Final Month Of Season Off To A Quiet Start
Last week was quite a week in weather around North America. Weather forecasters were dealing with a hurricane and a historic nor’easter that brought snow to many parts of the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. Hurricane Rina was a major hurricane that ultimately fizzled thanks to the influence of dry air pushing into the Gulf of Mexico, and strong wind shear from the south.
What happened with Rina is typical of Atlantic Hurricanes this time of year. As we transition from summer to winter, the jet stream changes. With the days getting shorter, there is less daylight so the planet is giving off more energy than it is taking in. Moreover, the major circulation belts around the planet begin to migrate south in response to the sun’s retreat toward the Tropic of Capricorn, which ends on the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere.
Consequently, the jet stream pushes farther south, and brings cooler and drier air along with hostile shearing winds. The dry air and shear are two things that tropical systems do not like. Tropical storms and hurricanes like warm moist air, and light upper level winds. So, when you get into the latter part of October and November, tropical cyclones become rare in the Atlantic. There are exceptions to the rule though. Hurricane Kate in 1985, Hurricane Gordon in 1994, Hurricane Lenny in 1999, and Hurricane Michelle in 2001 are notable examples.
The common area of development for tropical systems in the Atlantic in November is usually in the Southwestern Caribbean where sea surface temperatures are still very warm. With these waters very close to the equator, they get plenty of exposure to the sun, which oscillates between the Tropic of Cancer (23 degrees North latitude) and the Tropic of Capricorn (23 degrees South Latitude). In addition, the Southwestern Caribbean sees very little in the way of wind shear even this time of year.
On average, there is about one storm every two years during the month of November. Despite that, there has only been one storm that has emerged in the Gulf of Mexico since 1950, and that developed in the Bay of Campeche region. Of those 30 or so storms, a hurricane has emerged every two or three years, and a major hurricane has developed once every dozen years. Right now, there are no threats as the final month of the season is off to a quiet start.
There are several areas of disturbed weather being tracked right now. One is in the Eastern Caribbean creating showers and storms for Puerto Rico. A couple are in the Central Atlantic although one of them appears to be a trough. The last one is in the Eastern Atlantic to the southwest of the Cape Verde Islands. None of these disturbances are showing any signs of development at the moment.
Flooding From Lee Brings Back Memories Of Agnes In 1972
The rain ended sooner than anticipated. The skies are finally clearing, and the flood waters along the Susquehanna River from Harrisburg to Wilkes-Barre to Binghamton have begun to recede. River crest forecasts at Harrisburg have been revised downward a couple times already. Now, the Susquehanna is expected to crest at 25.2 feet in Pennsylvania’s capital city.
With the rains stopping in Central Pennsylvania and upstate New York, a major catastrophe appears to have been averted. It is small consolation for those with homes damaged or destroyed by the flood waters, but it could have been much worse. For instance, the rains from what was left of Hurricane Agnes in June 1972 brought the Susquehanna River up to over 32 feet at Harrisburg.
Speaking of Agnes, there are quite a few similarities between that devastating storm nearly 40 years ago, and Tropical Storm Lee. While one was a hurricane that struck earlier in the season versus a strong tropical storm that struck during the peak of the season, both were quite alike in some respects. Both emerged in the Gulf of Mexico. Agnes made landfall near Appalachicola, Florida while Lee came ashore in South Central Louisiana.
Each storm combined with a frontal system to bring tremendous rainfall to the Susquehanna Valley region. Both storms stalled over the region for several days. Both caused significant flooding in Harrisburg, Wilkes-Barre, and Binghamton. Agnes appears to have been worse while Lee surpassed the flooding of 2006. Nevertheless, both storms left their marks on residents, who will have to rebuild their homes and lives.
Batteries Hold Up Enough To Get GWC Wx Station Data To Computer
Good afternoon everyone. I have some great news. I was able to recover all of the data from earlier this week including those recorded during the peak of Hurricane Irene on Sunday. I went back to the house this morning, picked up my iMac mini, Vantage Pro 2 weather station console, media card reader, and external hard drive.
I later had to return to the house because I forgot the keyboard and mouse, but once I got everything together, I tried to power everything on. While the external hard drive didn’t mount, I was able to copy my movie clips from my media card to my computer, and upload data from my weather station console to the computer as well. It took a few tries, but the data from Sunday did transfer to the iMac mini including the time of lowest pressure at 8:30 AM.
