Hurricane Irene: Chat outlook, preparation and more with Capital Weather's Greg Postel

Aug 26, 2011

Are you ready for Hurricane Irene? Chat live with Capital Weather Gang's tropical weather expert Greg Postel Friday, Aug. 26 at 11 a.m. ET.

Have a question? Ask now.


Good morning !

Irene is closing in on the Outer Banks.   It has weakened slightly in the 11am advisory to 105 mph.   I wouldn't be surprised to see that slow trend continue.  NHC track guidance has not changed.  Those folks are pretty darn good, don't you think?  Anyway, lets get to your questions.

What a week! I live in NYC and was suppose to head to Dewey Beach, DE this weekend for a good friend's bachelor party. Irene had to go and ruin those plans so the party was moved to Arlington, VA where the majority of the attendees live. There is a group of us who have been friends since grade school and don't get to see each other that often bc of life's other responsibilities (work, babies, etc). My question is -- I am still planning on heading to DC this evening and want to know when the best time to return to NYC would be, Saturday or Sunday? Also - am I putting my life in danger? Not that you could talk me out of it.

Very early Sat, or very late Sunday.  Best bet is Monday.  Drive safely!

We were planning to attend a funeral in Philadelphia Saturday morning and drive to Annandale Saturday afternoon. We've been on vacation in New England for a week, and didn't know to secure outdoor furniture, trash cans, etc before we left. So in addition to wanting to avoid bad driving conditions, we need to get back and stow movable stuff in the garage. Do you think we're waiting too late to head home? What time would you advise targeting to get back?

You're probably OK.  May run into some showers Sat afternoon.  The earlier the better. you see a "natural" separation line to the east of which there is a greater chance of power outages. For example, I've seen I-95 as a possible borderline where the chances of power outages are somewhat less to the west.

Not really.  The rain band patterns will give you an idea of where the gusty winds will be, and we won't know what they'll look like until we see them on radar.  But honestly, in DC,  I'd be surprised if you expereince even 50 mph gusts, assuming the track doesn't shift west.

is this one of those things that will actually be a big deal like crazy blizzards were, or one of those things where everyone is freaking out and I'll be upset I cancelled plans for the weekend to camp out at home with my canned food when it looks like any other summer storm? just trying to decide whether I need postpone a few parties planned for the weekend and start emailing dozens of people :)

Hard to know, because people respond to differently to different weather conditions.  Obviously the Outer Banks are at risk for hurricane conditions.  And hurricane conditions (which can be scary even at low-end Cat 1 range ... I've been there many times)  may possibly even skirt the VA/MD baeches.  Flooding rain is the big risk for DC, in my opinion

Like many people, I have huge old growth trees surrounding my split level home. With guests of 50+ mph I am terrified they will fall on my house. Can they withstand the wind? Should my kids and I stay with friends Sat. night?

I'd wouldn't be surprised if DC does not get 50mph gusts.  A way to verify is check DCA's offical observations Sat night/Sun morning.  Those should be representative numbers for your area.

Who makes the call regarding weather being too bad to allow flights to take off? Are there certain thresholds on wind speed and other factors, or is it a judgement call? I'm hoping my 7:30am flight BOS-ORD on Sunday won't be canceled or delayed, anything I can do besides keep an eye on the airline website?

Not sure of FAA rules.  I do believe there are wind speed/wind direction triggers.  But they'll do their best to keep things safe.  Sunday morning BOS flights may be problematic, with lots of delays/cancellations potentially.

My mom is supposed to fly into Dulles tomorrow afternoon at 4 pm. Although the airlines have allowed her to change her ticket, we would really like it if she can still come in then. Can you please give us an idea of the risks of her flight getting cancelled tomorrow? Thank you.

Biggest risk is of a growing network of cancellations.  They won't fly if its too dangerous, so I wouldn't worry about that. But Sat 4pm is getting pretty close to shower-onset time.  Not sure what FAA will do.

We packed first aid kit, food, water, flashlight, batteries, can opener, cellphone, over the counter drugs. Anything else an on-campus student should get?

Wow!  Well done.  Everything will be OK.  I suppose you could add some good rest, maybe.  I find I could always use more.

Do you think it would be wise to travel from Virginia to Philly this weekend? We are due to leave tomorrow returning on Sunday. My concern is traveling on Sunday. Thanks

Not sure where in VA.  Coastal Virginia will be dealing with Irene Saturday afternoon.  I I wouldn't travel to/from there at that time.  Philly will get their share Sat night/Sun morning.  Later Sun afternoon, conditions will rapidly improve.

What kind of storm surge are we likely to have in the northern chesapeake bay rivers. Like Isabel or greater??

I'm not a storm surge expert, but with Irene's predicted track to remain to your east, storm surge shouldn't be too high.  Not like Isabel.  Coast flooding/heavy rains are primary concerns.  But I'd check with NHC/NWS on details for that.

