Unanswered questions concerning Hurricane Isaac

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 4:35 PM GMT on August 31, 2012

The top winds of Tropical Depression Isaac have fallen to 25 mph, but the storm continues to be a potent rain-maker as it heads north-northwest at 11 mph into Missouri. Isaac has spawned up to 20 suspected tornadoes, brought storm surges as high as 13.6' to the coast (in Lake Borgne, LA), and dumped 20" of rain at one station in New Orleans. The 13.27" of rain that fell at Hattiesburg, MS broke the record for wettest August in the city's history (previous record: 13.03" in 1987.) Major flooding is occurring on seven rivers in Louisiana and Mississippi. Isaac is being blamed for at least four deaths in the U.S., 24 in Haiti, and five in the Dominican Republic.

A few notable rainfall totals from Isaac, through 11 am EDT on Friday:

20.08" New Orleans, LA
15.02" Marion, MS
13.99" Pascagoula, MS
13.27" Hattiesburg, MS
10.85" Gulfport, MS
10.39" Slidell, LA
10.17" Biloxi, MS
9.85" Mobile, AL
7.38" Pine Bluff, AR
5.95" Baton Rouge, LA

A major reason for Isaac's heavy rainfall totals has been its very slow motion. This slow speed was due to the fact Isaac has been bumping into a ridge of high pressure that is unusually strong, due to the intense drought over the center of the U.S.; strong drought-amplified high pressure areas are very resistant to allowing any low pressure areas to intrude into their domain. The high pressure area was strong enough this week to allow several all-time records for heat this late in the year to be set:

112° on August 29 at Winner, SD
108° on August 29 at Valentine, NE
107° on August 29 at Corpus Christi, TX
97° on August 29 at Denver, CO (2nd highest so late in the year)


Figure 1. Nighttime view of Hurricane Isaac taken at 1:57 am CDT August 29, 2012, by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi-NPP satellite. The VIIRS day-night band detects light in a range of wavelengths from green to near-infrared, and uses light intensification to enable the detection of dim signals. In this case, the clouds of Isaac were lit by moonlight. Image credit: NASA.

Isaac's beneficial rains falling in drought-stricken regions
Hurricanes get a lot of attention because of the billions in damage they cost, and the lives they disrupt. AIR Worldwide estimated today that insured damage from Isaac would cost up to $2 billion. This does not include damage to infrastructure or uninsured damage, so the final price tag of Isaac's rampage will be more like $3 - $5 billion. However, Isaac is now dumping beneficial rains over Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky--regions stricken by the worst drought since the 1950s or 1930s, depending upon the exact location. These regions need 9 - 18 inches of rain to pull them out of drought. Isaac's 3 - 6 inches of rain will not end the drought, but will put a pretty good dent in it. I expect that 3 - 6 inches of rain for a wide swath of prime agricultural land in extreme drought is probably worth at least $5 billion, when you consider that a recent estimate by a Purdue economist put the cost of the great drought of 2012 at more than $77 billion. Only Hurricane Katrina ($146 billion) and the drought of 1988 ($78 billion) have been more expensive disasters, according to NOAA's National Climatic Data Center. Unfortunately, Isaac's arrival is poorly timed, as the storm is arriving during harvest season. The strong winds associated with the storm will flatten many crops, making it more difficult to harvest them, and Isaac's winds may cost farmers several hundred million dollars due to unharvestable crops. Still, the rains from Isaac will be highly beneficial for the success of the upcoming winter wheat season, and for next year's growing season.


Figure 2. Predicted precipitation for the five-day period ending on Tuesday evening shows that Isaac is expected to bring a large region of 3 - 6 inches of rain (red, orange, and brown colors) to Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky. Image credit: NOAA/HPC.


Figure 3. The great drought of 2012 has brought so little rain to the Midwest that some areas require over 15" of rain (dark purple colors) to end the drought. Image credit: NOAA/CPC.

