A look back at Hurricane Irene (2011)

Advisories have been posted as Irene approaches the Mid-Atlantic. We’re in for a rough ride beginning Friday night.

Quotes in the headline come from the NOAA Hydrometeorological Prediction Center.

Hurricane Irene continues churning across the Atlantic.

Irene’s track hasn’t shifted a whole lot over the last six hours, though satellite imagery shows the storm is tracking east of what’s been forecast. That being said, the change isn’t significant enough to really alter the forecast track at this point. However, if this motion continues, it would put Richmond on the western edge of the envelope.

It also looks like Irene is undergoing some significant wind shear along the western half of the storm. Irene’s eye has lost a fair amount of definition on infrared satellite. This means that while the storm isn’t necessarily weakening at the moment, it’s having to expend more energy to maintain its current strength and may not intensify as much as previously forecast. All that being said, the center of circulation still has the better part of 36 hours over open water still, and plenty of time to increase strength if the wind shear subsides.

My thoughts regarding the Richmond area haven’t really changed, however. Unless there is significant shear and shrinking of Irene’s wind field, this remains a very large storm that will affect a large portion of eastern Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic. Conditions will remain decent for most of Friday, with high clouds already building in as Irene approaches. Conditions will start to break down overnight Friday night and into Saturday morning as rain bands move into the area. Winds for most of the day will be in excess of 30 mph and likely tropical storm force (greater than 39 mph). With heavy, persistent rain to soak the ground and strong winds, downed trees and power lines are a distinct possibility. If you haven’t already stocked up and prepared for possible power outages, you need to do it today.

The center of Irene will pass to our east Saturday night, and conditions will improve on Sunday as the system speeds up and heads off to the northeast.

West of the Richmond area, conditions will improve pretty quickly. While wind and rain are likely, they won’t be either as strong or as heavy as areas along and east of I-95. As you head east, though, wind speeds will continually increase as you approach the coast, with near-shore areas seeing wind speeds in excess of hurricane strength (at least 74 mph). Areas along the coast will see significant rainfall, possibly approaching a foot of rain in a 24 to 36 hour time period. Significant coastal flooding is likely to occur with storm surge, especially if Irene approaches along with high tide. We’re also approaching a new moon on Monday, and the additional gravitational effects will only send more water onshore during high tide. Damage along the Virginia coastline and Eastern Shore is likely to be significant.

I’m going to continue to monitor the storm’s progression, and will post updates accordingly.

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Weather Dan

Dan Goff is now a two-time former Richmonder, having departed the River City yet again in favor of southwest Virginia, where he is working on degrees in geography and meteorology at Virginia Tech. Have a question about the weather or weather-related phenomena?

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