The dogs seem a little crazy.

It's not as acrid as the much closer Fourmile Fire a couple of years ago, but for some reason, it's the most dramatic fire I have experienced, perhaps because of the explosive nature of it. Tankers and helicopters fly over all day; they must stage from somewhere south of here. The tanks on them look hopelessly small compared with the fire, but they say, today, they finally made progress. The drought or drought potential is currently stunning, and we expect a lot of fire this year. Water only flowed in our irrigation ditch for four days before we lost priority.

There is a very nice figure in a local magazine, YS, that shows the percentage of snow pack compared with normal. We are South Platte - mid-May at 19 % normal, and not the worst in the state. Really, a nice little article in YS about how to predict a drought. Last year was nearly record wet. Right now this is setting up to be worse than the 2002 drought, which the article says was a 300 year drought. If true, then we had two 300 year droughts 10 years apart--some of our readers should be able to work on that as an attribution problem. The largest fire in Colorado history, the Hayman, was during the 2002 drought.


New Mexico's massive Whitewater Baldy Complex fire continues
The largest wildfire in New Mexico recorded history, the Whitewater Baldy Complex, continues to burn in the Gila National Forest. The lightning-sparked fire began nearly a month ago on May 15th, is 37% contained, and has devoured almost 280,000 acres (438 square miles.) Though fire weather advisories are not in effect in the region, the humidity is extremely low--humidity values of 6% were reported yesterday afternoon in Reserve, New Mexico, inside the burned area. Afternoon winds are expected to remain moderately strong, around 15 mph, over the next few days, as firefighters focus on keeping the southern edge of the fire from spreading. The fire has cost $22.6 million to fight so far.


Figure 3. The Whitewater Baldy Complex fire seen on our wundermap with the fire layer turned on. The red region outlined in yellow is the active fire perimeter.


Western U.S. wildfires expected to increase due to climate change
Expect a large increase in fires over much of the globe late this century due to climate change, says research published this month in the Journal Ecosphere. Using fire models driven by output from sixteen climate models used in the 2007 IPCC report, the researchers, led by Max Moritz of UC Berkeley, found that 38% of the planet should see increases in fire activity over the next 30 years. This figure increases to 62% by the end of the century. However, in many regions where precipitation is expected to increase--particularly in the tropics--there should be decreased fire activity. The scientists predicted that 8% of Earth will see decreases in fire probability over the next 30 years, and 20% will see decreases by the end of the century. The models do not agree on how fire danger will change for a large portion of the planet--54% for the period 2010 - 2039, and 18% for the period 2070 - 2099. Six key factors were found to control fire probabilities in the models. Most important was how much vegetation there was (NPP, Net Primary Productivity). Three other factors, about half as important, were precipitation of driest month, mean temperature of warmest month, and the difference between summer and winter temperature. Two other minor factors were mean temperature of wettest month, and annual precipitation. The authors found that future fire occurrence appears to primarily be a function of available moisture in many areas, and that the expected global increase in temperature of 3.5°C used in the models will not become the single dominant control on global wildfire. In the U.S., the regions most at risk of increased fires are the tundra regions of northern Alaska, and the West, with Arizona and Colorado at particularly high risk.


Figure 4. Predicted fractional change in fire probability for the period 2010 - 2039 (top) and 2070 - 2099 (bottom) for the average of sixteen climate models used for the 2007 IPCC report. For the 2010 - 2039 period, the models agree that 8% of Earth will see decreases in fire probability, 38% will see increases, and the models are too uncertain to tell for the other 54%. For the 2070 - 2099 period, the models agree that 20% of Earth will see decreases in fire probability, 62% will see increases, and the models are too uncertain to tell for the other 18%. Image credit: Climate change and disruptions to global fire activity, Moritz et al., 2012, from the journal Ecosphere.

Rare tornado hits Venice, Italy
A tornado hit Sant'Erasmo island in the lagoon surrounding Venice on Tuesday, ripping the roofs off of at least 12 buildings. No injuries were reported. The Capital Weather Gang has more videos and information on the event. Tornadoes are not unheard of in Venice; a strong one hit the city in 1970, killing 30 people.


Video 1. A waterspout/tornado in the Venice Lagoon on June 12, 2012.

The Atlantic is quiet
There are no threat areas to discuss in the Atlantic today. The NOGAPS and GFS models are predicting formation of a broad area of low pressure in the Western Caribbean early next week, and we will have to watch this area for development. The waters offshore of North Carolina may be another region to watch, over the next few days, along the edge of a cold front that has moved off the U.S. East Coast.

