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Monthly Archives: July 2008

Oh… never mind.

July 31st, 2008 - 6:21 am

So much for that potential “short-lived T.D.” The NHC’s Tropical Weather Outlook at 8:00 PM EDT yesterday stated, “SHOWER ACTIVITY ASSOCIATED WITH [INVEST 98L] HAS DIMINISHED…AND THE POTENTIAL FOR TROPICAL CYCLONE FORMATION IN THIS AREA IS DECREASING.” Shortly before midnight, The Storm Track’s Bryan Woods chimed in:

The tropical wave that recently moved off the coast of Africa has died down and failed to develop, just as I predicted yesterday. I know that some of you were getting a bit excited at the prospect of tracking another system, but it is rare to see development this close to Africa. Convection is all but gone from Invest 98L at this time. However, we will continue to monitor the system for any signs of development, however unlikely they may be. The circulation remains relatively healthy for an Africa wave, but conditions are not favorable for convective development. The window has basically passed on this system as it is now encountering increasingly cooler waters.

In this morning’s 8:00 AM “outlook,” the NHC merged 98L with its boilerplate “formation is not expected” paragraph, stating simply:

AN AREA OF LOW PRESSURE IN THE VICINITY OF THE CAPE VERDE ISLANDS IS MOVING TO THE WEST-NORTHWEST AT 15 TO 20 MPH. SHOWER ACTIVITY WITH HIS SYSTEM IS GRADUALLY DIMINISHING…AND TROPICAL CYCLONE FORMATION IS NOT EXPECTED HERE OR ELSEWHERE DURING THE NEXT 48 HOURS.

So, it looks like July, having been something of a “lion” in the tropics, will go out like a lamb. As Woods notes, “There are no other signs of development in the Atlantic at this time.”

Of course, as Woods also points out, “We are still about a month or so away from the peak of the season, so there is likely plenty of ‘excitement’ to come.”

(A hat tip on the title of the post to Emily Litella.)

Short-lived T.D. may form today

July 30th, 2008 - 6:33 am

The tropical wave off Africa that I mentioned Monday has been designated “Invest 98L,” and it could become Tropical Depression Five later today — but it would likely weaken shortly thereafter as it heads off to the west-northwest, toward cooler waters.

Here’s a mashup of a NOAA water temperature map and the approximate location and likely track (roughly speaking) of 98L, based on computer model data from sfwmd.gov:

Here’s what the National Hurricane Center’s 8am EDT Tropical Weather Outlook has to say about 98L:

A WELL-DEFINED AREA OF LOW PRESSURE IS LOCATED ABOUT MIDWAY BETWEEN THE CAPE VERDE ISLANDS AND WESTERN AFRICA AND IS MOVING TO THE NORTHWEST AT 10 TO 15 MPH. THIS SYSTEM HAS THE POTENTIAL TO BECOME A TROPICAL DEPRESSION TODAY BEFORE MOVING OVER COOLER WATERS TOMORROW. INTERESTS IN THE CAPE VERDE ISLANDS SHOULD MONITOR THE PROGRESS OF THIS SYSTEM. REGARDLESS OF DEVELOPMENT…HEAVY RAIN AND GUSTY WINDS ARE POSSIBLE OVER THE CAPE VERDE ISLANDS LATER TODAY AND TOMORROW.

The NHC gives the system a “medium” (or 20-50%) chance of tropical cyclone development in the next 48 hours. At present, however, it appears likely to be a “fish” (i.e., staying safely out at sea) even if it does form.

UPDATE: Nothing yet, as of 2pm EDT:

A WELL-DEFINED AREA OF LOW PRESSURE APPROACHING THE CAPE VERDE ISLANDS IS MOVING TO THE NORTHWEST AT 10 TO 15 MPH. ALTHOUGH THIS SYSTEM HAS NOT BECOME ANY BETTER ORGANIZED TODAY…THE LOW HAS THE POTENTIAL TO BECOME A TROPICAL DEPRESSION BEFORE MOVING OVER COOLER WATERS ON THURSDAY. INTERESTS IN THE CAPE VERDE ISLANDS SHOULD MONITOR THE PROGRESS OF THIS SYSTEM. REGARDLESS OF DEVELOPMENT… HEAVY RAIN AND GUSTY WINDS ARE POSSIBLE OVER THE CAPE VERDE ISLANDS TODAY AND TOMORROW.

