Hurricane Irene continues to strengthen, and forecast storm tracks are trending closer to the mid-Atlantic beaches. All signs for this storm appear to be looking worse Thursday afternoon, instead of better.
Add to that the saturating rains we've been getting Thursday from an unrelated line of thunderstorms, and we're being set up for serious flooding once the real rain gets here with Irene this weekend.
Ocean City has already issued orders to evacuate the island.
AccuWeather.com forecasters say Irene has the potential to topple a great many trees and power lines, damage roofs, siding and windows. High bridges may be closed due to high winds. Air travel and high-profile vehicles will be affected. Flooding, too, will close roads. The greatest cause of loss of life in hurricanes is inland flooding.
The weather service says there is a 5 to 10 percent chance of a storm surge in excess of 7 feet at Annapolis, and from Edgewood to Middle River.
BGE storm officials are planning responses to at least 100,000 power outages, with options to expand the effort to deal with several hundred thousand. Some 500 repair workers from the Midwest are already in town ready to go to work to help BGE crews put the system back together.
AccuWeather.com is saying "there is potential for the worst hurricane impacts in 50 years along the northern part of the Atlantic seaboard as Irene plows northward." The company's forecasters are predicting winds of 30 to 40 mph for Baltimore, with gusts of 50 to 70 mph, with 4 to 8 inches of rain. "Conditions will be much worse on the Eastern Shore, where full hurricane effects can occur."
At least one forecast model is bringing the storm up the western side of the Chesapeake Bay, the worst scenario for Baltimore and other communities along the Western Shore becuse it would mean a damaging storm surge up the bay. Think Tropical Storm Isabel in 2003.
Most models are predicting that Irene will make landfall in the Outer Banks region - instead of passing offshore as yesterday's forecasts suggested. From there, it would track north and slightly east, following the Delmarva and Jersey beaches before slamming into New York, Long Island and charging on through New England.
But if you think Central Maryland will escape because we're well west of all that, consider this: Irene is a huge storm. Hurricane winds (73 mph and up) extend outward for 70 miles from the Center. (Annapolis is 89 miles from Ocean City as the crow flies.) And tropical storm force winds (39 and up) reach 290 miles from Irene's core.
Here's UMBC Prof. Jeffrey Halverson's take on Irene. It's not a pretty picture.
The National Hurricane Center forecasters do expect Irene will begin to weaken as it hits colder waters and wind shear on its run north to the Outer Banks. At some point they said in this
afternoon's forecast discussion, "southwesterly shear is forecast to increase, which will likely start weakening process. However, since Irene has such a large and intense circulation, it will probably be rather slow to weaken."
The National Weather Service forecast is forecasting Irene's showers and thunderstorms will arrive in Baltimore by Friday night, intensifying on Saturday. Tropical storm conditions are possible at BWI by Saturday night, with a 90 percent chance for heavy rainfall, with 1 to 2 inches possible on top of what may have already fallen. Expect lots more in heavy rain bands.
Tropical storm conditions are possible Sunday, too, but the storm will be departing rapidly as the day unfolds. Next week looks sunny and seasonable. For the cleanup.
Ocean City may see hurricane conditions on Sunday. Officials there have pulled the trigger on an evacuation.
Here's AccuWeather.com's take on the storm ahead.
Eric the Red, a professional meteorologist and frequent contributor here, said, "I think it is now safe to say we should expect major impacts from this storm, starting Saturday evening, at its worst Saturday night into Sunday morning, and then diminishing rapidly during the day Sunday... Folks, this is the real deal."