Did Hurricane Wilma have 209 mph sustained winds?

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:00 PM GMT on April 28, 2012

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At last week's 30th Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology of the American Meteorological Society, Dr. Eric Uhlhorn of NOAA's Hurricane Research Division presented a poster that looked at the relationship between surface winds measured by the SFMR instrument and flight-level winds in two Category 5 storms. Hurricane Hunter flights done into Category 5 Supertyphoon Megi (17 October 2010) and Category 5 Hurricane Felix (03 September 2007) found that the surface winds measured by SFMR were greater than those measured at flight level (10,000 feet.) Usually, surface winds in a hurricane are 10 - 15% less than at 10,000 feet, but he showed that in super-intense Category 5 storms with small eyes, the dynamics of these situations may generate surface winds that are as strong or stronger than those found at 10,000 feet. He extrapolated this statistical relationship (using the inertial stability measured at flight level) to Hurricane Wilma of 2005, which was the strongest hurricane on record (882 mb), but was not observed by the SFMR. He estimated that the maximum wind averaged around the eyewall in Wilma at peak intensity could have been 209 mph, plus or minus 20 mph--so conceivably as high as 229 mph, with gusts to 270 mph. Yowza. That's well in excess of the 200 mph minimum wind speed a top end EF-5 tornado has. The Joplin, Missouri EF-5 tornado of May 22, 2011 had winds estimated at 225 - 250 mph. That tornado ripped pavement from the ground, leveled buildings to the concrete slabs they were built on, and killed 161 people. It's not a pretty thought to consider what Wilma would have done to Cancun, Key West, or Fort Myers had the hurricane hit with sustained winds of what the Joplin tornado had.


Figure 1. Hurricane Wilma's pinhole eye as seen at 8:22 a.m. CDT Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2005, by the crew aboard NASA's international space station as the complex flew 222 miles above the storm. At the time, Wilma was the strongest Atlantic hurricane in history, with a central pressure of 882 mb and sustained surface winds estimated at 185 mph. The storm was located in the Caribbean Sea, 340 miles southeast of Cozumel, Mexico. Image source: NASA's Space Photo Gallery.


Figure 2. Damage in Joplin, Missouri after the EF-5 tornado of May 22, 2011. Image credit: wunderphotographer thebige.

Official all-time strongest winds in an Atlantic hurricane: 190 mph
The official record for strongest winds in an Atlantic hurricane is 190 mph, for Hurricane Allen of 1980 as it was entering the Gulf of Mexico, and for Hurricane Camille of 1969, as it was making landfall in Pass Christian, Mississippi. In Dr. Bob Sheets' and Jack Williams' book, Hurricane Watch, they recount the Hurricane Hunters flight into Camile as the hurricane reached peak intensity: On Sunday afternoon, August 17, and Air Force C-130 piloted by Marvin Little penetrated Camille's eye and measured a pressure of 26.62 inches of mercury. "Just as we were nearing the eyewall cloud we suddenly broke into a clear area and could see the sea surface below," the copilot, Robert Lee Clark, wrote in 1982. "What a sight! Although everyone on the crew was experienced except me, no one had seen the wind whip the sea like that before...Instead of the green and white splotches normally found in a storm, the sea surface was in deep furrows running along the wind direction....The velocity was beyond the descriptions used in our training and far beyond anything we had ever seen." So, the 190 mph winds of Camille were an estimate that was off the scale from anything that had ever been observed in the past. The books that the Hurricane Hunters carried, filled with photos of the sea state at various wind speeds, only goes up to 150 mph (Figure 2). I still used this book to estimate surface winds when I flew with the Hurricane Hunters in the late 1980s, and the books are still carried on the planes today. In the two Category 5 hurricanes I flew into, Hugo and Gilbert, I never observed the furrowing effect referred to above. Gilbert had surface winds estimated at 175 mph based on what we measured at flight level, so I believe the 190 mph wind estimate in Camille may be reasonable.


Figure 3. Appearance of the sea surface in winds of 130 knots (150 mph). Image credit: Wind Estimations from Aerial Observations of Sea Conditions (1954), by Charlie Neumann.


