Thursday, August 25, 2011

Irene greets First Coast with wild skies, balmy breezes and high surf

Irene is officially in control of our weather but do not worry she is still not moving our way and the eye of Irene should pass 240 miles east of Jacksonville. You see the blue skies mixed with bands of dark clouds and brief showers. It is sunny one minute and raining the next and sometimes there is sunshine and rain at the same time. My Mom and Mandarin says this is weird and I agree with her. This is typical of tropical systems known for their wild weather that seems to change with those breezes that have blown in from the northeast.

Between the showers we have also had plenty of reports of rainbows. I was able to capture one but even the rainbows are not lasting very long. If you do not like the weather just wait a couple minutes. The clouds are whizzing by at 30 to 35 mph from the northeast. This is the result of Irene's extremely low pressure. The air is literally being sucked into the eye of the storm. At the same time the outer cirrus clouds or feathery clouds you see in our sky today is the result of Irene exhaling or what meteorologists call outflow. It is much like a human that breathes. What goes in must come out. So remember the fast-moving clouds are Irene breathing in and the cirrus clouds are Irene breathing out.

Now the weather blog question of the day is how do we know it really is going to miss us, after all look how close to home the eye can clearly see it near Elbow Cay and it is only about 410 miles from Micker's Beach. Well you can thank the science of meteorology for advancing quite a bit and the hurricane hunter flying this storm just to make sure several times a day. As I told my first-grader who was also concerned... they are flying in and out of it, dropping parachutes with instruments to see how Irene is behaving and updating billions of mathematical formulas around the clock to keep everybody as safe as possible here in Florida. Yes, Lauren felt a little better and I have been able to settle down a few anxious neighbors. This radar does look a bit scary with Irene staring us down and almost on top of us.

Do you realize that if this was 1999 we would be evacuating a few coastal areas of central and southern Florida because the error 24-48 hours out was twice as much. So we could not see as clearly or really know if this hurricane was indeed going to miss us. Now here in 2011 we are 99.9% certain Irene is heading away and at the same time able to save millions of dollars and keep people safe with no evacuations needed. Our 48 hour error has decreased from 150 to 200 miles in 1999 down to 80 miles here in 2011. Oh and by the way that is why we had mandatory evacuations from Floyd back in 1999. We have a long way to go but at least we are heading in the right direction.

Here is a recent look at what is happening in Nassau, the Bahamas where wind gusts have been near 80 mph. Now here at home we can expect wind gusts possibly as high as 45 mph at the beach and on the bridges with wind speeds mainly between 20-30 mph. The highest wind speed will be during the day Friday and by tomorrow night it will already start to ease a bit. Speaking of the wind the latest mathematical formula I just completed gives us a 1% chance of seeing wind speeds over 60 mph and just an 11.9% chance of sustained wind speeds of 39 mph or greater. Hopefully this can help us all breathe easier. Our thoughts and prayers go out to our friends in the Bahamas.

Due to Irene's ire the surf has kicked up in a hurry with 4 to 7 foot sets developing and by this time tomorrow we will see 7 to 10 foot sets. The good news is beach erosion should remain on the lighter side with a shift in the wind to the north and northwest Friday. Also there is only a 10-20% chance of a storm surge of 2 feet or greater for Northeast Florida which should also help our precious beaches stay better in tact. I want to thank the FEMA director Craig Fugate who I got to know quite well when I did weather in Gainesville for this link to help us see while we are okay at home things are not so fine farther north with a much bigger storm surge on the way for the Outer Banks. Check it out.

This brings us to the latest track. While it may have wobbled 20-30 miles closer to Jacksonville overnight in the short-term, which will cause no change to our forecast, it will mean much bigger changes farther north which includes the Outer Banks and Northeast. Focus on the two lines snug together in the middle of this model forecast. That is the track I agree with that takes it about 60 miles east of New York City on Saturday night and Sunday morning. Since there still could be a shift we cannot totally rule out a direct hit which would be the first one since 1893. Now those are the folks that need to be worried. A front to the north that was supposed to sweep it toward Martha's Vineyard is expected to stall which would draw the storm more north than northeast. Here is the breakdown on wind and rain impacts.

Jacksonville, FL...20-30 mph winds with gusts to 45 beaches, rain less than one inch.

Outer Banks....80-100 mph winds with gusts to 115 mph, rain of 10-15 inches of rain.

Virginia Beach to Ocean City...60 to 80 mph winds with gusts to 90 mph, 9-12 inches of rain.

Jersey Shore...65-90 mph winds with gusts to 100 mph, 12-18 inches of rain.

DC, Baltimore...35-45 mph winds, gusts to 60 mph, 4-8 inches of rain.

Philly....40-50 mph winds, gusts to 70 mph, 6-10 inches of rain.

New York City..50-60 mph winds, gusts to 80 mph, 10-15 inches of rain.

Long Island, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts...55-70 mph winds, gusts to 95 mph, 15-20 inches of rain

Central and Northern New England...40-65 mph winds, gusts to 75 mph, 10-15 inches of rain

These numbers are the worst case scenario and hopefully we can get this track going farther east once again but for now with the front expected to stall it is time to prepare for our Northeast friends. I will keep you updated. God bless.

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