The Track: It Looks Like Irene Hit Us… But Just Barely

The last hurricane to strike Connecticut was Gloria in 1985. The center of circulation slid up the Atlantic, across Long Island, Long Island Sound and hit the beach in Milford. That’s not how it worked with Irene.

Irene tracked a few miles inland through New Jersey (weakening it) across the Lower Bay then another landfall at Coney Island before trekking through Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. It briefly crossed into Connecticut near Sharon, exiting just east of Canaan.

This map, put together by Dr. Robert Hart at Florida State University connects the official observations from the Hurricane Center. It’s possible when radar and satellite imagery is put into the mix the track will shift–probably not by much.

Bob notes:

Funny that Litchfield County was key for designation as a crossing. Shows how little the specific track matttered at that point given Litchfield County barely noticed the wind

It seems this is the time to change how we categorize hurricanes and tropical storms. More on that in detail at a future date.

10 Responses to “The Track: It Looks Like Irene Hit Us… But Just Barely”

  1. Jean L says:

    Geoff, “IF” Ct didn’t get the effects of Irene that bad….WHY are people in the NE corner still without power?? All I can say is TG they weren’t

    • Geoff Fox says:

      When a storm becomes extra-tropical the wind field spreads out to the east. That happened with Irene as it did in ’38. You got more wind in NE CT than they did in Litchfield right under the center.

    • Geoff Fox says:

      No. I was only establishing the center of the storm barely crossed Connecticut.

  2. rpsk says:

    Geoff,

    This is what you thought is good for CT but bad for those floks in that area. It just went that way. I was looking for exact path and couldn’t find one. Thank you so much for the info.You are the best. A little jog to left or right makes a huge difference.Ever since the hurricane left NC it was travelling more to left which put it more inland. At one point the co-ordinates are more to left like 74.4 I thought may be we are spared. I thank god and thank you too. The worse thing was for this thing to move more on water to right.

  3. Sally says:

    Considering the damage along the shoreline, I can’t imagine what would have happened if Irene had tracked more to the east.

    • Geoff Fox says:

      The damage would have been in Rhode Island. When a storm loses its tropical characteristics the winds spread farther from the center to the east.

  4. jimbodunky says:

    I went to FSU to become what Bob is. I ended up graduating with a Graphic Design degree, lol. Hurricanes are still my 1st love. I didn’t get as deep into my major as I would have liked, I was sucking big time at high level math, which has never been a strong suit. Physics classes I aced. :) It’s a hobby for me today.

    I wanted to bring up a subject, that as far as I can tell, has not been discussed by on-air meteorologists in New England. There has been no talk at all about what the forward speed component of hurricanes, and how they translate when it comes to sustained wind/gust conditions.

    Traditionally, when a named storm gets higher in latitude, it’s forward speed accelerates (Coriolis). I actually learned what causes this in an Oceanography class at FSU from Professor Nof.

    To be blunt: I believe there should be a type of INDEX that accounts for the forward speed of a named storm and gets added in for sustained winds/gusts. Kinda similar to a ‘heat index’ if you will, but attributed to wind with named storms.

    A named storm at CT latitude could potentially have a forward speed as high as 25 mph with conditions fostering Coriolis motion. If you were sitting on the side of a road, and a car passed close to you at 25 mph, you’d feel the by-product of it’s drag/resistance immediately after it passed. Imagine the named storm as a giant car, with CT sitting on the side of the road.

    All of what I’m spouting out here is probably already accounted for, but it’d still be nice to know the index of such a storm.

    Getting into grander issues, Irene was MASSIVE. I believe the larger the storm, the higher potential there is for F0-F1 tornados due to increased angular momentum/inertial circles. Maybe I’ll save that discussion for Katia once it gets close.

    Would you mind passing this on to your friend Bob at FSU? I’m a 1995 FSU Alumni. :) Wondering if all of what I’ve said is already standard equipment for hurricane forecasting.

    Thanks Geoff!

    • Bob Hart says:

      Hi there Jimbo. No doubt with a name like that you are pleased with the result of yesterday’s football game?

      Anyway — a reply to a few of your comments and questions.

      >I went to FSU to become what Bob is. I ended up graduating >with a Graphic Design degree, lol. Hurricanes are still my >1st love. I didn’t get as deep into my major as I would have >liked, I was sucking big time at high level math, which has >never been a strong suit. Physics classes I aced. :) It’s a >hobby for me today.

      I have known many where the coursework, especially if not taught well, can kill the romance one has for an area of science. Embrace the hobby and don’t look back unless you feel that you really want to go back. If you decide down the road to reconsider, let me know, and I’ll help where I can.

      >I wanted to bring up a subject, that as far as I can tell, >has not been discussed by on-air meteorologists in New >England. There has been no talk at all about what the >forward speed component of hurricanes, and how they >translate when it comes to sustained wind/gust conditions.

      >Traditionally, when a named storm gets higher in latitude, >it’s forward speed accelerates (Coriolis). I actually >learned what causes this in an Oceanography class at FSU >from Professor Nof.