Figure 4. Radar image of Hurricane Camille taken at 22:15 UTC August 17, 1969, a few hours before landfall in Mississippi. At the time, Camille had the highest sustained winds of any Atlantic hurricane in history--190 mph.

The infamous hurricane hunter flight into Wilma during its rapid intensification
While I was at last week's conference, I had a conversation with Rich Henning, a flight meteorologist for NOAA's Hurricane Hunters, who served for many years as a Air Reconnaissance Weather Officer (ARWO) for the Air Force Hurricane Hunters. Rich told me the story of the Air Force Hurricane Hunter mission into Hurricane Wilma in the early morning hours of October 19, 2005, as Wilma entered its explosive deepening phase. The previous airplane, which had departed Category 1 Wilma six hours previously, flew through Wilma at an altitude of 5,000 feet. They measured a central pressure of 954 mb when they departed the eye at 23:10 UTC. The crew of the new plane assumed that the hurricane, though intensifying, was probably not a major hurricane, and decided that they would also go in at 5,000 feet. Winds outside the eyewall were less than hurricane force, so this seemed like a reasonable assumption. Once the airplane hit the eyewall, they realized their mistake. Flight level winds quickly rose to 186 mph, far in excess of Category 5 strength, and severe turbulence rocked the aircraft. The aircraft was keeping a constant pressure altitude to maintain their height above the ocean during the penetration, but the area of low pressure at Wilma's center was so intense that the airplane descended at over 1,000 feet per minute during the penetration in order to maintain a constant pressure altitude. By they time they punched into the incredibly tiny 4-mile wide eye, which had a central pressure of just 901 mb at 04:32 UTC, the plane was at a dangerously low altitude of 1,500 feet--not a good idea in a Category 5 hurricane. The pilot ordered an immediate climb, and the plane exited the other side of Wilma's eyewall at an altitude of 10,000 feet. They maintained this altitude for the remainder of the flight. During their next pass through the eye at 06:11 UTC, the diameter of the eye had shrunk to an incredibly tiny two miles--the smallest hurricane eye ever measured. During their third and final pass through the eye at 0801 UTC, a dropsonde found a central pressure of 882 mb--the lowest pressure ever observed in an Atlantic hurricane. In the span of just 24 hours, Wilma had intensified from a 70 mph tropical storm to a 175 mph category 5 hurricane--an unprecedented event for an Atlantic hurricane. Since the pressure was still falling, it is likely that Wilma became even stronger after the mission departed.

I'll have a new post by Tuesday at the latest.

Jeff Masters

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Looks great
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Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 9 Comments: 7483
I wonder how strong the El nino will get.I'm hoping for a weak one...
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Quoting spathy:
So is this Fl blob expected to travel up Fl East coast or traverse the state towards the GOM (over top of me)?
I am getting confused. As usual.


Not to worry, you're certainly not the only one who is confused about this situation. I do not think this will develop into anything, simply because the sheer is way to high as it is. But, to answer your question it should head into the Gulf of Mexico. The models are showing this low as an area of tropical energy just pushing through Florida and heading into the Gulf, at least that's whats the GFS is showing.

If we're going to look for tropical/subtropical formation, the GFS is showing a stronger low coming through a relatively same path as this one on the 12z run.
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Quoting AussieStorm:
Hail Storm, Maryland Heights 04/28/12 Watch at :50 seconds when the rear window of car on left breaks and at :58 seconds when rear window of car on right breaks.

Link


Mother of god... That's insane!!!
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ok so I ask again, is there a new link to the atcf database? I think I found it, but the database does not have 91L updates on there from earlier this month
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I thought this was pretty funny.

No offense intended
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you can see it on this map.


