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Earth United States Science

When Did Irene Stop Being a Hurricane? 426

jamesl writes "Cliff Mass, a climate researcher at the University of Washington and popular Seattle blogger, asks, 'When did Irene stop being a hurricane? ... there is really no reliable evidence of hurricane-force winds at any time the storm was approaching North Carolina or moving up the East Coast. ... I took a look at all the observations over Virgina, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York. Not one National Weather Service or FAA observation location, not one buoy observations, none reach the requisite wind speed. Most were not even close. ... Surely, one of the observations upwind of landfall, over Cape Hatteras or one of the other barrier island locations, indicated hurricane-force sustained winds? Amazingly, the answer is still no.' Cliff supports his statement with data from NOAA/NWS/NDBC presented in easy to understand charts."
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When Did Irene Stop Being a Hurricane?

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  • Who cares... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by johnlcallaway ( 165670 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @06:58PM (#37247800)
    Knowing when it wasn't a hurricane won't help those injured or killed, or fix the damage. Just someone interested in playing Monday Morning Quarterback....
  • Re:Who cares... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @07:02PM (#37247844)

    No, but if it wasn't a hurricane then there are implications for planning for the future.

  • Media Hype(rcane) (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AbsoluteXyro ( 1048620 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @07:03PM (#37247856)
    Yes, it was a Bad Storm. Nobody is going to deny that. However, the media's over-hype and over-coverage of the storm could have a serious "boy who cried wolf" effect. I would hate to see people woefully under-prepared if and when the next "Katrina" arrives, due to lack in confidence in media storm reporting and forecasting. We really don't need to instill a mindset of "it's not going to be as bad as they say it is" in hurricane prone areas. That kind of thinking costs lives, but is none the less engendered by ratings hungry news networks over-hyping relatively weak storms like Irene.
  • by stevegee58 ( 1179505 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @07:13PM (#37247966) Journal
    And watch this hurricane! Oh boy it's gonna be historic!

    Now keep watching... keep watching... keep watching...
  • by NeutronCowboy ( 896098 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @07:17PM (#37248008)

    I think what's kinda telling is that the prediction services and government agencies can't win. Shrug it off as another storm; people crucify you if one person dies. Sound the alarm, shut down major cities, and people crucify you if there aren't at least a few hundred dead. Unless everything happens exactly according to predictions, and everything can be fixed up within a week, it's a major disaster and scapegoats need to be scapegoated. And the media is definitely part of the problem. We are hardwired to look at how people in our surroundings behave to figure out how we should behave. If everyone on TV is going ape-shit, we're going to go ape-shit as well. I'd love the news media to take a hard look at how they report on events, and how it influences the discussion around events.

    I guess there's a reason that the only news agencies I've paid money for in the last 5 years are The Economist and my local public radio station.

  • Re:Who cares... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gcnaddict ( 841664 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @07:17PM (#37248014)

    it really wasn't much of a storm

    Tell that to Vermont, as well as to the millions out of power, the people and institutions which suffered billions of dollars in damage, and the relatives of those who lost their lives.

    This was still a nasty storm.

  • by Ron Bennett ( 14590 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @07:20PM (#37248040) Homepage

    Glad to see others publicly noticing the wind speed discrepancies and general weakness of the storm.

    Related to that is some local stations not only referred to it as a hurricane, but further stated that hurricane force winds extended out 125 miles from the eye when it was already very evident, even to many TV news reporters, some of who, that morning, on the air, characterized it as more akin to a Nor'Easter.

    Makes some, including myself, wonder whether state and local governments, from pressure by the Feds, used the storm as a pretext to test shutting down entire mass transit systems and mass evacuations; not to see if it was possible, but what the public reaction would be, and the amount of compliance - reportedly, some local authorities, for people who refused to leave, were demanding them to provide their names and social security numbers.


  • Re:Who cares... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by technomom ( 444378 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @07:21PM (#37248054)
    The not-so-bad-storm has produced record flooding in many places. I don't think the evacuations did any harm and in the case of the mass transit system, it probably saved a lot of mini-Katrina like situations happening as there were flooded tracks, downed utility poles, mudslides, and trees on virtually every rail system in New York. Had people been on trains, they might still be there as much of that is still shut down. I don't recall anyone saying anything about a Category 3 except for Fox News who kept showing footage from the Category 3 1938 "Long Island Express" storm claiming it was going to be "just like that". Idiots. All the local news I was following (CBS 880 mostly) reiterated over and over again that the trouble was going to be the 5-10 inches of rain, not the wind. In most places like low lying Hoboken, New Milford, Wayne, NJ, Elmsford, Mamaroneck, NY, the evacuations were dead on necessary as that indeed was the case. Even in the higher elevations in Staten Island, NY, people had to be evacuated because ponds that had never, ever had a history of flooding did so. Was it hyped? Maybe. So what? With a storm the size of Western Europe, only 21 deaths? That's a pretty good line of success for managing what could have been a lot worse.
  • Re:Who cares... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by MickyTheIdiot ( 1032226 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @07:22PM (#37248070) Homepage Journal

    That isn't a argument New Yorkers can grasp because nothing that exists out side of the NY Burroughs matters or has any value in their minds...

