Irene forecast track edges eastward
There are plenty of uncertainties still, but hurricane forecasters have nudged their forecast track for Hurricane Irene just a bit more to the east. If that holds up, it could mean this will be more of a coastal storm for the Maryland and Delaware resorts. And for the Western Shore, at least, that would spare us an Isabel-like storm surge up the Chesapeake Bay.
That's not to say Central Maryland would escape Irene's wrath entirely. We can still probably expect some heavy rain over the weekend. And because we've been getting more rain lately, and are expecting more from a cold front due here on Thursday, weekend rain from Irene will fall on soils and in streams already full of water. And that raises the risks of flooding.
Here's Jeffrey Halverson, associate professor of geography and environmental systems at UMBC, on the rain potential:
"Big storms like Irene, even while along the coast or offshore, can circulate Atlantic moisture inland well in advance of the actual storm center. Moderate to heavy rain may actually begin spreading up the East Coast 24-36 hours ahead of the storm. The models are certainly presenting this scenario."
At 11 a.m., Irene was located about 285 miles southeast of Nassau, moving to the northwest at 12 mph. Top sustained winds were clocked at 115 mph, making Irene a "major," Category 3 hurricane.
Hurricane-force winds were expected in the Central Bahamas by Wednesday night, and in the northwestern Bahamas on Thursday. Storm suges of 7 to 11 feet above normal tide levels are possible in the Bahamas, along with large and dangerous waves. Rainfall could total 6 to 12 inches in the Bahamas.
The center of the National Hurricane Center's "cone of uncertainty" for Irene's future path turns her gradually to the northwest and then north in the next two days. That would take Irene ashore in the Outer Banks region of North Carolina. Mandatory evacuation orders are already up for Okracoke Island.
The current path would place the storm at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay by 2 a.m. Sunday. Forecasters at the National Weather Service regional forecast office in Sterling, Va., say Irene will arrive there as a coldfront crosses Maryland from the northwest. As the moist tropical air runs up against the cold front, it would trigger heavy rain in Central Maryland.
The impact at the beaches will depend on Irene's strength - it's forecast to be a Cat..1 hurricane at that stage - and how close she comes to the shoreline. But those at the beaches can expected heavy rain, wind and surf. Here's a (clickable) map of the wind forecast for Sunday. It shows strong winds on the Lower Eastern Shore and the lower bay.
The NWS forecast office in Wakefield, Va., is saying that tropical storm conditions are possible for Ocean City Saturday night and Sunday. Here's part of their morning forecast discussion from Wakefield:
"AT THIS POINT THE LATEST CONSENSUS TRACK WOULD SUGGEST A PERIOD OF
STRONG POTENTIALLY DAMAGING WIND AND HEAVY POTENTIALLY FLOODING
RAIN (MAINLY NEAR AND ALONG THE COAST) FROM FRIDAY NIGHT
(PRECEDING BANDS OF SHOWERS) THROUGH SATURDAY INTO SATURDAY NIGHT
BEFORE LIFTING TO THE NE SUNDAY."