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August 23, 2011

Irene may spoil your weekend

What is it about these storms that begin with the letter "I"? Remember Isabel in 2003?

Well, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center say Hurricane Irene appears to be headed our way this weekend. They stress that track forecasts this far in advance can be off by 200 or 250 miles. But the computer models still seem to be in close agreement about this one.

Irene forecast trackThey're predicting landfall late Saturday or early Sunday somewhere near the North Carolina/ South Carolina border. It would be the first hurricane landfall on the U.S. mainland since 2008.

From there, Irene seems likely to continue moving north.

Her track after landfall will be of critical importance to Central Maryland and the Eastern Shore. A curve toward the east would put the Baltimore-Washington area on the more benign west side of the storm's center. That would mean less rain and wind, with winds shoving water down the bay.

But a northward track to the west of the Chesapeake Bay could be expected to blow water up the bay, raising the dangers of a large storm surge and destructive coastal flooding. Think of how storms like Hazel in 1954 and Isabel in 2003 producing severe coastal flooding along the bay shores.Floyd rain 1999

UPDATE, 12 noon: The latest National Hurricane Center track forecast still shows Irene approaching the Chesapeake Bay by daybreak Sunday. The center of the "cone of uncertainty" puts the storm at the mouth of the Chesapeake - still at Cat. 1 hurricane strength - by 8 a.m.

At noon Tuesday, Irene was a Cat. 2 hurricane, packing top sustained winds of 100 mph. It was located about 70 miles south of Grand Turk Island in the Bahamas, moving to the west northwest at 12 mph. Forecasters said Irene could reach Cat. 4, with sustained winds above 131 mph, by early Friday morning. It is thought likely to be a Cat. 3 storm at landfall in North Carolina early Sunday morning. 

Earlier post resumes below.

The official forecast doesn't sound too dire. The NWS/Sterling is calling for highs in the low 80s, with the chances for showers and thunderstorms rising from 50 percent Saturday to 60 percent Saturday night. The probabilities slip to 40 percent Sunday and Monday.

Here's AccuWeather.com's take on the storm.

AccuWeather.com says Irene's forecast track looks most like Hurricane Bertha, which struck near Wilmington, N.C. in July 1996 and caused tremendous damage along the nearby beach communities of Wrightsville and Topsail Beach. Twelve people died and property damage was estimated at $270 million.

In Maryland, a much-weakened Bertha delivered plenty of rain and wind, and caused widespread power outages. But there was little serious damage, even at Ocean City.

Hurricane Floyd, in 1999, also followed a path similar to that forecast for Irene. It dropped 14 inches of rain on portions of Maryland, and produced winds of 50 to 70 mph. There was a 2 to 3-foot storm surge in the bay. Three Marylanders died and 250,000 lost electric power.

Isabel's path was quite different. It made landfall in North Carolina and drove inland toward West Virginia. Rainfall in Baltimore was not extraordinary, but the counter-clockwise winds around the storm's center drove water up the bay, causing some record storm surge numbers, with tremendous damage around the Inner Harbor, Fells Point and other bayshore communities such as Bowley's Quarters.

Here is the latest advisory on Irene. Here is the forecast discussion.

There's more below from Prof. Jeffrey Halverson, Associate Professor of Geography and Environmental Systems at UMBC

(Top: NWS, Irene forecast track. Bottom: Floyd, 1999)  

"My assessment of Irene this morning is that the storm remains a threat to the Baltimore region.  The
good news is that the models seem to be trending toward shifting the center of the storm to the east
of our region.   This would keep the really high winds over the Bay and Eastern Shore.  And the models
seem more progressive with the storm - moving it away quicker.   The bad news is that with the storm
possibly hugging the coast, this could help maintain its intensity, as part of the circulation is still able
to draw warm, humid air off the Gulf Stream.  A more intense storm means more intense winds,
across the board.  And the models such as GFS still churn out very heavy rain to the right of track.
Should the storm track just along the western side of the Bay, serious storm surge could develop in
the Bay's headwaters.   There are still so many uncertainties and many of these hinge on the storm's track, size and intensity as it approaches North Carolina.  I've laid out some possibilities here, but bear in mind
that track forecast errors are 200 miles on Day 4, and 250 miles on Day 5...and our skill at predicting
intensity change is not very high.   This one is going to have us on pins and needles for days to come. - Jeff"

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:43 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Forecasts, Hurricanes
        

Comments

earthquake at 1:52pm in crownsville. whole house shook good and not over a few things. lasted about 45 sec's to one minute. weird . . .

earthquake at 1:52pm in crownsville. whole house shook good and knocked over a few things. lasted about 45 sec's to one minute. weird . . .

I think we just had an earthquake as well. Creepy. Everything shook in the house and the dog went crazy!

Was there just an earthquake a few minutes ago? I'm in Arbutus and the whole house was shaking.

Ok, nothing to do with the hurricane but we just experienced and earthquake here in Owings Mills. Also spoke to my wife in Johns Hopkins and she said that she felt it there too. My whole house shook from side to side, as did all the neighbors. Hopefully some information as to the strength of this ?

I also experienced the shaking from the earthquake at my house in Columbia.

Mark,

News reports say magnitude 5.9 at epicenter near Richmond. Apparently we are to expect aftershocks.

Hey Frank,

You are the trusted person with the weather in my book. What is it with all of the nature events, are there more than usual. Is the earth tilting off its axis?

Through it all, just remember Mother Nature rules. Embrace her...then fix what the quake or storm broke. Hope all is well.
Joe Nawrozki

FR REPLIES: Hi Joe. It's been pretty exciting, hasn't it? Blizzards, tornadoes, floods, droughts... . We do seem to have recorded a lot of weather extremes in the past couple of years. Scientists may debate the issue, and we won't know for sure until we can look back on it many years hence. But some such events are consistent with global warming theory. The quake, however, is not weather. And history shows such quakes have happened here quite a bit in the past. They're rare in the span of a human life, and we tend to forget. But we can expect more in the future. And we may have to throw in a hurricane this weekend!

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About Frank Roylance
This site is the Maryland Weather archive. The current Maryland Weather blog can be found here.
Frank Roylance is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun. He came to Baltimore from New Bedford, Mass. in 1980 to join the old Evening Sun. He moved to the morning Sun when the papers merged in 1992, and has spent most of his time since covering science, including astronomy and the weather. One of The Baltimore Sun's first online Web logs, the Weather Blog debuted in October 2004. In June 2006 Frank also began writing comments on local weather and stargazing for The Baltimore Sun's print Weather Page. Frank also answers readers’ weather queries for the newspaper and the blog. Frank Roylance retired in October 2011. Maryland Weather is now being updated by members of The Baltimore Sun staff
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