  • Re:Who cares... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nedlohs ( 1335013 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @07:31PM (#37248160)

    Because NYC doesn't get "middling tropical storms" all that often.

    Just like New Yorkers get to giggle when those Southern folk shut down schools and stock pile supplies like survivalists because they got 2 feet of snow.

    Most places that get tropical storms often enough don't build transportation systems that move millions of people below sea level with nothing preventing them from flooding. Just like most places that get snow don't not have snow plows and salt.

  • Re:Who cares... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pla ( 258480 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @07:43PM (#37248238) Journal
    Tell that to Vermont, as well as to the millions out of power, the people and institutions which suffered billions of dollars in damage, and the relatives of those who lost their lives.

    More importantly, tell that to the relatives of the people who will die next time, because everyone says "bah, evacuate my ass, remember Irene?".

    Warning people to protect themselves in the face of a legitimate threat has unmeasurable value to society, it can save countless lives and reduce the actual property damage resulting from unpreparedness. Crying wolf just teaches people to ignore the warnings.

    This was still a nasty storm.

    No argument about that. That doesn't qualify it as an "evacuate NYC"-level of false alarm, however.
  • Re:Who cares... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mellon ( 7048 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @07:56PM (#37248328) Homepage

    I don't understand why anyone would mod the above article flamebait. The fact is that this was a tremendously destructive storm, because of all the moisture that it carried. I'm right there with people who want facts to be reported accurately, but the degree of preparation that went on before this storm was entirely appropriate. Should New York City have kept running the subway lines? The tunnels flooded! Should those people in Groton, CT, who boarded up their windows not have bothered? Some of their neighbors' houses were washed away. What about the damage on the Jersey Shore, and in North Carolina? Hype?

    In my town alone, with a population of about 14k, there were 30 swift water rescues during the flooding. Houses were carried downriver. Propane tanks, hissing gas, were carried downriver. A young woman was swept away downriver, and drowned, two towns west of here.

    What is amazing about this storm is that despite how serious it was, and despite all the damage that was done, so few lives were lost. Many towns in Vermont flooded, and some can only be reached by class 3 roads that are barely passable because the main road and the alternate have washed out, and the road that _is_ passable has two-foot waves in it.

    We were shocked by the ferocity of the flooding. Yesterday morning I foolishly thought that the danger had passed, and this was a flash in the pan. I had no idea what that giant bank of orange on the radar over the Green Mountains meant. I'm really glad someone did, and that people got warnings in time, and weren't in the path of the flood waters when they came roaring down Whetstone Brook. I'm really glad that low-lying trailer parks were successfully evacuated, and that we are not reading about the tragic loss of life that could have occurred, but instead about people wondering when they can go back to assess the damage.

    So if there was some scientific inaccuracy in the exact name that was given to the type of storm this was, I guess that's of some academic interest, but if this storm had gotten a different name, and that had resulted in less preparation, that would have really sucked. Some of my neighbors would be dead now.

    I think this is the point that the parent was trying to convey. It's not flamebait. If there's a problem to correct, let's make sure that correcting it doesn't result in less hype the next time a storm like this comes through.

  • Re:Who cares... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Midnight Thunder ( 17205 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @08:08PM (#37248402) Homepage Journal

    That isn't a argument New Yorkers can grasp because nothing that exists out side of the NY Burroughs matters or has any value in their minds...

    In many ways the right precautions were taken. Here some people were affected and some inconvenienced. Luckily the storm calmed down before it was expected. Had there been no preparation and a storm that didn't calm down then plenty more people would be complaining and rightly so.

    Katrina taught us that being prepared is important. Nature is not always easy to predict.

