Irene pounds the Dominican Republic, heads for the Bahamas

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 3:32 PM GMT on August 23, 2011

Hurricane Irene is pounding the north coast of the Dominican Republic this morning with tropical storm-force winds and torrential rains, as the storm continues to head west-northwest towards the Bahama Islands. Puerto Plata on the north coast of the Dominican Republic reported sustained winds of 58 mph at 5am local time this morning, with heavy rain. In the Turks and Caicos Islands ahead of Irene, winds have gusted to 42 - 49 mph this morning on Providenciales at personal weather stations at the Regent Grand and at Pine Cay. The latest hurricane hunter eye report at 10:38am EDT found a central pressure of 980 mb, and top surface winds of 85 mph using their SFMR instrument. The plane had not finished sampling the storm yet.

Yesterday, Irene hit Puerto Rico as a tropical storm with 70 mph winds, reaching hurricane strength as it emerged into the Atlantic northwest of the capital of San Juan. No deaths or major injuries have been reported thus far from the islands, though the storm knocked out power to 1 million residents of Puerto Rico, including the entire island Vieques; 28% of Puerto Rico had no running water Monday afternoon. Billionaire Richard Branson's 8-bedroom mansion on private Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands was hit by lightning during the storm and burned down, and Branson relates on his blog how actress Kate Winslett had to carry out his 90-year-old mother from the main house to safety. Haiti has thus far escaped heavy rains from Irene, though the main danger comes today as the storm makes its closest approach to Haiti.

Figure 1. Morning satellite image of Irene, showing a hint of an eye starting to pop out.

Track forecast for Irene
Yesterday's dropsonde mission by the NOAA jet helped significantly narrow the uncertainty in the 1 - 3 day forecasts from the computer models. Irene will track through the Turks and Caicos islands today, the central Bahamas on Wednesday, and northwestern Bahamas on Thursday. However, the models still diverge considerably on their 4 - 5 days forecasts. One reliable model, the UKMET, takes Irene into South Carolina, while several others have the hurricane missing the Southeast U.S. completely, passing just offshore of the Outer Banks of North Carolina on Saturday. The official NHC forecast of a landfall along the North Carolina coast is a reasonable compromise, though with the models trending more eastwards of late, I would favor a landfall farther east than NHC is predicting. Irene will continue north or curve northeast after its encounter with North Carolina, and the hurricane could be a dangerous and destructive storm for the entire mid-Atlantic and New England coast.

A research project funded by NOAA known as the Joint Hurricane Testbed has produced a remarkable number of tools now in operational use at the National Hurricane Center to improve hurricane forecasts and warnings. One of these projects, called "Prediction of Consensus TC Track Forecast Error and Correctors to Improve Consensus TC Track Forecasts", was an effort by Dr. Jim Goerss at the Navy Research Lab to improve the accuracy of the NHC "cone of uncertainty" (AKA the "Cone of Death") showing where a storm is expected to track 2/3 of the time. The radius of the circles that make up the cone are based on error statistics of the official NHC forecast over the past five years. We can expect in certain situations, such as when the models are in substantial disagreement, a consensus forecast made using these models will have much greater than average errors. Since the NHC typically bases their forecast on a consensus forecast made using a combination of reliable hurricane forecasting models, it is instructive to view the "GPCE" (Goerss Prediction Consensus Error) circles to see if the uncertainty cone should be smaller or larger than usual. The consensus forecast I'll look at is called "TVCN", and is constructed by averaging the track forecasts made by most of (or all) of these models: GFS, ECMWF, NOGAPS, GFDL, HWRF, GFDN, and UKMET. In the case of this morning's 12 UTC (8am EDT) runs of these models, here is what the radius of the "cone of uncertainty" should be, in nautical miles:

12 hours: 27 nm
24 hours: 44 nm
36 hours: 64 nm
48 hours: 81 nm
72 hours: 137 nm
96 hours: 201 nm
120 hours: 308 nm

And here is the radius of NHC's "cone of uncertainty" for their official forecast, based on the average errors for the past five years:

12 hours: 36 nm
24 hours: 59 nm
36 hours: 79 nm
48 hours: 98 nm
72 hours: 144 nm
96 hours: 190 nm
120 hours: 239 nm

So, the GPCE error estimates are showing that the latest forecasts for Irene are better than average over the 1 - 3 day time period, and worse than average for 4 - 5 days. Note the error estimate of 308 nm (355 miles) for today's 5-day forecast. That's more than the distance from New York City to Boston, suggesting that we really don't know what portions of New England might be at most risk from Irene. It is still quite possible the core of the hurricane could miss New England.

