Hurricane Irene, the 9th named storm of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season, is expected to hit the east coast this weekend. We find out what meteorologists know about it so far, and how it might compare with previous hurricanes that have hit our region.


  • Tom Kierein Meteorologist, NBC4
  • Dennis Feltgen Public Affairs Officer and Meteorologist; National Hurricane Center


  • 13:06:42

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, we learn about the life of and legacy of Frank Batten, the founder of The Weather Channel. But first, Hurricane Irene. She's an uninvited and unwelcome visitor who may delay the dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial this weekend. As the region regains its footing after a rare earthquake, we anticipate the possibility of another event some would say vent from Mother Nature.

  • 13:07:27

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIHurricane Irene has already passed Puerto Rico and other parts of the Caribbean and is expected to arrive in the D.C. area Saturday night. We're just about midway through hurricane season and the major storm is heading for the East Coast for the first time in seven years. Are you ready? Joining us now in studio is Tom Kierein. He is the meteorologist News Channel 4, certainly one of my favorites. Tom, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 13:07:54

    MR. TOM KIEREINGreat to be here. An honor, Kojo, to be with you.

  • 13:07:57

    NNAMDIThe honor is ours. Yesterday, it looked like Irene was going to head out over the Atlantic and we'd be spared a direct hit today. It's looking like we're going to feel it more than initially expected. What are you predicting?

  • 13:08:11

    KIEREINWell, the good news, Kojo, is that this far ahead -- now we're still four, three and a half, four days ahead of potential landfall right near our Atlantic Coast. This far ahead, the forecast track will have an error as much as 150 miles. So, we can hope that that error is off, you know, toward the west rather than toward the east and that maybe we can get her to move farther east, which will be better news for us. But unfortunately, there is a consensus to the models. You've heard us talk about these forecast models.

  • 13:08:46

    NNAMDIYeah, when you look at computer models, what are you looking at? What's usually your first hint that the hurricane is on the horizon?

  • 13:08:53

    KIEREINWell, you -- certainly you can see satellite imagery from space. This is when we first see these waves. They come off of the west coast of Africa, off the Sahara and this is the time of year. We're entering primetime season for these events to happen. A lot of times these waves will develop into some tropical storms or maybe even less than that, just depressions, as we call them. And they will stay in the central Atlantic and sort of the meander north and not really affect anything.

  • 13:09:22

    KIEREINBut then eventually they'll, by later in the season, late August and early September, that is when we begin to see these storms getting more intense. They hold together longer. They'll make their way all the way across the Atlantic, move toward the Antilles, head into the Caribbean, intensify and this is what has happened with Irene. And unfortunately, Irene is looking like one of the bigger hurricanes we have seen in quite some time.

  • 13:09:50

    NNAMDISo the models you're looking at right now are beginning to arrive at a state unanimity, they're becoming to agree more and more?

  • 13:09:58

    KIEREINYeah, that's right. There are many of them. And if you look at them on a chart, it looks like someone spilled spaghetti on the floor. But when the spaghetti starts to line up and they all start to point in the same direction, that's when you can say: Okay, we are beginning to see some consensus. And there is now for this. But some of them are showing the track coming right up the Chesapeake Bay, into Prince George's County for the center of circulation.

  • 13:10:23

    KIEREINSome of them are showing the track 150 miles farther east. But there is a cluster of the majority of them showing that track moving right along our Atlantic Seaboard from north Norfolk, right through the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and then right along the coast from Assateague, Chincoteague, Ocean City, Rehoboth, Lewes, Delaware and then right along the Jersey coast towards New York City.

  • 13:10:47

    NNAMDIThe spaghetti is coming together and pointing generally in the same director, says Tom Kierein. He's a meteorologist with News Channel 4. He joins us in studio. Joining us now by telephone is Dennis Feltgen. He is a public affairs officer and meteorologist with the National Hurricane Center, which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. We're awaiting that call from Dennis.

  • 13:11:10

    NNAMDIBut you can call now. What questions do you have about how hurricanes are forecast and what the different categories mean? You can call us at 800-433-8850. That's 800-433-8850. Send us e-mail to, go to our website, to join the conversation or send us a tweet @kojoshow. Right now, Irene is a category 3 hurricane, Tom. But the storm is strengthened to a four. Remind us of what these different categories mean.

  • 13:11:41

    KIEREINWell, the Hurricane Center came up with these different categories years ago mainly based on the damage that these storms can cause. And structural engineers have looked at wind loads on buildings and what types of winds will do damage to certain types of buildings. And so it all is based on that. So we look at mainly the wind load on structures that formulate these different Simpson Scale, we call it, these different categories.

