Hurricane Irene: Earlier story

Remember to scroll down. Good stuff on Thursday too!!

The following was updated 8 PM Thursday. At 2 AM Friday the National Weather Service said the hurricane's strength and movement had not changed from earlier. Next full report at 5 AM Friday.
✔✔✔✔✔ The Duke basketball team -- having beaten its opponent in China three times and a team in Dubai once -- is trying for one more victory: to beat Hurricane Irene's arrival in North Carolina.

The team and hangers-on aboard a chartered jet will fly home almost 12 hours early, sacrificing a night in their $800 a room hotel nestled on the Arabian Gulf. Originally scheduled into Raleigh Durham Airport at 4 PM Saturday, the new arrival time is 5:30 AM.

Yes $800 a night. Single rate, one night includes taxes and service charge

The chartered plane is a Boeing 757. While pilots have a great deal of discretion, the manufacturer's manual advises a cross-wind limit of 29 knots, or 33 miles an hour. The hurricane is most likely to cause far heavier winds when it strikes later in the day.

While the eye is likely to follow the shore-line north, the storm is unusually large -- with hurricane force winds of at least 74 miles an hour extending out 70 miles. Tropical force winds of at least 40 miles an hour extend 255 miles in all directions. The airport is roughly 100 miles from the shore-line.

The charter airline is thus hoping the Duke plane gets here just in time. Other options include holding the plane at its refueling stop (we believe in Anchorage) or seeking a safer airport inland.

In the Duke area, the winds are the only true danger. While the storm is dumping up to 12 inches of rain in the Bahamas, forecasters are sticking with a prediction of only one inch locally. Too bad; the area is in a mini-drought.

Governor Perdue has declared a state of emergency for all counties in North Carolina east of Interstate 95, which runs roughly 20 miles east of Raleigh. Evacuations are underway in beach areas, in some cases involving only tourists, in others involving everyone.

Thursday night, President Obama, vacationing on Martha's Vineyard off the Massachusetts which may well have its own Irene problems late in the weekend, declared an emergency in North Carolina. Federal aid will supplement state and local responses to the storm, and the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can coordinate all disaster relief efforts.

Further north, the storm is likely to be the worst in two generations -- a "once in fifty years" hurricane. It is also rare in that it threatens every state along the seaboard -- with governors in Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut also declaring emergencies. That's 65 million people.

In Washington, Sunday's dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. statue has been postponed.

NYC Mayor Bloomberg has warned a quarter million people to leave their homes, and says he will order evacuations if necessary. These include residents of traditional areas affected by storm surges, like Coney Island, but also the new and very expensive high-rise towers of Battery Park City, built on landfill at the tip of Manhattan for commuters who want to walk to Wall Street. The New York City subway system is preparing to shut down if need be -- an unheard of precaution.

At 8 PM Thursday the storm was centered 535 miles south of Wilmington NC, considered one of its prime targets on Saturday. It was moving at only 14 miles an hour, far slower than most hurricanes.

Even though it is lingering over warm waters which should fuel its strength, its winds slowed down in the past few hours, now clocked at "maximum sustained" 115 miles an hour. This keeps Irene as a Category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale, capable of "devastating" damage. Earlier Irene flirted with becoming Category 4, capable of "catastrophic" damage. This requires winds of 131 an hour; the maximum recorded was 126.

Forecasters still say Irene may achieve Category 4 status.

✔✔✔✔✔ The University evacuated its Marine Laboratory in the seaport of Beaufort, NC at noon on Thursday. But in Durham, there was minimal preparation. Generators were checked, procedures were reviewed. Upperclassmen previously scheduled to come in starting on Friday, were permitted into their rooms on Thursday, though hardly any knew this was the case. And all student events scheduled through the weekend are still on.

Here is the current official update. We warn our Loyal Readers that Duke keeps changing the URL when it posts new information, so if you check, this may or may not be the latest. A rather totally dumb way of doing it.



Whoa. This guy is in a majority of one!

This is no misquote. Here are the words of Orrin Pilkey, James B. Duke Professor emeritus of geology in the Nicholas School of the Environment: "The storm that is coming up the coast here is just what the islands need."

Wait a second. The Outer Banks -- the thin, long line of barrier islands jutting into the sea -- will take the brunt on Saturday. Property will be destroyed. Wildlife will drown. Salt spray from the waves will kill vegetation that lives on fresh water.

The professor: "We are going to see an awful lot of buildings destroyed and an awful lot of buildings damaged... And because it's so slow-moving, there are not only going to be high winds and big waves, but they are going to last a long time."

So where's the flip side, the good? Pilkey -- author of "A Celebration of the World's Barrier Islands," told the Los Angeles Times -- of all papers, one that is clear cross country -- that storms of this magnitude are essential to the islands' survival. "Heavy storms bring new sand to the islands, helping them stay at sea level rather than eroding and disappearing into the sea."

"It's a strange thing to live in a place where a natural disaster is essential for the environment. Californians who live in fire-prone areas are familiar with this dilemma. For people, fires are catastrophes, but some of us live in environments that depend on fire for survival...... A naturalist living on a barrier island knows that protecting your house is not a good thing. Because protecting your house ends up destroying the beach."


Finally, on the flight home from Dubai, since the uber expensive charter for the team and fans was first announced, FC has made a point of saying you really did not get very much for your money if you went along. Some Loyal Readers challenged our assertion that the jet was narrow-bodied with seating 3 and 3, meaning you had a 33 percent chance of being in a middle seat. Well all of us were right; originally a 757 3-3 was scheduled. Then the plane was upgraded to a 767, which is 2-3-2. However, the 767 had a mechanical problem that kept it on the ground at Raleigh Durham, and 24 hours later, the 757 was substituted.

In describing the 757, FC said it had business class seats. This was wrong. The team members -- some approaching seven feet -- are wedged into a limited number of "premium economy" seats -- a little more leg room and a 2-2 configuration but still economy seats. This will also affect Coach K, whose contract gives him a private jet when he is not with the team.

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