Intensity forecast for Irene
Latest microwave data suggests that Irene does not have full eyewall; a gap exists in the southwest side. With wind shear now a moderate 10 - 20 knots, Irene may have trouble intensifying today. The hurricane is embedded in a large envelope of moisture, and wind shear is expected to remain moderate, 10 - 20 knots, for the next four days. With water temperatures very warm, 29 - 30°C, these conditions should allow for intensification to a Category 3 storm sometime in the next two days. Satellite loops show that Irene is steadily growing in size, which will protect the storm against major disruption by wind shear. The storm is lacking much development on its southwest side, where the presence of Hispaniola is interfering with development. Once Irene pulls away from Hispaniola tonight, intensification is more likely.

Irene's impact on the Turks and Caicos Islands
Heavy rains from Irene have already reached the Turks and Caicos Islands, which form the southeastern portion of the Bahama Islands chain. The last hurricane to affect the Turks and Caicos islands was Hurricane Ike of 2008. Ike's northern eyewall devastated Grand Turk, Salt Cay, South Caicos, and a few other smaller cays when the storm was at Category 4 strength. Ike then weakened slightly to a Category 3 storm with 125 mph winds before making a direct hit on Great Inagua Island. Approximately 70-80% of the houses on Great Inagua Island sustained roof damage, and 25% had major damage or were destroyed. The Morton Salt factory on the island was forced to halt operations as Ike damaged its offices and loading docks. A few West Indian flamingos were killed by Ike but most of the 50,000 flamingos in Inagua National Park--the world's largest colony--survived by taking shelter within the park's mangroves or flying to other islands. Risk Management Solutions estimates that total damage costs are between $50 and $200 million (USD) for the Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas. Irene will be weaker than Ike, so will not do as much damage. The main threat from Irene will be wind damage.

Figure 2. The path of Hurricane Ike of 2008 took it through the Turks and Caicos Islands as a Category 4 hurricane with 135 mph winds (pink colors).

Irene's impact on the Bahama Islands
Irene will pass through the length of the Bahama Island chain and cause widespread destruction on those islands unfortunate enough to encounter the storm's right front eyewall. Currently, it appears that Crooked, Cat, Exuma, Eleuthera, and Abaco Islands are all in danger of experiencing the eyewall of Irene, which will be capable of bringing storm surges of 9 - 13 feet. The current forecast puts the Bahamas' two most developed islands--New Providence and Grand Bahama--on the weaker west side of Irene, where Category 1 hurricane winds are likely. These winds will likely cause considerable but not devastating damage. Irene will come very close to the capital city of Nassau on New Providence Island on Thursday morning, home to 70% of the population of the Bahamas. Nassau has received direct hits from three major hurricanes since 1851--the Category 4 Nassau Hurricane of 1926, which killed 287 people, a Category 4 hurricane in 1866 that killed 387 people, and a Category 3 hurricane in August 1949. The island is vulnerable to high storm surges--a ten-foot storm surge is theoretically possible on the south shore of Nassau in a Category 3 hurricane. However, the south shore of the island is relatively undeveloped, and the city of Nassau and Paradise Island are mostly higher than ten feet in elevation. A much higher storm surge of 20 feet is possible along the southwest shore of Exuma Island, but again, this shore is not heavily developed.

Figure 3. The height above ground that a mid-strength Category 3 hurricane with 120 - 125 mph winds would push a storm surge 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 3 storms with different tracks. Thus, no single storm will be able to cause the level of flooding depicted in this SLOSH storm surge image.

