Grading the forecasts for Irene; Katia organizing; threat of a Gulf of Mexico storm

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 4:38 PM GMT on August 31, 2011

Recovery from the destruction left behind by Hurricane Irene continues in the mid-Atlantic and New England states today. Irene's storm surge, winds, and record rains likely did $3 - $6 billion in insured damage to the U.S., according to AIR-Worldwide. Since actual damages are typically double insured losses, Irene's total price tag will likely be $6 - $12 billion, making it one of the top 20 most expensive hurricanes to hit the U.S. Irene will be one of the most expensive Category 1 hurricanes ever; the record is held by 1972's Hurricane Agnes, which did $11.8 billion in damage (2010 dollars.) As AIR Worldwide notes in their press release, part of this damage is due to the costs of evacuation for the 2 million people that were evacuated. It costs approximately $1 million to evacuate each mile of U.S. coast warned (Aberson et al., 2006). This number will be higher for more densely populated areas of the coast, such as Miami, and may be a factor of six lower for the North Carolina coast (Whitehead, 2003). So were we over-warned during Irene? Could the costs of the storm been lower due to better forecasts and fewer evacuations?


Figure 1. The National Hurricane Center forecast for Hurricane Irene issued five days before it hit Long Island, NY, compared with the actual track of Irene. The landfall locations along the coasts of North Carolina, New Jersey, and New York were pretty much spot-on, though the time of arrival was off by a few hours. The NOAA Environmental Visualization Laboratory has a nice satellite animation of the storm's track superimposed on the NHC's cone of uncertainty forecast.

Well, the official NHC track forecast for Irene was remarkably good; the 5-day forecast was pretty much spot-on for landfall locations, though the timing of when the storm would arrive at the coast was off by a few hours (Figure 1.) This remarkably accurate forecast undoubtedly reduced the costs of unnecessary preparations, and probably saved many lives. NHC track forecasts have improved by over 50% since 1990. The average error in a 24-hour forecast was about 105 miles in 1990, and has averaged near 50 miles the past few years. NHC director Bill Read stated in a interview this week that had Hurricane Irene come along before the recent improvements in track forecasting, hurricane warnings would have been issued for the entire Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina coasts. At an average cost of $1 million per mile of coast over-warned, this would have cost over $700 million. We can credit the investments made in hurricane research, improved satellites, and better computer models for the majority of this improvement. When we consider that government funding for hurricane research has averaged $20 million per year during much of the past two decades, the roughly $200 million spent on hurricane research over the past 20 years was paid back by over a factor of three during just one storm. According to a 2007 presentation at the 61st Interdepartmental Hurricane Conference, the improved hurricane forecasts between 2000 - 2006 resulted in savings of $3 billion compared to what the forecasts of the 1990s would have cost.

What about intensity forecasting?
Progress in making better intensity forecasts of hurricanes, though, has lagged. Over the past twenty years, there has been virtually no improvement in forecasting how strong or weak a hurricane will grow. NHC predicted Irene would hit North Carolina as a Category 3 storm, but it hit at Category 1 strength. Had the intensity forecast been better, many evacuations that were done for Irene could have been avoided. The failure of the intensity forecast led to many accusations that the storm was over-hyped, and an unnecessary amount of expensive preparations and evacuations were done. While I did see some over-hype by the media, I did not think it was more excessive than what has been the case for previous hurricanes. Nate Silver of the New York Times makes some interesting comparisons of the media attention given to Irene versus previous storms, and finds that Irene had about the same amount of media attention as hurricanes Ike and Gustav of 2008. Given in inexperience of the mid-Atlantic and New England coasts with hurricanes, our lack of skill in making intensity forecasts, and the potential for high storm surge damage due to the size of Irene and its landfall during the highest tides of the month, I thought that the overly-cautious approach to evacuations along the coast was warranted.

