We just had an extremely dramatic five-minute rain shower here in South Bend, courtesy of the remnants of Hurricane Dennis. Earlier, we experienced a light breeze. OH, THE HUMANITY!!! :)
I realize very few of my regular readers are weather buffs like I am, and consequently, many of you simply do not give a hoot about all of this hurricane crap. Alas, it looks like this is going to be a long and eventful tropical season, so you’re all just going to have to deal with my meteorological fanaticism from time to time :) — but I’ll try to make this my last lengthy post on Dennis, unless events dictate otherwise.
It’s worth emphasizing once again just how lucky the Gulf Coast is. When Dennis’s winds strengthened to 145 mph at 2:00 AM on the day of landfall, it seemed inconceivable that it would cause as little death and destruction as it ultimately did. Some weakening seemed possible, thanks to eyewall replacement cycles and cooler sea-surface temperatures just offshore, but the idea that Dennis would make landfall as a weak Category 3, with only Category 1 strength winds on the west side of the eyewall (i.e., in Pensacola), was beyond everyone’s wildest hopes.
Talking to a co-worker this morning about the storm, I expressed relief that it had weakened at the last minute, and he said something along the lines of, “Well, that’s kind of typical, isn’t it?” I’m a bit worried that others will come to the same conclusion — that monster hurricanes, at least in the Gulf of Mexico, inevitably weaken to a more manageable strength in the final hours before making landfall, and that all this talk about worst-case scenarios is just so much overblown hype. The thing is, although it has thankfully happened several times recently, there is nothing inevitable or preordained about pre-landfall weakening. As Dr. Jeff Masters points out:
Sudden weakening has afflicted the past three Category 4 hurricanes to threaten the [northern] Gulf Coast–Hurricane Opal (1995), Hurricane Ivan, and now Dennis. The reasons for this are probably due to the colder water that typically lies near shore, and the entrainment of dry air from the steering trough to the west. Luck is also an important factor–hurricanes go through natural cycles of intensification called eyewall replacement cycles, and we were lucky Dennis finished its intensification cycle 12 hours before hitting land. This luck does not always hold, as we saw when Hurricane Camille hit the same area of coast at the peak of its intensification cycle.
My fear is that people, weary of alarmist weathermen running around like chickens with their heads cut off every other week, will start to take these storms a wee bit less seriously, especially if more hurricanes later this season take aim at the same areas that keep getting just barely spared. For those in harm’s way, the thinking might go, “I survived Ivan and Dennis, so I’m sure I can survive the next one.” But if one of these things ever pulls a Camille and makes landfall while strengthening instead of while weakening — and there’s certainly no law of nature that says that can’t happen — it will be much, much worse. It really will. That’s not hype, it’s reality.
Tropical Depression Dennis officially ceased to exist, as far as the National Hurricane Center is concerned anyway, at 10:00 AM this morning (when the 4:00 AM advisory expired and was not updated with a new advisory). No further NHC advisories will be issued; the Hydrometeorological Prediction Center will take it from here.
This was the fifth Atlantic tropical cyclone to bear the name “Dennis” (previous Dennises: 1981, 1987, 1993 and 1999), and it will most likely be the last. Having made landfall as a major hurricane twice, in Cuba and in Florida, and having also caused a lot of death and destruction as it brushed Haiti, “Dennis” will surely be retired from the sexennial list of hurricane names for the Atlantic basin. It will join the list of retired names, and its spot in the rotation will have to be replaced come 2011 — any male name of English, French or Spanish origin, other than David (retired), Dean (2007 rotation) and Danny (2009 rotation), is eligible. Do I hear a “Hurricane Dubya”? :)
Alas, although Dennis is dead, Dennis will live on, at least for a while. If the forecast holds, we are looking at a major flooding event for the Ohio Valley this week, because “indications are that this tropical feature will slow and stall over southern Illinois late tonight and then meander around the area for at least another day or two before dying out.” Lots of flood watches are up.
Meanwhile, Robert of The 26th Parallel says “the way the media covers landfalling hurricanes has always amused me.” He recalls two of the “highlights” from today’s coverage of Dennis:
- The Weather Channel’s Jeff Morrow hanging on to a lamp post to prevent from flying away.
- CNN deciding to have not one, but two reporters in the same location measuring the wind and telling us how bad conditions were. During the height of the storm, they watched in amazement as a tall metal sign from a Ramada Inn came crumbling down. One of the reporters said it was the most incredible thing he’d ever seen (at least until the next hurricane).
