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I've tried to emphasize the level of uncertainty in each of these posts.  And for good reason.  The weather models we use to help guide our forecasts have been about as stable a Joe Lieberman.  What a disaster.  The only thing I can say to their credit is that they've generally focused on the northwestern Gulf for some time now.  But, once again, overnight they've shifted their focus within that region.  Now they're aimed at what I would consider the extreme southwest portion of the "northwest" Gulf of Mexico.  They are now focused on a region between Matamoros, Mexico (just south of the Tex/Mex border) and Corpus Christi, TX.

May have to keep it a bit brief this morning, as work calls, se let's get right to it...

Okay, so how does a forecaster handle a mess of a situation like this?  The models have not been consistent.  And though they now keep shifting southward, these shifts have only been consistent for the last 24 hours.  Prior to that, the models had just been jumping back and forth.  Meanwhile, here we sit, creeping in time towards the eventual landfall (in fact, some models have moved landfall up to Friday night, instead of Saturday).  It's now only about four days away, so people in harm's way are beginning to want answers, not mere conjecture.

Well, I can take the easy way out and just defer to National Hurricane Center, since they're the official word and I'm just some random meteorologist on the internet.  Well, here's their forecast:


...and they have landfall at about 100kts (115mph ...minimal Category 3).  The good news is, if their forecast is perfect (highly unlikely for a day four forecast, unfortunately) Ike is headed for very near Kenedy County, TX.  Am I wishing this storm on poor Kenedy County, who so recently go whipped by Hurricane Bret?  Well, I wouldn't wish a Category 3 on anyone, but, frankly, if some place is going to get hit, I prefer it be there.  Why?  Kenedy County and it's population of 414 has the lowest population of any county along the U.S. Gulf and Atlantic coasts!  And, I suspect, if one were to examine the Pacific coast, Kenedy would retain that status (though if we're looking at the entire Pacific coast - not just the lower 48 - maybe some county in Alaska could rival Kenedy).  I don't wish a Category 3 on the 414 people in the county.  Moreover, while Ike is not large in his extent, he's much larger than the tiny Hurricane Bret, so if Ike hit Kenedy County, Kleberg County - much more populous (though still pretty small for a county), with 35,000+ people, will also get hit hard.  So, I'm not really wishing this on anyone - just wishing it on the fewest people possible... and Kenedy County, TX heads that list.

No matter, the NHC forecast isn't likely to be perfect.  Four day forecasts rarely are.  Anyway, as you can imagine, I won't just defer to NHC and leave it at that... though I do think their forecast is quite good and, so, as they are the official word on this, folks in the Gulf with concerns about Ike should pay close attention to their forecasts.  But here's how the model stack up now:


...this image (and the intensity forecast image that follows) is from Allan Huffman's weather page.

Based on this, you can see that the NHC forecast is pretty close to the middle of the model guidance, maybe just slightly north of the mean.  However, based on the information I have, I do not believe the Canadian or European models (not on that image) are factored into the consensus.  And it should be noted that both of those are on the north side of the guidance "envlope".  The Euro model has landfall near or just north of Corpus Christi early Saturday.  The Canadian is nearly identical.  I could understand leaving the Canadian out of "consensus", given its past performance (poor).  However, other models, like the Navy model (NOGAPS) have performed no better this season, and it is in consensus.  For some reason, the label failed to get generated for the above image, but I can tell you that the NOGAPS is the brown line near the southernmost edge of the track guidance.  The point is, NHC is probably right down the middle of the "real" consensus.  So, their forecast is very reasonable.

In fact, in spite of the recent, constant shift southward in the track, if I were forced to go on one side of NHC or the other, I'd go north towards Corpus Christi.  Why?  Several reasons.  First, the Euro model has been the best performer within a few days of the landfall.  Second, the GFDL and HWRF, the two hurricane-specific models, have been in pretty good agreement, and performing reasonably well on Ike.  While the GFDL has been better and has shifted south in the current run, towards Brownsville - which concerns me - the HWRF is still up around Corpus, and both were in the vicinity of Corpus in the previous run.  Furthermore, other than the GFDL, the southernmost models on that track map above have been some of the most inconsistent, poor performing models we've seen on this storm... the Navy and the American.  So, the better performing models are in the northern segment of that group.  So, I'd lean north of NHC... towards Corpus.

