08.31.11

Data From Hurricane Irene Recovered

Posted in General, Storm History, Storm Facts, GWC News at 2:41 pm by gmachos

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.

Analyzing Irene’s Forecast

Posted in General, Commentary, Storm Aftermath, GWC News at 7:32 am by gmachos

Predicted Track Was On The Mark While Intensity Forecast Shows Need For More Improvement

With clean-up well underway throughout the East Coast of the United States,    some are still wondering what the fuss was all about with Hurricane Irene.  At one point in its journey through the Atlantic, Irene had intensified to a Category Three storm on the Saffir-Simpson Scale.   Fortunately though, the storm began to gradually weaken before moving over the Outer Banks of North Carolina, New Jersey, and New York City.

Overall, the forecast was very good.  The forecast track of the storm from Tuesday, August 23rd to Sunday, August 28th was right on target.  The models were locked in on the Carolinas, Mid-Atlantic, Northeast, and New England, and they were right.  However, there are still flaws in the intensity forecast.  

At the time Irene was moving through the Bahamas, the storm was projected to become a Category Four storm with 135 mile per hour winds.  The system was also forecast to reach South Jersey as a Category Two.  Thankfully, Irene never got to that point, but it will still go down as one of the worst storms to affect the Garden State as well as much of the Eastern U.S..

Initially, insurance damage estimates are at $10 billion dollars, but there are indications that those numbers will be much higher.  As bad as things were though, it could have been much worse.  We emerge from this storm very lucky, but why?  How come the intensity prognostications were wrong?  The reason is because the science of forecasting hurricane intensity is not as good as predicting the future track of such storms.

Forecast Track Improvement

Several days ago, ABC News pointed out that since 1990, the forecast track of tropical storms and hurricanes have improved by 60 percent.  The models have become so good that forecasters are able to hold off on watches and warnings that they would have had to issue in a similar scenario ten years ago.  

For example, lets take a look at another storm that took a similar path as Irene.  Hurricane Floyd came up through the Bahamas parallel to the Florida East Coast in September 1999.  The storm grew to a powerful Category Four storm with 150 mile per hour winds.  Back then, forecasters weren’t sure that Floyd wasn’t going to keep pushing west into Florida and the Southeast coast.  

As a result, the largest peacetime evacuation took place as some 3 million coastal residents evacuated.  It was a very costly exercise.  Fast forward to August 2011, and Hurricane Irene.  In a similar spot, Irene didn’t prompt any watches or warnings from Florida to much of South Carolina.  Only some advisories for heavy surf and rip currents.

At one point during its coverage, the Weather Channel was receiving messages on its Facebook and twitter feeds asking why weren’t there any watches or warnings being issued even though Irene was coming very close to the Florida coast.  The NHC still believed that Irene would begin to turn.  Forecasters have become that confident in their projected tracks.  This confidence in the future storm path ended up saving Emergency Management officials in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina a lot of time, effort, and money.  

Storm Intensity Predictions Still Prove Difficult

While there have been major advances in predicting the future direction of a storm, more improvement is still needed in projecting its future intensity.  In terms of forecasting the future track, forecasters have a better understanding of the upper level patterns around the hurricane.  Tools such as the NOAA Gulfstream aircraft are able to analyze the upper atmosphere in the vicinity of the storm, and get loads of data that help them better understand where the storm will go and why.

Hurricanes have always been known to be unpredictable.  From the early days of the NHC to today, tropical storms and hurricanes have had a mind of their own.  However, more and more it is because of the changes in intensity these storms take rather than where the storm goes.  While there are models such as SHIPS and GFDL that project future storm intensity, they don’t have all the environmental variables that determine whether or not a hurricane will strengthen or weaken.

One classic case of problems forecasting future hurricane strength is when you have a scenario that involves rapid intensification.  In this situation, you have a modest tropical cyclone in the form of a mild tropical storm or hurricane that suddenly explodes into a powerful Category Four or Five hurricane within 24 to 48 hours time.  Forecasters still struggle with what causes this to happen.  Hurricane Katrina was a prime example of this prior to coming ashore along the Gulf Coast six years ago this week.