LOL! Yeah, I saw both of those moments, and they were indeed quite amusing. (This is amusing, too.)
Of course, nothing can ever top Dan Rather in Hurricane Opal in 1995, clinging to a lamp post for dear life (literally!) and very nearly being blown into the Gulf of Mexico.
(Well, Jeff Morrow’s antics might have topped Rather’s in the mind of one blogger — Amanda at DIVA Domain — but that’s only because she has a “total nerd” crush on him. :)
The once-mighty storm known as Dennis — a Category 4 hurricane with 145 mile-per-hour winds just 16 hours ago — was downgraded to a tropical storm at 8:00 PM, less than six hours after making landfall near Pensacola, Florida.
In typical sensationalistic fashion, Matt Drudge’s current headline reads “HELL FROM THE SEA,” but the truth is that Dennis wasn’t all that bad, especially considering the calamity it could have been. Technically, it was a Category 3 “major hurricane” at landfall — which means, among other things, that its name will be retired from the sextennial hurricane name rotation; there will never be another Dennis in the Atlantic basin — but it seems somewhat questionable (to me at least) whether Dennis really had 125 mph sustained winds at landfall. At any rate, substantial weakening in the hurricane’s final hours over water, combined with a favorable landfall location (with the more heavily populated and flood-prone areas on the less-powerful west side of the storm), conspired to make the damage considerably less severe than virtually anyone would have dared to hope 24 hours ago, when Dennis was strengthening so rapidly that some feared it might become a Category Five monster. Ultimately, the Gulf Coast simply got lucky:
Hurricane Dennis roared quickly through the Florida Panhandle and Alabama coast Sunday with a 120-mph bluster of blinding squalls and crashing waves, but shellshocked residents emerged to find far less damage than when Ivan took nearly the same path 10 months ago.
The tightly wound Dennis, which had been a Category 4, 145-mph monster as it marched up the Gulf of Mexico, weakened just before it struck less than 50 miles east of Ivan’s landfall. And despite downed power lines and outages to more than 200,000, early reports indicated no deaths and relatively modest structural damage.
“We’re really happy it was compact and that it lasted only so long,” said Mike Decker, who lost only some shingles and a privacy fence at his home near where the storm came ashore. “It was more of a show for the kids.” …
Escambia County Commissioner Mike Whitehead said initial reports indicate some broken windows, trees and power lines down, minor flooding in downtown Pensacola and a few trees falling on houses.
“Because of where it went in, we missed a real close shot. It went into a relatively unpopulated area,” Whitehead said. “If that thing had shifted 20 miles to the west, we’d have been in trouble, but we got real lucky.”
In Alabama’s coastal Baldwin County, which was ground zero for Ivan last year, officials also breathed a sigh of relief.
“We dodged a bullet,” said emergency management director Leigh Anne Ryals.
Depending on what happens with the steering currents over the next few days, Dennis’s legacy in the United States may be inland flooding, rather than coastal destruction. If the current forecast track holds, this could be a major rain event for the Ohio Valley.
But for now, there is reason to be thankful. Dennis could have been a catastrophe for the U.S. Gulf Coast, but in the end, it wasn’t.
Of course, that’s no reason for the folks down there to let their guard down. Those who evacuated were absolutely right to do so; a few minor changes in the meterological scenario could have yielded a totally different result. And next time, heaven forbid, they just might. So be thankful, Floridians, but also, be prepared for the next one. After all, it’s only July.
The video of The Weather Channel’s Jeff Morrow getting blown around by Dennis’s eyewall is freakin’ awesome.
CNN also has some dramatic video of its reporter almost getting hit by the flying remnants of a disintegrating hotel sign.
UPDATE: They changed the Morrow clip. It’s still pretty cool, but I prefer the previous one, where he says “Whoa! Whoa!”
Blogger Steve Gregory writes:
It is quite likely that on the northeast edge of the eye wall where Dennis came inland between Sanata Rosa Island and Ft Walton Beach area, wind gusts over 140mph likely occurred with a storm surge up to 15 feet, with the south facing beaches witnessing battering waves to 50 feet. …
Not to minimize the destruction and possible injury or loss of life, [but] had the storm come onshore 40 or 50 miles to the west, the more densely populated city of Pensacola would have suffered a far worse fate.
Dennis has weakened to a Category 2 hurricane with 105 mph winds.
It’ll keep weakening as it moves inland, but the big problem now is going to be inland flooding. It looks like it’s going to slow waaay down over the Ohio Valley, and inevitably dump a lot of rain.