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Quoting Hurricanes101:


last few frames of the visible to me indicate one starting to form
nws said early this morning a low was going to form by moday, looks like their guess was right on the money
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 33491
Quoting spathy:
So is this Fl blob expected to travel up Fl East coast or traverse the state towards the GOM (over top of me)?
I am getting confused. As usual.
Ur not the only one... NWS seems the same way....
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GHCC visible loop over South Florida.
Member Since: September 23, 2005 Posts: 13 Comments: 10473


Yall are correct, there is a low level circulation starting
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Quoting AussieStorm:
Hail Storm, Maryland Heights 04/28/12 Watch at :50 seconds when the rear window of car on left breaks and at :58 seconds when rear window of car on right breaks.

Link

My word...that's quite an hail storm
Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 9 Comments: 7483
Quoting spathy:
So is this Fl blob expected to travel up Fl East coast or traverse the state towards the GOM (over top of me)?
I am getting confused. As usual.


the models were showing both. In earlier runs they had it going up the east coast and heading out to sea while some runs now have it going in the GOM..time will tell
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That storm by Florida looks interesting.At least the state is getting rain that they needed.But to much of a good thing can be a bad thing as well.And some are paying the price of getting to much rain at a small amount of time.
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Quoting spathy:
So is this Fl blob expected to travel up Fl East coast or traverse the state towards the GOM (over top of me)?
I am getting confused. As usual.


forecast is it goes into the GOM and heads towards the Western Gulf
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Quoting pcola57:

Hey Grothar..
I am getting a bounce page when I click the link..any suggestion?

Yeah, same here
Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 9 Comments: 7483
Hail Storm, Maryland Heights 04/28/12 Watch at :50 seconds when the rear window of car on left breaks and at :58 seconds when rear window of car on right breaks.

Link
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Quoting Grothar:
Animated version link:

Link

Hey Grothar..
I am getting a bounce page when I click the link..any suggestion?
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Quite the wet morning in Florida. Take care all. Hope it spreads up the peninsula a bit and gives everyone some beneficial rains before it comes our way and we kill it. ;)

DURING THE
MIDDLE OF THE WEEK THE MOISTURE ASSOCIATED WITH AN UPPER LOW AND
WEAK SURFACE TROUGH CURRENTLY NEAR S FL AND CUBA WILL BE PUSHED
NORTHWEST AROUND THE SUB-TROPICAL RIDGE AND TOWARD THE FORECAST
AREA. THIS WILL ALLOW FOR ISOLD TO SCT TSRA TO OCCUR ACROSS THE
AREA AS MOISTURE INCREASE LOCALLY AND THE MID LVL RIDGE WEAKENS
MORE. AT THIS TIME IT APPEARS MOST MOISTURE WILL STREAM ACROSS
CENTRAL AND SE SECTIONS OF LA WITH LESS CONVECTION EXPECTED ACROSS
SW LA AND SE TX, HOWEVER ISOLD DIURNAL SHOWERS AND STORMS WILL
LIKELY STILL OCCUR THERE AS WELL. BY LATE WEEK MID LVL RIDGING
WILL BECOME RE-ESTABLISHED DECREASING POPS AGAIN INTO THE WEEKEND
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And this is where my GR2Analyst comes in handy... I can clearly see a low forming, wish I could post the loop of it...
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Time for NHC to drop the ball again on a pre-season subtropical storm. Visible Loop
I'm not saying it is now, I said even yesterday that it looks like one forming. It takes time.
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Animated version link:

Link
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 64 Comments: 23751
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 64 Comments: 23751
Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 9 Comments: 7483
If there is a surface low forming, it would be located at about 24.1N, 79.3W somewhere south-southeast of Miami.
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Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
AREA FORECAST DISCUSSION
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE MIAMI FL
1021 AM EDT SUN APR 29 2012