Another example is forecasting weakening.  Look what happened this past week with Irene.  While sea surface temperatures were more than adequate and upper level winds were favorable toward Irene staying as strong as a powerful Category Two or Three hurricane when it moved up the Eastern Seaboard, the storm lost its punch and ended up being a strong Category One storm upon landfall along the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  Why did this happen?  The weakening occurred because dry air got entrenched in the storm.  Tropical storms and hurricanes don’t like dry air.

The dry air entrenchment wasn’t anticipated by the models.   Intensity models are not sophisticated enough to anticipate all the different variables and possibilities that can impact the future strength of a tropical cyclone.  There are such things as dry air and warm water eddys such as the Loop Current that scientists are still struggling to understand.  As research improves and computer power continues to increase, more intelligent and robust intensity models will be made to better predict how strong these storms will get in the future.

We have come a long way in our abilities to track and understand how hurricanes and tropical storms behave.  Since 1900, we have developed tools such as radar and satellite that detect tropical storms and hurricanes well out at sea, and computer models that better forecast where these storms will go.  However, there is still more work to be done as far as predicting the future strength of these powerful storms.  The story of Hurricane Irene is another lesson in why predicting the future strength of these storms is still difficult.

08.30.11

Depression Becomes Tropical Storm Katia

Posted in General, Storm Track, Storm Facts, Storm Preparation, GWC News at 5:34 am by gmachos

Eleventh Named Storm Of Season Emerges In Eastern Atlantic

Good morning everyone. As promised, the National Hurricane Center has upgraded the depression in the Eastern Atlantic to the eleventh named storm of the 2011 Atlantic Hurricane Season. So far this season, eleven of the twelve depressions that have formed this season have become named storms.

As of the 5:00 AM EDT Advisory from the NHC, Tropical Storm Katia was located 535 miles to the West-Southwest of the Southernmost Cape Verde Islands, and moving to the West-Northwest at 17 miles per hour. Maximum sustained winds have increased to minimal tropical storm strength at 40 miles per hour. Minimum central pressure has dropped slightly to 1006 millibars, or 29.71 inches of Hg.

Highest wind gusts are estimated to be at 50 miles per hour. Wind and pressure data is based on satellite interpretation since Hurricane Hunter aircraft are unable to get that far out into the Atlantic. The forecast discussion is indicating that Katia will become a hurricane within 42 hours, and actually be a major hurricane with 115 mile per hour winds in five days. By that time, the forecast track of the storm has it north of the Lesser Antilles.

However, it is too early to tell whether or not the storm will actually be there in five days, and even if it does, that doesn’t mean that it will affect the East Coast of the United States.

08.29.11

Depression Could Become Storm Soon

Posted in General, Storm Track, Storm Preparation, GWC News at 10:59 pm by gmachos

TD #12 On Verge Of Becoming Tropical Storm; May Become Katia Early Tuesday

Good evening everyone. Before I get started, I just wanted to let everyone know that I still have the weather station at home running on battery power. I guess you can say that Duracells live up to their hype.

Unfortunately, I don’t know how much longer it will be able to hold out. In addition, the data logger that transports the data from my weather station to my computer does begin to throw out data when it reaches a certain limit. The important thing though is that it is working.

Now, on to the task at hand. We are still watching the tropical depression in the Eastern Atlantic. The latest on TD #12 is that it may become a tropical storm as soon as the next advisory early Tuesday morning. The forecast is still calling for it to be a Category Two Hurricane north of the Lesser Antilles by Thursday night.

As of the 11:00 PM EDT Advisory, Tropical Depression Twelve was located some 460 miles to the Southwest of the Southernmost Cape Verde Islands. Maximum sustained winds are at 35 miles per hour with gusts up to 45 miles per hour. Minimum central pressure is estimated at 1008 millibars, or 29.77 inches of Hg. Estimates on winds and pressure are based on satellite imagery.

TD #12 is presently moving to the West-Northwest at 15 miles per hour. The latest discussion indicates that the depression is expected to be a storm within 12 hours, and a hurricane within about 60 hours. The system is no threat to land at this time.

Don’t Look Now, But There Is A New Depression

Posted in General, Storm Track, Storm Preparation, GWC News at 4:15 pm by gmachos

More Threats On The Horizon?