  • 13:12:11

    KIEREINAnd so, when they do get to category 3, they cause lots of structural damage to all kinds of structures. And not even, you know, we always hear about the mobile homes that get hit by these things and are demolished. And certainly category 3 storms will do that. But even more robustly built buildings will be certainly impacted, roofs can come off with category 3 storms and on even a well-built building as well as -- even, you know, concrete buildings, concrete block buildings, brick buildings can be -- have their walls cave in with winds of up to 120 miles an hour, which is what now Irene is beginning to show.

  • 13:12:51

    KIEREINAnd it may not become a 4, that was the other good news I have for you, Kojo, is that the latest information is that it may stay a category 3 and not become a 4. But anything over a 3 is going to do major damage. So, hopefully, it's going to be weakening as it gets closer to us. And that's the other good news, too, is it may be down to a category 2 storm, which, you know, is still a powerful storm with winds of 100 miles an hour. But by the time it does get to near Ocean City, it may be a category 2 and that would be by very early Sunday morning, pre-dawn is the timing right now.

  • 13:13:25

    NNAMDIDennis Feltgen is joining us now by phone from Miami. He, as I mentioned earlier, is a public affairs officer and meteorologist with the National Hurricane Center, which is part of NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Dennis, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:13:38

    MR. DENNIS FELTGENYes, good afternoon.

  • 13:13:39

    NNAMDIDennis, where has Irene already been and what kind of damage has been wrought so far?

  • 13:13:45

    FELTGENWell, to be perfectly honest here, we're looking forward rather than looking back. I don't have any reports on damage. Your newswires would have more indication on that than we would. In the meteorology, we have sustained winds of 120 miles per hour in the Bahamas, so we can only imagine what occurred.

  • 13:14:02

    NNAMDIWhat's your best guess on whether the storm will strengthen and what we can expect here in the Washington area?

  • 13:14:08

    FELTGENWell, it's a little too hard to tell the exact impact of the storm. Our latest track forecast carries it east to the D.C. area, right along the coastline. But that would be the core of the storm. This is a very large hurricane, so impacts on the storm can be felt well inland, including the D.C. metro area.

  • 13:14:24

    NNAMDIThere's another storm forming on Irene's heels, is my understanding and that you're keeping an eye on it. Anything to report?

  • 13:14:32

    FELTGENYeah, actually it's not on the heels. It may be in the next, probably the next planet. This thing is way in the far eastern Atlantic. It may become Tropical Storm Jose before all is said and done. But it's not expected to become anything more than a tropical storm. It should be gone early next week and it's what we call a fish storm. It's just going to bother the fish out there and nobody else.

  • 13:14:50

    NNAMDIHopefully. Dennis, thank you so much for calling.

  • 13:14:52

    FELTGENAll right. Bye now.

  • 13:14:53

    NNAMDIDennis Feltgen is public affairs officer and meteorologist for the National Hurricane Center. It's part of NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Still in studio with us is Tom Kierein. He is a meteorologist with News Channel 4. You can call us, 800-433-8850. What's in your hurricane kit? 800-433-8850. Another important distinction to keep in mind, Tom, I guess is the difference between a hurricane watch and a hurricane warning, which means what?

  • 13:15:22

    KIEREINWell, right now, much of eastern North Carolina is under a hurricane watch. And these are issued usually 48 hours in advance of a potential landfall. Landfall means that the eye of the storm, the actual center of circulation has actually touched a land mass. And that is what's looking like. It's within 48 hours now of the outer banks of North Carolina. They will go to a warning when it gets down to within 24 hours.

  • 13:15:46

    KIEREINAnd they've already got evacuations underway there. And with our proliferation of media, it has helped to really alert people to the best, you know, best course of action is just to get out, evacuate.

  • 13:15:59

    NNAMDIWhat's an advisory?

  • 13:16:00

    KIEREINWell, an advisory is certainly way down on the scale. I mean, it's certainly enough to get your attention but you don't need to evacuate, you don't need to take any drastic measure.

  • 13:16:10

    NNAMDIAnytime a storm is predicted to be serious and then fizzled out, there's a risk that the next time people won't heed warnings as well because, well, it wasn't that bad last time. As a forecaster, how do you walk that fine line?

  • 13:16:25

    KIEREINThat is really one of the toughest things, not only for hurricanes but for winter storms especially and we have seen, you know, okay, we might get 10 inches of snow. And lo and behold, two days later the sun's out instead of, you know, no snow, the storm veered away. So, that is tough. But, you know, we really do want to give people advance warning so they can take action. Our whole agenda is to save lives and to protect the public safety.