Better intensity forecasts threatened by budget cuts
Better intensity forecasts of hurricane are possible, but it will take a large investment in hurricane research over an extended time to do that. Such an effort is underway; we are currently in year three of a ten-year program called the Hurricane Forecast Improvement Project (HFIP), funded at just over $1 million per year. The goals of the HFIP are to reduce the average errors of hurricane track and intensity forecasts by 20% within five years and 50% in ten years with a forecast period out to 7 days. In an interview I did last fall with the leader of the project, Dr. Frank Marks of NOAA's Hurricane Research Division, he expressed to me optimism that the program could meet its objectives, provided it remains fully funded. Some of the experimental computer models developed by HFIP have done very well so far during the 2011 hurricane season, so I see reason for optimism, too. However, this project is in serious danger of failure, due to the current budget-cutting emphasis in Washington D.C. A key tool we need to make better intensity forecasts is to have detailed measurements inside the core of the hurricane from instrumented aircraft. Without detailed observations, there is no hope of making a good intensity forecast, no matter how good your model is. During Hurricane Irene, the two P-3 hurricane hunter aircraft and G-IV jet operated by NOAA's Aircraft Operations Center flew continuously into the storm, taking detailed measurements via dropsonde and Doppler radar that were fed in real time to the experimental HFIP computer models. In theory, these measurements by the Hurricane Hunters should be able to significantly improve our intensity forecasts over the coming years. However, the current proposed budget from the House of Representatives mandates a $400 million cut for NOAA, and the NOAA Hurricane Hunters are slated to have their budget cut by 40%, from $29 million to $17 million per year. If these cuts materialize, the ability of the NOAA Hurricane Hunters to continue to aid improvements in hurricane forecasting will be seriously impacted. Many of the critical technologies used operationally now by the Air Force Hurricane Hunters and NOAA jet to improve hurricane forecasts--dropsondes, real-time high-density observations, and the SFMR surface wind measuring instrument--were developed on the NOAA P-3s as research projects, then were migrated to operational use once they proved their worth. The cost of hurricane damages in the U.S. has been doubling every ten years since the 1960s, and is expected to continue to double every ten years, even without the likely coming increase in storm surge damages due to accelerating sea level rise. A Category 1 hurricane doing $10 billion in damage should be a wake-up call that we need to continue our investments in hurricane research to reduce the costs of the inevitable coming storms. Slashing funding by 40% for a research group that was instrumental in saving $700 million in costs from just one storm makes no sense, and I hope Congress will reconsider the proposed cuts for NOAA's Aircraft Operations Center.

References
Whitehead, J.C., 2003: "One million dollars per mile? The opportunity costs of Hurricane evacuation", Ocean and Coastal Management 46, 1069.

Tropical Storm Katia
Tropical Storm Katia continues its long trek across the Atlantic Ocean today, and is expected to arrive at a position several hundred miles north of the Northern Lesser Antilles Islands by Monday. At this time, it appears unlikely that the islands will receive tropical storm-force winds from Katia. Satellite images show that Katia is a well-organized storm with plenty of heavy thunderstorms. The storm has good upper-level outflow channels to the north and south, is under light wind shear, and is traversing warm waters, so it should be able to overcome any dry air problems by Thursday and intensify into a hurricane. It is looking less likely that Katia will affect land. Dr. Bob Hart's Historical Tropical Cyclone Probability web page suggests shows that tropical storms in Katia's current position have an 11% chance of hitting North Carolina, a 12% chance of hitting Canada, a 5% chance of hitting Florida, and a 62% chance of never hitting land. It will be two more days before our computer models will be able to assess the threat to land, though, as Katia is currently still very far out at sea.


Figure 2. The morning run of the GFS Ensemble prediction. The ensemble prediction was done by taking a lower-resolution version of the GFS model and changing the initial distributions of temperature, pressure, and humidity randomly by a few percent to generate an ensemble of 20 different computer projections of where Katia might go. The operational (highest-resolution) version of the GFS model (white line) is usually more accurate, but the ensemble runs give one an idea of the uncertainty in the forecast. Very few of the ensemble members are currently showing a threat to the U.S. Canada is more at risk than the U.S., according to this model.

Gulf of Mexico disturbance a threat to develop
Surface winds over the Gulf of Mexico are rising today in advance of the approach of a tropical wave currently over the Western Caribbean, western tip of Cuba, and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. This wave is headed west-northwest at 10 - 15 mph, and is under a high 20 - 30 knots of wind shear. The wave is slowly beginning to build an increased amount of heavy thunderstorms, and this process will accelerate on Thursday when the wave enters the Gulf of Mexico. By Friday, when the wave will be near the Louisiana or Texas coast, wind shear is expected to drop to low to moderate levels, and the wave may be able to organize into a tropical depression. This process will likely take several days, and formation of a tropical depression is more likely Saturday or Sunday. NHC is giving the wave just a 10% chance of developing into a tropical depression by Friday morning. Regardless, this system will spread heavy rains to portions of the Gulf Coast by Friday, with the Upper Texas coast and the coast of Louisiana the most likely recipients of heavy rain. Strong onshore winds raising tides to 1 - 2 feet above normal are likely over Louisiana beginning on Friday, and coastal flood statements have been issued for the region. Three of our four top models for predicting tropical cyclone development forecast that a tropical depression will form this weekend or early next week, and I think it is at least 50% likely we will have Tropical Depression 13 on our hands by Monday. However, steering currents will be weak in the Gulf, and it is difficult to predict where the storm might go.The GFS model has a possible tropical depression forming by Sunday off the coast of Mississippi, then moving east-northeast over the Florida Panhandle on Monday. The ECMWF model forms the storm on Monday off the coast of Texas, and leaves the storm stalled out there through Wednesday. The UKMET model forms the storm Saturday off the coast of Louisiana, and leaves it stalled out there through Monday. If the storm did remain in the Gulf of Mexico for three days as some of the recent model runs have been predicting, it would be a threat to intensify into a hurricane.