.UPDATE...FORECAST OVER THE NEXT 24 HOURS JUST GETS MORE
CHALLENGING WITH MODEL CONSENSUS STILL NOT COMING INTO PLAY. THE
NAM AND GFS ARE NOW THE MOST AGGRESSIVE WITH WIND FIELDS AND
RAINFALL WHEREAS OVER THE PAST COUPLE OF DAYS IT HAD BEEN THE
ECMWF WITH THE NAM BEING AN OUTLIER. CONSIDERING THE RAIN IS
CURRENTLY ONGOING, CERTAINLY DO NOT PLAN TO CHANGE THAT PART OF
THE FORECAST AND WITH THE EASTERLY FLOW THIS FEED OF MOISTURE WILL
CONTINUE THROUGHOUT THE DAY. THIS ALSO IS INDICATIVE FROM THE WATER
VAPOR IMAGERY WHICH CLEARLY SHOWS A DEEP TROPICAL MOISTURE PLUME
EXTENDING NORTH FROM THE CARIBBEAN ON THE WEST SIDE OF A
SIGNIFICANT MID LEVEL TROUGH. THERE ALSO HAVE BEEN BANDS OF
EMBEDDED HEAVY SHRA MOVING ONSHORE OF THE SE CST SOUTH OF PALM
BEACH COUNTY. THERE HAS NOT BEEN ANY TRAINING OF ECHOS SETTING UP
THIS MORNING PER SE ALONG THE E CST BUT THE CONTINUATION OF THE
FEED OF MOISTURE STILL LIKELY WILL LEAD TO IMPRESSIVE RAINFALL
AMOUNTS OVER THE NEXT 24 TO 36 HOURS SO THE FLOOD WATCH WILL
REMAIN IN PLACE.

FOR THE WIND FIELDS, THESE HAVE BEEN VERIFYING OVER THE
ATLANTIC WATERS AND WHILE THERE IS NO INDICATION AS OF 14Z THAT A
SFC LOW HAS DEVELOPED OVER THE FL KEYS BOTH THE NAM AND GFS SHOW
THIS TO MATERIALIZE BY EARLY THIS AFTERNOON. AND WHILE THIS MAY OR
MAY NOT OCCUR, THE PRESSURE GRADIENT HAS BEEN ON THE INCREASE SO
WILL LEAVE THE SCA TO BEGIN OVER THE GULF WATERS AT 18Z.


I remember you saying this 3 days ago. Good call Geoff.
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 64 Comments: 23751
Quoting Hurricanes101:


last few frames of the visible to me indicate one starting to form

It looks that way to me as well
Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 9 Comments: 7483
Quoting nrtiwlnvragn:


Rain gauges are like real estate, location, location, location.


LOL
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 64 Comments: 23751
Quoting WxGeekVA:


AND WHILE THERE IS NO INDICATION AS OF 14Z THAT A
SFC LOW HAS DEVELOPED OVER THE FL KEYS BOTH THE NAM AND GFS SHOW
THIS TO MATERIALIZE BY EARLY THIS AFTERNOON


Hmmmmm.... Surface low to form?


last few frames of the visible to me indicate one starting to form
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
AREA FORECAST DISCUSSION
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE MIAMI FL
1021 AM EDT SUN APR 29 2012

.UPDATE...FORECAST OVER THE NEXT 24 HOURS JUST GETS MORE
CHALLENGING WITH MODEL CONSENSUS STILL NOT COMING INTO PLAY. THE
NAM AND GFS ARE NOW THE MOST AGGRESSIVE WITH WIND FIELDS AND
RAINFALL WHEREAS OVER THE PAST COUPLE OF DAYS IT HAD BEEN THE
ECMWF WITH THE NAM BEING AN OUTLIER. CONSIDERING THE RAIN IS
CURRENTLY ONGOING, CERTAINLY DO NOT PLAN TO CHANGE THAT PART OF
THE FORECAST AND WITH THE EASTERLY FLOW THIS FEED OF MOISTURE WILL
CONTINUE THROUGHOUT THE DAY. THIS ALSO IS INDICATIVE FROM THE WATER
VAPOR IMAGERY WHICH CLEARLY SHOWS A DEEP TROPICAL MOISTURE PLUME
EXTENDING NORTH FROM THE CARIBBEAN ON THE WEST SIDE OF A
SIGNIFICANT MID LEVEL TROUGH. THERE ALSO HAVE BEEN BANDS OF
EMBEDDED HEAVY SHRA MOVING ONSHORE OF THE SE CST SOUTH OF PALM
BEACH COUNTY. THERE HAS NOT BEEN ANY TRAINING OF ECHOS SETTING UP
THIS MORNING PER SE ALONG THE E CST BUT THE CONTINUATION OF THE
FEED OF MOISTURE STILL LIKELY WILL LEAD TO IMPRESSIVE RAINFALL
AMOUNTS OVER THE NEXT 24 TO 36 HOURS SO THE FLOOD WATCH WILL
REMAIN IN PLACE.

