StormWatch: Tracking Hurricane Irma

UPDATE: 8:26 a.m. CDT Monday, Sept. 11

StormWatch: Tropical Storm Warning for east Alabama - Thumbnail Image

StormWatch: Tropical Storm Warning for east Alabama

Current Hurricane Track (courtesy of WBRC Fox 6 News):

Closings + Delays (courtesy of WBRC Fox 6 News):

Hurricane Irma and Alabama effects (courtesy of Birmingham Raycom Weather):

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Hurricane Irma has weakened somewhat since yesterday due to land interaction with Cuba, as its eye has been hugging the coast there for 12 hours.  Maximum sustained winds are down to 125 mph (still a category 3 hurricane).  However, recent aircraft info indicates that the pressure in the center of the storm is already starting to drop again, and satellite intensity estimates are already going back up.  The storm will move over the very warm waters of the SE Gulf over the next several hours, so, Irma should become a Category 4 hurricane with winds around 140 mph before it makes landfall tomorrow night somewhere between Ft. Myers and Tampa, FL.  



The hurricane is finally rounding the ridge of high pressure that has been keeping it moving west, and the turn toward the northwest has started happening since noon.  Forecast models are still tightly packed with a right turn and a landfall along the west coast of FL.  But, it is that time where we start watching radar and satellite more than computer models at this point, at least in terms of landfall.  Either way, this storm is very large, with the diameter of hurricane force winds being 130 miles, and the diameter of tropical storm force winds being over 300 miles.   Ft. Lauderdale, FL already has winds of 45 mph gusting to 70 mph.



This storm's slightly later turn has taken the focus of the worst part of the storm away from Miami, and moved it toward Tampa, Sarasota, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Palmetto, Punta Gorda, Port Charlotte, and Fort Myers.   However, given the size of the storm and Florida being in the right hand side of the storm now, hurricane force winds are expected on both sides of Florida, along with storm surge.  This includes Miami, Melbourne, Daytona, and Jacksonville.  It is a giant storm and damage from wind and storm surge will be terrible.  People are now evacuating Tampa, and hopefully they will all get somewhere safe in time. 

This storm is so large and strong that it will take a long time to wind down, even as interacts with Florida tomorrow and moves fully inland Monday night near Tallahassee.  It will still be a hurricane when it reaches south Georgia Monday afternoon.  Over land, though, friction with the ground will slow the winds down allowing them to flow in and fill the low pressure in the center of the storm with cooler air (not 88 degree ocean air).  This is how hurricanes die.

But what about us here in Alabama?  It looks like the storm will move up to near Auburn late Monday and then across eastern Alabama as it slowly weakens as a tropical storm.  But, a tropical storm is still significant!  Heavy rain and winds will get going across Alabama, especially in the eastern half, on Monday, and continue Monday night and early Tuesday.  Check out these plots of expected pressure, winds, and rain across Alabama Monday night.




The heaviest rain and the strongest winds will likely be in Georgia, to the right of the center, as always.  And, it looks like the air will stay cool enough here to avoid a tornado outbreak.  But, many of us could see 2-3" of rain with this storm, along with serious wind gusts that could knock down trees and power lines on Monday and Monday night, escpecally east of a line from Opp to Selma to Tuscaloosa .  Below are the expected maximum wind gusts from Irma across Alabama, Georgia, and the FL Panhandle.

Wind gusts

(Ryan Maue)

Some of the peak wind gusts with the storm, mainly Monday and Monday night, include:  Auburn 78 mph, Anniston 62 mph, Ft. Payne 52 mph, Birmingham 44 mph, and Montgomery 60 mph.  Gusts will be higher on ridge tops, so if this track holds, this will be a significant event here in Alabama.  Winds will be even higher in Georgia, with gusts near 80 mph from Macon to Atlanta.

Everyone should have a flashlight and a supply of batteries, and some food on hand in case we are out of commission for a couple of days around here.

Dr. Tim Coleman

Twitter @timbhm

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