  • 13:16:52

    KIEREINSo sometimes it's going to be wrong. I mean, we are predicting the future. Nobody can predict the future, but we can approximate what might happen. And that accuracy has been getting better and better and better thanks to computer technology, thanks to increases in detection technology, radar technology. We have really, really improved dramatically the forecast, but they're still going to be wrong once in a while. And there still is a little bit of that cry wolf syndrome that you have to be concerned about.

  • 13:17:20

    NNAMDISo that even if we hope for the best, we should prepare for the worst.

  • 13:17:24

    KIEREINAbsolutely, absolutely.

  • 13:17:25

    NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here is Pat in Alexandria, Va. Pat, you're on the air, go ahead please.

  • 13:17:32

    PATYes, Kojo. Hey, I was wondering if there's been any kind of discussion in regards to any kind of frost with the -- when Hurricane Irene comes in, we had an incident with the earthquake the other day where cell phone use was almost completely knocked out due to the high traffic. Is there thought or any projection of working something with an emergency broadcast implementation for anything in regards to cell phones?

  • 13:18:00

    NNAMDIWell, I'm sure that there are emergency broadcast preparations being made in the radio world, in which I happen to live. I haven't been updated about them as yet. But I don't if Tom can tell you anything about cell phone use.

  • 13:18:12

    KIEREINWell, I know that, you know, we are going to have a lot of coverage on television as, well, you know, all around our region. All of the media is on high alert to inform people. But unfortunately, when we have major natural events like this happen, everybody wants to get on the phone and everyone wants to call their relatives to check on them and find out. And unfortunately, the system can only handle so much. And I really don't know what can be done about that.

  • 13:18:39

    NNAMDII guess this would be an appropriate time, Pat, for me to tell you Pepco says it's closely monitoring the approach of Hurricane Irene and that weather services are predicting that this area will experience heavy rain, high winds over a sustained period this weekend, which could cause widespread and extended power outages. The subsequent restoration could be a multi-day event.

  • 13:19:02

    NNAMDIPepco has initiated what it calls its incident response plan and a strongly urgent customers to prepare for the possibility of outages which, Tom, brings me to what should people do to prepare for Hurricane Irene before Saturday? And what should they have on hand to get through the storm?

  • 13:19:20

    KIEREINYou do have to prepare for outages for a number of days, thanks to the trees. We love our trees.

  • 13:19:26

    NNAMDIWe do.

  • 13:19:27

    KIEREINWe have -- I mean, this is what makes Washington and this region so beautiful. Our trees are wonderful. But whenever we get winds that are 60, 70, 80 miles an hour, which we may see, those limbs come down. The power lines, they're all aboveground. Most of them, they will come down and as a result we'll have many without power. Well, you definitely need water. That's the number one item. You should have extra water on hand and extra food, at least enough for three to seven days, mainly the nonperishable packaged or canned foods, juices. I think it's a good idea to have ice in a cooler, because your refrigerator is going to be off.

  • 13:20:02


  • 13:20:03

    KIEREINAnd you have to consider, if you have a child -- a young child, an infant or the elderly, you definitely need food for them. You need a non-electric can opener. A lot of people, you know, think "Hey, wait a minute, check the drawer in the kitchen, do I have one of those?"

  • 13:20:17

    NNAMDIExactly right.

  • 13:20:17

    KIEREINBecause it's -- does no good to have the canned food if you can't open it so have one of those, certainly, cooking tools and fuel. I've got a camp stove with kerosene, I may be using outside Sunday afternoon...

  • 13:20:28

    NNAMDIGood for you.

  • 13:20:29

    KIEREIN...paper plates, plastic utensils. You should have a first aid kit on hand and certainly flashlight batteries and radio batteries for listening to WAMU and hearing all the latest.

  • 13:20:42

    NNAMDIIf you have a phone that plugs directly into a jack, remember those, you may...

  • 13:20:46

    KIEREINOh, right.

  • 13:20:46

    NNAMDI...want one of those during this occasion. It's been seven years since a major hurricane struck the East Coast. I'm sure each is unique but in terms of strength and in terms of its path, what storm would you compare this one to that out listeners might remember?

  • 13:21:00

    KIEREINWell, that's a great question, Kojo, and we do look at analogies. And this one is hauntingly similar Hurricane Floyd which came through here in September of 1999. It made landfall near Cape Fear, N.C. and it was a category two hurricane which this one may very well be and it may make landfall near Cape Fear. And that storm, as it moved into Maryland and Virginia, caused over 500,000 to lose their power. It caused $225 million in damage, in Virginia alone.