Unanswered questions about Hurricane Isaac

1. Did the passage of Hurricane Isaac stir up oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill? Isaac was the first hurricane to pass over the site of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. We know that large hurricanes are capable of creating currents in deep water at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico; Hurricane Ivan caused upwelling currents of 0.5 cm/s at a depth of about 500 meters. In an August 28 article in the Huffington Post, Nick Shay, professor of meteorology and physical oceanography at the University of Miami, said: "Winds will push water away from the center of a storm, which causes an upwelling as the ocean tries to adjust. It brings whatever is near the bottom up higher in the water column and currents can then push it towards the coast." Up to 1 million barrels of oil from the spill are estimated to still be present in the deep water sediment, on beaches, and in the marshes of Louisiana, and it is possible some of this oil will wash up on the Gulf Coast in coming months. The storm surge of Isaac also likely flushed out oil lodged in the coastal marshes of Louisiana, but it is unknown how much of a concern this might be.

2. What's the deal with these super-sized Category 1 and 2 hurricanes that have been hitting the U.S.? The past three landfalling hurricanes in the U.S.--Isaac (2012), Irene (2011), and Ike (2008)--have all been exceptionally large, among the top ten on record for horizontal extent of tropical storm-force winds. Each of these storms had an unusually low pressure characteristic of a storm one full Saffir-Simpson category stronger. Is this the new normal for U.S. hurricanes?

3. Did the new $14.5 billion upgrade to the New Orleans levee system cause worse flooding elsewhere? Whenever a new levee or flood control structure is created, you make someone else's flood problem worse, since the water has to go somewhere. Where did the water was stopped by the new $1.1 billion, 1.8 mile-long Lake Borgne flood barrier on the east side of New Orleans go? Did it flow south and contribute to the overtopping of the levees near Braithwaite? Or did it go north and contribute to the 36 hours of storm surge in excess of 5' observed along the Mississippi coast at Waveland? I posed this question to NHC's storm surge expert Jaime Rhome, and he said it was impossible to know without doing detailed storm surge modeling studies.

4. Can only hurricanes beginning with the letter "I" hit the U.S. now? Isaac (2012), Irene (2011), and Ike (2008) are the last three hurricanes to hit the U.S. It turns out that hurricanes that begin with the letter "I" and "C" have more names on the list of retired hurricanes than any other letter (nine each.) I'm thinking Isaac will get its name retired, letting storms beginning with "I" take over sole possession of first place on the retired storms list.

Hurricane Kirk in the Central Atlantic
Hurricane Kirk intensified into a 105 mph Category 2 hurricane this morning, becoming the 2nd strongest hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season. Hurricane Gordon was the only stronger storm; Gordon hit sustained winds of 110 mph just before reaching the Azores Islands on August 18. Kirk has probably peaked in intensity, and is about to move over colder waters and gradually decay. Kirk is not a threat to any land areas.


Figure 4. Morning satellite image of Tropical Storm Leslie.

Tropical Storm Leslie a long-range threat to Bermuda, Canada, and the U.S. East Coast
Tropical Storm Leslie formed on Thursday in the Central Atlantic. Leslie's formation date of August 30 puts 2012 in 2nd place for earliest formation date of the season's 12th tropical storm. Only 1995 had an earlier formation date of the season's 12th storm. With records dating back to 1851, this year is only the second time 8 total storms have formed in August. The other year was 2004, when the first storm of the season formed on August 1 (Alex), and the 8th storm (Hermine) formed on August 29th. Satellite loops show that Leslie has a modest amount of heavy thunderstorm activity, and respectable low-level spiral bands and upper-level outflow. Conditions appear ripe to allow Leslie to intensify into a Category 2 hurricane by Sunday. Fortunately, Hurricane Kirk is weakening the ridge of high pressure to the north of Leslie, and Leslie is expected to turn to the northwest and miss the Lesser Antilles Islands. However, steering currents for Leslie are expected to collapse early next week, as Leslie gets stuck between two upper level lows. The storm will then slowly meander over the open ocean for many days, potentially threatening Bermuda. Leslie will stay stuck until a strong trough of low pressure approaches the U.S. East Coast around September 8. This trough should be strong enough to pull Leslie to the north and then northeast by September 9. At that time, Leslie may be close enough to the coast that the storm will make landfall in New England, Canada, or the Mid-Atlantic states. Leslie could also miss land entirely; this all depends upon the timing and strength of the September 8 trough of low pressure. Regardless, Leslie is expected to bring an extended period of high waves to the U.S. coast. According to NOAA's Wavewatch III model, large swells from Leslie will reach Bermuda by Monday, and arrive along the U.S. East Coast on Tuesday. These waves will be capable of creating dangerous rip currents and beach erosion.