Related posts:
Big money for hurricane research? My October 27, 2006 post.

Jason Samenow at the Washington Post has an excellent post, Hurricane Irene hype: over the top media coverage or justified?

Andrew Freedman at the Washington Post talked earlier this month how lack of funding to replace an aging weather satellite may degrade weather forecasts beginning in 2016. Michael Conathan at climateprogress.org had a more detailed analysis of the issue in a February blog post.

Andy Revkin at the New York Times discussed in his Dot Earth blog yesterday how cuts in the USGS stream gauge network will hamper flood forecasting.

Jeff Masters

Lincoln Road (31337)
Lincoln Road
Lincoln Road (31337)
Lincoln Road

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Quoting hurricanehanna:
Good morning....Pat, or any of the other NOLA people in here....my daughter is driving to NOLA tonight to pick up fiance at airport (he has been stationed in Korea)...how does the airport deal with rain events...ie if this is declared a TD or even TS by tonight, do they begin shutting things down? Just curious. TIA


They are used to rain here.....the airport should be OK tonight. But what you have to worry about is the drive from the airport. I-10 can flood and the exit ramps are definitely prone to flash flooding that can be hard to spot, and the depending on where you are driving there are areas that will flood, under overpasses especially.
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2837. ncstorm
I heard already that they were evacuating non essential people off the oil rigs..I said last night gas would go up..

Henry Margusity Fan Club
Buy Gas today because when Lee forms in the Gulf, rigs will be shut down for days and Gas Prices will go up again.
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 13 Comments: 18010
Quoting bohonkweatherman:
What you don't want to hear in a drought is : this is our current forecast -- we'll expect drier NNE winds drawn across the state and a much lower rain chance for Central Texas. After living thru this : It's official: Austin recorded its hottest summer on record with an average temperature of 89.5 degrees! In addition, with an average high temp of 104.8 (and overall average of 91.6,) August 2011 will be remembered as the hottest August and hottest month in the city's history, as well as the second driest (only a TRACE of rain.)

Looks like most of Texas will be on the backside of a Tropical System which brings even more dry air into state, good news is lows will fall into 60's by Tuesday. Bad news Fire Danger will be at a all time high, there are major fires all over this state and no relief except it may drop below 100 soon.

Those are some insane heat records. Speaking of: the average high in Wichita Falls in August was 106.9, and daily records were set or tied there on 13 different dates. And while I'm on that: record daily high temps across the US outnumbered record daily low temps by an incredibly lopsided 3100 to 140 (or so) for the month of August, an unheard of ratio of around 22-to-1.
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2834. Grothar
94L


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NOLA NWS Discussion doesn't mention inches but gives high pops over the weekend, 80% and "heavy rain". LONG TERM...
FOR THE LAST FEW DAYS OR MORE...MODELS HAVE INDICATED THE
DEVELOPMENT OF AN UPPER AND SURFACE LOW IN THE WESTERN GULF JUST OFF
THE LOUISIANA COAST. AT THIS TIME IT APPEARS THE SYSTEM WILL BE A
SUBTROPICAL OR HYBRID STORM OF SORTS. THE MAIN CONCERN ISNT SO MUCH
WHETHER ITS COMPLETELY TROPICAL OR NOT AND ITS INTENSITY BUT RATHER
THE RAINFALL POTENTIAL WITH THIS EVENT. THOUGH THERE HAS BEEN A
GENERAL LACK OF RUN TO RUN AND MODEL TO MODEL CONTINUITY...THE BASIC
AGREEMENT IS THERE WILL BE PLENTY OF RAIN...ESPECIALLY ALONG THE
COAST. SO...BIGGEST CHANGE FROM PREVIOUS FCST IS THE RATHER LARGE
INCREASE IN AREAL RAIN CHANCES THROUGH THIS WEEKEND. DIVULGING INTO
A FEW OF THE MODELS:
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2831. Grothar
Why didn't anyone tell me we had 94L??


