Sunday, August 21, 2011

We are in the cone of concern as Irene continues to gain strength in Caribbean

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Here on the blog yesterday we talked about staying prepared as Irene was forming. I was also concerned about the hurricane drought across the southeast United States coming to a screeching halt. This morning it looks like the National Hurricane Center agrees. It has the latest track still moving toward southeast Florida and making landfall as a category one hurricane with sustained winds of 85 and gusts near 100 mph. Right now South Florida seems to be the area with the highest risk of a landfalling hurricane. But keep in mind we still have to see what happens after this system clears the islands.

The models are having a hard time in forecasting its intensity as usual. Some models have this thing with 40 mph winds by Thursday while others have a category three with 120 mph winds.  I am still on board with the hurricane intensity as Irene makes a move on Florida but hope I am wrong. So this is one of many reasons we all have to stay tuned and most of all stay calm and prepared.

While there is a consensus on this system tracking near Miami by Thursday night this could still change. A few models still have it moving into the Gulf of Mexico and even a few more having it skirting Florida and heading up to the Carolinas. This is why I think we should keep the cone of concern extending from New Orleans all the way up the East Coast. These storms can turn in a hurry a la Charley in 2004. Right now I am still leaning to an East Coast hurricane due to Irene repositioning itself overnight about 60 miles farther north.

Speaking of Irene notice the latest wind speeds being reported in the Caribbean. There have already been a few gusts of 30 mph in Puerto Rico. By late tonight hopefully San Juan has the hatches battened down with gusts near 80 mph likely. A hurricane warning is in effect. Notice the wind direction is also shifting more out of the northeast due to the atmosphere taking its cues from Irene. While the hurricane hunters kept the intensity of this storm at 45 mph after their morning flight I think this afternoon could be a much different story. The US Virgin Islands are now under a hurricane watch which includes St. Thomas. They have a brisk northeast breeze near 20 mph and tonight I see wind speeds of 50 mph with gusts near hurricane force. Here is what it looks like at Frenchman's Reef just after 11 a.m. our time.

You can see they have lost the nice clear sunny weather they have had over the last couple of days. Bands of rain and wind are now moving in and they will have to be on the outlook for possible severe thunderstorms tonight. So the blog question of the day is how much wind will we see from Irene? Well as we know things can change but as they stands right now most of the models do agree on it having a local impact in our area. Our entire viewing area including Georgia is now in the cone of concern as of the late Sunday morning National Hurricane Center update. I think it is a good call.

Here is a  map I mustered up this morning showing our South Florida hurricane weakening over land by Friday morning. You see the tightly packed lines of equal pressure or what we call isobars. The more of these you see the more wind due to a tight pressure gradient. The dark shaded greens are over us here at home represent sustained wind speeds that will be near 30 mph based on the track I favor most. The 50 mph winds extend to through Melbourne with the lighter green colors and your 50-70 mph winds are from near Vero Beach southward. Now if you add in wind gusts you can add about 20 mph. So that puts our area in the 30-50 mph wind gusts which can cause damage including downed trees and power outages.

Now a lot of folks have been wishing for a tropical system since we still need a lot of rain to end our ongoing drought. We will take a closer look at this on the news tonight. Be careful what you wish for. The problem is these tropical systems rarely behave according to plan. Usually you do not catch up on rain without flooding and wind damage. You also have to worry about power outages. Even though Irene should weaken as it moves north and will likely be a depression or tropical storm by time it reaches us and that is a BIG ASSUMPTION.....we remember what Jeanne did to us in 2004. Some folks were hit with power outages for 3 weeks. In 2008 Tropical Storm Fay spawned an incredible 81 tornadoes across the country and killed 36 folks. We want those bands of rain but not the tornadoes and of course we do have your two minute advantage to keep you safe if nature decides to go that course.

 So no matter if we are talking hurricane or tropical storm we are going to take Irene very seriously. We will also not focus on the exact storm track because it will likely be a system several hundred miles wide that will have a far-reaching impact on many. If you get a chance today this is a good reminder to go over your Plan B this week. Kids are getting back in school, some are returning from and or going on vacation. It does not look like a routine week by any means. So of course your weather team here at First Coast News has you covered. It looks like the wind, rain, surf and beach erosion will all start to pick up on Thursday with the worst of the storm Friday into early Saturday. Stay safe, plan wisely and I will see you soon.

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