Portlight disaster relief charity responds to Isaac
The Portlight.org disaster relief charity, founded and staffed by members of the wunderground community, are in Mississippi, helping out with Isaac relief efforts. You can check out their progress or donate to Portlight's disaster relief fund at the portlight.org website.

I'm planning on taking Saturday off, but will have a new post for you on Sunday. Have a great holiday weekend, everyone!

Jeff Masters

Hurricane Isaac Louisiana (apphotos)
People play in the storm surge from Hurricane Isaac, on Lakeshore Drive along Lake Pontchartrain, as the storm nears land, in New Orleans, Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Hurricane Isaac Louisiana
Portlight volunteers at Biloxi shelter (Portlight)
Portlight volunteers at Biloxi shelter
Hurricane Isaac Louisiana (apphotos)
Research students from the the University of Alabama measure wind speeds as Hurricane Isaac makes landfall, Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012, in New Orleans, La. Isaac was packing 80 mph winds, making it a Category 1 hurricane. It came ashore early Tuesday near the mouth of the Mississippi River, driving a wall of water nearly 11 feet high inland and soaking a neck of land that stretches into the Gulf. The storm stalled for several hours before resuming a slow trek inland, and forecasters said that was
Hurricane Isaac Louisiana
TS Isaac (Raine911)
Between the rain bands
TS Isaac

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1422. Brock31
Quoting Skyepony:
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whoa!!!
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Quoting pottery:

Well, that would result in troubles I think.

"No spamming allowed"

Ok, thank you.
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1419. Bielle
Quoting Bluestorm5:
Summer is over for North Carolinians students... school started already.


Still, it is Saturday, and the weather is summer-like for everyone in the northern hemisphere.
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Quoting wxchaser97:

Isaac was nowhere near crappy, unless $2+ billion dollars in damage, 12ft storm surge, and 20+" of rain is.


Maybe that's what he meant by crappy?
As far as tracking goes though Isaac was very entertaining.
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1417. Bielle
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

If only our family actually did that stuff...lol.


Much of it you can do on your own or with friends.
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SPECIAL TROPICAL WEATHER OUTLOOK
NWS NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
1240 PM PDT SAT SEP 1 2012

FOR THE EASTERN NORTH PACIFIC...EAST OF 140 DEGREES WEST LONGITUDE..

THE NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER IS ISSUING ADVISORIES ON TROPICAL
STORM ILEANA...LOCATED ABOUT 555 MILES WEST OF THE SOUTHERN TIP OF
BAJA CALIFORNIA.

SPECIAL OUTLOOK ISSUED TO ADD DISCUSSION OF SMALL AREA OF LOW
PRESSURE JUST OFFSHORE OF THE SOUTHERN COAST OF MEXICO.