I'll have a new post Thursday or Friday.

Jeff Masters and Angela Fritz

Smokin' Hot Sun (BisonDoc)
Evening sky above the High Park Fire
Smokin' Hot Sun
Fire on the Mountain (BisonDoc)
This is the High Park Fire in Larimer County, Colorado on Day 2. The fire, first reported Saturday morning, June 9th, grew to 20,000 acres by late Sunday. More than 2,600 evacuation orders have been issued. View is looking west across Fort Collins toward the foothills above Horsetooth Reservoir.
Fire on the Mountain
Smokey Monday Sunset (MikePic)
The smoke has been nasty all along the front range, but made for a nice sunset.
Smokey Monday Sunset
High Park Wildfire (apphotos)
Fire burns through trees on the High Park wildfire near Fort Collins, Colo., on Monday, June 11, 2012. The wildfire is burning out of control in northern Colorado, while an unchecked blaze choked a small community in southern New Mexico as authorities in both regions battled fires Monday. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)
High Park Wildfire

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Hurricane Bertha in 96 had two eyes for awhile
Member Since: April 26, 2006 Posts: 5 Comments: 3189
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The HPC is actually forecasting a front to clear Florida by the Weekend! Then they retrograde it back northward towards the southern tip of the peninsula by Wednesday in response to what could be Chris.
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Let the eye appear!

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Quoting stormpetrol:


Everything cool, just waiting for the wife to come home and fry me some snapper (yum.:), watching the SW Caribbean with interest and having a good cold Coors Light!

hmm my favorite coors light

I think the W carib system will track NNE-ENE to cuba bahamas S florida but let us watch and wait
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Quoting redwagon:
There should at least be a purple circle in the GOM right under that circulation....and that H southwest of it could send it to.... Tampa?
..Which is what I had posted earlier that Tampashield I guess didn't like my play on words for Tampa to put up their shields to check for holes..lol..besides my dart landed square on the Hardrock Casino there..ooops..that was my vacation dart..my bad..lol..
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The circ seems to have spiraled a tad South by SSw this afternoon.

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Quoting wunderkidcayman:
hey stormpetrol what up


Everything cool, just waiting for the wife to come home and fry me some snapper (yum.:), watching the SW Caribbean with interest and having a good cold Coors Light!
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Quoting AtHomeInTX:
Houston...

IT BEARS MENTION/WATCH THAT THE EXTENDED GFS (AND
THE ECMWF TO LESSER DEGREE) PICK UP ON A BAY OF CAMPECHE CIRCULATION
AT AROUND MID-WEEK. THIS TROPICAL SYSTEM DOES MOVE UP INTO THE
SW`ERN GULF BY NEXT FRIDAY. 31

&&

.MARINE...
LIGHT TO MODERATE ONSHORE WINDS ARE EXPECTED TO PERSIST THROUGH
THE REMAINDER OF THE WEEK AND ON INTO THE UPCOMING WEEKEND. WINDS
ARE EXPECTED TO BACK TO THE EAST ON SATURDAY AND SUNDAY (ELEVATED
TIDES ARE POSSIBLE) BEFORE VEERING BACK TO THE SOUTHEAST EARLY
NEXT WEEK. THERE IS SOME UNCERTAINTY CONCERNING THE WIND/WAVE
FORECAST TOWARD THE MIDDLE TO END OF NEXT WEEK DUE TO POSSIBLE
GULF OF MEXICO TROPICAL CYCLONE FORMATION. 42


Is this the same system tha GFS has moving in to Florida?
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I think we could see 95L tomorrow.
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Seafood rules!!!!! Love a good crabmeat stuffed Flounder!!!!!!

plus 1000
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We may see rapid intensification begin soon if it hasn't already.

Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32267
and near Mexico..its good when both the operational and the ensembles show it..

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hey stormpetrol what up
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Houston...