Keep in mind, though, at four days out, uncertainty remains large.  So, folks all the way up to Louisiana and down through northern Mexico need to stay on alert.  Nonetheless, the average error bars do begin to decrease a bit as we decrease the lead time.  So, confidence is increasing on a Texas, or even an extreme northern Mexico, landfall.  Obviously, since I'm leaning north towards Corpus, I'm not favoring the Mexico landfall.  But, looking at the margin for error in a four day forecast - it remains within the "envelope" of threat.  And I would say that the hard-hit areas in Louisiana and Mississippi should not yet let down their guards, but can probably breathe a little easier at this point.

As for intensity at landfall... the further south track may, unfortunately, allow for a slightly stronger landfall intensity.  You can see the models below have ramped up their intensities:


...note that the black line is NHC, and they haven't increased their intensity forecast yet.  The "best" model on here, the GFDL, is now up to about 110kts (135mph) at landfall... a high end Category 3.  The HWRF should also be among the best, but it has been overforecasting intensities.  So, it's no surprise that it goes gangbusters with a 130kt (150mph) high end Category 4 intensity pre-landfall.  Given the HWRF's bias, I'd stick close to the GFDL.  That's also in keeping with the surrounding dynamics... We had been thinking about 100kts (115mph).  But if Ike holds further south, as the new tracks suggest, he will traverse less cool (relatively), shallow water in the northern Gulf, and he will encounter less shear.  So, I would now anticipate Ike making landfall as about a 110kt hurricane.

Bottom line:  The NHC forecast is shown and linked above.  Their forecast is the official word and looks quite good.  Follow it.  Follow their warnings.  But if you asked me my opinion and forced me to hedge against their forecast one way or another... I would hedge north towards Corpus Christi and stronger at landfall (but within the same "category").  However, I'd also continue to emphasize the uncertainty.  While I think Ike is more likely to come in north, rather than south of NHC's forecast, I'd only break those odds down as about 60% likely to come north, 40% likely to come south..... it's not like 80-20 or 90-10 or some such "certainty".  And day four errors (landfall is about four days away) are relatively large, on average.  So, there remains a significant threat from northern Mexico up around through the TX/LA border.

...oh, since beginning this, the early morning GFDL, HWRF, GFS and NOGAPS have come in.  No changes.  GFDL, GFS, NOGAPS all south towards Brownsville, TX or Matamoros, Mexico; HWRF comes up to Corpus Christi with a last minute turn north.  So, none of this changes anything.  The persistence of the three southern models worries me that my northward thinking could be wrong.  However, the early morning (and early evening) model runs get limited new data ingested into them.  So, this changes nothing... but know that some uncertainty remains.

In all this, I never really gave you a flavor for how Ike is looking right now.  Here's a recent satellite image of Ike:


...and a recent radar image from Punta del Este on the Isle of Youth (south of western Cuba):


...I grabbed that image as I began writing this.  So, it's slightly outdated (especially if you're reading this well after I posted), so if you want an updated image, please jump to the radar image link above and select Punta del Este or Casablanca.

One final note, one thing I appreciate about the dKos community is the concern for others and the sensitivity towards not having a typical Amero-centric attitude.  Please be aware that I'm focusing on a forecast here.  Cuba continues to get thrashed by Ike (Havana, not that close to the center, recently reported hurricane force wind gusts).  I am not ignoring them out of disregard.  Rather, from a forecast standpoint, Cuban impact is a foregone conclusion.  I'd encourage everyone to be knowledgable of the impact Ike has on Cuba, give thoughts and prayers (if you pray) for them, and, if you can, help in the relief effort in some way (donations to reputable relief agencies being the easiest, of course).  If anyone has any links to such relief agencies, feel free to include them in the comments.  And let's remember, too, that Haiti, the Turks and Caicos, and the southernmost Bahamas were also hit hard.

I guess that's it for now.  So much for brevity.  ;-)

UPDATED 11:10AM EDT  ...very quick, graphics-free update.  Since y'all in harm's way best be paying attention, you should have already seen the new National Hurricane Center advisories.  If you haven't... they have shifted north to very near Corpus Christi, in spite of the early morning guidance insisting on a more southern track (with the exception of the HWRF).  Their reasoning is based on the success of the Euro model to date.  Given the write-up above, I obviously couldn't agree more.