The pressure actually got down to 28.63 inches of Hg, or approximately 970 millibars. It was the lowest pressure ever recorded at the GWC Weather Station. The previous low was 28.80 recorded in the Nor’easter of April 2007 (I will have to double check on that!). Another interesting stat that I was able to discover was that since my new weather station was installed back in mid-June, we have had 20.51 inches of rain! Of that total, 15.34 inches have come in August alone.
As far as the video goes, I compiled over 33 minutes of footage from Irene’s effects in town and at our hotel on Sunday. In total, I captured over 50 minutes of video from the storm as it approached and rolled through the area. It’s the best storm footage that I’ve ever captured. I did take some time to think about how I was going to put together the video footage from Sunday, and I’ve decided to create several different video showing the storm in stages. Once I get it all on YouTube, I will try to combine all the videos into one DVD.
Storm Loses Punch, But Still Packs A Wallop For East Coast
The storm has now passed, and the clean-up begins. With Irene out of the way, it is time to reflect on what has just happened. While forecasters were calling for this storm to be much worse, Irene didn’t pack as much punch as anticipated. The storm really didn’t bring any hurricane force winds to New Jersey and New York, but depending on where you were and how you were affected, it could be one of the worst storms ever.
Based upon personal experience of nearly 35 years of following and dealing with hurricanes, tropical storms, and nor’easters, this was the worst one ever. Some may disagree with that since the winds weren’t that bad. In addition, some of the flooding may have not been as bad as it was had it not been for the saturated ground that was already in place thanks to 10 plus inches of rain across New Jersey.
Facts On Hurricane Irene
Before we get into the particulars on how this storm stacks up, here are some basic facts on Irene as of right now according to various sources including past info from my web sites, the State Climatologist of New Jersey, the National Hurricane Center, ABC News, and Monday morning’s USA Today:
*Hurricane Irene made three separate landfalls: One in North Carolina, New Jersey, and New York.
*Irene’s landfall in New Jersey was the first in over a century, and third all time. The other two times were in 1821 and 1903.
*First landfall in New York City since 1893.
*First time NYC had to shut down the transit system, and call for mandatory evacuations.
*Lowest pressure ever recorded at the Greg’s Weather Center station at 28.64 inches.
*65 million people were affected.
*Storm left 21 people dead across 8 different states.
*Initial insurance estimates calculate up to $10 billion in damage.
*Approximately 4.5 million people without power across 10 states.
*Flooding and downed trees blocked sections of the New Jersey Turnpike, I-295, and Garden State Parkway.
*Downed trees and power lines along with flooding closed about 200 roads in parts of Maryland.
*Widespread flooding, storm surge of up to 8 feet in Norfolk, and 11 inches of rain in Suffolk in Virginia.
*Approximately 225 roads and 21 bridges were shut down, and two piers were destroyed in North Carolina.
*Flooding and downed trees closed roads in Delaware; Tornado caused damage in the city of Lewes.
*Boston’s transit system was shut down.
*Vermont is reporting some of the worst flooding ever.
*Flights cancelled out of Portland International Airport in Maine.
How Does Irene Compare To Recent East Coast Storms
Based on my personal experience with storms from the late 1970s, I would say that this one is up there as one of the worst to effect New Jersey. First, the fact that Irene made landfall in the Garden State is historical in the sense that the state is protected from direct hits by tropical storms and landfalling hurricanes by the way the East Coast geography.
In terms of barometric pressure, Irene is the lowest ever recorded here in South Plainfield since I’ve been taking records for almost 10 years. With that said, I’m not sure of how that ranks against other storms in the area. It is still very low pressure. I do recall the pressure getting very low when Hurricane Gloria approached the Garden State in September 1985.
There have been some nor’easters in recent years that caused big drops in barometric pressure. Some have bottomed out at 28.80 or so in South Plainfield, but I don’t have the weather data in front of me at the moment to compare. In terms of rainfall, the storm wasn’t actually that bad. Only five plus inches from Irene. Rain back on August 14th was comparable at 4.15 inches. Rainfall amounts in what was left of Hurricane Floyd was much worse. During Floyd, there was 11.67 inches of rain in South Plainfield, and over a foot in other places such as flood weary Bound Brook.
However, according to David Robinson, the State Climatologist in New Jersey, conditions were much drier prior to Floyd in September, 1999. Before Irene, that wasn’t the case. August 2011 was one of the wettest months on record. In South Plainfield alone, there was 10.30 inches of rain prior to the storm. There had been 14 days of measurable rainfall in just the first 21 days of the month in Northwestern Middlesex County. When you combine that with the surge that came in from Raritan Bay, it made for a terrible flooding event.
