Tracking a hurricane is like babysitting a toddler -- you can sort of expect where it might go and how fast it might take off, but you never really know. Sometimes that little whimper turns into a giggle and problem solved, but other times it will dissolve into a full-blown tantrum with no warning. Okay, so hurricanes might be a tad more predictable, but you get the point. You've got to watch them, and watch carefully, to really know what they are going to do to all your carefully crafted Labor Day Weekend plans.
For most of us, we rely on the TV news people to tell us stuff like the following about Earl -- the latest performer on the weather stage -- marching up the eastern seaboard:
At 11 a.m. today, Earl was about 1,000 miles from the Carolinas, moving north-northwest at about 14 mph, packing winds of 135 miles per hour.
As of now, Earl won't hit landfall at all, won't even be a hurricane when it climbs up the coast, but it could bring a little rain and some stormy winds.
The best way to stay on top of a hurricane and what it means for your immediate area is to follow it yourself. Ah, it's not as hard as it sounds. There are a couple of good resources to bookmark for the next few of months to get us through the 2010 season.
First, click on the National Hurricane Center (NHC).
The NHC, located at Florida International University in Miami in the heart of hurricane territory, is a division of the National Weather Service's Tropical Prediction Center. The Center is charged with tracking and predicting the likely behavior of tropical depressions, tropical storms, and hurricanes. When hurricanes are expected within 36 hours, the center issues watches and warnings on its site.
Oh, this page is a haven for weather geeks, most of it I ignore, but clicking to the page told me right away that at the last tracked time, 2 p.m., Earl was passing east of the Turks and Caicos Islands with 135 mph winds.
The NHC will also give you lots of cool eagle eye views of the storm and the storm's path, including graphics such as this 5-day forecast that shows me that Earl will only exist as a hurricane in its current position in the Caribbean, and that once it moves up the coast to my neck of the woods between Friday and Saturday, it will be downgraded to a Tropical Storm.
If you're really banking on that picnic, you can sign up for a Hurricane Earl RSS Feed. Feeds are available for all storms and depressions the NHC is tracking.
Then, to find out what this all means for your area, type your city and zip code into the box at the upper left-hand corner of the site. That will pull up the local forecast, including hurricane and tropical storm effects. For my area: Chance of rain Thursday and Friday but clear for the weekend! Sorry to see you go, Earl, but I like watching you leave! Or something.
Tracking a hurricane doesn't have to be all doom and gloom. It can also be a fun indoor activity to do with the kids on those last horrid hot days of summer before school starts. The Federal Emergency Management Association has a printable hurricane tracking chart you can print out, and maybe you can even share it with your kids.
What's your weather medium of choice?