In light of everything that has happened with Hurricane Irene, residents want to keep one foot in front of the other, and focus on clean-up and recovery efforts.  However, people should have this information in the back of their minds.  In my last post to the blog, I mentioned that we still have three more  months of this year’s Atlantic Hurricane Season.

With that said, there are two systems now lurking in the Atlantic.  On Sunday, Tropical Storm Jose formed, and tracked just West of the island of Bermuda on Monday morning.  Only minimal tropical storm, Jose has dissipated to a remnant low, and moving into the cooler waters of the North Atlantic south of Nova Scotia.  The bigger concern is farther to the south and east in the Tropical Atlantic.

Early Tuesday morning, the twelfth tropical depression of the season developed in the Eastern Atlantic.  As of the 5:00 PM EDT Advisory from the NHC, the depression is located some 415 miles to the Southwest of the Southernmost Cape Verde Islands, and moving to the  west at 14 miles per hour.  Maximum sustained winds with the depression are estimated to be 35 miles per hour with the minimum central pressure at 1008 millibars, or 29.77 inches of Hg.

Maximum wind gusts associated with the depression are at 45 miles per hour, and the latest forecast discussion from the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida indicated that the system will become a storm in 12 hours.  Looking further out in the intensity forecasts, the depression is expected to become a hurricane within 72 hours and a Category Two storm on the Saffir-Simpson Scale within five days.

Meanwhile, the forecast track is calling for TD #12 to stay north of the islands at five days.  So, it wouldn’t be a bad idea if you keep an eye on The Weather Channel, or check the NHC web site for updates on this developing storm.

Looking Back At Irene

Posted in General, Storm Track, Commentary, Storm Experiences, Storm History, Storm Facts, GWC News at 12:41 pm by gmachos

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.

Finally A Sigh Of Relief In The Wake Of The Storm

Posted in General, Storm Experiences, Storm Aftermath, GWC News at 11:09 am by gmachos

Flood Waters Recede In My Neighborhood

For those of you that I have been following the blog in recent days, I have been posting about my own personal plight in the wake of Hurricane Irene.  On Sunday morning, my family had to evacuate our home in South Plainfield.  So, we’ve been staying in a hotel nearby.

However, this morning, I was contacted by the town’s police chief, who stated that the flood waters have receded in my neighborhood, and residents are in clean-up mode.  My brother was able to get to the house a little while ago, and confirmed this.  The flooding in the cellar is not too bad.  Worse than ever before, but nothing got further than maybe the second step on the cellar stairs.  It peaked at about two and a half feet.

As of early this morning, the borough of South Plainfield was under a state of emergency.  Residents were told to stay off the roads so that police, fire, rescue squad, and emergency management personnel could use the streets.  Things are looking up.  There may be a massive clean-up ahead for the family, but I feel relieved that the waters have gone down, and most importantly, didn’t get into the house.

08.28.11

Still Windy Around Middlesex County

Posted in General, Storm Track, Storm Aftermath, GWC News, Storm Warning, Storm Safety at 6:12 pm by gmachos

High Winds Still Linger In The Wake Of Irene

With Hurricane Irene now moving out of the way into New England and Canada, you would think that conditions would be finally calming down around the New York City Metropolitan area.  However, we are still dealing with a lot of wind.  The reason for that, a phenomenon called the pressure gradient.

Hurricane Irene was not just a tropical system, but it was also a powerful low pressure system with pressures dropping to 28.64 inches in South Plainfield as the storm passed by earlier this morning.  Now, with the skies finally starting to clear, you have high pressure trying to move in.  There is a great difference in pressure between the high and the low.

Balancing that difference, air rushes in from the high toward the low.  It is similar to when you open a can of coffee with a can opener.  The winds are really whipping along Route 27 in Edison.  As what is left of the hurricane pulls away and high pressure continues to build in, the winds will gradually subside.  We have a full week of nice weather ahead in Central Jersey, and that will go a long way in helping things dry up, and beginning the clean-up process.

Evacuated

Posted in Storm Track, Storm Experiences, Storm Aftermath, GWC News, Global Warming And Hurricanes, Storm Safety at 1:10 pm by gmachos

Flood Waters In Neighborhood The Worst Ever (40 Years!)