UPDATED...SATELLITE IMAGERY INDICATES THAT A SMALL AREA OF LOW
PRESSURE HAS DEVELOPED ABOUT 100 MILES SOUTHWEST OF ZIHUATANEJO
MEXICO. WHILE IT CURRENTLY APPEARS THAT THIS SYSTEM LACKS A CLOSED
SURFACE CIRCULATION...IT IS PRODUCING WINDS NEAR TROPICAL STORM
FORCE JUST OFFSHORE OF THE SOUTHERN COAST OF MEXICO. THIS SYSTEM
HAS A MEDIUM CHANCE...30 PERCENT...OF BECOMING A TROPICAL CYCLONE
DURING THE NEXT 48 HOURS AS IT MOVES QUICKLY WEST-NORTHWESTWARD AT
AROUND 20 MPH.

SHOWERS AND THUNDERSTORMS ARE SHOWING SIGNS OF ORGANIZATION IN
ASSOCIATION WITH AN AREA OF LOW PRESSURE LOCATED ABOUT 400 MILES
SOUTHWEST OF ACAPULCO MEXICO. ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS APPEAR
CONDUCIVE FOR DEVELOPMENT AND THIS SYSTEM COULD BECOME A TROPICAL
DEPRESSION DURING THE NEXT DAY OR TWO AS IT MOVES WEST-
NORTHWESTWARD AT AROUND 15 MPH. THIS SYSTEM HAS A HIGH CHANCE...60
PERCENT...OF BECOMING A TROPICAL CYCLONE DURING THE NEXT 48 HOURS.

ELSEWHERE...TROPICAL CYCLONE FORMATION IS NOT EXPECTED DURING THE
NEXT 48 HOURS.

$$
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Isaac was nowhere near terrible, unless $2 billion dollars in damage, 12ft storm surge, and 20 " of rain is.
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Quoting robj144:


Well for me, the summer in S. Fla, is like the winter time up north. You can't do much outside. I'm seldom bored, however, November through March here. I'm outside a lot during that time.


I'm in south FL too, but I love to feel the hot sun in the summer and sweat, people think I'm weird for that. I am a true Floridian though.
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Looks like a battle going on with Leslie LLC &MLC, LLC center around 18.9N/56.5W moving WNW and MLC around 17N/56W moving just N of due West.
Member Since: April 29, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 8770
Quoting GTcooliebai:
Looks like an ULL trying to back its way southwest towards the Bahamas:



You're right...you can see I've marked it with a blue L in my updated atmo chart on my blog. I use the frequently-updated GOES satellite calculated 200 mb wind barbs seen on that atmo chart to figure out what happens at the upper-levels....



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1411. wxmod
Quoting pottery:

I like 'undismalify' a lot, LOL.
And yeah, I don't think it's too late.
But we need to start soon......

There's also undismalification (the process of undismalifying) and undismaloscitude!
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1410. VR46L
Quoting Bluestorm5:
Isaac wasn't crappy.


Isaac only got its act together. just before landfall . If he had got his act together around the Keys It would have been a very different storm ... but thankfully he didnt, the damage and deaths would have been alot more . JMO
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1409. robj144
Quoting Bielle:


How can anyone be bored on a Saturday in summer? There are books to be read, outdoor games to be played, walks to be taken, gardens to be enjoyed, beaches to be splashed, museums to be explored, galleries to be visited, ponds, lakes, rivers and oceans to be swum, hammocks to be swung, art to be created . . . I was bored as teenager because I could only do "trendy" things. How glad I am to be decades beyond that silly restriction now!


Well for me, the summer in S. Fla, is like the winter time up north. You can't do much outside. I'm seldom bored, however, November through March here. I'm outside a lot during that time.
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1408. Skyepony (Mod)
Cloudsat caught Leslie yesterday about through the COC. You can really see how the precipitation is limited to the upper levels, tall storm too.



Tropical~ Did you finish reading that paper Masters left us the other day? I got a little more to read & I'll be ready to jump in on this topic.
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Quoting Bielle:


How can anyone be bored on a Saturday in summer? There are books to be read, outdoor games to be played, walks to be taken, gardens to be enjoyed, beaches to be splashed, museums to be explored, galleries to be visited, ponds, lakes, rivers and oceans to be swum, hammocks to be swung, art to be created . . . I was bored as teenager because I could only do "trendy" things. How glad I am to be decades beyond that silly restriction now!