As a South Floridian I'm floored. This is an area that under normal rain looses power. The power line poles are old, rotted and tilted. Trees crack under regular rain storms. The amount of tree damage that sustained winds are going to cause (even if just 40 mph) is going to have us digging out for days, not to mention the loss of power. By now, grocery stores would be empty in Florida and the lines to get gas would be blocks long. Can people here really be thinking that this thing is going to come in and everything will be back to normal after an hour? Amazing. Under different circumstances this would be funny to watch the aftermath... It would be interesting to see how they react to Marshall Law for a week, no water, no power and no cell phones.

Hmm, didn't know that about the DC infrastructure.  I guess I would prepare for a showery/windy day ...

I must say that the news coverage of a Cat 3 storm aimed at the East Coast seems much more of "the sky is falling" than was the coverage of a Cat 5 aimed at NO (Katrina). Is Mr. Gore still in charge of the editorial coverage of the Post and NYT?

Cat 2 now.

For residentsof the mountains along th eastern edge of West Virginia, what preparation measures for the hurricane would be most prudent?

Not too much impact there, I don't think.  Monitor flooding, i suppose, if rainbands can make it that far west.

I live on the 19th floor of a high rise apartment building with big windows. There aren't any big trees around, and certainly none that are as high as my floor, so I don't think I'm in any danger of trees or branches crashing through the window. I am a little worried about the wind blowing out the windows, though. How likely is this? My bed is right next to the window. I'm considering dragging the mattress off the boxspring and sleeping on the floor to protect me from flying glass. I'm a little paranoid about this... Thanks for doing this chat.

200 feet off the ground will have higher winds than in the parking lot, that's for sure.  Windows will probably be OK,  but it's  a good idea to prepare just in case.

Hi Greg, I, like several of my friends, live in an English basement apartment in Northwest (uphill areas like Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights, and Mt. Pleasant area.) Should we be worried about potential flooding in this storm? If so, how should we prepare- would sand bags be appropriate? Thanks, Brooke

Heavy rains are the biggest risk for DC.  Several inches are possible ... but there will probably be a sharp cutoff to the rain on Irene's western side, so there is also a chance you might not get much. I wish I could tell you exactly one way or another, but just keep an eye on the radar, and do what you would to prepare for a several inches of rain just in case.  hope that helps.

We're supposed to fly out of BWI to Cancun at 11 on Saturday morning. Irene will be off the Carolinas, but the wind field is enormous. Right now, does it look like we'll be lifting off? Thank You

I doubt winds at the terminal will be a problem then.  A network of cancellations might be, though.

How much will Irene affect the Annapolis, Severn Area near Chesapeake Bay? Am from germany but good friends live there. Should they evacuate from there?

It's up to them, unless ordered by law.  Tropical storm force wind gusts (39-74) mph) are likely, especially right along the water's edge.  This is all assuming current track.

Greg, please help! I have been working for nearly a year on a pretty epic marriage proposal. It can only take place outdoors when it is 100% dry, so I am freaking out that everything will be ruined. It's currently scheduled for noon, but I could potentially push it back an hour or 2, or worst case into Monday. But families are in town for this and I really prefer Sunday. The latest forecasts seem to agree that Sunday rain will be earlier than later, so that gives me some hope. If you were me, would you proceed for noon, push back to 1 or 2, or push back into Monday? The location is central DC. Thank you very much!

Ahhh man, bad timing.   I'd push it back ... the later the better.  Also, do you care about gusty breezes?  Keep that in mind.  Check local NWS forecasts for those.

I love the Weather Gang - thanks for all your great work. Quick question: DC is really not mentioned in the major networks' coverage of Irene. Is this because it's going to be a pretty minor event in the District?

Not sure on the definition of minor.  But potential for flooding rains is probably the biggest concern the way things look right now.  The weather gets worse further to the east.

Thanks for doing such a great job, Greg! You must be tired. My family lives in Connecticut with property in Fairfield County and along the Connecticut River in the Old Saybrook area. I'm worried about them and their property. How bad will this be for Connecticut? Thanks!

Thanks for the kind words.  I haven't yet really focused on CT, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind. Irene will likely be weakening pretty quickly by then, but still there could be plenty of hazards to deal with, especailly along and just east of the track.  Keep tuned to NHC and the weather service for local impacts.  And of course, to the Capital Weather Gang (shameless plug).

Since last night, I have been looking at the Irene tracker. The hurricane has clearly made a turn to the east of what was expected. But the future trajectory, passing through the east coast, was not changed. Is that just a matter of waiting for the update, or do you guys expect it to go back west?

I saw the due north curve, too.  NHC has been great so far.  I would expect their track to only change little by little .. if at all ... as Irene moves poleward.  Their is still  a decent amount of uncertainty north of the Outer Banks, about how close to the coast Irene will track.

Are the probabilities equal of deviation east or west from the most likely path? Or, roughly, is it equally likely that storm will pass our area farther out to sea or farther inland?

Don't know for sure, but my guess is the error bias might lean to the east a little.  The track guidance has more spread that way.

How much flooding can we expect? For example, could underground garages in DC might fill up and damage cars?