IT BEARS MENTION/WATCH THAT THE EXTENDED GFS (AND
THE ECMWF TO LESSER DEGREE) PICK UP ON A BAY OF CAMPECHE CIRCULATION
AT AROUND MID-WEEK. THIS TROPICAL SYSTEM DOES MOVE UP INTO THE
SW`ERN GULF BY NEXT FRIDAY. 31

&&

.MARINE...
LIGHT TO MODERATE ONSHORE WINDS ARE EXPECTED TO PERSIST THROUGH
THE REMAINDER OF THE WEEK AND ON INTO THE UPCOMING WEEKEND. WINDS
ARE EXPECTED TO BACK TO THE EAST ON SATURDAY AND SUNDAY (ELEVATED
TIDES ARE POSSIBLE) BEFORE VEERING BACK TO THE SOUTHEAST EARLY
NEXT WEEK. THERE IS SOME UNCERTAINTY CONCERNING THE WIND/WAVE
FORECAST TOWARD THE MIDDLE TO END OF NEXT WEEK DUE TO POSSIBLE
GULF OF MEXICO TROPICAL CYCLONE FORMATION. 42
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This is no tropical storm anymore. JTWC will be extremely conservative as usual, though.

Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32267
Update on the High Park Fire. WFO Boulder just issued a Red Flag warning for Northern CO foothills including the fire zone ahead of an approaching cold front. Closest RAWS site Redstone has a temp of 85, RH of 11%, and SE winds @ 12 gusting to 20. Not very friendly fire fighting conditions. There is some good news however that they at least have 10% containment now, and some evacuation orders were lifted, but another 1,000 pre evacuation orders have just been sent out.

On another note it would be cool to run into Dr. Ricky Rood while he's living here in Boulder.

URGENT - FIRE WEATHER MESSAGE
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE DENVER CO
257 PM MDT WED JUN 13 2012

...CRITICAL FIRE WEATHER CONDITIONS EXPECTED OVER THE NORTHERN
AND CENTRAL MOUNTAINS...NORTHERN HIGH VALLEYS AND NORTHERN
FOOTHILLS...INCLUDING THE HIGH PARK FIRE...

.GUSTY WINDS AHEAD OF AN APPROACHING COLD FRONT ARE COMBINING WITH
ALREADY LOW HUMIDITY READINGS TO PRODUCE CRITICAL FIRE WEATHER
CONDITIONS. CONDITIONS ARE EXPECTED TO REMAIN UNTIL THE COLD FRONT
PASSAGE LATER THIS EVENING.

* TIMING...CONTINUE THROUGH 9 PM TONIGHT.

* WINDS...WEST 15 TO 20 MPH WITH GUSTS UP TO 35 MPH.

* RELATIVE HUMIDITY...6 TO 10 PERCENT.

* IMPACTS...STRONG WINDS AND LOW HUMIDITY WILL SUPPORT EXTREME
FIRE BEHAVIOR AND RAPID SPREAD OF ANY CURRENT OR NEW FIRE STARTS
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The 12Z Ensembles for the Euro has a Low where the tropical wave is currently..

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Quoting gator23:


Looks like Cedar Key north of Tampa to me.

I live near Cedar Key. :P
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This is what would develop, the secondary low on the trough to the south of the one we're looking at.


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BBL
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Quoting nigel20:

Yeah, possibly and the ABC islands are flat when compared to most of the other islands, so there are no hill/mountains to force the air upward and cause cooling, condensation...etc


Flat and small. So before any shower can develop it's already blown off the island by the strong tradewinds.
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Seafood rules!!!!! Love a good crabmeat stuffed Flounder!!!!!!

I don't eat oysters. Can't eat something that looks like i blew it out my nose during allergy season.
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New low in SW Caribbean is added on 18z Surface Analysis.

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Off the coast of Maryland.

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Quoting allancalderini:
Do you think the system near the Carolinas can achieve invest status?


We could possibly see 95L as soon as tomorrow from it.
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ALERT ATCF MIL 94X XXX 120613060000
2012061306
7.8 270.3
12.0 265.3
140
7.9 270.0
131000
1206130951
1
SUBJ/TROPICAL CYCLONE FORMATION ALERT//
WTPN21 PGTW 131000
RMKS/
1. FORMATION OF A SIGNIFICANT TROPICAL CYCLONE IS POSSIBLE WITHIN
140 NM EITHER SIDE OF A LINE FROM 8.2N 90.5W TO 12.4N 95.0W WITH-
IN THE NEXT 12 TO 24 HOURS. AVAILABLE DATA DOES NOT JUSTIFY IS-
SUANCE OF NUMBERED TROPICAL CYCLONE WARNINGS AT THIS TIME. WINDS
IN THE AREA ARE ESTIMATED TO BE 15 TO 20 KNOTS. METSAT IMAGERY AT
130930Z INDICATES THAT A CIRCULATION CENTER IS LOCATED NEAR 7.9N
90.0W. THE SYSTEM IS MOVING WEST-NORTHWESTWARD AT 07 KNOTS.
2. REMARKS:
3. THIS ALERT WILL BE REISSUED, UPGRADED TO WARNING OR CANCELLED BY 141000Z.
//
NNNN

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Quoting CybrTeddy:


Fixed

LIES.
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I hate seafood(unless it's deep fried like popcorn shrimp)!
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

What? No seafood is disgusting.


