Hurricane Irene

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  • Hurricane Irene seen from NASA's Terra satellite on Wednesday 24 August, with its eye over Crooked Island in the southern Bahamas. Image: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response

    A wider view from the Goes-13 satellite shows Irene on the left and newly-formed Tropical depression Ten away to the east. A weaker depression lies in between with low development potential.

    Forecast path of Hurricane Irene

  • Hurricane Irene
    25.08.2011 16:30

     

    Hurricane Irene is literally and metaphorically coming onto the radar.

    It was battering the Bahamas on Thursday while it moved north-northwest as a Category 3 storm, with winds of 125mph.  The islands were also pounded by storm surges and the intensity of torrential rain that leads to floods and landslides. 

    The eastern seaboard of the USA is next in line. Florida should be spared the worst according to the consensus of forecast tracks but as it moves east of the peninsula it may pick up more strength and peak at Category 4, with wind speeds averaging over 130mph.

    At that strength it will approach eastern North Carolina, barely moderating before its expected landfall later on Saturday. This will be the first hurricane to make landfall in the USA since Ike hit Texas in 2008.

    This is a very serious storm indeed, and aside from the fierce winds and flooding rain there could be a storm surge of three or four metres, threatening to inundate some coastal areas, such as those around CapeHatteras and the Outer Banks, where there are hundreds of holiday homes.

    Although slowly weakening as it continues north or north-northeastwards, Irene may bring greater threat to life as it passes close to eastern Virginia and moves towards the more populous mid-Atlantic states and New England. These are regions in which people are far less experienced in dealing with hurricanes than many Americans living, for example, around the Gulf of Mexico.

    Dr Jeff Masters of Weather Underground suggests that Irene may strike or come near the coast between Maryland and New Jersey as a Category 2 hurricane during August’s highest tides, bringing a possible surge of up to 4 metres or so here as well. It is expected to remain at hurricane strength even as it moves as far north as New England.

    A clue as to how rare hurricanes are in the mid-Atlantic states and the Northeast comes from looking at the records from New York City, where only five have passed within 75 miles since reliable monitoring began in 1851.

    A few hurricanes have crossed the Northeast, the most destructive of which was the Great New England Hurricane of 1938, in the days before alphabetical names, which caused hundreds of fatalities. It struck at Category 3 strength, with a storm surge close to five metres.

    The Atlantic hurricane season is approaching its peak, and another tropical depression has formed in the spawning ground of hurricanes near the Cape VerdeIslands off northwest Africa.

    It has shown signs of strengthening as it marches west-northwest across the Atlantic but the most recent view is that becomes disrupted before following in Irene’s footsteps.

    By: Stephen Davenport