Here’s a satellite view, via NOAA:

On an unrelated note, the Houston Weather Blog — recently added to my blogroll — posts some images of the flooding caused by Hurricane Dolly. Also, the same blog reminds us that, climatologically, hurricane season starts to heat up in August, which begins on Friday. We’ve had a quiet week, and we may have some more, but coastal residents shouldn’t be complacent. Instead, as Max Mayfield suggested, use this lull as an opportunity to prepare! (Mayfield’s blog, incidentally, is chock full of good preparedness tips.)

Moderate earthquake strikes L.A.

July 29th, 2008 - 12:40 pm

This isn’t technically a “weather” story, but I figured I’d mention quickly that a 5.4 earthquake struck the Los Angeles area this morning, about an hour ago. It has been downgraded from an initial estimate of 5.8 magnitude, which, because the magnitude scale is logarithmic, is actually a big deal. You’d expect significantly more damage from a 5.8 quake than from a 5.4.

The epicenter was near Chino Hills. It happened at 2:42 PM EDT, or 11:42 AM local time.

Various TV stations in L.A. are streaming live coverage over the Internet: CBS 2, ABC 7 and Fox 11. Thankfully, it sounds like there wasn’t much damage.

According to CBS 2, there’s a “1 in 20 chance” that this morning’s tremor (or “temblor,” as they say out west) was a “foreshock” of a larger quake coming. (That’s a general historical figure, not a forecast based on the specifics of this quake.) More likely, the worst is over, and there will just continue to be minor aftershocks.

Meanwhile, a fun little side note. I checked Google Blog Search a while ago, searching for the word “earthquake,” and clicked back multiple pages to find out who scooped the entire blogosphere and posted something about the quake first. The apparent winner is Flying Cats — a personal blog run by a Long Beach, California grad student who goes by the nickname “Kate the Cat Herder.” That said, on closer inspection, I notice the post says it went up at 11:39 AM, which would be three minutes before the quake. Heh. I don’t know if that’s just because Blogspot’s clock is slow, or if it’s possible to “game” the timestamps that Google Blog Search sees… hmm…

All’s quiet, for now

July 28th, 2008 - 9:51 am

If you’re wondering why I haven’t posted anything here in a few days, it’s because, well, there’s nothing to report. After an unusually active first 3 1/2 weeks of July, all’s quiet on the tropical front. Invest 97L, the wave that once looked poised to become Edouard, has fizzled out, and the Atlantic basin is now so free of potential tropical trouble that the National Hurricane Center’s Tropical Weather Outlook says simply:

FOR THE NORTH ATLANTIC…CARIBBEAN SEA AND THE GULF OF MEXICO…

TROPICAL CYCLONE FORMATION IS NOT EXPECTED DURING THE NEXT 48 HOURS.

There is a new tropical wave just coming off Africa, but the NHC isn’t saything anything about it yet, perhaps having been chastened by 97L’s dissipation after their unusually-early discussion of its prospects (something Max Mayfield pointed out contemporaneously).

Speaking of Mayfield, the former NHC director and current South Florida weatherblogger reminds us: “Given the fact that we are approaching the more active portion of the hurricane season, it would be wise to take advantage of this lull in the action and dust off the hurricane plans and stock up on the supplies.”

Meanwhile, the Weather Channel’s Dr. Stu Ostro looks at whether this active July portends an active remainder of the season. (The short answer: maybe, but not necessarily.) In either case, it doesn’t really matter, and coastal residents should still follow Mayfield’s advice, because — as I and others are constantly pointing out — an active season is one where you get hit. The total number of storms is mostly just a curiosity (albeit one that the media loves to hype).

Incidentally, the death toll from Hurricane Dolly now stands at two. Also, it has been revealed that smugglers of drugs and illegal immigrants tried to use the storm to their advantage.