Irene a potential multi-billion dollar disaster for New England and the mid-Atlantic
Though it is still possible the core of Irene will miss the U.S., the current NHC official forecast would mean that Irene would bring destructive flash flooding, significant beach damage, and widespread power outages due to tree damage along the entire U.S. coast from North Carolina to Maine, costing several billion dollars. If Irene ends up skirting the Outer Banks of North Carolina and not significantly weakening, then plowing through the mid-Atlantic and New England states as a Category 1 or 2 hurricane, it could become one of the ten most damaging hurricanes in history. The latest 06Z (2am EDT) run of the GFS model puts Irene ashore in Southeast Massachusetts on Sunday afternoon as a large storm with a central pressure of 974 mb. The latest run of the ECMWF model has Irene with a central pressure of 964 mb over Chesapeake Bay, and 972 mb over New Jersey. These central pressures correspond to strong tropical storm or Category 1 hurricane strengths, and are similar to what Hurricane Floyd or 1999 had when it moved up the mid-Atlantic coast after hitting North Carolina as a Category 2 hurricane. Floyd was the 14th most damaging hurricane in history, with total damages estimated at $9.2 billion (2010 dollars.) Most of the damage was in North Carolina, which experienced its worst flooding on record. If the GFS and ECMWF models are correct, Irene could easily be a $10 billion hurricane, causing widespread damage along a long section of heavily populated coast. The most damaging Northeast U.S. hurricane of all time was Hurricane Agnes of 1972, with damages estimated at $11.8 billion (2010 dollars.) Currently, it appears that Irene will hit North Carolina on Saturday, and New England on Sunday. I strongly urge all residents of the coast from North Carolina to Massachusetts to assess their hurricane preparedness immediately, and anticipate the possibility of hurricane conditions this weekend.

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
There are two tropical waves far out in the eastern Atlantic, Invest 90L and Invest 98L, that NHC is giving 20% chances of developing into tropical depressions by Thursday. At present, the long-range models are showing that both of these disturbances 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.

Texas/Oklahoma heat wave sets all-time 100° records
The unprecedented heat wave gripping Texas and Oklahoma set several new all-time heat records yesterday. The high temperature hit 101° at the Houston Intercontinental Airport yesterday, the 22nd consecutive day of 100°+ heat and 33rd day of 100°+ heat in the city. Both are all-time records for the city. Oklahoma City recorded its 51st day of 100°+ temperatures yesterday, breaking the record for most such days in year, set previously in 1980. Temperature records for Oklahoma City date back to 1891.

Jeff Masters

Hurricane Irene (LRandyB)
Ragged eye of Irene
Hurricane Irene
Tragic (rlwhipkey)
This is the scene around Lake Sam Rayburn. Dead fish every 20 yards or so and dead fresh water clams everywhere. The lake is 11 feet low and is losing about an inch a day.

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1537. Patrap
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 449 Comments: 140204
1512 I agree whole heartedly1
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Quoting StormJunkie:

I was saying that it looks like it will be just a hair N of the next forecast point...But not enough to make any difference overall. She is right where the NHC said she would be and moving about the predicted speed.

She's not keeping up with her forecast points and not where the NHC said she would be yesterday at this time. Go back and look at the Graphic Archives, the NHC just keeps updating the track on the new Graphic Archives and Satellite images so it yes it appears she's on track but she hasn't moved any in the last couple of hours if you watch the visible closely.
Member Since: August 25, 2006 Posts: 1 Comments: 3605
Quoting weather12know:

The earthquake is present, Irene is in the future...
For me the earthquake is non-existent, Irene is the now...

[It's all a matter of where u r... innit?]
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Quoting Tazmanian:
i dont by the mode runs in tell this storm make that turn in tell then it will come vary close

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Quoting libertygirl:

Hello Sully!! So happy to see you back! :-)

Hiya LibertyGirl!

It feels great to be back. And just look what decides to
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

Oh definitely, especially after it pulls away from Hispaniola. Here is the thing that some people don't understand - Yes, Irene has ingested some dry air. However, the conditions are primed for rapid intensification once Irene pulls away from Hispaniola.

Member Since: August 22, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 54
1529. ncstorm
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 13 Comments: 18010
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

I don't think it will turn NE as fast as the models are saying...I believe the trough is a little weaker than what the models are seeing.

The trough is strong. By all accounts, strong enough at any other time to sweep Irene away. But the difference this time is that there's another even deeper trough digging behind the first one. The second trough will sharpen the mid-latitude flow and help to lift out the first trough very quickly. This will leave Irene behind and on a continued north-northwest track on Thursday as it approaches the coast.

Pay attention to how strong the severe weather outbreak is Thursday across the Northeast. Strong convection in the Northeast Thursday will help to build the ridge to the east ever-so-slightly such that it may give Irene that extra 20-40 miles push west that will mean all the difference.
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1527. Vero1
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Quoting TomTaylor:
When did I say discussing the earthquake was off-topic? I said I haven't been seeing the normal on-topic insightful crew on the blog. Where's Drak? Levi? Atmo? Mswx and Cybr just got on, but they weren't here earlier. Kori? Kman? atmos? etc, etc

Please reread my post or just don't read them at all if you are having trouble understanding them.

