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Hurricane Ivan hits Jamaica, Approaches Florida

September 10, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT

RAY SUAREZ: First, for more on Ivan itself, I’m joined by Joe Bastardi, meteorologist and chief hurricane forecaster for AccuWeather. Joe why don’t we begin with an update on the current strength of Ivan and its expected track.

JOE BASTARDI: Well, Ivan is located just a little bit off the coast of Jamaica right now, and what we are very concerned about over the next several hours, in fact, overnight, is that the breakdown of the form on the northern side over those high mountains causes the center to get pulled inland. You say, well, how does that happen? Remember what happened with Charley?

When you have a land mass to the right of the track of the storm, the storm tends to break up over the land mass, stay strong over the water, and it changes its currents. The most vivid example of this was Hurricane David passing south of Santo Domingo. The northern part of the storm fell apart over the island of Hispanola with those 10,000-foot mountains. It killed 10,000 people. We’re nervous about Kingston and the whole south part of that island, and this is a very, very potentially dangerous situation, even more so than if the storm just continues to skirt the coast and gets out there to the west of Jamaica. So Jamaica’s the first big problem tonight.

RAY SUAREZ: In addition to Jamaica, you have the Cayman Islands and Cuba. Will that alternation of going over water and going over these islands make it really tough to predict when it’s going and where it’s going to get to U.S. territorial waters?

JOE BASTARDI: Well, we know it’s probably going to be in the Gulf of Mexico by Monday at 8:00, 9:00, maybe noon. The big problem right now is where is it going to hit in Florida and how strong is it going to be. I personally believe it’s going to be very close to the center, maybe less as far as the barometric pressure goes and the wind goes, but it will have the size of Frances. It will be a cross between the two storms.

The most interesting aspect of this, and a tough aspect to forecast, is hurricanes do not like to make landfall in that northeast corner of the Gulf of Mexico where the current suggested path by the National Hurricane Center. Only four times in 100 years has a major hurricane hit between Tampa and Apalachi Cola. It’s generally west of Apalachi Cola or south of Tampa, and we saw what happened with Charley when it looked like it was going right up into Florida. This is a very dangerous situation. Another thing is no matter what it does to Florida, get ready in the Carolinas and the mid-atlantic states. You had a lot of rain from Frances. The middle of next week, we could see a repeat of the flooding or perhaps worse. This is a big-ticket storm, no question about that.

RAY SUAREZ: This is the third big one inside month. What about the conditions in the Atlantic currently have made this such an active time for big storms?

JOE BASTARDI: Well, I tell you, what you just through me a fastball down the middle of the plate. On, our site, I write a hurricane landfall prediction forecast every year. We had this season targeted as a huge landfalling year because of various things that were going on. First thing we look at, this is a landfall intensity chart on the United States and Canadian coastline. You don’t have to read the numbers. All I want you to see is the normal here and we have 45, 6 0, 75. The 40s and into the 60s, how high this ramped up, went back down in the 70s and 80 was the exception of 1985 here.

You see where we’re heading now. We’re in a cycle of increased hurricane activity and increased intensity of landfall on the coastline no matter how many total numbers we have. We’re not concerned if there’s 15 storms or 18 storms. We’re concerned with what’s going to hit the United States. This particular year the overall profile of the oceans favored that. You notice what’s going on in the Far East. They’re getting hammered also. There is even a connection between that and the southwest Atlantic as far as the development of storms in the general sense of the overall pattern. So you’re asking me in a minute to explain 25 years of research. I did the best I could.

RAY SUAREZ: Sorry about that. Thanks for being with us, Joe Bastardi.

JOE BASTARDI: My pleasure.

RAY SUAREZ: Now, the preparations in Florida. For that I spoke a short time ago to Felicity Barringer, who’s in Miami covering the story for the New York Times. Felicity, welcome. How is Florida handling the challenge of doing hurricane recovery and hurricane prep at the same time?

FELICITY BARRINGER: Well, Florida and the agencies that have been most intimately involved here– the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency– are doing everything they can to try and, on the one hand, get power back to the nearly one million people– I think it’s 980,000 people as of this morning who don’t have it — trying to get people housed in shelters now, trying to get them back to their homes, which means obviously trying to get the infrastructure repaired, and at the same time, going down to the Florida Keys and moving out people. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from the Keys already in preparation for Hurricane Ivan. And of course, Ray, the trickiest thing is minute-to-minute or four-hour period to four-hour period, we don’t know where Ivan’s going. There have been three or four different tracks listed for it over the past two days.

RAY SUAREZ: And you’re taking people out of the Florida Keys to get out of Ivan’s way and evacuating them into a Mainland Florida that’s still trying to get out from under all this water.

FELICITY BARRINGER: That’s right. There’s a huge amount of water in the system right now. The South Florida Water Management District — which is basically the agency that runs the system of drainage in south florida so that you can have all the development that there is down here — they are basically at or close to capacity in a lot of their reservoir areas, and they’re expecting who knows how much rain from Ivan. And at the moment, they’re working incredibly hard just to get the water that’s in the system now out as fast as possible either towards the Atlantic or towards the Tampa Bay side of the peninsula or down even into Everglades National Park, which is what they’re doing right now.

RAY SUAREZ: One of the real challenges over the past several days has been in the gasoline supply. Are the problems there smoothing out a little bit? Is there enough gasoline to get people where they’re going and also run home generators and other things?

FELICITY BARRINGER: Day by day, the lines at gas stations in the hardest-hit places has been easing slightly, but I think the answer to that question very much depends on where you are. I think it’s still hard to get gas in the West Palm Beach area. I think it’s hard to get gas in the Port St. Lucy area. These are places that have been very hard hit by the storm. These are the places where the loss of power is still concentrated. And while I don’t have any up-to-date facts on exactly how long the gas lines are or what the state of supplies are, I know anecdotally that there are still some lines.

RAY SUAREZ: Florida has the largest percentage of its citizens over the age of 65 of any state. Has that become a special challenge when you’ve got two hurricanes and now a third one on its way?

FELICITY BARRINGER: Well, I think it’s safe to say that people in that age range are not as flexible and are having a little more difficulty adjusting. That said, the system of shelters — and again the Red Cross has done a tremendous job here — has worked very hard trying to make sure people are comfortable or as comfortable as they can be in a sort of impromptu camping situation.

I haven’t heard that this has had an undue impact on the elderly population. I don’t think any of the casualties of the hurricane were concentrated in the elderly population, but it’s certainly… when it comes to psychological stress, that’s a very difficult age to be weathering two hurricanes and looking at the prospect of a third. An analogy I’d make is imagine you’ve been in two car accidents that you know are coming and you’ve come out okay. Your car may be a little bit the worse for wear, but you’ve come out okay. And there’s the prospect of a third and significant car crash on the horizon. That would upset almost anyone.

RAY SUAREZ: Felicity Barringer in Miami, thanks very much.