UPDATE: The 2pm EDT “Outlook” is a bit more active:

SHOWER AND THUNDERSTORM ACTIVITY IN THE NORTHERN GULF OF MEXICO IS ASSOCIATED WITH A WEAK SURFACE TROUGH OF LOW PRESSURE. NO SIGNIFICANT DEVELOPMENT OF THIS SYSTEM IS EXPECTED AS THE TROUGH MOVES SLOWLY NORTHWESTWARD.

A TROPICAL WAVE HAS EMERGED OFF THE WEST COAST OF AFRICA AND SHOWS SOME SIGNS OF ORGANIZATION. SOME SLOW DEVELOPMENT OF THIS SYSTEM IS POSSIBLE OVER THE NEXT COUPLE OF DAYS AS THE WAVE MOVES TO THE WEST-NORTHWEST AT ABOUT 15 MPH.

So, there are a couple of areas to watch, but nothing to worry about. The NHC rates both systems as having a “low” (less than 20%) probability of development in the next 48 hours.

A rant on “hype”

July 25th, 2008 - 6:48 am

[UPDATE: I wrote this post hurriedly and in something of a huff last week. Now that it's getting some attention, let me make myself a bit more clear: I certainly don't regard anyone who accuses the media of "hype" as an idiot or moron or anything of the sort. On the contrary, I agree — as I state below — that the media is often guilty of hyping hurricanes, sometimes egregiously so, just as they're often guilty of hyping all sorts of other stories. The media is a hype machine.

What I'm talking about in this post are the accusations that forecasters hype hurricanes. In my view, those accusations are usually incorrect or at least grossly exaggerated, based on faulty logic and preconceived prejudices. Accusing a weather forecaster of hyping the weather is a serious accusation, and should be backed up with actual facts and argumentation, not mere bluster. If all you've got is 20/20 hindsight and AGW conspiracy theories, that's not enough. If you can't make a good, well-supported argument in defense of the notion that a particular forecast (not just a news report, but a forecast) was "hyped," then you shouldn't level the accusation in the first place.]

*   *   *   ORIGINAL POST BELOW   *   *   *

Hurricanes are inherently unpredictable beasts. Their tracks and their intensities are affected by a myriad of factors, which cannot be predicted with absolute precision — as the National Hurricane Center and other responsible forecasters consistently remind the public.

Thus, when a storm threatens land, there is always a wide range of possibilities — right up until landfall — for what could happen. Maybe the storm will strengthen at the last minute, or maybe it will weaken. Maybe dry air will disrupt the circulation just before landfall, or maybe it won’t. Maybe the eyewall will track over a heavily populated area and cause widespread devastation, or maybe it will just barely miss that area, and will instead track over relatively unpopulated land.

Tiny, last-minute, utterly unpredictable wobbles and atmospheric circumstances determine which course each storm takes. As a result, it is literally impossible for forecasters to know, for certain, exactly what will happen. Hence the NHC’s never-ending emphasis on, for example, the forecast “cone” as opposed to the center-line track. Again and again, they remind us not to treat their intrinsically inexact forecasts as absolute gospel truth.

With each storm, forecasters present the public with a range of possibilities for what could happen. Often times, this range includes a handful of scenarios that would have dire, drastic consequences, and a boatload of other, friendlier scenarios.

Usually, the friendlier scenarios will ultimately occur. But, as anybody with a post-kindergarten education knows, it is generally better in life to assume, and prepare for, the worst — and thus be pleasantly surprised if things aren’t as bad as you feared — than to assume that everything will be just fine and dandy, and thus be caught off guard when the worst happens.

Even if there’s only, say, a 10% chance of a disaster actually occurring, the prudent, responsible course of action is to warn people that a disaster might be coming — notwithstanding that, 90% of the time, that warning will ultimately prove to have been unnecessary.

Only a complete idiot would deny that obvious necessity of disaster planning, right? Only a total moron would say that we should ignore the 10% possibility of disaster, and simply assume that the 90% scenario will occur, right?

And yet, now that hurricanes have become a political football, a bizarre and infuriating phenomenon occurs every single time a hurricane hits land but fails to adhere to the direst of warnings. Out of the blogospheric woodwork come the village idiots, complaining of all the purportedly overheated “hype” and “doom and gloom” predictions that were once again unwarranted. “The forecasters said it would be worse than this!” they jeer. “This proves they’re a bunch of alarmists!”

