Monday, August 22, 2011

Hello, Irene

Here we go! Hurricane Irene has taken shape and developed into a category one hurricane. Irene has already pounded Puerto Rico with strong winds and heavy rains that have left some 800,000 people without power.

At its current location, Hurricane Irene is traversing the most hostile location for a storm. The islands of Puerto Rico, Haiti, Dominican Republic and Cuba are all road-blocks for any tropical system that passes them. Their mountainous terrains threaten to rip apart the structure of any well developed storm. Just a month or so ago, Tropical Storm Emily found this out. Emily wandered into Hispaniola and was all but destroyed by Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

However, with Irene, we have a different and more dangerous situation playing out. Irene has taken a more northerly track as a tropical storm. It has just brushed Puerto Rico and during that time strengthened from a Tropical Storm into a Hurricane. What stands in Irenes' way now? Below, current National Weather Service track has it moving northwesterly, its next stop in the Bahamas.

Current models back the NWS forecast. A big blocking ridge over the central U.S. will prevent Irene from moving west in the Gulf of Mexico. A trough over the mid-Atlantic will allow Irene to cut a path along that trough and "feel" its way into making a South Carolina landfall.

This forecast track will keep Irene away from those big islands in the Caribbean and allow the hurricane to move over very warm waters. The warm waters act like fuel to the storm and will allow it to develop and intensify. In fact, the NWS is currently showing Irene making landfall as a major hurricane (in order for a storm to be classified as a "major hurricane", wind speeds must reach 110mph or greater).

A lot can happen between now and Irenes' landfall, which is sometime Saturday morning. Models are changing hourly for this storm so it will be important to keep an eye on the changing conditions. But for the first time since 2009, the United States is looking at our first serious hurricane landfall!

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