  • by flappinbooger ( 574405 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @08:51PM (#37248738) Homepage
    Here's my take on Irene. It wasn't "that bad" of a storm but see below. I was in SW Florida from 2003 to 2005 and watched Charlie, Ivan, Katrina and Wilma (and all the others) come by. Some of them were severe. I was directly in the path of Charlie and Wilma. They all had very sharply formed eye walls as I recall, because when you live there you're checking the track and satellite images about every 4 hours. Irene didn't rebuild the eyewall and thus didn't strengthen as much. You looked at Wilma and it just looked mean. They said at the time if the scale went to cat 6 Wilma would be a 6.

    That being said even a category 1 hurricane can mess you up. If you're in the way of storm surge and on a coastal region it's simply a good idea to evacuate. Crap can blow into your house and trees can fall on you. If you're on the coast at 1 foot above sea level and they are saying 6 foot storm surge that means you can get 5 feet of water in your house. Want to be there for that? No. Can it happen? Yes. Can it NOT happen? Yes. Do they know 100%? No.

    Another thing to mention, even though hurricanes take days to get to you, they can and do change course affecting their landfall by up to several miles in a matter of minutes to hours. Charlie was literally heading right up the Caloosahachee river - which I lived a block away from at the time, just off McGregor Blvd in Fort Myers. I took my pregnant wife and kid and went inland a few miles. When it hit Sanabel Island it changed course and went north and hit Punta Gorda really hard. It was a last minute change. I don't recall the people who evacuated FM bitching that it missed. Instead most were disturbed by the total destruction and deaths where it hit. I worked with a guy who volunteered with the red cross and he was stunned by the scale and totality of destruction caused by Charlie when it hit land in Fla.

    You're right, they can't win but they have to error on the side of caution because the cost of not being careful enough is lives lost. The only cost of being wrong the other way is getting yelled at. I'd sleep better at night being careful.

    The aftermath of a hurricane sucks. No power. No phone. Cell towers last 24 to 48 hours on battery, then they go out. Gas stations run out of gas. No A/C. Ice is like gold. Cash only, no phone or power for credit cards. Banks aren't open - no power no ATM no cash. Stuff spoils and condiments are EXPENSIVE when you have to replace them all. If you have damage you are likely on your own because everyone around you will have damage too. Watch out for con artist contractors. The good times are when blocks come together and have massive cookouts because you gotta cook the meat before it spoils. Those are the good memories.

    Anyway, here's a funny anecdote. Funny now anyway. After Charlie hit there was non-stop news coverage for DAYS on the Fort Myers stations. It basically missed Naples, a very high class city, as you know. The day after it hit, they pre-empted a major golf tournament for hurricane coverage. People from Naples called in to complain they couldn't watch the golf tournament. Their reply was "Um, we're sorry you're unhappy, but we're covering the hurricane now because PEOPLE ARE DEAD AND MISSING.
  • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @08:55PM (#37248786)

    Just like New Yorkers get to giggle when those Southern folk shut down schools and stock pile supplies like survivalists because they got 2 feet of snow.

    New Yorkers (the ones from NYC, not upstate) do that when there is 2 feet of snow. Southern folks shut down when there is 2 INCHES of snow.

    Seriously, when I lived in a more southerly latitude, a quarter of an inch of snow would close every school within 15 miles of my house. They simply do not know how to deal rationally with significant amounts of snow. Where I grew up 1-2 feet within 24 hours was rather normal and I've seen as much as 72 inches in just three days. Despite that I didn't get a single snow day when I was in high school. Not one in four years.

  • Re:Who cares... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Oxford_Comma_Lover ( 1679530 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @09:14PM (#37248924)

    You're assuming a hurricane is worse than not-a-hurricane. It isn't always. Hurricane reflects windspeed, but speed is not the only measure of damage.

    I was on Nantucket for a wedding during Hurricane Bob. We stayed in a tiny, poorly-built cottage right over a small dune from the ocean. During the storm itself, we moved to higher ground and a better-constructed building, but the tiny, poorly-built cottage was fine. A Noreaster came through six months later, broke through the sand dune, and took out the cottage and all the cottages around it, and caused much more damage than hurricane Bob had generally.

    In this hurricane, the water was the damaging factor, not the windspeed, and the water could have been far worse very easily. Places in Virginia got 16" of rain. Normally at 4" of rain, a county or municipality will have major outages.

  • Re:Who cares... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by grumbel ( 592662 ) <> on Monday August 29, 2011 @09:21PM (#37248996) Homepage

    Warning people to protect themselves in the face of a legitimate threat has unmeasurable value to society, it can save countless lives and reduce the actual property damage resulting from unpreparedness. Crying wolf just teaches people to ignore the warnings.

    The problem with that is that evacuations don't come free. If you move a million people around you have a good chance of killing some in the process, so you better want to have a good reason to do an evacuation.


