Come on Irene


A good drenching might be in store for Southwest Florida later this week — but not a direct hit — as Hurricane Irene passes the Florida Peninsula on Thursday and Friday.

Irene, the first hurricane this year, was forecast on Monday to become a major hurricane with 115 mph winds as it passes through the Bahamas on Thursday. The storm is forecast to travel north from there, skirt the east coast of Florida, and possibly strike the Carolinas.

The storm system is not forecast to make landfall anywhere near Southwest Florida, but it should be large enough and close enough to boost rain chances here, said Tom Dougherty, a spokesman for the National Weather Service’s Tampa Bay office.

“Generally speaking everything’s always been on the dry side for the past many years, so we could use a little bit of heavy rain,” Dougherty said.

But rain is not an absolute given. If the storm travels farther east of the state than forecast, west Florida would wind up drier than normal.

The track for Irene is still uncertain, but is starting to trend slightly eastward compared with previous forecasts, lowering the threat for Florida and increasing the risk for the Carolinas.

Error for the four- and five-day forecast is large, at 200 to 250 miles, so forecasters look to the National Hurricane Center’s so-called “cone of uncertainty,” rather than the exact forecast point. Southwest Florida is no longer within the cone, but it is too early to completely rule out tropical storm conditions here.

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