The last few visible satellite frames show a nice-looking storm. Latest infrared satellite imagery shows Irene continuing to intensify with high cloudtops, mostly around and north of the current center fix (19.7 N 68.7 W).
The storm is not moving over the islands (Hispaniola and Cuba) and is not expected to. This leaves the door open to intensification as it moves west-northwest, then northwest as it is expected to encounter a weakness in the ridge over the Atlantic. The guidance models have shifted more east in the last two days, which is a change from where previous runs had Irene hitting Florida Friday into Saturday. Major guidance models - with the GFDL as an exception - have the storm remaining over the waters close to Florida and eyeing the Carolinas for a landfall. The GFDL has been persistant on a Florida landfall and is considered a outlier at the moment.
|Southwest Florida Water Management District|
As this storm remains over the open waters, my fear is rapid intensification. This is especially the case as Irene reaches the Bahamas. With water temperatures in the low 80s (pushing 85 in some spots), good outflow, no immediate threat of dry air intrusion, and very little shear, I don't see any reason for it not be a category three or four hurricane. This storm has the capability of being a monster TC and needs to be watched.
I've had a lot of friends from Florida ask me about this storm in the last couple of days and, of course, have not been able to give solid answers. With the storm at least five days from Florida and another day or two from the Carolinas, I don't trust the models this far in advance. I think the chances of a Florida impact are lower now, but I wouldn't completely rule it out. People in the NHC cone of error - from south Florida to North Carolina - need to keep an eye on Irene.
I'll post more on this storm in the coming days. Keep tabs on my Twitter account (twitter.com/daweathaman) for the latest.