Yeah, I'm about to go chill at the community pool.
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Quoting Bluestorm5:
Isaac wasn't crappy.


It was somewhat a disappointment (except for those affected) until the very end, but the track was fun as well as the dance with LA coast line. very interesting.
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Update on ILK (Isaac...Leslie...Kirk) on my blog...just released in the last hour. As usual...my detailed coverage on the rest of the Atlantic atmosphere is in that blog as well...

Normally I get this stuff out in the mornings...but I crashed after coming home from work last night. Glad its labor day weekend...because I was exhausted at work....
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Quoting Bielle:


How can anyone be bored on a Saturday in summer? There are books to be read, outdoor games to be played, walks to be taken, gardens to be enjoyed, beaches to be splashed, museums to be explored, galleries to be visited, ponds, lakes, rivers and oceans to be swum, hammocks to be swung, art to be created . . . I was bored as teenager because I could only do "trendy" things. How glad I am to be decades beyond that silly restriction now!
Summer is over for North Carolinians students... school started already.
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1403. Skyepony (Mod)
Isaac surge killed 5000-10000 swamp rats. They are now stinking up Hancock County.


Quoting LargoFl:
..the east coast surfers might get a lil action from this storm


The east coast surfers were here yesterday salivating. They must be getting there lives in order preparing to surf for a few days:)
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Quoting Bielle:


How can anyone be bored on a Saturday in summer? There are books to be read, outdoor games to be played, walks to be taken, gardens to be enjoyed, beaches to be splashed, museums to be explored, galleries to be visited, ponds, lakes, rivers and oceans to be swum, hammocks to be swung, art to be created . . . I was bored as teenager because I could only do "trendy" things. How glad I am to be decades beyond that silly restriction now!

If only our family actually did that stuff...lol.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 128 Comments: 35603
Quoting trHUrrIXC5MMX:


all storms this year have been like crap, expect Kirk, Beryl, Gordon and Alberto
Isaac wasn't crappy.
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Streets flooding, power blinking.
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Quoting Skyepony:
GFDL looking all ominous moving west at the end of the run 64kts in strength..

Jed~ Check out the date on that map..It's just before Isaac. Just before 20" of rain in SFL. It's been dry here in Melbourne, only had 2 1/2" for Isaac. If it doesn't rain today I'll have to water. It really didn't have us in for any really extreme drought, checking the key only need 3-6 inches. Even after Isaac still looks like I could easily take 3" to really saturate the sand/soil.
I guess it really depends where you live as some places across the state have seen flooding rains while other places have been dry. Seriously, it can be raining in my street and dry in the other street on any given day, vice-versa.
Member Since: August 31, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 5628
It thing has to relocate its center of circulation in the convection!!
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Anybody else as bored as I am?

Leslie isn't helping.



all storms this year have been like crap, expect Kirk, Beryl, Gordon and Alberto
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Anybody else as bored as I am?


yes... me too...was everyone from New Orleans here??? are they in the dark? dead blog
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1395. Bielle
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Anybody else as bored as I am?


How can anyone be bored on a Saturday in summer? There are books to be read, outdoor games to be played, walks to be taken, gardens to be enjoyed, beaches to be splashed, museums to be explored, galleries to be visited, ponds, lakes, rivers and oceans to be swum, hammocks to be swung, art to be created . . . I was bored as teenager because I could only do "trendy" things. How glad I am to be decades beyond that silly restriction now!
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Quoting Civicane49:


The COC is hightailing it out of there to the NW, and the west of the storm is moving west. This is crazy!
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1393. Skyepony (Mod)
GFDL looking all ominous moving west at the end of the run 64kts in strength..