Wow, I doubt that, with NWS giving a range of 2-5 inches.  But again, sharp cutoff on Irene's western side, so there may not be much not that far away.  Keep an eye on that radar Sat/Sat night.

How bad is the storm going to be for us D.C. residents? Will this just be a very rainy weekend, or should we be worried?

Stay cool, and don't worry.  Current track suggests a rainy windy day ... but not excessively windy.

With the majority of the rain and intensity focused in the eastern side of the storm, is there a chance this could essentially miss us with even a slight eastward turn?


It seems that the CWG's predictions for how bad the storm will be are less dire-sounding than everything else's out there. Who should we believe? I tend to trust CWG based on past predictions, but every time I glance at the network news or even the Weather Channel website, I get nervous...

We'll see.  Obviously a Cat 2 storm bearing down on the Outer Banks is a very serious situation.  And a northward track very near the East Coast up through eastern NE is as well.  I trust everyone has the finest intentions, and is only doing their best to protect life and property in the way they see fit.  How consumers respond to that is largely up to them.

Hello Greg, I'm curious as to where I can find an online map showing flood prone areas in Southern MD and the coastal areas in the Chesapeake Bay? Thanks!

Good question.  Check FEMA website or local emergency management office.

What are the chances that Irene will curve off track once it hits land in NC or elsewhere? Does it look like there are any conditions that will cause Irene to weaken once it makes its way up north?

Let's stick with NHC's track for starters.  Once Irene moves north of the Outer Banks, there is still considerable spread in the guidance that has more wiggle room on the east side than on the west.   As far as weakening goes, yes it's already starting to do that slowly.  There may be some fluctuations, i suppose, prior to NC landfall (assuming it does so there).  After that, cooler waters, stronger shear, and drier air will all come into play and begin to adversely affect the circulation.

Greg - I'm supposed to go home to Upstate NY for a wedding tonight and need to come back on Sunday. Will be driving through Scranton, Harrisburg, York, Baltimore, and back to DC. Do you advise making that trip on Sunday or should I scrap the wedding?

close call.  Rain is primary concern.  The later the better, and the farther west the better.  sorry for the uncertainty.

Greg, it looks like this is turning into a non-event for the DC area. Do you agree?

A non event? No.  A damaging wind event?  unlikely.

I was vacationing in Rehoboth Beach until this morning when everyone was told we had to leave by 11--at which point all businesses would be closed so there would be no point in trying to stick around unless you had a residence there. Why were people evacuated today instead of allowed to stay until tomorrow morning? It's a lovely day today.

Probably to minimize the traffic flow, because they know people will wait anyway.  just a guess.

Hi Greg, As a meteorologist, which do you find more challenging and interesting: tracking hurricanes or predicting tornadoes?

I'm more interested in hurricane.  Both present their formidable challenges.  But I think it's safe to say the skill is higher in predicting where Irene will be in 24 hours, than whether or not a tornado will form in a particular county tomorrow.

Hi: I have a good friend whose mother lives in Virginia Beach (1 half mile from one of the inlets branching off of Broad Bay). Her mother is disabled and she is wondering if she should be worried about storm surge. What's the likelihood of storm surge affecting that area?

Stay safe.  I would check the local weather service forecasts for that.  Irene is expected to make a close approach and conditions could get pretty rough.

Today is my birthday and I was planning on having a bunch of people over to my house in DC tomorrow afternoon to celebrate. Will the conditions be dangerous enough that people shouldn't travel around the city? Do you foresee a high likelihood of power loss?

I think it'll be ok.

Hey there! My wife, two little kids and I are scheduled to fly back from the West to Washington National on Saturday, with a 4:30 pm arrival. We're worried that the flight will be canceled, but don't want to delay a return by two full days. In your experience, do light tropical storm force winds cancel jet arrivals? And will those strongish winds be hitting National by 4:30? Or is there more to the equation, such as storing planes in an airport affected by a hurricane, etc? Thanks!

may be cancelled, but probably not because of conditions at the terminal site.

I asked the question about the trees. Your answer didn't address what impact the winds (even if less than 50) would have on them. Do you think it is safe to stay in the home Sat. night? The forecast is still saying 50+ gusts. Thank you.

you'll probably be just fine.

Thanks for all of your questions.  Sorry I couldn't get to all of them.   Just don't panic, and stay cool.  Of course, stay tuned to your local National Weather Service office, and the National Hurricane Center.  And, of course, (shameless plug #2) to the Capital Weather Gang.

thanks, and gotta run.


In This Chat
Greg Postel
Dr. Gregory Postel currently serves as a meteorologist for 6News in Lawrence, Kansas. Prior to joining 6News, Greg was the lead meteorologist for a weather-risk management firm in Overland Park, KS. He earned his M.S. and Ph.D. in atmospheric sciences from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he specialized in the dynamics of quasi-balanced interactions between the tropics and extratropics. His post-doctoral research investigated factors leading to the development of tropical cyclones, and in particular the dynamical transition of easterly waves into precursor vortices. He's an avid hurricane chaser and has driven many thousands of miles to intercept land-falling hurricanes.
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