September 2nd, 2010
10:10 AM ET

Hurricane Earl may hit hard - even without landfall

Don't focus on the skinny line. That's the advice often given by meteorologists as a tropical storm or hurricane approaches the coast line.

When looking at the forecast track of a particular tropical storm or hurricane you will notice a shaded area that falls to the left and right of the forecast track. This shaded area is called the "cone of uncertainty" and is the average error in the forecast tracks of tropical cyclones issued by the National Hurricane Center. As a hurricane approaches, the track could shift to the left or right within the shaded area. So it is important to monitor the forecasts of tropical cyclones until you fall outside of the cone.

Tropical cyclones (the all-encompassing term for tropical depressions, tropical storms and hurricanes) can have far-reaching effects far away from the forecast track. For example, Earl's tropical storm force winds extend outward from the center by up to 200 miles. The entire system is now the size of the state of California. If the storm is moving at an average speed of 20 miles per hour, you can do the math: tropical storm force winds could arrive in your location up to 10 hours in advance of the hurricane!

Forecasters are also saying that Earl could come within 50 to 80 miles of the coast as Earl makes its closest approach. Although it is not forecast to make landfall, hurricane-force winds will be possible along the Outer Banks and Cape Cod as Earl makes its closest approach to those locations, because hurricane force winds extend outward from the center up to 90 miles with Earl.

In addition, residents along a coastline could, in some cases, experience the full brunt of a hurricane without it ever making landfall. Landfall occurs officially when the center of the eye comes in contact with land. The strongest winds in a hurricane occur around the edge of the eye in intense thunderstorms. This area is called the "eye-wall" and could come ashore without the center of the hurricane ever coming in contact with land.

The danger from tropical storms and hurricanes doesn't end with the winds: Lines of heavy thunderstorms, often called "squalls" can extend
outward from the storm for several hundred miles. These storms are capable of producing very heavy rainfall in a very short amount of time,
flooding streets and highways. The spiral bands can also produce tornadoes and waterspouts with little or no advance warning.

So it is important to take into account the far-reaching effects of tropical storm and hurricanes. Just because a hurricane is forecast to remain offshore, it does not mean you are out of harms way, the effects of a category 4 hurricane like Earl are far-reaching. Don't focus on the skinny line!

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Filed under: Weather
soundoff (99 Responses)
  1. Tarheel1965

    I cannot believe what I just read. Sarah Baker, the Oklahoma native, said she was "looking forward to it." She has no clue what she just said. We'll see what she has to say when there is nothing to come back to. Remember Hugo. Yes I do, and so does everyone else who was living in North Carolina or who had relatives living there at the time. Shame on you Sarah Baker !

    September 2, 2010 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
  2. jeannette

    I think that those of us who live in Tucson, AZ are safe.

    September 2, 2010 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • DrewSherm

      Except for the fact that you will have no water in 20 years... yeah.

      September 2, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Slim Shady

      @drew...what the hell are you talking about? some people should be banned from using a computer for moronic comments such as yours

      September 2, 2010 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Thenextstep

    I don't think there are enough reports on this Huricane. Therefore, CNN needs to get some twitter on the job.......

    September 2, 2010 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Halifax

    Hello,? Hello,? HELLO??!!!! Canada up here, Can you take care of this for us? Thanks a bunch....

    September 2, 2010 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Nik Green

    Nature's the boss. She always was, and always will be. Humans, although a part of nature, are unique however: the only species which is willingly organizing its own self-destruction via the political decisions by its psychopathic leaders, the pollution and destruction of its own habitat, and the manufacture and stockpiling of weapons which can destroy humanity 1000 times over. Ain't we clever!?!?!?!??

    September 2, 2010 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Phoenix Ray

    The Cone of Uncertainty....is that anything like the Cone of Silence??

    September 2, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jason

      No. The cone of silence is the area above a radar site where data is unable to be retrieved.

      September 2, 2010 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Auntkookie

    Just remember Katrina. Hurricanes and tornadoes are NO joking matter. On fools laugh at nature and nature will return the favor!!!

    September 2, 2010 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  8. John Kenney

    Hay people up the cape, you need to bord up your houses, get more inland.

    September 2, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Suzanne

    you're all idiots!

    September 2, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Steve

    I'm betting that Earl turns into a non event, after the News garners the publicity, and the government makes sure you know that you can't survive without them. They will waste all "your" money with silly declarations, and states of emergencies. And they will tell you better safe than sorry. The rest of the country needs to be like Nashville during the floods. They said it's coming, get ready, and call us if you need us. Then took care of themselves without whining.

    September 2, 2010 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ellen

      Really?? ummm.... remember Katrina? although there was media on Katrina for people to prepare and get out, there wasn't much... result...huge catastrophe... who gets the blame, government officials for not being on top of the situation and ready for "worse case scenerio", now you are criticizing these states for being on top of things and being ready for "worst case scenerios"? Lives could be at stake, peoples homes that they raise their children in, not just beachfront homes, are at stake... and you make that idiotic comment? Shame on you!

      September 2, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • J

      Ellen, why do you think that was? If there was plenty of coverage and several days of dire warnings, the people in New Orleans did NOTHING. Then they cried to the federal government to fix it all for them. They're still crying for the fed to fix it all, but if you look at the condition of those FEMA trailers, it's obvious few, if any of them, really care to lift a finger to take care of themselves, let alone anything else.

      September 2, 2010 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
  11. CMoney

    If we legalized marijuana the cartels would quit sending us f-ing hurricanes.

    September 2, 2010 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
  12. chris

    i wish all of you the best during this storm. my prayers are with you as i chain down f-18s all night and evac people.

    September 2, 2010 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • JDT

      Chris... As a former Air Force guy... I'll be thinking about you. Stay safe...

      September 2, 2010 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  13. MadMax

    Damn it. It's George Bush's fault! LOL

    September 2, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • hmr

      hahah i know right!

      September 2, 2010 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • JDT

      It always is, isn't it? This time they can't blame him. My thought is that anyone who had the means to leave and didn't, deserved to get what was coming to them in NO. As I tell my daughter, I can save you from many things in this world... except stupidity.

      September 2, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
  14. KAREN

    Remember Katrina, Andrew. run baby run.......

    September 2, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
  15. J

    'You do the math ...' That's funny, considering the average person in this country probably can't. More than 50% can't even pick out their own state on a world map. You do the math ...

    September 2, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
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