The distinction between “would” and “could” is totally lost on these people. No, forecasters didn’t say it would be a disaster; they said it could be a disaster. And it could have been. Did forecasters emphasize the worst-case scenarios over the less dire scenarios? Yes — as they should! Only with 20/20 hindsight is it possible to look back at a storm and know exactly which warnings were necessary and which ones weren’t. In real time, forecasters and disaster planners have to assume that the worst-case plausible scenario will occur. They have no choice!

Because worst-case scenarios are just that — scenarios, out of a wide range of possible scenarios — they usually don’t happen. Yet if forecasters were to choose the grossly irresponsible course of ignoring or downplaying the worst-case scenarios, and then one of those scenarios did occur, the forecasters would be rightly pilloried (including by these same village idiots, no doubt) for failing to warn and protect the public!

Critics are holding forecasters to an impossible standard. When it comes to issuing warnings of disasters that are realistically possible but (of course) not guaranteed to occur, forecasters are damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

Why does this make me so angry? Because those who unfailingly, thoughtlessly and relentlessly snark at forecasters (and, ahem, weatherbloggers) for these “incorrect” predictions — never mind that, in most cases, what actually occurred was within the predicted probability cone, so the predictions weren’t actually “incorrect” at all — are more than just ignorant idiots (though they are that). They’re dangerous idiots, because they give aid and comfort to the fools who, when subsequent storms threaten their lives and property, ignore warnings of imminent danger.

Wrongfully debunking “hype” that was actually fully warranted is incredibly damaging because it degrades the credibility of hurricane forecasters in the eyes of the public, for no good reason, and encourages things like this: “Nearly one-fourth of people in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina would refuse to evacuate for a storm if told to, a survey released Wednesday by Harvard University found.” If you ask those people, when a storm is bearing down, why they refuse to evacuate, I guarantee you that one commonly cited reason would be that forecasters overhype storms, and it probably won’t be that bad. This is a meme that has real consequences. Deadly consequences.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not laying the blame entirely at the feet of the “debunkers.” Could forecasters do a better job emphasizing the would/could and will/might distinctions? Absolutely. Of course, in issuing their real-time warnings, they need to be emphatic enough to get the public’s attention. They must strike a delicate balance between vigorous warnings and “crying wolf,” and in my view, they already do a better job than many give them credit for. But is there room for improvement? Sure.

Moreover, there are occasions when hurricane hype gets blown out of proportion — though I would argue that the media, not the forecasters, are usually to blame. Often, news coverage is more driven by the vagaries of news cycles than by the level of the actual meteorological threat. Thus, while some truly dire threats — like Hurricane Katrina on the Friday before landfall — don’t get nearly enough attention, other storms that don’t pose a particularly dire threat get more airtime than they deserve, with overheated, hype-ish rhetoric filling the news vacuum, simply because the cable TV stations need filler. (Think 2005′s Ophelia.) And the same thing can happen in the blogosphere as well. (Think 2006′s Ernesto.) So, yes, in that sense, “hype” is real.

However, demonstrating the existence of unwarranted hype — particularly in a forecast, as opposed to a CNN or Fox News segment or a Drudge Report headline — is far more complex than jumping up and down, screaming, “They said it would be a disaster, and it wasn’t!”

If you feel that a storm has been overhyped, fine — prove it. But you cannot prove it simply by comparing “predictions vs. actual events.” Instead, you need to remove the 20/20 hindsight goggles, ignore your knowledge of what actually occurred, and put yourself in the shoes of the alleged “hypers,” at the time when they gave the warnings in question. If you can demonstrate that, based on the information then available, the statements were unreasonable, then you’ve got a point.

But if you’re just reflexively claiming that a weather forecast was “hype” simply because it was ultimately not borne out, then you are encouraging a deceptive and destructive meme that is quite literally a menace to society. And you need to stop.

UPDATE: Welcome, PJ Media and InstaPundit readers!

