Hurricane Irene: A Storm's Character Profile

Originally published on October 4, 2011 3:07 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: So, just who is Irene and how bad is she? We're going to get a character profile of this storm now. Bill Read is the director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Welcome to the program.

BILL READ: My pleasure. How are you?

SIEGEL: Fine. And just how big a storm is this?

READ: As far as area goes, this is a very large storm. The tropical storm force winds now go out about - I think we're talking over 300 miles out to the northeast. The hurricane force winds are out about 80 miles, out on the eastern half of the storm. So in area, it's very large. As far as wind speeds go, it's at a category 2 level, which is down some from yesterday and that's a good thing.

SIEGEL: Now, when a hurricane is downgraded from one category - from 3 to 2 - that doesn't preclude its going back up to 3 or 4, does it?

READ: Not usually, especially if it's coming across the Caribbean. But at this stage in its life, moving north, it's approaching land in North Carolina. It will start to have cooler water under it. The chance of it intensifying from where it is right now is becoming more and more remote. There's a brief window of opportunity, but after that, it'll be a steady downhill trend on the intensity.

SIEGEL: So comparing this to, say, I think the most notorious hurricane in recent years, Katrina, in terms of strength of winds, size, how does it compare?

READ: Maybe roughly in size, but other than that there's no comparison. Katrina was a far more intense hurricane.

SIEGEL: I have seen different possible tracks that this storm might take from here. What's the most likely scenario and what are some other possibilities?

READ: Well, it's most likely gonna make direct landfall on Cape Lookout to Cape Hatteras aspect on the North Carolina coast and cross eastern North Carolina. Most likely, come back out to sea along the Delmarva Peninsula and run parallel to the Jersey shore. There's still enough uncertainty as to whether it'll stay over land, say over Jersey and across New York into southern New England, middle of Long Island or maybe even out to eastern New England. There's still an opportunity for that much deviation in the track up at that end, but that's about it.

SIEGEL: And at the National Hurricane Center, has the computer model gotten a lot more sophisticated in recent years? Are you any better in predicting where the hurricanes go?

READ: It's great story about the track forecasting with the improvement in models, our confidence in our hurricane track forecast is such that a similar track was followed by Hurricane Floyd just 12 years ago in 1999, which triggered evacuations from parts of Florida all the way up through the Carolinas precisely due to the uncertainty. This time, it was never even considered for Florida and Georgia because of the confidence in the track.

SIEGEL: So we're that much better nowadays at figuring out where these storms are headed?

READ: That's correct. It's all - we cut it about in half over the last 10 to 15 years. Not so on the intensity. For example, there's nothing in our tool kit that forecast the weakening that we've seen today. Other that the fact that general features will hold back the development of a hurricane, there's nothing I have that would let me be real confident in the forecast of how strong the storm will be when it's off of New Jersey and New York.

SIEGEL: Well, Mr. Reid, I guess you're preparing for a very busy weekend.

READ: Yeah. I don't plan on any golf or relaxing this weekend.


SIEGEL: Okay. Well, thanks for talking with us.

READ: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Bill Reid, who is the director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.