Good afternoon again everyone. For those of you, who may have seen the movie, “The Day After Tomorrow,” and recall the ending, you may find my latest blog post ironic. During the course of the morning since my last post, the flood waters in the neighborhood swelled and grew to their worst levels in the 40 years I’ve lived there.

Consequently, we had to have the gas and electricity shut off, and ultimately evacuated. As I write this post to you, I’m situated in a hotel off Route 27. It was a very traumatic experience for me. Having to decide what to take was very difficult. Very stressful. I made sure that I took my mobile gadgets with me so that I would be still able to communicate via the blog, and more importantly, be able to access the internet, and contact people at work to let them know of my situation.

I also made sure that I took essentials such as the medications I take as well as some of the food I bought at the store the other day. Good thing I did that. Obviously I grabbed whatever clothes I could get to take with me for this excursion. My family drove through a lot of South Plainfield, Edison, and Metuchen. Traffic lights were out at a number of locations throughout the area we drove through. Some trees were down including a couple right in front df the hotel we’re staying in. Branches and leaves were scattered about as well. A few roads were also flooded.

Before we fled the house, rainfall totals had reached five inches, and the barometer fell to 28.64 inches, which is the lowest pressure ever recorded by my weather station. Winds weren’t really bad, but they were bad enough to knock out the power, and combine with the flooding to down trees. Winds are still whipping outside in the storm’s wake. The eye went through at about 9:00 AM this morning, and thankfully the second half of the storm was like I said it would be, uneventful.

Other areas in my neighborhood were also hit very hard. Some streets were flooded that I never though would be flooded. Spring Lake has overflowed its banks, and as a result, the high school football practice field was inundated, and that was just all I could see. There may be more casualties from this storm. Right now, I will try to make the best of it here, and hope for the best. Thankfully, we have three straight days of nice weather coming up, which will help dry things out. However, with many if not all of the New Jersey rivers yet to crest, and the added storm surge from places such as Raritan Bay, it doesn’t look good.

The Great Neighborhood Flood

Posted in General, Commentary, Storm Experiences, Storm Aftermath, Storm Preparation, GWC News, Storm Safety at 7:34 am by gmachos

Storm Experience Teaches A Valuable Lesson

As daybreak began to reveal the extent of devastation from Hurricane Irene here in Northwestern Middlesex County, there were two things that drew my attention.  First, the big mulberry tree that stood in the yard for years has been uprooted by the combination of age, storm rainfall, and high winds.

Second and most importantly, the flood on the end of my street is the worst it has been since the mid-1970s.  The flood waters have reached my driveway, and the backyard is flooded.  At the time of this report, we’ve had 4.83 inches of rain here in South Plainfield.  The eye of Hurricane Irene is approaching as the pressure is down to 28.67 inches of Hg, or 971 millibars, which is a record for my weather station.

Unfortunately, we are on borrowed time, the power is out, we have no generator for backup power, the sum pump has failed, and the basement is starting to flood.  Right now, we are in the process  of having the gas shut off.  This has been an alarming experience.  I didn’t think that the flood waters would get this far up the street.  In my entire lifetime, I never seen the neighborhood flood this bad.  Not even during Hurricane Floyd when we got almost a foot of rain.  It didn’t occur to me that this could be possible.

What distinguishes the situation between Floyd and Irene though is the fact that the latter came on the heels of one of the wettest months on record here in New Jersey.  Prior to Irene’s arrival, there had been 10.30 inches of rain here in South Plainfield.  So, the ground was plenty saturated.  Now, with the storm surge from Irene raising the tide levels in Raritan Bay, water is going to back up into the Raritan River, which will compound the situation, especially for those living in Bound Brook and Manville.

Well, it is too late to do anything now.  All that can be done is to wait and hope for the best.  In preparing for future storms though, I will definitely make sure to carry this experience with me.  Now, I have all the information that I have collected from this storm to use whenever any severe storm whether it is a hurricane or nor’easter threatens my area in the future to take better action, and be better prepared.

This has been a hard lesson, but a good one for me.  Never take for granted that just because a hurricane is weakening, and doesn’t have enough wind that there still won’t be a problem.  Take into account recent weather, and see how it has impacted your area, and how it will factor into a major event such as this hurricane.  Rain and flooding from tropical systems can cause a great deal of damage, and inland flooding is now one of the leading causes of death.

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