Wednesday, December 14, 2011

#4 Weather Disaster of 2011: Hurricane Irene (August 20-29)

Satellite image of Irene Striking NYC on August 28, 2011

The 4th most damaging weather event of 2011 was Hurricane Irene, which struck the U.S. along a path extending from the outer banks of the Carolinas into New England during the period August 27-29.  A total of $7.3 billion in damage was caused by the system, and that figure is not necessarily final.

Irene formed to the East of the Lesser Antilles on August 20, and quickly became a hurricane, striking Puerto Rico as a category 1 storm on August 22.  Winds gusted as high as 110 mph in the higher elevations along the eastern side of the Island.  Closer to the surface, there was widespread damage to tree limbs and powerlines, with 121,000 customers reportedly without power at the height of the storm.

The greatest impact on Puerto Rico came via heavy rainfall, flash flooding and mudslides.  Over 20 inches of rain fell portions of far eastern Puerto Rico, with widespread 10-15 inch amounts across central and Eastern parts of the state:

Strong, gusty winds and heavy rainfall caused widespread damage to coffee and banana crops near Yabucoa and Maunabo.

The system then turned toward the West/Northwest and Northwest, making a beeline for the eastern U.S. coast.  It spared Florida a direct hit, but the outermost western rainbands did produce squalls, gusty winds and high surf along the eastern Florida coast for a couple of days.

The system made its first U.S. mainland landfall around 7:30 a.m. EDT on August 27, near Cape Lookout, NC.  She then re-emerged into the Atlantic during the afternoon and evening hours before making a 2nd landfall just before sunrise on August 28th near Little Egg Inlet on the New Jersey shore.  A 3rd landfall was made, as a Tropical Storm, near New York City later on the 28th, before the system moved rapidly Northward into New England.

Maximum wind gusts reached 100-105 mph along the outer banks of North Carolina, and were still in the 85-90 mph range by the time the system approached Long Island.  Maximum wind gusts weakened rapidly once the system move into New England:

The series of images below show detailed storm reports starting in the Carolinas and progressing Northward into New England.  Blue text boxes near selected reports highlight some of the more significant damage and/or wind gusts:

Please see this post for additional information regarding damage reports along the Eastern seaboard in association with Irene.

Flooding rain was an even greater problem than the winds, with widespread 10-15 inch rainfall amounts taking place from eastern North Carolina up into southwestern New England:

Some folks in the "mainstream" media and the blogosphere felt that Hurricane Irene was a disappointment.  They accused forecasters of "over-hyping" the event, which lead to this somewhat editorial post that I made on August 29th.

In my opinion (which regular readers know I am never afraid to give when it comes to weather related matters), the fact that Irene ended up on the list of the Top 5 'Billion Dollar' disasters of 2011 (and in a record year for such events - no less), is another testament to the fact that this event was not over-hyped.  It just may have failed to meet the expectations of a few "thrill seekers" out there...

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