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Hurricane Irene – A US Threat

While local weather over the past week has been far from dead, it’s the tropical Atlantic that has had the vast majority of my attention.

For those not following the Atlantic hurricane seasons, 2005 was a monster year which beat almost every record and saw the names list being brought into the Greek alphabet, 2005 also spawned the unforgetable Hurricane Katrina, which I was also tracking for days prior to it’s formation. Since 2005 though there have been very few landfalling hurricanes with the strongest being Ike in 2008, the last major landfall was in 2005.

2011 started fairly slowly overall but has really picked up in the past few weeks. With that said though, 2011 set the record for the most tropical storms without any hurricanes, that changed though today when Tropical Storm Irene formed into a hurricane.

Irene formed from an African wave which spent days organizing before finally being declared a tropical storm last week and on Saturday was upgraded to a tropical storm. I’ve been following the models on this storm for weeks now, the GFS model has been showing this system from 340 hours out and each year the models display phantom storms which never form, but with Irene the models were extremely consistent in development with the GFS developing the storm for over 20 runs in a row.

As of now Irene has just passed over Puerto Rico and despite the mountainous terrain that should weaken systems, it has continued to strengthen, also something that the models had been showing for ages now, there were even reports from radar that winds were near major hurricane strength in the higher altitude mountains of Puerto Rico. There is also a possibility that she may just skirt Hispaniola which would allow for more intensification. Irene is now a 75mph hurricane with landfall looking likely anywhere between Florida to Virginia, though the consensus as it stands is between the two areas. There is a strong possibility of Irene reaching major hurricane status and even possibly being the first landfalling major since 2005. Intensity models are scattered but some are showing the potential for a high end category 4 storm, no doubt this would be a tragic situation for the East Coast of the US.

The area where Irene looks likely to make landfall is one that isn’t used to landfalling canes, the last Georgian landfalling major was back in the 19h century. Though there is still nearly a week before US landfall is likely and as with all weather models things can change quickly.

The presentation of Irene is good with radar indicating a clear eyewall which one would imagine will show through on satellite imagery within the next few hours. She has great outflow and will be passing over waters near 30’C for a couple of days. Shear forecasts also remain low and due to this there is the good possibility this will be memorable hurricane.

If you aren’t already tracking the system I would suggest doing so, my favourite tropical weather forum is Storm2k which offers excellent user posts including some professor meteorological input: http://www.storm2k.org/phpbb2/viewforum.php?f=59

I’m going to get very little sleep over the next few days.

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