The eye of Dennis came ashore on Santa Rosa Island, Florida at 2:24 PM EST:
The Weather Channel’s reporters in Gulf Breeze and Pensacola — both of which are in the eyewall as we speak — have been knocked off the air by the storm. (They probably can’t use the satellite uplinks at the moment.)
Here’s an animated GIF of the radar from noon EST through landfall. And here’s the latest satellite view:
UPDATE: Jim Cantore (in Gulf Breeze) is back on the air. He says a pocket of dry air “choked” the energy out of Dennis at the last minute, and as a result, it came on shore “more like an Opal than an Ivan.” In other words, the actual winds that Florida and Alabama may not be as strong as feared. Thank goodness for that.
Charles Fenwick at Eye of the Storm notes: “The eye made landfall squarely in Gulf Shores National Seashore, a fine place to make landfall as that area is completely undeveloped.” He wrote earlier that a last-minute northward jog took Pensacola out of the right-front (northeastern) quadrant. As a result, the downtown area probably only got winds of winds of 75-90 miles per hour (Category 1 strength).
Dr. Jeff Masters notes that Dennis made landfall “about 30 miles east of where Ivan struck.” He adds, “I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dennis carve a channel straight through Santa Rosa Island, the barrier island offshore from Pensacola. The worst storm surge damage will occur in the East Bay of Pensacola Bay, where a storm surge of 15 feet could occur. Extreme wind damage will miss Pensacola’s downtown, but will severely impact Milton, a town of 7,000 people just east of Pensacola. Whiting Field Naval Air Station, just 15 miles inland, will also suffer heavy damage.”
The Pensacola News Journal has photos of Dennis.
Dennis took a northward (rather than northwestward) wobble earlier this morning. It’s moving north-northwest again now, but that brief wobble might be enough to spare Mobile a direct hit. As Eye of the Storm wrote about an hour ago: “It is looking more and more like a Florida landfall every hour. Even if Dennis were to return to its overall north-north[west] course, the landfall would still happen just east of the Alabama line.”
The 10:00 AM advisory should be out any minute now. But we’re going to the zoo, so updates will be sparse-to-nonexistant for the next few hours. Check the links at left for the latest.
The 4:00 AM forecast/advisory edges the forecast track ever-so-slightly to the left, with the result that the NHC is now predicting a direct hit on Mobile, Alabama by Hurricane Dennis roughly 12 hours from now. With a storm surge of 14 to 19 feet flowing into a funnel-shaped bay, this could be quite bad.
The official map hasn’t been updated to reflect the new track yet, so I plotted it myself on Google Maps:
Of course, even at just 12 hours out, track forecasts are not exact… and also, it’s important to remember that hurricanes are not points, but rather, geographically large storms with a broad area of impact. But in terms of the storm surge, the exact track of the eye matters a lot. The more Mobile Bay is in the path of Dennis’s “right front quadrant” (the northeast side of the eyewall), the more serious the flooding will be. And right now, things are not looking good for Mobile. Any additional tiny westward nudges would, I think, make things even worse — and tiny westward adjustments with each new forecast seems to be the trend — but even as it stands now, I think the flooding would be pretty bad if Dennis follows the expected track.
At this point, it’s pretty much too late to evacuate (the weather is going to turn bad very soon; just look at the radar), so I’m afraid that anyone who hasn’t already left town is stuck inside of Mobile with the Dennis blues again, as it were.
Sorry, couldn’t resist. But this is no laughing matter. A 145-mile-per-hour Category 4 hurricane is bearing down on a flood-prone city of 200,000 (with a metropolitan area a half-million strong). Hope and pray it’ll weaken a bit before landfall…
And now, I’m really and truly going to bed.
…EXTREMELY DANGEROUS HURRICANE DENNIS WITH 145 MPH WINDS…
UPDATE: Charles Fenwick at Eye of the Storm observes, “Once again, Dennis has mocked the NHC intensity forecast.”
He adds, “We are still seeing a pressure fall rate of 2+ millibar an hour. Based on this and how Dennis ran up to 145 quicker than I had expected, I will state that Dennis has a reasonable shot at 150 mph winds at the next advisory [at 4:00 AM EST].” But he thinks that’ll be as strong as it gets.
It’s plenty strong enough, of course. Now it needs to not just stop strengthening, but start weakening before landfall, or the Gulf Coast is going to be in some very serious trouble. Ivan was 120 mph at landfall… we’re talking 150.
Pray for a well-timed eyewall replacement cycle.
P.S. Fenwick notes an eerie precedent.