Monday, August 22, 2011

Irene the menacing storm machine has Carolina on her mind and will impact millions

Monday, August 22, 2011

There she is and the news is not good for millions along the East Coast.  As expected Irene will end the hurricane drought. Yesterday afternoon I made the call that this system would stay east of Florida and likely head up to the Carolinas and as of 14 zulu (world weather time based on Greenwich Mean Time)  or 10 a.m. local time this morning I am still sticking to my forecast. If you have friends in the Northeast they will also see a big impact from Irene. I have already called relatives in Maryland and Delmarva and told them to batten down the hatches.

You see the convection really blowing up on the north side of this system which is a good sign for Florida, bad news for the Carolinas. These tropical cyclones usually track in the direction where most of the thunderstorm activity blows up. The power of nature and Irene was on display last night.  It was amazing how Irene actually strengthened into the season's first hurricane even though its eye went over Puerto Rico. Conditions are so favorable that there was no denying her hurricane status. Notice the fan shape on the satellite picture. That is a good indication of no wind shear and light winds aloft created by an upper high pressure system.

Irene is now in charge and the atmosphere will now be taking its cues from her. In fact since Irene is becoming so big and strong the likelihood of a hard right out to sea would be even less likely. I call it the bulldozer effect. Irene is like a big machine and once it gets on a roll there is no turning it around.

Latest wind speeds are up to 80 mph and I would not be surprised if it became a major hurricane with wind speeds topping 110 mph as it moves over the bath water and Gulf Stream on its track to the north over the next few days. The thinking all along was if this developed into a stronger hurricane which we said was on the table yesterday that it would move much farther north and east. That is exactly what is happening. Here is the path I showed last night at 6 p.m. and I think it still works although it may be about 100 miles too far west.  Even though it is expected to stay east we will start feeling local impacts by Thursday night into Friday with increasing wind and even rain. I am still worried about a lot of wave action with beach erosion. Surfers will have a choppy time of it with 5 to 8 foot waves on Friday at Jacksonville Beach. It will be tough to stand up on those surf boards with wind gusts topping 40 mph with isolated higher gusts.  Let's take a closer look at what will happen here at home.

We will feel the most impact on Friday with things improving by early Saturday morning. You see the tightly packed isobars telling us we will have to contend with wind. I still have most of our area in the 30-40 mph wind  zone with gusts near 50 possible. Athough areas west of the river will likely be in the 20-30 mph range. Look for some high wind advisories to be issued. It will not take much to topple a few trees that have been ravaged by the drought. Most of the wind should be in a 16-20 hour window starting late Thursday night and lasting through late Friday night. Speaking of the wind it will cause some beach erosion much like a nor-easter because the storm track will turn our wind to the east-northeast. This is not good news for some of our re-nourished beaches and South Ponte Vedra Beach that is already in trouble.

Surf will start increasing Wednesday with 2-4 foot surf. Expect 4-7 feet on Thursday and before it gets real windy that might be the best day, even though Friday the breakers will be wind-whipped and build from 5 to 8 feet. Saturday the surf will quickly fall from 3 feet in the morning to 1 foot in the afternoon due to a strong land breeze being sucked into the center of Irene.

Boaters beware and secure the dingys at the dock! I see waves building to near 15 feet offshore by Friday with even some 6-10 foot seas on Thursday. Get all the good fishing done by Wednesday. Irene is not playing around and I am expecting some 30 foot waves and then some well east of Florida as it moves east of Jacksonville by 175 miles on Friday evening.

Now what we have all been waiting for. How about the rain? Well the news is not so good. Since we are on the weak side or the side of the hurricane with sinking air our rain totals look like they will be held down. Earlier in the weekend we were sitting in the 7 to 10 inch range which I never bought I have downgraded us to the 1 to 3 inch range with much less amounts the closer you get to Interstate 75. But I think I would rather miss out on the rain because if we were still in the 7 inch plus range this would have meant a ton of wind damage, flooding issues, and power outages. No thank you.

So where is the hurricane heading? I think it is taking a Floyd track that we saw in 1999. Floyd caused over 6 billion dollars in damage with over 50 fatalities. Notice how it impacted not only the Carolinas but my beloved boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland and all my good friends in New York and New England. Time to make more calls.

Now keep in mind we are still in the cone of concern but I really think this is the big one for the Carolinas, Mid-Atlantic, and Northeast. Until we can officially give the all clear for Florida make sure to stay tuned for the latest, especially with how strong Irene will become. We also cannot rule out sporadic power outages. As we found out with Tropical Storm Fay in 2008 it does not take much for a tropical system to cause a lot of trouble. Also, swimming at the beaches will not be advised from Thursday through Saturday due to dangerous rip currents.

Last but not least. I have to end this on a positive note. I am so proud of my first grader, seventh grader and high schooler....OMGosh...high school?...this was very tough to type for me....They all made it to school safely. You see Lauren or the baby of the family. Well I guess not a baby anymore. Where does time go?  It was very nice at the bus stop this morning but this afternoon I do expect a few storms to pop so make sure if you have any little ones you pick them up at the bus stop or they have a dry ride home. You stay safe and I will keep you updated throughout the week. Take care, peace!

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