Speaking of the surge, it was probably among the worst ever for the Garden State. I had never seen Raritan Bay get as swollen or as angry as it was early Saturday night. The shear size and power of the hurricane, drove water into the coastline as South Amboy. Now, there may be others including residents of South Amboy, Lawrence Harbor, Cliffwood Beach, Woodbridge, Sayreville and Perth Amboy, who may have seen worse. Others familiar with other past storms may have also seen or have records of it being worse.
Finally, the winds. While they whipped up pretty good on Saturday night into Sunday morning, it was probably about as bad as the Holiday Blizzard last year give or take a few miles per hour. True there were trees that were down, but the winds were aided by the fact that there was a lot of rain and the grounds were already plenty saturated. So, it was easier to uproot trees. Overall, this was the worst storm experience I ever had. Of course a lot of that was due to the flood level in my neighborhood, and my subsequent evacuation.
Nevertheless, Irene could have been a lot worse. Forecasters did call for the storm to become much stronger in terms of wind, but that didn’t materialize. The dry air that got entrenched into the system after it pulled away from the Northern Bahamas on Wednesday night, the storm gradually weakened thanks to the presence of the dry air. Tropical storms and hurricanes do not like dry air as well as cooler waters and wind shear.
Looks like we dodged a bullet with Irene, but there’s still plenty of hurricane season left. Ninety plus days remain until the Atlantic Hurricane season ends on November 30th.
Dry Air Continues To Get Entrenched In Storm
Good morning everyone. After midnight this morning, we had a downpour for a few minutes here in Northwestern Middlesex County. About 0.07 inches of rain fell. It was the opening salvo in what could shape up to be a memorable storm for those living in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.
There is some more good news through. Dry air continues to get entrenched in the western side of Hurricane Irene, and as a result, the storm continues to become ragged. Maximum sustained winds have decreased to a strong Category One strength on the Saffir-Simpson Scale at 90 miles per hour. Pressure is still low at 952 millibars, or 28.11 inches of Hg. That is major hurricane intensity type of pressure.
The storm’s size has also decreased. Hurricane force winds still extend some 90 miles from the eye, but the tropical storm force wind field has shrunk from 290 miles to 260 miles. Nevertheless, Irene remains a very large storm, which is one reason forecasters are still calling for rough weather conditions to linger up into the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast starting tonight and continuing on Sunday.
The barometer has begun to fall here in South Plainfield. In the past five hours or so, it has dropped three millibars, or 0.09 inches to 29.84 inches of Hg. The outer bands are already bringing rains to the Delmarva Peninsula, and another feeder band is approaching South Jersey. Much of the Garden State remains under a Hurricane Warning, and could expect more showers and storms as we progress through the morning with the rain becoming more steady by the afternoon and evening.
As of the 5:00 AM EDT Advisory from the National Hurricane Center, the storm was located some 35 miles to the South of Cape Lookout, or 95 miles to the Southwest of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Irene was moving to the North-Northeast at 14 miles per hour, and that track is expected to continue for the next 24 hours. The Garden State should begin to feel the effects of the hurricane in earnest on Saturday night, and get the brunt of the storm on Sunday before clearing out late Sunday afternoon into Sunday evening.
The storm should be entering Southern New England by Sunday afternoon. The latest NHC forecast track and discussion indicate that Irene should still be a hurricane by then. Here in Northwestern Middlesex County, rainfall amounts are expected to be in the range of 8 inches with sustained winds up to 45 miles per hour, and gusts up to 60 miles per hour tonight. On Sunday, the sustained winds are forecast to increase to 60 miles per hour with gusts up to 80 miles per hour. Storm surge levels could be between 3 to 6 feet, and higher if it is accompanied by high tide.
Listening to the Weather Channel over the past day or so, I’ve learned that Hurricane Irene seems to be following the path of the Great Hurricane of 1821. It was one of only two hurricanes to impact New Jersey directly. The storm tracked up along what is now today the Garden State Parkway, and brought hurricane conditions to New York City. It is a very important storm in the area of early research on not just tropical storms and hurricanes, but also storms in general.
A Hurricane Warning remains in effect from Little River Inlet, North Carolina northward to Sagamore Beach, Massachusetts. This includes the Pamlico, Albermarle, and Currituck Sounds in North Carolina, Delaware Bay, Chesapeake Bay south of Drum Point, New York City, Long Island, Long Island Sound, Coastal Connecticut and Rhode Island, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.