Fixed
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Quoting LargoFl:
gee that looks like a Tampa storm at the end of that run huh


Looks like Cedar Key north of Tampa to me.
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Quoting CybrTeddy:


And Irene at peak would have been an 85mph Hurricane.
Do you think the system near the Carolinas can achieve invest status?
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Quoting LargoFl:
I wonder what caused that Lobster to change colors that way


Global cooling. The lobster is freezing! Just kidding of course.

8.05" of rain here thus far in June. A couple more inches and I'll be break even for the year although still 12" or so below normal since the beginning of last year.
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Quoting allancalderini:
If the JTWC was the organization that control the Atlantic basin for tropical cyclones maybe systems like Jose of 2011 Danny and Henri of 2009 would had never been name.


And Irene at peak would have been an 85mph Hurricane.
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Quoting LargoFl:
gee that looks like a Tampa storm at the end of that run huh
If it happens, I'd rather see it happen late August.
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Quoting MoeWest:
ABC islands are in a small zone of cold upwelling water. Thats one explanation.

But that wouldn't explain the fact that almost everyday for a about half a year there are big thunderstorms just 50km away from me on the mainland Venezuela.

My guess is that the hot mainland sucks moisture away from us, small islands.

Yeah, possibly and the ABC islands are flat when compared to most of the other islands, so there are no hill/mountains to force the air upward and cause cooling, condensation...etc
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Quoting Patrap:
,,choot um, choot um Liz!!!...

Haaaa!
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Quoting ilovehurricanes12:
i see a tropical storms both moving north here at the end one tropical storm hit land!!


the tropical wave currently near the islands..(antilles) looks like it wants to develop in that frame..I still say that wave has a chance as well once it clears the islands

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Quoting GTcooliebai:
Latest GFS run:

If this actually verifies, I see only one alleyway out of the GOM, and it's thru the upper TX coast or Tx/La border. Ref post 223
By the way, got a 1/4 inch here on the west side of Kingwood yesterday, but co workers at the airport said it went nutso at IAH yesterday. 3 aircraft hit by lightning all lined up next to each other at the gate. Some light damage to aircraft too by wind pushed rolling bag carts, flying debris.
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Quoting ilovehurricanes12:
i see a tropical storms both moving north here at the end one tropical storm hit land!!
gee that looks like a Tampa storm at the end of that run huh
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Quoting weatherh98:


That's a baaddddd mutation
I wonder what caused that Lobster to change colors that way
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Next Week? DFW Forecast discussion...
FOR THE REST OF THE FORECAST PERIOD...THURSDAY NIGHT THROUGH NEXT WEDNESDAY...A LATE SEASON CUT OFF UPPER LOW DEVELOPS OVER SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA AND THEN RETROGRADES WESTWARD WHILE UPPER RIDGING BUILDS OVER THE SOUTHERN PLAINS AND MERGES WITH A PACIFIC
RIDGE REPLACES THE RETROGRADING UPPER LOW. BY EARLY NEXT
WEEK...THE UPPER HIGH WILL SLIDE WESTWARD AND LEAVE NORTH TEXAS UNDER WEAK LOW PRESSURE ALOFT THE REST OF NEXT WEEK.
LONG RANGE MODELS OF THE PAST SEVERAL RUNS ARE INDICATING A TROPICAL SYSTEM
DEVELOPING NEAR YUCATAN ON WEDNESDAY THAT MOVES NORTHWARD TOWARD
THE TEXAS OR LOUISIANA COAST BY NEXT WEEKEND.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

Dvorak numbers have it at 65 mph. JTWC has to be the most conservative organization I know.
If the JTWC was the organization that control the Atlantic basin for tropical cyclones maybe systems like Jose of 2011 Danny and Henri of 2009 would had never been name.
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
There should at least be a purple circle in the GOM right under that circulation....and that H southwest of it could send it to.... Tampa?
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Quoting ILwthrfan:

Slowly???  That CDO sure looks centered.  This is the most impressive it has looked throughout it's entire lifespan.  It wouldn't surprise me if it's intensity forecast is upped just a bit.  

Dvorak numbers have it at 65 mph. JTWC has to be the most conservative organization I know.
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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.