Biggest worry from Irene? Big rain, flooding
As forecast, Irene has strengthened today, with top sustained winds now blowing at 120 mph. The National Hurricane center says conditions are favorable for some further strengthening, and Irene could become a Cat. 4 storm in the next day or so.
But for Maryland, wind may not be our biggest worry as Irene approaches. Forecast models are predicting a potential for tremendous rain as the storm moves up the coast - as much as 11 or 12 inches of rain is predicted to fall this weekend just off the coast. It would take only a slight shift in the storm track to bring that kind of rain onshore.
And even if the computer's prediction proves accurate, the rain totals forecast for the Delmarva Peninsula still come in at 8 or 9 inches. And for the Western Shore, totals come to 4 to 5 inches.
The forecast map was sent to me by Prof Jeff Halverson, out at UMBC. "This is a very potent dynamical set-up for huge rainfall."
"It looks like areas to our north and east are in for a monster soaking this weekend," he said. "The morning models have Irene merging with a trough in the jet stream (crossing the Great Lakes on Saturday), and I suspect a potent coastal front will develop. This is looking more and more like a Floyd-type extra-tropical transition, but shifted further north than in 1999. Things are looking very wet from NJ north through Maine. The models have us right on the edge of this heavy rain shield, but I would not be surprised to see it back-build further west."
Hurricane Floyd (track map) swept up the coast in September 1999. Its storm track looks almost identical to Irene's, but a tad farther west, running right up the coastline from the Outer Banks to New York City, then charging inland over New England.
Floyd's wind and rain cut off electric power to almost half a million Marylanders, and many waited days for service to be restored. That triggered an order from then-Gov. Parris Glendening for regulators to investigate the utilities' emergency response plans. (BGE officials said Wednesday they are already monitoring Irene, and "taking proactive action to ensure it is prepared to aggressively respond to widespread and extended power outages should they occur.")
Some 750 trees fell in Baltimore alone during Floyd. Severe flooding struck in Crisfield, Elkton and North East. The governor later applied for federal disaster assistance for 11 counties. The largest damage estimate was $1.3 million in Harford County.
There were sewage spills, 255 roads were closed by flooding or downed trees. One death in Maryland was attributed to the storm.
Are you ready? Here's a preparedness guide from the Maryland Emergency Management Agency.
(SUN PHOTO: Bottom: Floyd flooding, Karl Merton Ferron, September 1999)