One other thought occurred to me, in response to the people who insist that the media’s hurricane hype is driven largely or entirely by a global-warming agenda: why would you assume that AGW is to blame, when the media hypes everything? It’s not just hurricanes that are blown out of proportion by Fox News, CNN, the Drudge Report, etc.! They blow everything out of proportion! When they over-hype shark attacks, or celebrity gossip, or some inconsequential political story, or the latest “hidden danger” in your home, are those examples of hype also motivated by global warming?! I just don’t see why it makes sense to blame a behavior on a grand conspiracy when it’s actually completely normal, typical behavior for the people in question (in this case, journalists). They hype hurricanes, they hype Hillary’s pantsuits, they hype Anna Nicole Smith. Why should we assume a different motivation for the first example than the second and third examples? Isn’t it all more likely driven by the same things: sensationalism and ratings?

Farewell, Dolly

July 24th, 2008 - 2:27 pm

The National Hurricane Center has issued its final advisory on Tropical Depression Dolly. Thus, for the first time since Bertha formed on July 3 — exactly three weeks ago — there are no active tropical cyclones in the Atlantic basin.

From the meaningless-statistics department: three weeks of consecutive tropical activity is the longest such stretch since the heart of the 2006 season, when Debby, Ernesto and Florence churned up the ocean from August 21 through September 19. To have such a streak in August and September — basically straddling the climatological peak of hurricane season, September 10 — isn’t terribly unusual. To have it in July is pretty remarkable.

Now, we may be in for a stretch of inactivity, which would be more typical for this time of year. As I mentioned earlier, Dr. Jeff Masters wrote this morning that “the four reliable computer models are not predicting development anywhere … in the Atlantic for the next 7 days.”

If that prediction is borne out, I’m sure the National Hurricane Center forecasters will appreciate the breather.

In other news, the NHC has posted a high-resolution satellite movie of Dolly making landfall. It’s really neat.

UPDATE: Welcome, InstaPundit readers! This isn’t really my “Dolly wrap-up” post, though. My wrap-up post is here.

UPDATE 2: A rant on “hype.”

Hurricane Dolly was downgraded to a tropical storm late last night, and the rain and wind have finally subsided in the South Texas coastal counties where the storm dumped two feet of rain in some spots. But some areas remain “underwater” from all the flooding.

Meanwhile, in more heavily populated locales that were spared the worst of Dolly’s wrath, residents should give thanks that, thanks to a last-minute change of course, the storm’s impact wasn’t more severe.

Cameron County, the southernmost county in Texas, was hardest hit. The Brownsville Herald reports that “sheriff’s deputies and Emergency Management officials worked throughout the night rescuing residents from the Laguna Madre area from their flooded homes.” The wind damage was nothing to sneeze at, either, according to the Houston Chronicle:

The hurricane’s 100 mph winds caused extensive damage on South Padre Island, ripping the roofs off the Bahia Mar, a 10-story hotel, various condominiums and the Palmetto Inn, a two-story restaurant, as well as numerous homes in other coastal communities.

Some island residents predictably came to regret their decision to “ride it out,” according to the Chronicle. “We have a number of folks who do not wish to be on the island now,” said South Padre Mayor Bob Pinkerton. “They’ve had enough.” But, of course, Dolly closed the causeway, leaving islanders “stuck and isolated.” The time to get out was before the storm, a lesson that many coastal residents seem unable to learn the easy way.

Inland portions of Cameron County were also hit hard. “Much of the county is under water including highways and roadways,” the Brownsville Herald — which, incidentally, will be delivered today, in case you were wondering — reported this morning.

It’s easy to see why the flooding in some areas is so severe, when you look at the radar rainfall estimates. Doppler shows a miles-wide swath of land in northern Cameron County where between 20 and 25 inches of rain fell. In a few isolated spots, the estimated total exceeds 25 inches. See for yourself here, via Weather Underground:

“Surely we will be hearing of extensive damage and some fatalities, with a rain of that magnitude,” Alan Sullivan writes. But thus far, thankfully, there have been no reports of deaths or serious injuries.

As you can see on the map, the heaviest band of rain also stretches into southwestern Willacy County. The hardest-hit inland cities would appear to be Harlingen (population 66,498), the second-largest city in Cameron County (after Brownsville), and Raymondville (population 9,733), the largest city and county seat of Willacy County. Raymondville witnessed one of Dolly’s more dramatic stories, as “a crew braved gale-force winds to rescue a 10-year-old … whose ventilator stopped when the power failed,” according to the Chronicle.