I have been wondering where they are to. I miss there input. I know some said they where leaving because of all the dang trolls. It just blows my mind because we have a serious Hurricane on our hands and these idiots come in here and pick on folks and start crap in the middle of this. But I sit back and lurk and learn and when i see them I start - - every chance I get and ! ! . Enough is enough. I hope we here from BAHA and CRS. I read earlier BAHA has a blog on what's going on where he lives. Just go to his name.

I hope everyone stays safe that is in her path.

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1525. NCSCguy
Just curious but at what times of the day do the model runs come out?
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Quoting Grothar:

I tried putting my age down when I joined, but they only had two spaces to enter your age. I needed 3.

I'll bet grandpa potato 4 is older than you and he doesn't need 3 digits. Are you prone to exaggerating or stand up when fibbing?
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Quoting weatherlover94:
i think this will miss the US...its looking more likely that it will

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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

Oh definitely, especially after it pulls away from Hispaniola. Here is the thing that some people don't understand - Yes, Irene has ingested some dry air. However, the conditions are primed for rapid intensification once Irene pulls away from Hispaniola.

Agree completely.
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So an earthquake for the mid-Atlantic and a possible hurricane on the way. I was a bit surprised to see the CMC model not only predicting a hurricane, but also a plague o' locusts making landfall near the Delmarva peninsula. Not sure what category though.
Member Since: September 1, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 458
Quoting JrWeathermanFL:
Looks like 105mph maybe at 5. Is RI still a factor?

Oh definitely, especially after it pulls away from Hispaniola. Here is the thing that some people don't understand - Yes, Irene has ingested some dry air. However, the conditions are primed for rapid intensification once Irene pulls away from Hispaniola.
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1518. jonelu
Quoting thunderbug91:
Is the reason all the storms in FL now are heading SW because of interaction with the extreme outer circulation of the hurricane? I was wondering...
No...we are on the boundary of that trough thats digging south. We wont feel any outer bands until Thursday.
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i think this will miss the US...its looking more likely that it will
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Quoting Patrap:
PR still being soaked by Irene's tail

On Water Vapour loop, you can see the tail being left behind as an extra gift for PR.
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when is the next recon
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Quoting thunderbug91:

I definitely think FL should still watch it...

I don't want to make anyone mad when I say this, but I think it will be heading west for a while. I honestly don't see the trough pulling it north anytime soon.

But I'm just a meteorological hobbyist, so I definitely could be wrong.
These storms can be aggravating in that you don't know where they're going sometimes.  The NHC archives are full of forecasts that shifted even within the 3 day cone.  
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Quoting thunderbug91:

Well said. I'm only 18, but I really study this stuff hard and try my best to make educated opinions and predictions. I truly enjoy learning a lot from the older ones here, who have been studying this stuff for a while...

Post of the year!!!! I strongly suspect that, for Jeff Masters, this is the point of it all...
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i dont by the mode runs in tell this storm make that turn in tell then it will come vary close
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At my protected location on Provo
having sustained 30-35 with gusts to 50 mph
from ESE
my Bar is 29.61 falling (uncalibrated)
power has flickered a couple of times
Member Since: July 12, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 6124
Quoting presslord:

All clear?

Not quite, but definitely looking better. Still the center will be about 200 miles or so offshore, may have some TS force winds along the coastal counties if track remains as is.
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Quoting CybrTeddy:
Irene's eye vanishing is NOT due to an eyewall replacement cycle or dry air, rather due to the high convective blowup in the eyewall that obscures the eye. Often, like last year this happens in intensifying hurricanes.

Agree, intensifying at the moment as seen on cloud tops cooling significantly. Starting to spin up again after 6-8 hours weakening.
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Anyway, apologies for my rant. It doesn't really matter the reason for it. I just get sick of people being attacked for minor things on the blog. A lot of people, especially lurkers, come here to learn. I finally got sick of the trash talking and said something. If the way I put my words offended you, I apologize. I just don't think it's asking too much to be respectful of others.

With that said, end of rant and back to Irene and/or earthquake.
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1506. snotly
It's his own fault, comments like this can create a rift withing the blog, it could be a landslide of bad puns.