FOR THE WIND FIELDS, THESE HAVE BEEN VERIFYING OVER THE
ATLANTIC WATERS AND WHILE THERE IS NO INDICATION AS OF 14Z THAT A
SFC LOW HAS DEVELOPED OVER THE FL KEYS BOTH THE NAM AND GFS SHOW
THIS TO MATERIALIZE BY EARLY THIS AFTERNOON
. AND WHILE THIS MAY OR
MAY NOT OCCUR, THE PRESSURE GRADIENT HAS BEEN ON THE INCREASE SO
WILL LEAVE THE SCA TO BEGIN OVER THE GULF WATERS AT 18Z.


AND WHILE THERE IS NO INDICATION AS OF 14Z THAT A
SFC LOW HAS DEVELOPED OVER THE FL KEYS BOTH THE NAM AND GFS SHOW
THIS TO MATERIALIZE BY EARLY THIS AFTERNOON


Hmmmmm.... Surface low to form?
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Quoting seflagamma:


that is right, the airport probably reports the lowest rain fall in the entire county...

Sometimes it seems like that too, here... lol... There are some days it seems it's raining every where except the airport... lol
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is there a new link for the atcf site?
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Quoting BahaHurican:
Hey, Nige. It's been off and on, ranging from drizzle to downpour, since about midnight or so. We had a couple of inches settled in our yard when I got up this morning. Haven't gone out to see what it's like now.

I expect we'll get some more rain this afternoon.

OK,it's now clearing out in the central Caribbean
Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 9 Comments: 7483
Quoting CybrTeddy:
This might actually be a threat to develop if it had model support and lower shear. Almost has that 'look' to it.
Link


To me this should at least be tagged 92L

surface trough right now looks to have a low forming on it
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'
Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 9 Comments: 7483
Quoting Grothar:


Those rain gauges don't always mean anything. A few years ago, Northeast Broward got over 8" of rain in a few hours and the rain gauge at the airport reported just over an inch. Some of these systems can drop heavy rain over very small areas and the gauges do not always get them. I have an 11" double cylinder rain gauge. It has over 5" now. (Of course my funnel is 4 feet wide.)


that is right, the airport probably reports the lowest rain fall in the entire county...

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Quoting CybrTeddy:
This might actually be a threat to develop if it had model support and lower shear. Almost has that 'look' to it.
Link




nic low overe ND
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Hey, Nige. It's been off and on, ranging from drizzle to downpour, since about midnight or so. We had a couple of inches settled in our yard when I got up this morning. Haven't gone out to see what it's like now.

I expect we'll get some more rain this afternoon.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Grothar:


Those rain gauges don't always mean anything. A few years ago, Northeast Broward got over 8" of rain in a few hours and the rain gauge at the airport reported just over an inch. Some of these systems can drop heavy rain over very small areas and the gauges do not always get them. I have an 11" double cylinder rain gauge. It has over 5" now. (Of course my funnel is 4 feet wide.)


Rain gauges are like real estate, location, location, location.
Member Since: September 23, 2005 Posts: 13 Comments: 10473
AREA FORECAST DISCUSSION
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE MIAMI FL
1021 AM EDT SUN APR 29 2012