Thankfully, because of a last-minute “right turn” by Dolly, the city of Brownsville (population 139,722) was spared the worst of the storm — in terms of both wind and rain — as was the more populous Hidalgo County, immediately to the west of Cameron and Willacy counties. “It didn’t dump as much as it could have,” said Kevin Pagan, director of emergency operations in McAllen, the largest city in Hidalgo County. “It’s hard to feel lucky, but it could have been worse.”

Widespread flooding along the Rio Grande appears to have been avoided, as the levees held. As the rainfall-total map shows, the river itself received “only” 8 to 12 inches of rain, while the 20+ inches that officials feared instead fell on the more sparsely populated, mostly agricultural regions to the north. “The levees are holding up just fine,” Cameron County emergency coordinator Johnny Cavazos told the AP. “There is no indication right now that they are going to crest.”

This happy eventuality should not be viewed as an indictment of the forecasts that called for the possibility of devastating floods and destructive winds in the more heavily populated areas. The National Hurricane Center’s forecasts of Dolly’s track were in fact excellent, including their emphasis on the possibility of deviations shortly before landfall due to weak steering currents. It was precisely such a deviation that took Dolly northward at the last minute, sparing Brownsville and the Rio Grande Valley a direct hit.

In any event, the forecasted 20+ inches of rain did fall, and the forecasted 90+ mph winds did occur; they just occurred a wee bit to the north. That is entirely in line with the NHC’s numerous reminders in its discussions of Dolly that we shouldn’t focus on the “center line” of the forecast track, but rather the probability “cone,” precisely due to the uncertainty of the storm’s track during its final hours before landfall.

Certainly, no one should use the good fortune of Dolly’s last-minute right-hand turn as an excuse to disregard dire warnings when future storms threaten. Mr. Pagan is right: it could easily have been much worse, and next time, it might be.

Stepping off my soapbox and getting back to the damage reports: according to the McAllen Monitor, 97 percent of households are without power in Willacy County, compared to 90 percent in Cameron County and 60 percent in Hidalgo County, as of 9:00 AM local time today. All told, about 200,000 households are in the dark, and several thousand people are staying in shelters, according to the Houston Chronicle. 9-1-1 service is offline in Cameron and Hidalgo counties. Many roads are closed or damaged. Water service has been disrupted.

There are also reports of major damage across the border in Mexico, where rain and wind were less severe, but the infrastructure is less robust.

President Bush has issued a disaster declaration for 14 counties in South Texas.

Although Dolly has weakened and moved west of the coastal regions, she continues to dump heavy rain on other parts of southern Texas and northern Mexico. The storm is expected to weaken to a tropical depression later today, and the circulation will dissipate entirely within 24 hours. Rain could continue into the weekend, however.

Here is an extensive photo gallery of Dolly’s impact on South Texas, from the Monitor.

P.S. Meteorologist and weatherblogger extraordinaire Dr. Jeff Masters and Houston Chronicle “SciGuy” Eric Berger have both posted Dolly wrap-ups. They’re both worth reading.

Dr. Masters also looks at Invest 97L, the tropical wave that I described as “proto-Edouard” over the weekend, and writes:

[The wave,] a few hundred miles west of the Cape Verde Islands, is now over cool water of 25°C. The wave still has a large circulation, but has lost all of its heavy thunderstorm activity. Until 97L can find some warmer water (which should happen by Saturday), there is little chance of it developing. Wind shear is expected to be around 15 knots on Saturday, which is marginal for development, and there is plenty of stable, dry air for it to contend with. None of the reliable computer models show development of this system.

97L came off the coast of Africa further north than expected, which has inhibited its development. The storm’s higher latitude also suggests that, if it does eventually develop, it will probably take a track more like Bertha’s than Dolly’s, and consequently is unlikely to affect the United States. That’s a very speculative assessment, though, and subject to change if the storm does develop. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on it.

That said, it looks like we may be in for a breather on the hurricane front. Dr. Masters writes: “The four reliable computer models are not predicting development anywhere else in the Atlantic for the next 7 days.” After an exceptionally busy July to date, that would be a welcome relief.

