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NATURE

Bye-bye Irene

August 26th, 2011

Spot Hurricane Irene (it's huge!) credit NASA Goddard Photo and Video/flickr/Creative Commons

Hurricane Irene Update

August 28, 2011 @ 11 pm — UPDATE. Hurricane Irene is mostly over now. And it could have been a lot worse. But it was still very serious and, sadly, is responsible for at least 23 deaths so far. It also caused a lot of damage.  4.5 million people are without electricity and hundreds of roads had to close from either flooding or fallen trees.

Luckily, Irene weakened as it progressed along up east coast of the U.S., from North Carolina through the nation’s most populated city, New York City (over 8 million people). Irene was to arrive in NYC as a Category 1 hurricane but left as a tropical storm.

Irene is making her exit through New England and Eastern Canada tonight and tomorrow with hopefully minimal destruction, though Ludlow and Rutland, Vermont are completely cut off, at the time of this writing, due to flooding.

For many it will be days or weeks before life returns to normal again. For those who lost loved ones it never will.  But on the whole, we can breathe a sigh of relief and be thankful for advances in hurricane forecasting, good preparation … and a bit of luck.

August 27, 2011 @ 8:00 am — UPDATE. The first effects of Hurricane Irene are being felt now in North Carolina. Irene is down to a Category 1 hurricane after weakening overnight. But it is still classified as a hurricane which means it’s a very powerful storm –the size of California with 90 mph winds, and moving more slowly than expected.

President Obama emphasized taking the storm very seriously: “all indications point to this being a historic hurricane,” he said. He cut his vacation on Martha’s Vineyard short (in the path of Irene) and headed back to Washington DC.

August 26, 2011 @ 5:00 pm — UPDATE . Hurricane Irene — still set to slam into North Carolina sometime early Saturday — has been downgraded to a Category 2 hurricane. It has weakened for now but could still strengthen.

Even so, New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg has done the unprecedented (and ahead of schedule). This afternoon, he ordered the mandatory evacuation of low-lying parts of New York City.  Approximately 250,000 thousand people will need to leave their homes. The subway system is being shut down by noon Saturday. Broadway shows and concerts are being canceled, too. While clearly taking extraordinary precautions, Mayor Bloomberg said, “it’s basically heading for us.”

Below is the official NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) tracking map as of this afternoon. You can click here for a refreshed map from their site.

 

Hurricane Irene August 26, 2011 this afternoon. Credit: NOAA

August 26, 2011 — Just a few days after an earthquake shook the northeastern part of the United States, now residents from North Carolina to Maine are bracing for Hurricane Irene, expected to arrive this weekend.

As of Friday morning, Hurricane Irene is out over the Bahamas, over 500 miles away, but is heading north and west toward North Carolina. And she’s picking up speed from her already 120 mile per hour winds. That’s as fast as some of the fastest serves in women’s tennis.

Governors in North Carolina, Virginia, Connecticut, Maryland, New York and New Jersey have declared a “state of emergency” in their states (which helps them prepare for and alert its citizens to emergencies, including natural disasters. It also means these states might be looking to the federal government for some help if they need it). New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will decide by Saturday morning whether to evacuate some susceptible parts of NYC (and, if so, whether to order it or just suggest it).

“More than 65 million people, or about one in five Americans, from North Carolina to Maine, are in the way of the hurricane” according to data that Bloomberg News analyzed.

map credit: The Weather Channel

For now, Irene is a Category 3 hurricane — already pretty powerful, and is expected to become a Category 4 soon. Hurricanes are assigned a number from 1 – 5 depending on the speed of its winds and how much damage it could cause if it comes to land.

Hurricanes cause damage from three things: super high winds, intense rain, and the waves it brings onto land from the ocean (called the storm surge). Some estimates are that Hurricane Irene has the potential to cost over $20 billion in damage to homes and other property, bridges, and cause transportation delays, power outages, and result in people not being able to go to work.

graphic credit: NASA

Hurricane Basics

Hurricanes are sometimes called nature’s biggest storms. They’re huge swirling clouds that form over the ocean and can measure hundreds of miles across.  It has a center called an “eye” that’s actually relatively calm.  The windy, rainy clouds around it are what cause the trouble.

They form over the ocean when the sun heats the water to over 80 degrees Farenheit. When the heat, moisture and wind combines in the right way a hurricane forms. Hurricanes have seasons (the Atlantic season is June to November). How exactly do they form? To learn more you can  click here for NASA’s explanation , or  click here to watch a Discovery Channel video explanation.

What’s the difference between a hurricane and a tornado, which happened earlier this year in Missouri and other places?

Hurricanes are tropical storms that originate out over the ocean. Tornados are windstorms that start on land. Tornados are long, thing columns and most of the damage they cause are from the path it takes. They’re also usually over more quickly than hurricanes. Hurricanes can be hundreds of miles wide and can cause flooding if it comes to land (but don’t have to).

Who names them?

The National Weather Service does (they name tropical storms and some turn into hurricanes). Alphabetically. You can click here to see all the names . Next up, Hurricane Jose! Is your name on the list?

What You Can Do

Though there’s no way to know exactly when or where a hurricane arrives on land, you can prepare. Here are a few things you can do if Hurricane Irene might come to your area:

A good place to start is to make sure that you have plenty of emergency supplies at home such as flashlights (don’t forget extra batteries), food, and water. And remember to remove or secure things that could be sent flying outside in your yard, like patio furniture and toys. You can also:

1. Follow the weather forecast. Click here for the weather in your town.

2. Listen to and try to obey announcements from government leaders. Click here for FEMA’s updates.

3. Have an emergency kit ready. Click here for checklist.

4. Make a family plan. Click here for how to make one.

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