.UPDATE...FORECAST OVER THE NEXT 24 HOURS JUST GETS MORE
CHALLENGING WITH MODEL CONSENSUS STILL NOT COMING INTO PLAY. THE
NAM AND GFS ARE NOW THE MOST AGGRESSIVE WITH WIND FIELDS AND
RAINFALL WHEREAS OVER THE PAST COUPLE OF DAYS IT HAD BEEN THE
ECMWF WITH THE NAM BEING AN OUTLIER. CONSIDERING THE RAIN IS
CURRENTLY ONGOING, CERTAINLY DO NOT PLAN TO CHANGE THAT PART OF
THE FORECAST AND WITH THE EASTERLY FLOW THIS FEED OF MOISTURE WILL
CONTINUE THROUGHOUT THE DAY. THIS ALSO IS INDICATIVE FROM THE WATER
VAPOR IMAGERY WHICH CLEARLY SHOWS A DEEP TROPICAL MOISTURE PLUME
EXTENDING NORTH FROM THE CARIBBEAN ON THE WEST SIDE OF A
SIGNIFICANT MID LEVEL TROUGH. THERE ALSO HAVE BEEN BANDS OF
EMBEDDED HEAVY SHRA MOVING ONSHORE OF THE SE CST SOUTH OF PALM
BEACH COUNTY. THERE HAS NOT BEEN ANY TRAINING OF ECHOS SETTING UP
THIS MORNING PER SE ALONG THE E CST BUT THE CONTINUATION OF THE
FEED OF MOISTURE STILL LIKELY WILL LEAD TO IMPRESSIVE RAINFALL
AMOUNTS OVER THE NEXT 24 TO 36 HOURS SO THE FLOOD WATCH WILL
REMAIN IN PLACE.

FOR THE WIND FIELDS, THESE HAVE BEEN VERIFYING OVER THE
ATLANTIC WATERS AND WHILE THERE IS NO INDICATION AS OF 14Z THAT A
SFC LOW HAS DEVELOPED OVER THE FL KEYS BOTH THE NAM AND GFS SHOW
THIS TO MATERIALIZE BY EARLY THIS AFTERNOON. AND WHILE THIS MAY OR
MAY NOT OCCUR, THE PRESSURE GRADIENT HAS BEEN ON THE INCREASE SO
WILL LEAVE THE SCA TO BEGIN OVER THE GULF WATERS AT 18Z.
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Quoting hydrus:
Wont be too long now before the rain machine kicks in. The earliest I have seen it start in recent memory was in 1995 when things started rockin pretty good in mid-May.


You are so right.
Actually we are way behind on rain because of last year being so dry.
I really do hope we get some good soaking rains.
Around here there are Pecan and Pulp tree plantations that suffered so much.
Pecans were like gold.
I say let it rain {but not from any hurricaine Ivan please}
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Ouch... from the farmers almanac it looks like the northeast is going to have a bumpy June
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April 28, 2011

April 28, 2012
Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 9 Comments: 7483
Currently NOT raining at my location... lol



But who know's how long THAT'll last..... lol
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Quoting BahaHurican:
Going on air temps alone, I'd guess sub-tropical. Despite the fact that most of this moisture is coming up from the south, the air temps are still pretty cool. It doesn't have that smotheringly humid heat feeling to it that I associate with tropical origens.

But we shall see.

What's up Baha...how's the rain over there?
Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 9 Comments: 7483
April 28, 2011

April 28, 2012
Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 9 Comments: 7483
Quoting nrtiwlnvragn:
SFWMD real-time gauges since 8 AM, Broward getting most of the rain with bloggers from there reporting higher totals than shown here.




Those rain gauges don't always mean anything. A few years ago, Northeast Broward got over 8" of rain in a few hours and the rain gauge at the airport reported just over an inch. Some of these systems can drop heavy rain over very small areas and the gauges do not always get them. I have an 11" double cylinder rain gauge. It has over 5" now. (Of course my funnel is 4 feet wide.)
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 64 Comments: 23751
Quoting NCHurricane2009:


Good morning Nigel...did you see the disturbance in the Florida Straits?!

I messed up early this morning by calling it off for tropical development. Now I am planning to write a special update shortly to "eat some of my words."

Does anyone know if this is Invest 92-L? Someone had referred it to as an "invested trough" but I don't see it on the Navy NRL site...

Yes i did...is it being watched for tropical developement
Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 9 Comments: 7483
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Here are some of the best pictures a stormchaser friend of mine took during last year's tornado season.

Just thought I would share.












very nice, especially the 4th one with the lightning
Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 9 Comments: 7483

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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.