Jed~ Check out the date on that map..It's just before Isaac. Just before 20" of rain in SFL. It's been dry here in Melbourne, only had 2 1/2" for Isaac. If it doesn't rain today I'll have to water. It really didn't have us in for any really extreme drought, checking the key only need 3-6 inches. Even after Isaac still looks like I could easily take 3" to really saturate the sand/soil.
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The LLC is so far away from the convection... !!
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Quoting GTcooliebai:
Looks like an ULL trying to back its way southwest towards the Bahamas:




Yeah I see that, that's really weird.
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Anybody else as bored as I am?

Leslie isn't helping.

Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 128 Comments: 35603
Quoting LargoFl:
its a holiday weekend here and alot of folks go away for this weekend


okay so enjoy the weekend; it's so hot here that I should switch off and go the the beach
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Quoting ABH4Life:


Possible for this "decoupled" convection to totally break away and become its own entity that bears watching? thoughts?


Would be interesting but won't happen
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1387. LargoFl
Quoting CaribBoy:
Lesli became so boring that the blog has calmed down
its a holiday weekend here and alot of folks go away for this weekend
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1386. LargoFl
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Lesli became so boring that the blog has calmed down
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1384. LargoFl
Quoting LargoFl:
..the east coast surfers might get a lil action from this storm
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1383. LargoFl
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1382. bappit
.
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Quoting HurrMichaelOrl:


Will Leslie's convection to the SE, now decoupled from the LLC shooting NW, make its way into the Northern Islands?


Possible for this "decoupled" convection to totally break away and become its own entity that bears watching? thoughts?
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1380. pottery
Quoting wxmod:


Enjoy it while you can. If I didn't think there was time to do something to undismalify the 100 year outlook, I wouldn't bother to post the info.

I like 'undismalify' a lot, LOL.
And yeah, I don't think it's too late.
But we need to start soon......
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 26782
1379. bappit
Of general interest, regarding the Saffir-Simpson scale:

"Classification by central pressure was ended in the 1990s, and wind speed alone is now used. Surge values are no longer referenced in this scale. The actual storm surge experienced will depend on offshore bathymetery and onshore terrain and construction. A minor modification was made to the limits of Categories 3, 4, and 5 on May 15, 2012 to resolve rounding errors."
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1378. LargoFl
Quoting bappit:

What the heck is a Manson girl? Time for Wikipedia.

Edit: Ah! We just called them the "Manson Family" back then. Don't know why the women would be singled out for the precious title "Manson Girls". Being sardonic I guess.
that guy was one sick dude alright
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1377. LargoFl
Quoting HurrMichaelOrl:


It looks like our rainy season may be coming to a screeching halt here in Central FL. After a nice wet May-August (11"-12" in August alone) the forecast for the next week looks mostly dry.
some places inside florida need this drying off time, gee southeast florida, palm coast county is still flooding from isaac, and i guess northern florida also..here in central florida, its ok, good for the beaches this dry weather and for labor day weekend too..our storms in the gulf will come again and the rains will too..our peak of the season is almost upon us
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I really don't understand that map the Dr. Masters posted that shows the amount of rain needed to end a drought. The local and national drought monitor makes it clear there isn't any drought in Central and South Florida, many areas are above average this summer, even above the normally 8 inches of rain per month for many places during the rainy season. In fact we could actually use the drier weather this weekend because we've been dealing flooding issues around Central Florida and also south Florida for a while.

This map is wrong, someone needs to revise it, I'm not sure about the rest of the U.S. but the Central and South Florida part is wrong.
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Quoting hydrus:
Texas looking dry.....Again.


Not south of Houston though.. Torrential downpour.
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1374. Grothar
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 75 Comments: 30734
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1372. bappit
Quoting K8eCane:


oh my goodness, what a grueesome thought. but yes, there was one named leslie and one named tex. i sure hope that isnt an omen, although texas could use the rain. oh my imagination again

What the heck is a Manson girl? Time for Wikipedia.

Edit: Ah! We just called them the "Manson Family" back then. Don't know why the women would be singled out for the precious title "Manson Girls". Being sardonic I guess.
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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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