Come on people!!!!!!!!!!!
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Quoting MrstormX:
Any recon operations today, I am way to lazy to look on my own.

GOMEX flight for 1:00 pm today
Member Since: September 5, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 3513
Quoting P451:


Oh please. Stevie Wonder jokes have been around forever. He's even mocked himself. Step off the soap box.

He has seen more than most people WITH sight....
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Any recon operations today, I am way to lazy to look on my own.
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so i see the clouds atm over the FL panhandle from 93l
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Hello From Friendswod, TX!
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Quoting P451:


Oh please. Stevie Wonder jokes have been around forever. He's even mocked himself. Step off the soap box.



agreed.
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Good morning....Pat, or any of the other NOLA people in here....my daughter is driving to NOLA tonight to pick up fiance at airport (he has been stationed in Korea)...how does the airport deal with rain events...ie if this is declared a TD or even TS by tonight, do they begin shutting things down? Just curious. TIA
Member Since: September 5, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 3513
Quoting bluheelrtx:
You must live near Addicks. I thought I smelled smoke again yesterday, and I'm 20 miles away in Hockley. I really don't like smelling smoke these days. You can hunker down for a storm, but you must evacuate for a fire. Three of my neighbors are in the local VFD, so I'm sure I would get plenty of warning, but still . . .


We're at Eldridge / Clay area.
Addicks is a 26,000 acre reservoir that keeps catching fire...need water bad! If it got out of control a lot of homes and businesses would be at stake. I think most of us know where our flood prone areas are and have a plan for tropical systems....but fire is new to us.
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If the canal gates are shut here in NOLA as they would be for anything over a tropical storm, and we get 10-15 inches of rain., that is going to be a problem.......
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Looks pretty awesome.
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2818. MahFL
Quoting P451:
So 93L is going to take a tour of the GOM Stevie Wonder style.



That's insensitive, making fun of blindness....sheesh !
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You know what here is the link to the Storm Prediction Center lots of good info in here.
Looking like i may be in need of a sand bag or two this weekend and a floatie :)

Link
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2815. MahFL
"HOWEVER...CONDITIONS ARE FORECAST TO
BECOME MORE CONDUCIVE LATER TODAY..."

Could they give a specific time ? like say 10:29 am or something ? lol.
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2813. hydrus
Quoting Abacosurf:
Broad SE flow at the surface across the entire eastern gulf.

Seas on the buoys up to 9 feet south of Pensacola.

Big system forming here.

210 miles west of S.W.Florida..
Station 42003
NDBC
Location: 26.044N 85.612W
Conditions as of:
Thu, 01 Sep 2011 12:50:00 UTC
Winds: ESE (110┬░) at 15.5 kt gusting to 19.4 kt
Significant Wave Height: 6.6 ft
Dominant Wave Period: 8 sec
Mean Wave Direction: SE (139┬░)
Atmospheric Pressure: 29.97 in and rising
Air Temperature: 84.4 F
Dew Point: 78.3 F
Water Temperature: 85.5 F
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Complete Update

TS BUSTED FORECAST ALIBI





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Now I see how the wings of a butterfly can influence weather, that is one big butterfly.
Quoting P451:
So 93L is going to take a tour of the GOM Stevie Wonder style.


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Quoting Neapolitan:

MODEL ESTIMATES AND THE NOAA HYDROMETEOROLOGICAL PREDICTION CENTER INDICATES AN AVERAGE OF 10 INCHES MAY OCCUR THIS WEEKEND ACROSS THE WATCH AREA. LOCALIZED HIGHER AMOUNTS 15 TO 20 INCHES ARE POSSIBLE...DEPENDING ON FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS OF THE GULF SYSTEM INTO EARLY NEXT WEEK.
Well, that's certainly one way to end a drought. Of course, doing so in such a way presents problems of its own...


hmmmm..Southern Mississippi is very susceptible to creek and river flooding w/ considerably less than those #s.
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2 Hr Pressure Change

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2807. kwgirl
Quoting CCravey01:


Hello from Marathon! :)
Welcome aboard! We have a few Keys dwellers on this blog. You will find a lot of interesting and knowledgable people on here as well as a few jerks. You get to know the difference pretty quickly. LOL
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Broad SE flow at the surface across the entire eastern gulf.

Seas on the buoys up to 9 feet south of Pensacola.

Big system forming here.

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Quoting MahFL:


90L to 99L are used for the Atlantic, in rotation as needed. 90E would be the East Pacific Ocean. Hopefully there won't be more than 10 invests at anyone time.


