What to Expect From Hurricane Hermine

September 2, 2016

The storm is Florida’s first hurricane in nearly 11 years, and forecasts are looking dire for the Northeast too.

After a long journey across the Atlantic that began as a swirl of clouds off West Africa on August 17th, Hurricane Hermine is now just hours away from a historic landfall in Florida.

Over the past 24 hours, Hurricane Hermine has rapidly intensified and, as of midday Thursday, has officially reached hurricane status, including sustained winds of greater than 74 miles per hour. Florida Governor Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency, and several local communities in Hermine’s path have begun mandatory evacuations.

Hurricane Hermine is expected to hit Florida later tonight or early Friday — the first hurricane landfall there in a record-setting 3,965 days, a period that has coincided with massive statewide population growth and an increase in coastal vulnerability. As Andrew Freedman wrote today in Mashable, “Florida’s luck has run out.”

What’s more important than Hermine’s title, though, is the wide range of expected impacts that are now imminent for a stretch of Florida coastline that is especially vulnerable. Hurricane-hunter aircraft from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Air Force Reserve have been tracking the storm continuously for days, and over the last several hours have documented a broadening of the storm’s size and a notable increase in the storm’s organization — clues that the storm will continue to strengthen until landfall. Hermine is now a fairly large hurricane, which means it packs a heftier punch than a typical Category 1 storm.

During the day on Thursday, the National Hurricane Center expanded its suite of coastal warnings and watches further south to include the Tampa Bay area, noting that a “life-threatening” storm surge is predicted within the next 12 to 24 hours between roughly Apalachicola, in the Panhandle, to Tampa, the second-largest metro area in the state with a population of more than four million.

The highest risk of coastal flooding lies in the area between Alligator Point, south of Tallahassee, to Keaton Beach, in the Big Bend region, where the combination of the concave shape of the coastline and a very shallow-sloping offshore shelf may enhance the hurricane’s flooding impact.

Even though we think of Florida as hurricane-prone, most people who live there are probably out of practice when it comes to preparing for a disaster like this.

In a worst-case scenario, estimated at a 10 percent chance of high tide matching up with peak hurricane-related surge, Hermine could push water levels to more than nine feet above ground in this region — enough to wash away coastal homes when combined with powerful 15-foot waves. By some estimates, this is among the most vulnerable sections of coastline in the United States to storm surges.

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