Irene Headed for New England? By Lyndsay Tapases

I can't imagine what the residents of New England are going to think if Irene ends up making landfall as a Category 2 hurricane this weekend. Tornadoes in June, an earthquake yesterday, and now possibly a hurricane!?

The first hurricane of the 2011 Atlantic season has come in with quite the bang already, and the show is not nearly over yet. Irene became a major hurricane earlier this morning upon reaching Category 3 status and is expected to become a Category 4 within the next 24-48 hours. As model simulations continue to edge further and further east with the forecast track, a landfall over southern New England is becoming a real possibility.

Although it is certainly not common to see a hurricane make landfall in this region, it is also not unheard of. However, once storms make their way into the Northern Atlantic, they typically encounter cooler ocean temperatures and increased wind shear, which are both detrimental to the maintenance of their strength. This year, one of the factors that may help to keep Irene going stronger longer is abnormally warm sea surface temperatures, which are warmer by about 1-3F along the east coast from North Carolina to New York.

The last time a hurricane made landfall still at Category 3 intensity in New England was in 1938 over Long Island, and the storm has since been known as the "Great New England Hurricane". The damage from the storm then is equivalent to just under $5 billion today, and this storm still stands as the most destructive hurricane in New England's history. Since then, all other landfalls have been either at Category 1 or 2 intensity, with the most recent being Gloria (Cat 1) in 1985 landing in Milford, CT, and in 1991 with Bob (Cat 2) near New Bedford, MA.

For Irene, computer models are still in much disagreement out past day 3. Most seem to be in consensus that Irene will pass over or just east of the Outer Banks midday Saturday. Beyond that, it could make landfall anywhere from New Jersey to Cape Cod, depending on which model you believe. At this point, everyone along the North Carolina coast up through Maine needs to be prepared.

As a side note, I must admit I'm a little disappointed that the first year after I finally move away from home (in Massachusetts) they experience a record-setting winter, along with the aforementioned tornadoes, and now possibly a hurricane. At least I got the quake in Virginia.