Monday, August 22, 2011

Irene and the Carolinas ... Monday AM outlook

Hurricane Irene is leaving Puerto Rico and moving toward the north coast of the Dominican Republic on Monday morning, and while meteorologists now have a few more answers about the storm's future, there are still many questions.

As of now, the National Hurricane Center's official forecast for Irene calls for it to have nearly 120 mph winds when it makes landfall early Saturday morning between Savannah and Charleston.

Under that path, the remnants of Irene would have a major impact on the Charlotte area Saturday, with the threat of tornadoes and flooding rain, plus a chance of damaging winds.

But that is merely one of many, many possible scenarios.

First, here's what we DO know this morning that we didn't know Sunday night:

1. Irene is a hurricane, not a tropical storm. Its top sustained winds reached 75 mph overnight, while it crossed Puerto Rico. It's rather impressive that the storm strengthened despite crossing a land mass.

2. National Hurricane Center forecasters now think Irene will only graze the northern part of the Dominican Republic, rather than go over the center of the island of Hispaniola. This means the mountainous terrain of the island is not expected to affect the hurricane's circulation. And that means a stronger Irene down the road.

Then what?

Irene is predicted to move northwest, crossing the Bahamas as a hurricane. The computer models all agree with that.

By Thursday, however, the forecasts get uncertain. A trough is expected to move into the eastern United States. If the trough is deep enough (far enough south) and strong enough, it could curve Irene back out to sea. In other words, the hurricane's track would look like the tee shot of your golfing buddy with a bad slice -- off to the right.

And some computer models predict that.

WBTV meteorologist Al Conklin noted that this morning, saying that trends mean a lot in forecasting. And the trend in the predicted path of Irene for the past 24 hours has been eastward. With each adjustment from the National Hurricane Center, the storm's forecast track has been nudged a little farther east.

Conklin noted -- and he's right -- that when this happens, it tends to continue happening. If so, Irene could become an issue only for the Outer Banks. And should that happen, Charlotte and the rest of the Piedmont would get no impact from the storm.

But to be fair, it's also important to note that a few computer models actually show the storm moving farther west than the Hurricane Center's predicted path -- into south Florida and then up through Georgia and the western Carolinas.

Joe Bastardi, a former Accu-Weather meteorologist now with Weather Bell, is predicting landfall in the Carolinas, perhaps near Charleston or Myrtle Beach.

Larry Cosgrove, another private meteorologist with a big following, is pointing toward Myrtle Beach. And, he adds, "The hurricane will trigger almost biblical amounts of rain, with lots of wind, across parts of Appalachia and the entire eastern seaboard."

Dan Kottlowski of Accu-Weather says, "A look at track forecasts suggests a higher chance of Irene tracking along or just off the coast of eastern Florida and making landfall along the Carolina coast."

Something to note ... hurricanes almost never make landfall between Daytona Beach and Savannah. That's because of the curvature of the coast line.

More later.