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Hurricane Center Official: Earl a ‘Considerable Threat’ to East Coast

September 2, 2010 at 5:46 PM EDT
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Jim Lehrer speaks with the deputy director of the National Hurricane Center for the latest developments on Hurricane Earl as coastal communities take precautions for a possible landfall.

JIM LEHRER: And to Ed Rappaport, the deputy director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami. I spoke with him a short time ago.

Mr. Rappaport, welcome.

ED RAPPAPORT, deputy director, National Hurricane Center: Good evening.

JIM LEHRER: Good evening. What’s the latest on the storm as we speak, sir?

ED RAPPAPORT: At this hour, Hurricane Earl is centered about 200 miles to the south of the North Carolina Outer Banks. And it remains a considerable threat. It’s still considered a major hurricane. That’s Category 3. Maximum winds are about 115 miles per hour. And the expectation is that those strongest winds will approach and come very close to the Outer Banks of North Carolina overnight tonight and then, in a what weakened fashion, approach the southeastern New England area about 24 hours from now.

JIM LEHRER: And what does this mean in terms of expected impact and damage?

ED RAPPAPORT: At this stage, if the forecast track remains true — and we have another image to show us that. Here’s the coast of the United States. Here’s our forecast track, which takes the center just offshore, as we said, North Carolina, then offshore from southern New England.

The strongest winds and the highest storm surge are off to the east, to the right. But this is a large hurricane, and we still have hurricane-force and tropical-storm-force winds on the left. So, we do expect hurricane conditions over the Outer Banks, with a rise of water there, a storm surge on the order of three to five feet, and then tropical storm conditions up much of the Mid-Atlantic coast into the Northeast, and then again potential for hurricane conditions along southeastern coast of New England.

JIM LEHRER: Talking about heavy rain, heavy wind, potential damage to trees and buildings, that sort of thing?

ED RAPPAPORT: That’s right. The most significant impacts are going to be the storm surge over the Outer Banks, which will have overwash of on the order of three to five feet in some areas, so there will be damage.

The winds, however, will also be causing a problem all along the coast. And particularly, where it is raining, with the trees, with all their foliage, will be susceptible to those winds, so we could see a lot of downed trees and power lines as we — the storm moves up into the Northeast.

JIM LEHRER: Now, that course that you — you predicted and that your diagram shows, is that pretty — pretty predictable at this point? Is that — there’s no — is there any chance it might suddenly swerve further west and do even more damage, or is this pretty well it?

ED RAPPAPORT: That’s pretty much it for the North Carolina area. We still — we think the center will remain just offshore, which is good news, as we said, because the worst of the weather is the east side.


ED RAPPAPORT: But just a slight change in the angle a little bit to the left here can make a big difference up in the Nantucket/Cape Cod area. And so we can’t completely rule out that the center won’t move directly over those areas. But, at the moment, the best guess is that the center will pass very close to just offshore there as well.

JIM LEHRER: And you say when it — when it — after it gets up in that area, it’s going to be back to hurricane condition. What does that mean, actually?

ED RAPPAPORT: OK. At this stage, the hurricane is at Category 3 strength.


ED RAPPAPORT: So, the winds are on the order of 115 miles per hour. It will weaken fairly significantly over the next 24 hours as it moves over the cooler waters here, but still will be in the Category 1 to maybe Category 2 status as it passes hopefully abeam of southeastern New England, but, again, potentially a slight chance of it moving right over the Cape Cod area.

JIM LEHRER: Now, Category 1 or 2, what are we talking about, 75, 80 miles an hour?

ED RAPPAPORT: That’s right, 75- to perhaps 95-mile-per-hour winds. Those would be sustained winds or average winds. The gusts will be even higher. Again, the good news is, the strongest of those winds will be on the east side…


ED RAPPAPORT: … and be somewhat less on the west side. So, there is still potential for Category 1 conditions in southern New England.

JIM LEHRER: The speed of this whole thing, in other words, the speed that it’s actually moving up the coast at this point, what is it, and what does that calibrate as the possibility of when it’s all going to go by?

ED RAPPAPORT: Right now, the hurricane is moving to the north, or maybe just a shade to the east of due north at about 18 miles per hour. And we think that that track is going to bend more and more towards the north-northeast over the next day or so, and there will be an acceleration, a speeding up along this — this track. What that means is that the worst of the weather will be occurring overnight tonight in the Outer Banks area and then up the Mid-Atlantic and into the Northeast during the day tomorrow, and then finally into southern New England tomorrow night.

JIM LEHRER: And then it would be gone?

ED RAPPAPORT: Then it will be gone, clearing out for the weekend.

JIM LEHRER: OK. Mr. Rappaport, thank you very much.

ED RAPPAPORT: Thank you.