Quoting FLdewey:

Watch it Grothar... you're on shaky ground.
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1505. Patrap
18z Early Cycle NHC model tracks
Statistical/Simple Models (CLIPER,BAMs,LBAR,other Statistical Models)
Dynamic Models (More sophisticated models)
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 449 Comments: 140204
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Quoting LightningCharmer:

Actually don't mind children on this blog if they are respectful more so than some of the adults, and are eager to learn. There have been and are some excellent bloggers on here that appear at least to me to be minors. A child blogger on here may someday instigate or participate in a great scientific breakthrough.

Well said. I'm only 18, but I really study this stuff hard and try my best to make educated opinions and predictions. I truly enjoy learning a lot from the older ones here, who have been studying this stuff for a while...
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1500. Buhdog

i think you might have posted the old models runs by mistake.
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Quoting scCane:
Keep watching this for an accurate heading of where it is going. Don't think it's updated yet but I'll post it anyway.

Can you provide the link for that imagery so I can add it to my library of tropical tidbits?
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Quoting MississippiWx:

? A jackass is an animal.

so is a female dog. but most would agree that the B-word is inappropriate.

some of you are very good with graphics, it would be nice to see a 5-day cone over-layed after the fact with the actual path of a storm to demonstrate accuracy.
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Quoting DerOrkanWachter:
I wonder how this slight weakening process is going to effect the track of the storm. I don't think this storm is moving west it might be making a few wobbles to the west but generally its moving to the west north west as expected. I think that since this storm has slowed it will allow for the trough to pull it up the question is how far west will this storm get pulled before it starts heading north.

I think the further west this storm goes the better chance we have of this making a landfall more in South Carolina and I think the chances of this happening are better if this storm remains weaker. I expect Irene to rapidly intensify over late Wednesday into Thursday as it gets into the heart of the Bahamas. We could see a storm go from a 100-110 MPH Storm to a 130-135 in a matter of time.

I think the highest this storm has the potential to max out is about 145 and I think that it will slightly weaken as it moves to North Carolina but only enough to make it a weak or middle range Cat 3 with winds of 115-125 MPH. There are still some components and dyanmics which will influence this storm that will develop a little differently from the speculative forecast we have of future events.

If the trough deepens more than forecasted we could see this storm swung up swiftly to the outer banks and than turned out to sea. If the Ridge builds in more than expected we could see things get bad for parts of South Carolina(Charleston or Myrtle Beach area). Right now given the general nature of the trough and high during this time of the year I expect the trough to be weaker than expected and the high to be stronger than expected.

This seems to be something alot of the models still can not lock onto and for me they have been overplaying the trough and underplaying the strength of the ridge. That said I still expect a landfall from north of Charleston all the way up to Wilmington except this might take a more western track than originally expected.

I've been saying that for awhile now that the trough will not be that pronounced-IMO. Hisorically speaking we don't usually see troughs that deep this time of year-JMO
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Quoting Grothar:

I tried putting my age down when I joined, but they only had two spaces to enter your age. I needed 3.

Which three figures? The ones Methusula used? ;)
Member Since: August 9, 2011 Posts: 27 Comments: 13618
I guess the death threats and cyber stalking that have originated on this blog have lowered my tolerance for deceitful behavior.
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The preliminary landfall threat is based on the current NHC forecast track.
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Looks like 105mph maybe at 5. Is RI still a factor?
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Quoting BahaHurican:
I also want to say that if a 15-year-old-boy is having that pathetic of a life that he has to come onto a blog and masquerade as his 65-year-old grandfather, what's it to you? As long as he doesn't extort money from you or cause you to go out of your way to give help he doesn't need, pity the poor sailor and move on.

If the gentleman is genuine, with a sickly wife and a storm on the way, I'm sure he will enjoy his weekend in Raleigh, in the comfort of his home. Your baiting of him will only make you look mean, immature and very disrespectful.

Either way, you end up looking like the "sick" one; whether the other blogger is an elder or enough of a mental patient to need to pretend to be one, you come off looking like a bully.

My social comment of the day.

My thoughts exactly!

Now, here's hoping you and yours stay safe! :)
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Quoting bocahurricane:

is it me or did the dynamical models shift a little west? (not wishcasting)

Pretty similar to the last runs, but a fraction west.
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Dr. Masters co-founded wunderground in 1995. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters 1986-1990. Co-blogging with him: Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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