A Tropical Storm Warning is now in effect from north of the South Santee River to Little River Inlet in North Carolina, along the Chesapeake Bay from north of Drum Point to the Tidal Potomac, and north of Sagamore Beach to the mouth of the Merrimack River. A Tropical Storm Watch remains in effect from the Merrimack River to Eastport, Maine.
I will continue to monitor the progress of this storm.
Both Storms Threaten Northeast And New England After Record Summer Heat And Rains
Perhaps they are just coincidences. However, the similarities between Hurricane Irene and the Long Island Express Hurricane of 1938 shouldn’t be taken lightly. A number of years ago, I read the book, Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938 by R.A. Scotti. I also wrote a review about it.
With the approach of Hurricane Irene, I began to think back to reading this book because of the type of weather we’ve had here in the Northeast this summer. This summer has been one of extreme heat and humidity as well as torrential rains. In July, South Plainfield had an average temperature of nearly 78.5 degrees. The high temperature for the month was set on July 22nd at 104 degrees with Newark reaching 108 degrees, the warmest in the United States that day. Heat index values were as high as 121 here in Northwestern Middlesex County while Atlantic City reached 122 degrees.
The record temperatures on July 22nd were at the peak of the most severe heat wave in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic in over 15 years. Temperatures were at or above 90 degrees for nine straight days. For the month of July, temperatures were at or above 90 degrees some 17 times. Then, in the month of August, temperatures cooled, but the rains came in earnest. So far this month, there has been 15 days of measurable rain here in Northwestern Middlesex County. Fourteen of those days came within the first 21 days of the month.
Heavy rains fell on August 14th (4.15 inches) and August 19th (1.7 inches). Other areas received heavy rains on August 15th and August 21st as well. So far this month, there has been 10.28 inches of rain here in South Plainfield with other areas around the Garden State receiving more. This summer has capped off an unusual stretch of extreme weather for New Jersey, and many other parts of the Northeast this past year. Starting with tornadoes in Staten Island and Brooklyn in late September 2010, there have been a number of significant weather events in the region over the last 12 months.
Similarly, the summer of 1938 had torrential rains and scorching temperatures. However, they rains came in June and July followed by record heat in August. In August 1938, there were 27 days where the high temperature was warmer than normal. In a nutshell, the weather during the summer of 1938 was “miserable” according to Scotti’s book. Another difference between the two storm scenarios was that the 1938 hurricane came up the Eastern Seaboard toward the end of September. Up to that point though, there had been torrential rains in the Northeast that month.
Prior to the arrival of the Long Island Express, it had rained for four days straight with rainfall amounts each day ranging from 1.5 to 5.5 inches depending on where you were. This forced many of the rivers to swell to flood stage. The similarities between these two storms are quite striking.
As President Obama toured some of the hardest hit areas in Alabama on Friday, the death toll from Wednesday’s severe weather outbreak across the Southeastern United States continued to climb. As of now (11:00 PM EDT), there are 318 people dead including 238 in Alabama, 34 in Mississippi, 34 in Tennessee, and 15 in Georgia. Of the number of dead in Alabama, 45 are dead in Tuscaloosa, which was among the hardest hit communities.
Nearly 1,000 people are injured in the home of the University of Alabama with another 446 or so that are missing or unaccounted for. Statewide, there were some 1,700 injuries from the storms. The monster tornado that struck Tuscaloosa is estimated to be at least an EF4 twister on the Enhanced Fujita scale. It may even be an EF5. Winds were estimated to be at least 200 miles per hour in the storm.
The numbers of dead may continue to climb with the number that are injured, and missing. According to an article in the Washington Post, this latest tornado outbreak was the deadliest in United States history. It was perhaps the most violent severe weather outbreak since the historic one in April 1974 that affected many of the same areas in the South. In nearby Mississippi, a monster tornado with 205 mile per hour winds struck the Northeastern town of Smithville, and it was officially declared an EF5 tornado on the Enhanced Fujita Scale.
Twisters even struck as far north as Washington D.C. while some severe weather even affected the Garden State. While there were several tornado warnings issued in New Jersey on Thursday, nothing materialized, but there were several thunderstorms that produced 60 mile per hour winds and uprooted trees in parts of Morris County. The severe weather outbreak lasted three days, and produced 1658 total storm reports including 301 tornadoes, 498 incidents of hail, and 859 of high winds according to the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.