And a quick update on Ike's status.  Second landfall in Cuba has been made.  Ike will probably take about 3-5 hours to traverse Cuba before he is back in open waters.  Thereafter, real intensification should resume.  There was some re-organization and structural improvement since Ike came offshore yesterday, but the northern eyewall kept scraping the south coast of Cuba, so true intensification never occurred.  It should begin intensifying within 6-12 hours after re-emerging from Cuba (the first 6-12 hours may be spent re-organizing, as Ike tried doing off the south coast of Cuba, before any true intensification begins).  Ike's center right now is southwest of Havana by about 50 miles, and the storm continues moving westnorthwest.  That's all for this update.  No new model guidance yet.  That'll come in soon, and I plan an update for later this afternoon, time permitting.

UPDATED 2:45PM EDT  The term "guidance" for in the phrase "model guidance" should be used loosely.  Once again we've seen models flipping about, with the new midday American (GFS), GFDL and, to a much lesser degree, HWRF models pulling back north, after a couple days of southward trending.

On the plus side, the midday Euro and UK models pretty much held to their previous solutions (Euro just a litte north of previous run, closer to Matagorda Bay than just north of Corpus Christi).  What this means, thankfully, is that we've got very good model agreement.  And, unlike the model agreement we saw a few days ago, which turned out to be completely wrong, we are, this time, within a range that the models should handle much better.  Furthermore and importantly, an upper level impulse that is key to Ike's future just hit southwestern Canada early this morning.  Those following these diaries know that I've harped on initialization issues of the models.  Well, this feature is a big deal.  And upon hitting Canada, the Vancouver radiosonde would've picked it up, as well as other surrounding sonde stations.  So, not only it not surprising that there has been model convergence but, this time around, it's believable.

To be sure, we're still 3-4 days out, so uncertainty and some error bar remains.  Please keep that in mind!  Folks from Louisiana all the way around to northern Mexico still need to keep an eye out.  But it looks like the forecast is finally beginning to focus a bit... towards the central Texas coast.

Unfortunately, work has been hellish today.  So, once again, no time for pretty grafix.  So, boring text on how these new models line up:  Navy (NOGAPS) still in Brownsville.  Canadian (GEM) up between Houston and Beaumont.  All others near Matagorda Bay (between Corpus Christi and Galveston)... that includes the American (GFS), Euro, UK, GFDL and HWRF.  All have landfall between Friday night and Saturday morning.  The best intensity model (GFDL) has landfall as a strong Category 3 (weakening... was a Cat 4 just offshore); the HWRF is a solid Cat 4, but I'd remind you that it's run high on intensities all year.

Bottom line:  I had said Corpus Christi.  That still looks roughly okay, but given the model convergence, some place a bit further north may be more accurate.  Again, I'd ask you to refer to NHC for the official info!  And also remember that 3-4 day forecast errors, though they begin coming down some from the 5-day errors, are still sizeable.  Standard error bars would essentially say that anywhere on the entire Texas coast is still a plausible landfall point, with northern Mexico or Louisiana not 100% out of the woods yet either.  Keep that in mind and check the NHC updates!  As for intensity... I'm thinking mid to high range Cat 3... like the GFDL, and a little stronger than NHC shows... keeping in mind that intensity errors are even worse than track errors.  So, you'd have to consider anything from a Cat 2 through Cat 4 as distinct possibilities.

One final note, on Ike's current status.  He's beginning to look just slight worse for wear due to his second landfall in Cuba.  But he's about to come back off the coast as we speak.  How quickly Ike responds to moving back out over water will be interesting to watch, and could be pivotal to what intensity the storm eventually reaches.  And unlike when Ike was anticipated to turn more northward - where cooler, shallower Gulf waters, plus minor shear, could knock him down a notch - Ike's peak intensity may play some role in the eventual landfall intensity, as there will be less weakening time under this new scenario.  So, if you live in near-coastal Texas, keep a close eye on Ike's progress.

That's all for now.  Sorry for the boring, graphics-free edition.

Originally posted to millwx on Tue Sep 09, 2008 at 06:09 AM PDT.

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