Even though we don't live in the threat zone, you will probably be hearing the name, Irene, until your ears bleed by the end of this week. Unfortunately, the hype building around this intensifying hurricane may be somewhat justified.
As of Monday evening, Irene was passing just to the north of the Dominican Republic and moving to the west-northwest at a moderate pace with sustained winds around 80 mph. The combination of very warm ocean waters (85+ degrees) and low shear in the upper levels of the atmosphere will cause Irene to gain strength rapidly. Land interactions will be one of the only things to slow the strengthening of Irene in the next few days.
So will Irene have a meaningful impact on Oklahoma's weather? Probably not. The only impacts we can hope for is an easterly component to the wind, which could shave a few degrees off our high temperatures. Irene's moisture will almost undoubtedly stay to the east of the region.
For our friends in the Southeast, it's a far different story. The latest computer models have been shifting the track of Irene off the east coast of Florida and pushing it inland in the Carolinas. However, the cone of uncertainty for its path still includes nearly the entire Florida peninsula and up to Cape Hatteras. Late this week, somewhere in this region will likely be the target for a land-falling major hurricane of Category 3 strength or stronger. It could be nearing south Florida as early as Thursday morning.
A westerly path into Florida would allow for Irene to weaken on its curved path northward and relegate the worst effects of the storm to that region. However, if Irene takes a course further east, just off the coast of the U.S., it could maintain major hurricane strength, all the while, battering hundreds of miles of shoreline with tremendous wind, rain, and storm surge. Several computer models keep Irene ominously strong and just off-shore all the way to New England. That is a LONG stretch of land and MASSIVE amount of people that would take a significant beating. If you have travel plans anywhere in the southeast or to the East Coast later this week into early next week, you'll want to pay close attention to Irene's path and strength.
There are still several days for Irene to wobble this way and that. Undoubtedly, its projected path will change as this is a very fluid situation (no pun intended). As good as our computer models are hurricanes can behave unexpectedly due to factors these models fail to pick up on. That's why we can't say for certain that folks west of Florida are entirely out of the woods yet.
Many people in the Southeast are thirsting for rain like we are, but they certainly don't need the first U.S. hurricane landfall since 2008 to wreak havoc on their communities. This will be an interesting week in the world of weather for sure. We'll keep you on top of it!