9/02/2010

Blogging Hurricane Earl


Monday, September 6: Here's a link to my National Geographic News story explaining why Hurricane Earl weakened as it approached the Outer Banks.

Also, got an email today from Arlene Vadum in Worchester, Massachusetts that included a brief comment on Hurricane Earl's visit to New England a couple days ago. Worcester is well inland from Cape Cod, where Earl was expected to pass near or over Saturday afternoon as a Category 1 hurricane. But Earl weakened to a tropical storm and was pushed a little farther out to sea by that Canadian front, and so the blow to the Cape and the Northeast was much less than had been feared.

Arlene writes: "We got the rain, pretty hard for a time, and virtually no wind. People didn't do anything special in Worcester because we were told that Earl wouldn't affect us. I saw on the news that people were not going to the Cape and the islands because of Earl, but in the end the news seemed to say that there was 'much ado about nothing,'"


Thing is, you can't decide what to do during the next hurricane warning based on what you did during the previous storm because the next hurricane might make a last-minute turn in your direction and be far worse than expected. But anyone who's lived on Cape Cod any length of time knows that.

9:15 a.m. Friday: We're getting light but steady rain here in Plymouth as Hurricane Earl moves away from us. The storm made its closest approach toward us a few hours ago. I stood on our side porch a few minutes ago and took a quick look around the neighborhood, and I didn't see anything that looked like damage. Didn't even see any limbs in my back yard from the huge pecan trees that usually drop limbs even during a light breeze.

We sat around last night with our neighbors, Jennifer and Ben, and watched some of the local coverage of Hurricane Earl. Almost felt sorry for some of the local TV news reporters. They had been prepared to do the Jim Cantore-style standup-in-the-storm spots, and nothing was happening -- no driving horizontal rain, no fiercely gusting winds to shove them around, no loud crashing waves or wind-driven debris in the background.

I don't mean to make fun of Hurricane Earl's visit, however. We were lucky. The storm weakened some and turned slightly away from the Outer Banks, and so things were not nearly as bad as they could have been.

But we may not be so lucky for the rest of the month. Tropical waves are rolling off the west coast of Africa, and conditions are still ripe for hurricane formation. And this is the time of year when the so-called Cape Verde hurricanes form. These are storms that begin as tropical waves and quickly become tropical storms as they pass the Cape Verde islands. These are the breeding grounds for monster hurricanes such as Hurricane Ivan of 2004.

There's a tropical wave that recently rolled into the Atlantic that's likely to become Hurricane Hermine. There probably also will be a storm that gets the "I" name that the monster Ivan got six years ago. The name for that storm this year is Igor. If a hurricane does get the "I" name, it could become a very bad storm. And contemplating the possibility of a monster storm named Hurricane Igor makes me a little uneasy.

11:30 p.m.: Light steady rain started about an hour and 15 minutes ago and you can tell the streets are wet when cars pass because they make that "skish" noise that tires make on wet pavement. My barometer has dropped in the past few hours, but the winds are light and essentially it's a damp, breezy and very muggy evening. Reminds me of Key West this time of year.

As of 11 p.m. Earl had weakened to a Category 2, which means that its peak winds are 96 mph to 110 mph. Judging from the radar images, the storm is no longer moving westward and is starting a turn to the north well before it approaches Cape Hatteras, which means that it's probably not going to come as close to the Outer Banks as was predicted earlier.

10:15 P.M.: We had brief intermittant showers here about an hour ago, but for the most part it's been a pleasant evening to sit on our neighbors' porch and drink beer and enjoy the breeze. I'll update later.

7:31 p.m.: Hurricanes are just fiendishly unpredictable, even in this era of weather satellites and sophisticated computer software designed to make them more predictable.

The latest update for Hurricane Earl has it weakening considerably before it blows past North Carolina. Earl is now a Category 3 storm with peak winds of about 115 mph, and it's expected to diminish to Category 2 before it approaches Cape Hatteras. That means its peak winds will be no more than 110 mph.

Earlier forecasts had it maintaining at least Category 3 strength as it passed the Cape. Had it stayed that strong, its peak winds could be approaching 130 mph.

This is why being a hurricane forecast specialist is such a difficult job. When you put out a warning that a hurricane is approaching, you have to convey to the people on the coast that they're in a dangerous area. You don't want to overstate the danger, but the consequences of understating the danger are so dire that you can't afford to be responsible for giving thousands of people an excuse to stay put instead of getting out of harm's way. There's always a good chance that the hurricane will be worse than expected, and those people who got complacent because of your understated warning suddenly are facing a deadly situation.

There are some subtle signs of Earl's approach here in Plymouth. Jane and I sat on our enclosed front porch for about 90 minutes and had drinks and watched the weather. The very tall trees on our neighbors' lots across the street are swaying the way they do only when a major storm is approaching. So Earl's approach is subtle but noticeable.

Stay tuned.

5:45 p.m. My story about Hurricane Earl has been posted at National Geographic News. See this link:

5 p.m. Barometer down slightly, from 1013 mb at 2 p.m. to 1011 mb at 5 p.m. I did a story about Hurricane Earl for National Geographic News that will be posted shortly. I'll post a link here when it's up.

The satellite image shows Earl as of 5 p.m. EDT. More of eastern North Carolina is now covered by the edges.

2:53 p.m: As of 2 p.m., Hurricane Earl is offshore from Charleston and has weakened a little since the 5 a.m. update. But Earl's strongest winds are still around 125 mph, and it's expected to strengthen a little and have winds exceeding 130 mph as it aproaches the North Carolina coast tonight. Earl is expected to make its closest approach around 2 a.m. Friday, when it'll be offshore from Cape Hatteras.

As you can see from the above satellite image, we're starting to see the edges of Hurricane Earl here in Plymouth, which is about 100 miles south of Norfolk and about 80 miles west of Cape Hatteras. If the storm maintains its projected path, we're not likely to see any fierce winds tonight. But hurricanes are unpredictable, and I spent part of the morning clearing small objects out of our yard, fueling up my pickup truck, and making sure the gas-powered generator was working.

My barometers are slowing starting to fall, an indication that there's a bad storm out there somewhere.

I'll have another update around 4:30 p.m.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

The 10:15 update is my favorite. We'll do it again soonish! Enjoyed the company very much!

Lauressa and Flash said...

Hello Phillip!
Wow, well, the hurricane moistened up your Drye blog spell, huh? Plenty of fresh post material now! I haven't gotten to read your link, but congratulataions on that nice score with NG. When you're blogging, check out the formatting icons that look like your regular MS Word icons just above your window. You should see one that looks like a little chain link (and one is a broken link). Just click on that. When it opens, paste in the link. Then you can just write the words, like for instance "National Geographic," highlight and click on them, paste the link into the pop-up window. Save. Bam! You've got a hyperlink. Also, your blog reminded me that Flash (pharaohhoundflash.wordpress.com, can't do the hyperlink in this window) wanted to mention how much we Floridians totally enjoyed the daily showers and cooler temperatures, followed by the breezy, cooler, drier air that we got as a side effect of that hurricane running up the coast. And of course, the surfers loved the swell. This week, we've had a couple days of our usual ultra-humid, hot-by-10-a.m. days. We prefer a little daily cloud cover. But we're not looking forward to the threat of more or more severe hurricanes. Take care!