  • 13:21:38

    KIEREINAnd we had flooding around the Chesapeake Bay. We had a two to three foot storm surge -- storm surges -- these hurricanes actually push water, they can push water out of the Atlantic Ocean into the Chesapeake Bay and it has nowhere to go. It goes into all those little inlets that feed into the Bay and then you have high tides and you can have coastal tidal flooding which may very well happen with this storm.

  • 13:22:02

    NNAMDIWe're just hearing that the mayor of Ocean City has ordered an evacuation. As of midnight, everyone other then essential personnel has to leave and they have until 5:00 pm tomorrow to evacuate. Please, remember your pets if you are also evacuating by 5:00 pm from Ocean City, Md. Here is Amy in Deal, Md. Hi, Amy.

  • 13:22:28

    AMYHi, thank you for taking my call.

  • 13:22:30

    NNAMDIYou're welcome.

  • 13:22:32

    AMYYes, we live on a boat in Deal, Md. on the Chesapeake Bay. And we are curious about what the predicted level of surge will be here.

  • 13:22:43

    KIEREINWell, if this is anywhere similar to Floyd, it will be a two to three foot surge or maybe a little bit higher depending on where it does track. The good news is, we are going to be on the Western side of this storm, quite likely, that is usually a -- more of a minimal storm surge versus being on the Eastern side. And so that's in our favor. So -- but there still may be a two to three foot storm surge, even with that.

  • 13:23:11

    NNAMDIAmy, thank you very much for your call. What's your plan?

  • 13:23:15

    AMYWell, we are thinking of hauling the boat out of the water and going to stay at a friend's house.

  • 13:23:23

    NNAMDISounds like a good plan to me, Amy, thank you very much for your call. We move on to James who is on I-95 on his way to New York City. James, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:23:35

    JAMESHi, thank you for taking my call. And addition to wind speed, I often hear hurricanes measured by the pressure, the measure it in millibars. And can you just tell me what that kind of measurement is identifying in a hurricane and what we might be able to expect on that...

  • 13:23:56


  • 13:23:56


  • 13:23:57

    KIEREINWell, amazingly the air actually weighs something. Under every cubic foot of air, we're standing under a column of air that goes all the way up to the stratosphere and that can weigh 15 pounds, that column of air -- square foot of air. So when we talk about barometric pressure, we're talking about the weight of the air as measured by a barometer which is an instrument that measures the weight of the air.

  • 13:24:19

    KIEREINSo it's like you standing on your scale, in your bathroom, we're actually measuring the weight of the air and the lighter the air is, the lower the pressure, the more intense the storm is. It means that we can have more lift in the atmosphere that creates more convective then, I hate to use that big word, it's like boiling water on your stove. And what you're doing is, you are creating lower pressure at the bottom of that pan with the water in it, so it starts bubbling.

  • 13:24:48

    KIEREINIn other words, the lower the pressure, we're going to have more bubbling in the atmosphere and the more bubbles, the more turbulent it can get and the more intense the storm can get. So we don't like the lower pressure. And this one has been holding steady -- it's pressure's been holding steady the last 24 hours or so which is good and it may not get much lower.

  • 13:25:06

    NNAMDIJames, thank you for your call.

  • 13:25:09

    JAMESThank you, keep up the good work, bye.

  • 13:25:11

    NNAMDILarry in Washington, D.C. You're turn Larry, you're on the air.

  • 13:25:16

    LARRYHi, thank you, Kojo and certainly Tom for taking the call. I have two brief questions. First question is, what is the difference between a hurricane and a typhoon?

  • 13:25:29

    KIEREINIt's in name only. It's the same thing, it's only in the Eastern Hemisphere over the far Western Pacific, they're called Typhoon's and Cyclones, in some cases.

  • 13:25:42

    LARRYOK and secondly, I've understood that hurricanes, such as this one, will probably, over time, become more intense and more frequent as a result of global warming, is this just guess work or scientific work or is there something that we've seen through computer modeling and things of that nature, recently?

  • 13:26:06


  • 13:26:07

    KIEREINKojo, can I leave the room now?

  • 13:26:09

    NNAMDII know. I know because you have just stepped into the middle of an ongoing debate.

  • 13:26:13

    KIEREINYeah, it really is. There are some studies that have been done that show there could be an increase in hurricane activity but then again, there have been other studies that have shown that we really have not had an increase in hurricane activity. So it...

  • 13:26:28

    NNAMDIIn other words, Larry, we're still study...

  • 13:26:29

    KIEREINYeah, there you go.

  • 13:26:31

    NNAMDITom Kierein is a meteorologist with News Channel Four. Tom, thank you, so much for joining us.

  • 13:26:35

    KIEREINHappy to be here, Kojo.

  • 13:26:37

    NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, the life and legacy of Frank Batten, the founder of The Weather Channel. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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