It’s good to see some weakening of Hurricane Irene. It’s currently projecting as a strong Category 1 hurricane when makes landfall in North Carolina, and perhaps a weak Category 2. Here’s what is still very concerning, however.

At 3:30 pm EDT this afternoon, a wind analysis from NOAA/HRD (Figure 2) indicated that the potential storm surge damage from Irene still rated a 5.0 on a scale of 0 to 6. This is equivalent to the storm surge a typical Category 4 hurricane would have. While this damage potential should steadily decline as Irene moves northwards and weakens, we can still expect a storm surge one full Saffir-Simpson Category higher than Irene’s winds when it impacts the coast. Since tides are at their highest levels of the month this weekend due to the new moon, storm surge flooding will be at a maximum during the high tidal cycles that will occur at 8 pm Saturday night and 8 am Sunday morning. Wherever Irene happens to be at those times, the storm surge damage potential will be maximized. I continue to give a 20% chance that a 3 – 4 foot storm surge high enough to over-top the Manhattan flood walls and swamp the New York City subway system will occur on Sunday. The latest 11 am probabilistic storm surge map from NHC shows a 20 – 30% chance of a storm surge in excess of 3 feet in New York Harbor (Figure 4.) Keep in mind that these maps are calculated for normal tide level, and this weekend’s high tides will be nearly 1 foot above normal.

Projections are that the hurricane will be pretty near Philadelphia at 8pm Saturday, meaning it is likely that the storm surge will be maximized in the city. An earlier update by Dr. Jeff Masters projected Irene to still be a Category 1 storm at that point.

The storm is too large to weaken quickly, and the best forecast is that Irene will be a Category 2 hurricane at landfall in North Carolina on Saturday, and a rapidly weakening Category 1 hurricane at its second landfall in New England on Sunday.

If all of this is true, then Philly would get a flood surge equivalent to a maximized Category 2 hurricane even though the actual hurricane is only a Category One.

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