Masters: Hurricane Irene a Potential Multi-Billion Dollar Disaster for New England, Mid-Atlantic. Track It Here.

Morning satellite image of Irene, showing a hint of an eye starting to pop out.

Weather Underground has just introduced an embeddable map for those who want to track Hurricane Irene (it loads slowly, so I put it after the jump):

Meteorologist and former hurricane hunter Dr. Jeff Masters has regular updates on Irene at Wunderblog.

Today he reports, “Irene a potential multi-billion dollar disaster for New England and the mid-Atlantic.” Here’s why:

Though it is still possible the core of Irene will miss the U.S., the current NHC official forecast would mean that Irene would bring destructive flash flooding, significant beach damage, and widespread power outages due to tree damage along the entire U.S. coast from North Carolina to Maine, costing several billion dollars. If Irene ends up skirting the Outer Banks of North Carolina and not significantly weakening, then plowing through the mid-Atlantic and New England states as a Category 1 or 2 hurricane, it could become one of the ten most damaging hurricanes in history. The latest 06Z (2am EDT) run of the GFS model puts Irene ashore in Southeast Massachusetts on Sunday afternoon as a large storm with a central pressure of 974 mb.

The latest run of the ECMWF model has Irene with a central pressure of 964 mb over Chesapeake Bay, and 972 mb over New Jersey. These central pressures correspond to strong tropical storm or Category 1 hurricane strengths, and are similar to what Hurricane Floyd or 1999 had when it moved up the mid-Atlantic coast after hitting North Carolina as a Category 2 hurricane. Floyd was the 14th most damaging hurricane in history, with total damages estimated at $9.2 billion (2010 dollars.) Most of the damage was in North Carolina, which experienced its worst flooding on record. If the GFS and ECMWF models are correct, Irene could easily be a $10 billion hurricane, causing widespread damage along a long section of heavily populated coast. The most damaging Northeast U.S. hurricane of all time was Hurricane Agnes of 1972, with damages estimated at $11.8 billion (2010 dollars.)

Currently, it appears that Irene will hit North Carolina on Saturday, and New England on Sunday. I strongly urge all residents of the coast from North Carolina to Massachusetts to assess their hurricane preparedness immediately, and anticipate the possibility of hurricane conditions this weekend.

It looks like it may smash right into DC — although I will be in Boulder (more on that shortly).

For those who like  worst-case scenarios, check out “Risk assessment of hurricane storm surge for New York City.”

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