      Ah, Doron Nof is a great guy. Scary smart and very fun.
      A few comments on your comments. When a hurricane gets to higher latitude, it does indeed move more quickly, on average. This is not so much due to the impact of increased coriolis, but that the flow in which the storm is embedded simply gets stronger. The first order approximation for a hurricane motion is the cork-in-the-stream, and generally in the higher latitudes, the stream gets stronger. Coriolis does potentially play a role in increasing the size of the storm, but that’s a separate issue. That increased forward motion means that the overall (largely symmetric) storm circulation has added to it a mean flow — that leads to (on average) stronger winds where the circulation is rotating in the direction of motion (to the right side for Irene) and weaker winds on average on the other side. But these are just averages. The stability of the boundary layer plays as much, if not a larger role, in determining the wind we feel at the surface.

      >To be blunt: I believe there should be a type of INDEX that >accounts for the forward speed of a named storm and gets >added in for sustained winds/gusts. Kinda similar to a ‘heat >index’ if you will, but attributed to wind with named storms.

      These are already taken into account implicitly with the maximum wind speed values forecast. The wind radii that are reported in the advisories (from observations) take this into account and the hurricane/tropical storm warnings are partially based on those radii. Gusts are another story. There are standard percentages applied to the sustained wind to estimate the peak gusts, and these percentages have good basis in both theory and observations. But they are just guidelines. The gusts in both Irene and Lee were stronger than those guidelines. This is partially due to the fact that convective bands were playing a much stronger role than normal in transporting the momentum to the surface, since the air between the bands was unusually stable (and therefore the sustained winds were “only” moderate tropical storm force).

      >A named storm at CT latitude could potentially have a >forward speed as high as 25 mph with conditions fostering >Coriolis motion. If you were sitting on the side of a road, >and a car passed close to you at 25 mph, you’d feel the >by-product of it’s drag/resistance immediately after it >passed. Imagine the named storm as a giant car, with CT >sitting on the side of the road.

      I’m not quite sure what you meant by “fostering coriolis motion.” The right-deflection in the northern hemisphere from coriolis applies regardless of the motion of the storm. Even if a hurricane is stationary, coriolis is helping air rotate within the storm (if there were no coriolis, the air in the storm would simply move directly toward the center, crossing isobars rather than moving mostly parallel to them).

      The 1938 hurricane was moving at least 50mph when it made landfall in New England. The record winds to the east side of the storm in CT, RI, and Mass where due, at least in part, to the fact that the momentum of the mean flow was being added to the storm circulation when the convection transported the wind to the surface.

      >All of what I’m spouting out here is probably already >accounted for, but it’d still be nice to know the index of >such a storm.

      I suspect if you examined the asymmetry of the wind field reported in the advisories, you would have a good estimate for the “index” you are seeking.

      >Getting into grander issues, Irene was MASSIVE. I believe >the larger the storm, the higher potential there is for >F0-F1 tornados due to increased angular momentum/inertial >circles. Maybe I’ll save that discussion for Katia once it >gets close.

      Yes, the larger a storm is, the larger the reservoir of angular momentum the storm draws from. It’s also the reason why larger storms tend to spin down more slowly. However, the conditions for tornado formation in hurricanes to my knowledge are largely unrelated to the size of the storm (except perhaps the larger a storm is, the more likely a tornado will be found — all else equal — given it is more likely to be observed). The conditions are a function of location within the storm (right forward quadrant favored in the NH), boundary layer stability (the primary reason why Irene didn’t have many tornados), as well as the interaction of the land in helping to focus convergence into the bands and localized spinup. Two examples: Andrew and Charley were some of the smallest major hurricanes on record and produced many, many tornados. Ivan was one of the larger hurricanes on record and also produced a record number in the Florida panhandle.

      >Would you mind passing this on to your friend Bob at FSU? >I’m a 1995 FSU Alumni. :) Wondering if all of what I’ve said >is already standard equipment for hurricane forecasting.

      Thanks for the opportunity to reply to an Alum. Let me know if you are in town in the future. Some of what you have discussed is already in use by forecasters, just not explicitly talked about. Some of it, as noted above, is partially incorrect. Feel free to email me if you have any further questions.

      Bob Hart

  5. Catherine says:

    Looking forward to more on possibilities of re-categorizing hurricanes. Seems to me that wind speed alone is just too simplistic and doesn’t accurately reflect the damage the storms can/do inflict. It seems like the pressure of the storm is far more significant. I saw FEMA was watching Irene closely before it was even a TD due to the pressure indications. I’ve lived in FL and seen small hurricanes go through that caused less damage than TS Lee is causing without ever gaining hurricane strength. It does seem there must be a better way to rate these things.

  6. Gladys C. says:

    I don’t know about anyone else BUT Irene was ALL the storm damage I ever want and if that was a merely a Tropical storm I do NOT want a hurricane at all much less a cat 5 !!! I can’t imagine what the people went through with Katrina that must have been as close to hell as anyone wanted to ever be.they have my outmost respect and condolences.

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