Thanks, MahFL
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2803. hydrus
Quoting jpsb:
Yes a nice fetch setting up for Galveston Bay, should pile the water up in the bay kinda like Frances did 96ish. The fetch pushed 2-3 feet of water before Frances even showed up. I think today will be get the yard ready for a storm day.
Eventually, the upper low to the N.W. will help this system ventilate more efficiently. It could itensify rapidly at some point..
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MSL Pressure and Surface Winds

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Quoting Neapolitan:

MODEL ESTIMATES AND THE NOAA HYDROMETEOROLOGICAL PREDICTION CENTER INDICATES AN AVERAGE OF 10 INCHES MAY OCCUR THIS WEEKEND ACROSS THE WATCH AREA. LOCALIZED HIGHER AMOUNTS 15 TO 20 INCHES ARE POSSIBLE...DEPENDING ON FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS OF THE GULF SYSTEM INTO EARLY NEXT WEEK.
Well, that's certainly one way to end a drought. Of course, doing so in such a way presents problems of its own...


That also depends if it can make it over here....
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Quoting hydrus:
Pretty quite over the U.S.

just wait five more days ,lol!!!
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2798. HCW
SPC has added a 2% Tornado risk for South LA due to 93L



SRN LA COASTAL AREA...
SATELLITE IMAGERY INDICATES AN INCREASING AREA OF CONVECTION OVER
THE NORTH CENTRAL GULF OF MEXICO WHICH IS ASSOCIATED WITH A LOW
PRESSURE SYSTEM IN THE CENTRAL GULF. CONSENSUS OF MODEL GUIDANCE
INDICATES THE LOW WILL MOVE NWD TONIGHT SOUTH OF LA...WITH
INCREASING SELY/ELY LOW LEVEL WINDS SPREADING OVER SRN LA. THIS
WILL RESULT IN STRENGTHENING LOW LEVEL SHEAR...AND MOST CONVECTION
ALLOWING MODELS PREDICT DEVELOPMENT OF A FEW SUPERCELLS MOVING WWD
ACROSS PARTS OF SRN LA...ESPECIALLY TONIGHT. THUS...LOW TORNADO AND
SEVERE WIND PROBABILITIES HAVE BEEN INTRODUCED INTO PARTS OF SRN LA.
Member Since: August 10, 2002 Posts: 0 Comments: 1413
Current steering pattern for 93L

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Quoting kwgirl:
Good morning all. Here in the Keys we have had 93L forming to our west all week. Left us cloudy with spots of rain. Last night was a lightning/thunder storm with a nice soaking rain. The kind of rain Texas could use. I am wish casting this storm to the Texas coast with the understanding it is not to get any stronger, just provide ya'll with a good soaking. I am keeping everything crossed for Texas. LOL Will be real hard to read, walk or type today!


Hello from Marathon! :)
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ATCF 93L update:

AL, 93, 2011090112, , BEST, 0, 260N, 890W, 30, 1010, DB, 34, NEQ, 0, 0, 0, 0, 1013, 100, 75, 0, 0, L, 0, , 0, 0, INVEST, M,
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Current steering pattern for Katia

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2793. kwgirl
Good morning all. Here in the Keys we have had 93L forming to our west all week. Left us cloudy with spots of rain. Last night was a lightning/thunder storm with a nice soaking rain. The kind of rain Texas could use. I am wish casting this storm to the Texas coast with the understanding it is not to get any stronger, just provide ya'll with a good soaking. I am keeping everything crossed for Texas. LOL Will be real hard to read, walk or type today!
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Bulk Shear

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2790. HCW
Quoting MahFL:


90L to 99L are used for the Atlantic, in rotation as needed. 90E would be the East Pacific Ocean. Hopefully there won't be more than 10 invests at anyone time.


also anything below 90L is a test invest :)
Member Since: August 10, 2002 Posts: 0 Comments: 1413
What you don't want to hear in a drought is : this is our current forecast -- we'll expect drier NNE winds drawn across the state and a much lower rain chance for Central Texas. After living thru this : It's official: Austin recorded its hottest summer on record with an average temperature of 89.5 degrees! In addition, with an average high temp of 104.8 (and overall average of 91.6,) August 2011 will be remembered as the hottest August and hottest month in the city's history, as well as the second driest (only a TRACE of rain.)

Looks like most of Texas will be on the backside of a Tropical System which brings even more dry air into state, good news is lows will fall into 60's by Tuesday. Bad news Fire Danger will be at a all time high, there are major fires all over this state and no relief except it may drop below 100 soon.
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5:00am Advisory
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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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