Severe Weather On Wednesday Leaves Record Number Dead In South
Wednesday and Wednesday night proved to be a devastating and deadly period for those across the Southeastern United States. A wedge tornado that originated in Philadelphia, Mississippi, and ripped across Alabama into Northwestern Georgia, devastated the towns of Tuscaloosa and Birmingham in Alabama, and Ringgold and Rome in Georgia. The storm, which was about a mile wide, and had winds in excess of 200 miles per hour, traveled some 300 miles.
In total, there were 164 reports of tornadoes across 13 states from Mississippi to New York. As of 12:00 PM EDT, there were over 230 people dead from these storms in what was a severe weather outbreak that may even surpass the memorable outbreak from April 4-5, 1974. These storms also produced devastating straight line winds and hail. Approximately 128 people are dead in Alabama including 37 in Tuscaloosa. The town, which is the home of the University of Alabama, suffered catastrophic damage, but the university emerged relatively unscathed from the devastating twister. There are another 11 dead in Georgia with many of those deaths occurring in the town of Ringgold.
These storms have pushed eastward as the outbreak has reached its fourth day. Severe Thunderstorm and Tornado warnings are now in effect across parts of New Jersey. A Severe Thunderstorm Watch is in effect for New Jersey, Eastern Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Northeastern Maryland. Places along the I-95 corridor such as New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. The storms have lost some punch, but a severe storm cell with rotation is now moving through Northern New Jersey while another is pushing through Western Jersey.
Good afternoon everyone. I just posted a video here in the blog on the weather conditions we’ve had over the past 24 hours. I also have a time lapse photography video of the storm that will be posted soon. This storm was a vicious storm that is still packing a wallop with the winds. Even after the snowfall has stopped the winds have gotten stronger as they take advantage of the pressure gradient from the low moving out and strong high pressure moving in.
After I gave my report early this morning, the barometric pressure slipped a few more inches to 29.08 inches of Hg (Mercury) or 985 millibars. Very strong storm. Since that time, winds have gusted to 30 and 31 miles per hour here in South Plainfield. Those are the strongest winds ever recorded here on my weather station in the yard, and that is taking into consideration that the station is not in an open area, and the winds are obstructed by nearby houses and trees. I measured the snow again, and found that it was about a foot and a half. I would like to make one more measurement though just to make sure.
I had a talk with my mother this morning, and she said that she had never seen anything like this storm in terms of the amount of snow that got on our porch. There was a ton of snow there, which has never happened before even in the Blizzard of 1996. Speaking of that storm, this blizzard was the sixth highest snowfall in Central Park in New York City right behind the Blizzard of 1996. This storm dumped 20 inches in Central Park while the Blizzard of 1996, which happened almost 15 years ago, had 20.2 inches. The biggest snowfall in Central Park was back in the Blizzard of 2006 with 26.9 inches.
Another interesting stat was the drop in pressure from 8:10 AM on Sunday morning to 4:10 AM this morning, a span of 20 hours, the barometric pressure in South Plainfield dropped 70 inches, or about 23 millibars. So, there was a drop of 3.5 inches, or 1.15 millibars per hour.
On Wednesday night, I traveled up to the Bergen County Community Services Building in Paramus for the September Meeting of the North Jersey Weather Observers. There are over 100 members in this organization, which has been in existence for over 20 years. The NJWO has a monthly newsletter that goes out called the Weather Shelter, which contains local observations and reports from the previous month as well as any other weather related news. It also has a weather hotline for observations reported in twice per day during normal weather, and more often during severe weather.
It took me about an hour to get up to Bergen County on the Garden State Parkway. I arrived a bit late to the meeting since it started at 7:30 PM. A discussion was already taking place when I walked in. The topic of discussion was the 1938 Hurricane, better known as the Long Island Express. Part of the meeting was devoted to the statistics concerning the storm. The maximum sustained winds, minimum central pressure, speed that the storm was traveling, and the track it took. There was also some discussion about how such a storm could impact the Tri-State area today, and whether or not residents would be prepared. There was general agreement that this area is not prepared for such a storm.
There were video presentations on the storm that included a track of the storm and its impacts, newsreel footage of the WPA’s response to the storm, and interviews with a couple of survivors from the storm. Handouts of recent articles on the storm were also given. There were a handful of people in attendance, but I did get to meet some of them, and talk about things. Overall, it was a good time, and I’m glad I got myself up there to participate. The next meeting of the NJWO will be on October 9th when members travel up to the third annual Tri-State Weather Conference in Danbury, Connecticut.
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