Hurricane Dolly makes landfall in Texas

July 23rd, 2008 - 12:18 pm

[NOTE: Brownsville TV station KGBT, a CBS affiliate, is streaming its live coverage of Hurricane Dolly over the Internet. Click here, or simply follow this direct link to the Windows Media Player stream. CNN is also live-streaming its coverage, and The Weather Channel has a bunch of recent videos, including live dispatches from the inimitable Jim Cantore on South Padre Island.]

*  *  *

As these satellite and radar images show, the center of Hurricane Dolly’s eye made landfall on South Padre Island at around 1:30 PM local time today (2:30 Eastern, 11:30 Pacific).

As of 3:00 PM EDT, the storm’s winds are back down to 95 mph — Category 1 — and further gradual weakening is expected as Dolly moves inland. At present, however, extreme southern Texas is still getting pounded by Dolly’s southern eyewall. In fact, after crossing Laguna Madre, the storm’s eye is now beginning to make a “second landfall,” not on the Texas-Mexico border as originally anticipated, but on the border between Cameron County and Willacy County.

You can see for yourself on the live, close-up radar loop.

P.S. Doppler estimates that more than 14 inches of rain have already fallen in some places.

UPDATE: Dr. Jeff Masters writes:

The southern portion of Dolly’s eyewall passed over the town of South Padre Island, located on the coast on a barrier island. Wind damage from Dolly will be heaviest here. The sister cities of Brownsville, Texas, and Matamoros, in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, missed getting the eyewall, but did get gusts near hurricane force. Damage to roofs and mobile homes has already been reported in these regions. Harlingen, located 25 miles inland and 20 miles north of Brownsville, is getting a portion of the southern eyewall, and will suffer more damage than Brownsville. There are a few tiny towns on Laguna Madre, the sound behind Padre Island, that received the full force of Dolly. These towns, Port Mansfield and Arroyo City, will receive heavy wind damage and some storm surge damage. . . .

Floods remain a huge concern from Dolly. Rainfall amounts of five inches per hour were observed along the coast, with total rainfall amounts in excess of 14 inches. The real concern is how much rain will fall inland over the Rio Grande River watershed. In 1967, Hurricane Beulah, a huge and powerful Category 3 hurricane, dumped up to 27 inches of rain inland, triggering major flooding throughout South Texas and Northeast Mexico. Beulah did over $1 billion in damage to Texas, according to Wikipedia.

Dolly’s eye to land on Texas side

July 23rd, 2008 - 9:08 am

Hurricane Dolly has taken a distinct northerly jog over the past couple of hours, and as a result, it now appears that the storm’s eye will definitely come ashore on the U.S. side of the Texas-Mexico border. It is even possible that Dolly’s innermost eyewall will stay entirely to the north of Brownsville proper, though that is subject to change depending on how Dolly “wobbles” over the next few hours.In any event, Dolly’s track means that the “right-front quadrant,” normally the most dangerous part of a hurricane, will hit the sparsely populated region north of the border towns. However, this may not be such a blessing, because Dolly has an unusual structure right now, and it appears the left-front quadrant — i.e., the southern eyewall — is the strongest part of this particular hurricane. And the southern eyewall, or at least its outer portion, is lashing the southernmost Texas coast right now, as the 12:08 PM EDT radar shows.

Just how strong are the winds in that eyewall? 100 mph sustained, according to the National Hurricane Center, with higher gusts. And they may get stronger before they get weaker; Dolly’s winds still have some “catching up” to do after this morning’s sudden pressure drop, and she’s still got a few more hours over water in which to strengthen.

Dolly’s barometric pressure was listed at 964 millibars as of the 11am advisory. A satellite-based estimate of a much lower pressure — 947 mb, which would correspond to a borderline Category 3-4 hurricane — has not been borne out by direct reconnaissance measurements, thankfully. Indeed, the latest recon vortex message, as of 11:26 AM EDT, indicates the pressure has come up slightly, to 966 mb. So it appears Dolly’s “deepening” phase is over, and she’s leveling off.

