Irene May Rake the East Coast ~

After a busy but undramatic start, the 2011 hurricane season is threatening to get serious. Hurricane Irene, the ninth named storm of the season, but only its first Atlantic hurricane, formed early on Monday near Puerto Rico. The Washington Post had this report on Monday at noon (“ Hurricane Irene heads toward Hispaniola and US as it threatens to gain strength,” by Associated Press). Hurricane expert Dr. Jeff Masters says that an unpredictable low pressure area moving over the U.S. makes Irene’s future track something of a guessing game (“ Hurricane Irene pounds Puerto Rico, heads for Hispaniola,” by Jeff Masters). “A trough of low pressure is expected to move across the Eastern U.S. on Wednesday and Thursday, turning Irene more to the northwest by Wednesday,” writes Masters. “The timing and strength of this trough varies considerably from model to model, and will be critical in determining where and when Irene will turn to the north. Irene's strength will also matter--a stronger Irene is more likely to turn northward earlier. The most popular solution among the models is to take Irene to the northwest through the Bahamas on Wednesday and Thursday, then into the Southeast U.S. coast in South Carolina or North Carolina on Saturday. Irene would then travel up the mid-Atlantic coast, arriving near Long Island, New York on Monday morning as a strong tropical storm or Category 1 hurricane. One of the models proposing this solution is our best model, the ECMWF. However, we have two other of our very good models suggesting a landfall near Miami on Thursday night is likely (the GFDL and UKMET models.)” As of Monday afternoon, the National Hurricane Center’s best guess had Irene slamming into Charleston, S.C. at 9 AM on Saturday, August 27. “Officials in Charleston, South Carolina, warned residents to monitor Irene closely,” the Washington Post reported. But with forecast models varying by the hour, that forecast is highly uncertain. Washington itself might be looking at a 5-inch deluge from Irene — or it might not, the Post reported (“ Will Hurricane Irene generate a Washington, D.C. deluge?” by Jason Samenow). “Last night’s GFS model showed the entire metro region through the Northeast getting upwards of 5” of rain. Today it simulates just some showers, with the heavy rain pushed off to the east and north from the North Carolina Outer Banks to New England.” Time, of course, will tell — and amateur hurricane watchers have plenty of ways to watch events unfold. If you’re following along at home, here are links to a couple of the storm-tracking websites with good graphics: IbisEye and Stormpulse