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Hurricane Irene: What Are The Primary Threats To Southern New England?

BOSTON (CBS) - As Category 3 Hurricane Irene continues to churn through the Bahamas, folks along the East Coast from the Carolinas to New England are keeping a close eye on the projected path and forecasted strength.

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Weather models overnight and this morning made a pronounced shift to the west. Most models yesterday had the path over eastern Massachusetts, now this morning, many have shifted west towards Long Island and Connecticut.

Hurricane Irene: Check Latest Satellite Images | Tracking Map

This is a very significant change for many reasons.

First, the core of the hurricane force winds typically only extend out some 50-to-100 miles from the center of the storm.

WBZ-TV Meteorologist Barry Burbank looks at recent New England Hurricanes:

So, the farther away the center passes, the less chance that we would experience hurricane force winds.

Also the heaviest rainfall is always to the west of the path of the hurricane, therefore with a track well to our west we could also miss out on the heaviest rain amounts.

We have to stress that the storm is still three days away and the track will continue to shift.

The eye is continually reforming, causing slight shifts in track and also Irene's interaction with the Jet Stream over the U.S. will be vital.


Storm Surge and Coastal Flooding

This is likely the biggest threat that we will face from this storm with the most potential damage. The storm surge could be as large as 10-to-15 feet along the South Coast and seas could swell up to 30 feet just offshore.

Tides are astronomically high on Sunday due to a new moon.

The high tide we are most concerned with is Sunday night's which occurs around 8 p.m. on the South Coast and just before midnight in the Boston area.

With the right storm track there could be significant funneling in Buzzards Bay and Narragansett Bay, leading to destructive flooding.


Obviously the winds are the first thing people think of when a hurricane is headed their way and the track of the storm will ultimately determine the strength and location of the wind.

The strongest and most damaging winds always occur on the east side of the hurricane. Therefore those located in the closest vicinity of the storms center and to the right would experience the worst of the wind.

Currently with a track farther west, many folks in eastern Massachusetts could be in line for significant wind gusts, and those closer to the track in central Massachusetts perhaps even stronger winds.

If Irene maintains hurricane strength in New England, winds would likely be sustained at 70 mph or greater along the South Coast and could gust to near 100 mph.

The winds would likely diminish somewhat the farther inland you go, but 50 mph+ would still be easily attainable.


The heaviest rainfall is typically to the west of the storm track.

Given the current forecast path, this would leave most of us in southern New England out of the heaviest rain totals.

WBZ NewsRadio's Kim Tunnicliffe at the National Weather Service


They would be confined to western Massachusetts and New York State where 5-to-10 inches+ could fall causing significant flooding.

There would be bands of rain in eastern and central Mass. and New Hampshire arriving as soon as Saturday afternoon

The heaviest rain would occur for about a 6-to-10 hour period as Irene approaches and passes by.

Residents east of the track could still receive 2-to-5 inches +, nothing to sneeze at.


We will continue to monitor any trends today and changes in the forecast, but we urge everyone to begin to prepare now for the worst case scenario.

Watch Melissa Mack's forecast:

Related: Hurricane Plan - Before The Storm

This storm still has the potential to deliver a very significant blow to Southern New England not too dissimilar from Hurricane Bob in 1991 or Hurricane Gloria in 1985.

The WBZ weather team will keep you updated every step of the way!

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