Barely two weeks after Hurricane Harvey, a new storm is expected to make landfall on the East Coast. Storm trackers have been carefully monitoring the development of Hurricane Irma over the past week, with “spaghetti models” — so called because they track a great number of potential storm paths at once – making rounds on social media.
“If all the tracks of all the models all line up close to one another, we have pretty high confidence of where it’s going to track,” says Brian Tang, Assistant Professor at the University of Albany’s Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences. “In the case of Irma, the track is very confident within about 3-5 days [which] will put it pretty close to Cuba and Bahama and Florida.”
Picking up energy from the warm Caribbean waters, Irma upgraded to a Major Category 5 hurricane overnight, Monday, with wind speeds now reaching a sustained 185 miles per hour. An area of high pressure over the middle of the Atlantic is unfortunately preventing the storm from sweeping up and back out to sea, removing some of the more optimistic spaghetti strands.
Current five-day forecasts predict Irma will pass over the Lesser Antilles, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Haiti, and finally Cuba before reaching the U.S. coastline somewhere over Florida late in the weekend. The National Hurricane Center has issued hurricane and tropical storm warnings throughout these areas.
The National Hurricane Center now says with wind speeds exceeding 185 miles per hour, Hurricane Irma is the second-strongest Atlantic storm ever, trailing only 1980’s Hurricane Allen which topped out at 190 mile per hour wind speeds. Storm tracking and measurements taken during the next several days will allow meteorologists to more accurately predict the storm’s path beyond the end of the week and issue weather advisories as necessary.
“The National Hurricane Center is really the only forecast people should be listening to,” Tang says, downplaying the scary-looking, brightly colored maps so easily sharable online. “They’re the ones issuing forecasts every 3-6 hours, and they get the latest data from the Air Force and navy planes that are going through the hurricane. They’re the first ones to see the model data, even before we do. That’s the thing everybody should be paying attention to, not the spaghetti diagrams. If you don’t have the expertise to decide which one’s more reliable, then it’s all just spaghetti on a wall.”
Despite the strength of the storm, Tang emphasizes that the Northeast isn’t expecting any severe weather conditions from Irma. “Assuming it stays on its current path and makes landfall somewhere in Cuba or Florida… when it moves inland it’s going to weaken very quickly. By the time it gets up here it’s going to more or less be just a regular rainstorm.” For comparison, he adds that this past weekend’s rain was in fact the little bit of Hurricane Harvey’s moisture that survived its trip up the East Coast. “You didn’t know it was Harvey; it just seemed like another rainstorm.”
While the Hudson Valley is not in any imminent danger from Hurricane Irma, residents can still contribute to relief efforts from Harvey and any potential damage caused by Irma later this week.