    There were 111 deaths related to Hurricane Rita in the state of Texas. The three direct deaths were from wind blown trees. A majority of the deaths (90/108 or 83.3%) were related to the mass evacuation process. Of these deaths, 10% were directly related to hyperthermia in motor vehicles. The combination of traffic gridlock and high temperatures, limitation of air conditioning to reduce fuel consumption, reduction of oral intake to decrease restroom visits, and conservation of limited supplies is suspected. 51.1% (46/90) of the evacuation deaths were persons found unresponsive in their vehicle. Hyperthermia and decompensated chronic health conditions are suspected but complete health information was not available. 25.5% (23/90) were nursing home evacuees who died in a bus fire that resulted from overheated brakes in combination with oxygen tanks. The evacuation of patients from chronic health facilities resulted in 10 deaths (11.1%).

  • Re:Not the wind (Score:3, Insightful)

    by IonOtter ( 629215 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @09:23PM (#37249030) Homepage

    Thirty-seven people would disagree with your assessment.

  • Re:Not the wind (Score:5, Insightful)

    by roc97007 ( 608802 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @09:48PM (#37249232) Journal

    Well, right, but you can lose someone in any kind of weather. There are casualties around here whenever the temperature drops below freezing, usually among the indigent. It's a tragedy for them, but not a multi-state catastrophe as CNN was trying to sell to us.

    A few days ago, a couple from Europe died of heat stroke in Death Valley. The local temperature was 105 degrees fahrenheit, which was low for that place in this time of year. In places I've lived, 105 degrees is a nice day. But since two people died, does that mean the weather was catastrophic? Well, if you look at the translated pages from their home town, yeah, they were getting all hysterical because these people were out in 41c weather. I guess where you happen to live, that can seem like a lot.

    When the earthquake hit the east coast and everyone got hysterical, wife and I had to laugh. Having lived right on the fault in California, we'd wake up, go "that felt like a 5.3, maybe a 5.5" and go back to sleep.

  • 9:00 am Sunday (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pgn674 ( 995941 ) on Monday August 29, 2011 @10:39PM (#37249490) Homepage

    At 9:00 am Sunday morning, August 28, EDT. According to the Hurricane IRENE Advisory Archive []. At that time, it was centered over New York City (it was 40 miles SSW of there an hour earlier). Until then, estimated and measured wind speeds made the system a hurricane.

    If you want to dispute the accuracy of NWS current measurements and estimates, then research how they do it and dispute properly. They use [] recon aircraft, doppler radar, satellite imagery, balloons, and ships, in addition to buoys and automated surface observation systems, to measure and estimate wind speeds. If you want to dispute the NWS's predictions, then either learn meteorology and forecast models to prepare yourself, or compare past predictions to later observations. If you want to dispute the NWS's warning wording, then compare predicted conditions and their real world impact to the NWS's wording. If you want to dispute the media's hype, then compare their hype to the NWS's warnings, and have fun.

    But do not ask such an amazingly easy to answer question like "When Did Irene Stop Being a Hurricane?" in order to stir provocation, without answering it. And do not look at some buoy and automated surface observation system data and claim there was no hurricane just from that.

  • Re:Not the wind (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 29, 2011 @11:44PM (#37249784)

    Is that the total dead due to Irene? Just 37?

    Roughly 50,000 people die each year due to car accidents, or around 1000 a week. That's 142 a day.

    So, you're telling me that this 'hurricane' called Irene, which prompted an "extreme" categorization, which was promised to be the worst storm anyone alive would ever see... killed about 1/4 as many people as an average days roadkill?


  • Re:Who cares... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @01:10AM (#37250184)

    That's the solution to that.

    It's not just a matter of cost it's a matter of public safety. Paying people to rebuild in areas that are known to be flood prone and do get flooded most years just makes matters worse. Around here we've been revising the flood planes to better reflect modern knowledge.It doesn't make folks happy to know that they can't be insured, but it will make a difference in the future.

    People tend to hate what good building codes and enforcement do to the cost of building, but the alternatives are at least as bad.

  • Re:Who cares... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @10:15AM (#37253028)

    In terms of flooding it was indeed a 100-year event, or storm of the century. Many rivers in NJ and VT have hit 100 year or all time record high flood levels.

    And what are most evacuations conducted for? To get people away from flooding.

    This fixation on wind velocity as a metric for the danger inherent in a storm is not accurate. Insisting that it be used in a case like this is bad judgement, plain and simple.

Stinginess with privileges is kindness in disguise. -- Guide to VAX/VMS Security, Sep. 1984