Still, a barometric pressure in the mid-960s usually corresponds to winds around 110 mph, give or take, rather than merely 100 mph. So, we could see another slight boost in Dolly’s official wind speed early this afternoon. At the very least, you can bet there are some unusually strong gusts, relative to the sustained-wind speed, in that eyewall. (All other things being equal, intensifying hurricanes generally cause higher gusts, and thus do more damage, than stable or weakening ones of the same present intensity.)

It is difficult to say exactly when Dolly will make official “landfall,” as the storm is really crawling at this point, so small “wobbles” become incredibly important. But, unless it stalls out completely, Dolly will fully come ashore sometime over the next several hours. Here is a live radar loop, courtesy of the National Weather Service in Brownsville:

And here is another, more zoomed-in radar loop, from Weather Underground.

P.S. For local news coverage, go to the Brownsville Herald, KVEO 23, KRGV 5, and KGBT 4.

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[UPDATE: Welcome, InstaPundit readers! Alas, this post is now out-of-date; hurricane information becomes obsolete faster than Apple computers and iPods! For the very latest, please go to the Weather Nerd homepage.]

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Hurricane Dolly is now strengthening rapidly, and is likely to come ashore as a Category 2 hurricane. As of 9:00 AM EDT, Dolly’s maximum sustained winds are up to 95 mph — just 1 mph short of Cat. 2 status. [UPDATE: At 9:33 AM EDT, FLhurricane.com reports: "From recon reports, it appears that Dolly is now a mid range Category 2 Hurricane." This is not yet officially confirmed by the NHC.] . . . [UPDATE 2: It's now official, as of 11:00 AM EDT. Dolly is a Category 2 hurricane with 100 mph winds. "SOME ADDITIONAL STRENGTHENING IS POSSIBLE BEFORE LANDFALL."]

The storm’s minimum central pressure is down to 964 millibars as of 9:17 AM. That’s an 18-millibar pressure drop since 2:00 AM, more than 2 millibars per hour. If Dolly were to keep up this pace, it would qualify as rapid deepening. Luckily, she’s going to run out of water very soon. The eye is just 40 miles east of Brownsville, and landfall is expected in the next few hours. If Dolly had a few more hours over water, she would very likely become a major hurricane.

Even without reaching major-hurricane status, Dolly’s wind damage may be somewhat more severe than expected. Strengthening hurricanes tend to do more damage, all other things being equal, than stable or weakening hurricanes. The environment is more unstable and dynamic, resulting in higher wind gusts relative to the sustained wind speeds. That is likely to be the case here, as Dolly’s winds will be catching up with her recent pressure drop while she makes landfall:

It takes a while for the winds of a hurricane to respond to a rapid pressure fall, and Dolly’s winds do not yet reflect the recent big drop in pressure. … Dolly’s winds should rise above 100 mph in the next few hours.

That quote is from Dr. Jeff Masters, who predicts “considerable wind damage from Dolly, exceeding $100 million.” On the bright side, storm-surge damage will be quite limited, and inland flooding may be less severe than previously expected, according to Eric Berger.

Here is a constantly-updating live radar image of Dolly making landfall, courtesy of the National Weather Service in Brownsville:

UPDATE, 9:56 AM: In the last few minutes, radar has shown the north side of Dolly’s eyewall seemingly falling apart. This is reminiscent of what happened with Katrina’s western eyewall a few hours before landfall in Louisiana, but it’s very strange in this case because a) Katrina was in a weakening mode, whereas Dolly otherwise appears to be in a strengthening mode; and b) the portion of Katrina that weakened was the usually-weaker “left front quadrant,” which is more susceptible to dry air being sucked in; the portion that’s seemingly weakening here is the usually-stronger “right front quadrant,” which should be relatively immune from dry air, given the direction of the storm’s circulation. Regardless, this is good news, if the trend keeps up. The left front quadrant may actually be the strongest part of Dolly — from the landfall spot on southward. Folks north of the landfall point may be spared the brunt of the storm’s wrath, if the current radar image is any indication.

ON THE OTHER HAND: Infrared, visible and water vapor satellite loops show no hint of the northern eyewall erosion. So, maybe it’s just an artifact of the radar being unable to penetrate the storm’s core. Or something. I honestly don’t know. (For what it’s worth, Corpus Christi radar shows the same thing.)

Anyway, again, here are some live views of Dolly: