Hurricane Earl along the North Carolina Coast

Hurricane Earl along the North Carolina Coast

At 2:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) on September 2, 2010, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) reported that Hurricane Earl was roughly 245 miles (395 kilometers) south of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and about 720 miles (1,155 kilometers) south-southwest of Nantucket, Massachusetts. A Category 3 hurricane, Earl packed maximum sustained winds of 125 miles (205 kilometers) per hour. The NHC warned that Earl was expected to pass near North Carolina's Outer Banks overnight.

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this natural-color image of Hurricane Earl grazing the North Carolina coast at 11:29 a.m. EDT (15:29 UTC) on September 2. Earl shows visible characteristics of a powerful hurricane—large size, spiral arms, and a distinct eye. Clouds from Earl extend primarily over North Carolina and Virginia.

The NHC issued multiple hurricane watches and warnings, including a hurricane warning from Bogue Inlet, North Carolina, northeastward to the Virginia border; and from Westport, Massachusetts, around Cape Cod to Hull. The NHC also warned that a powerful storm surge could raise water levels by 3 to 5 feet (1 to 1.5 meters) in some places. (Please see the NHC’s advisory archive for more information.) The NHC forecast that Earl would turn toward the north-northeast and pick up speed on September 3. Even though the storm had begun to weaken, it was expected to remain a powerful hurricane as it passed the Outer Banks.

Researchers participating in the Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes (GRIP) mission flew NASA’s DC-8 and WB-57 planes and the robotic Global Hawk aircraft through and over Hurricane Earl on September 2 as the storm approached the Carolina coast.

During flights earlier in the week, researchers noticed that dry air surrounded Earl. Hurricanes usually derive energy from moist air, and dry air can weaken or even stop a storm. “The scientific question is: will Earl maintain its intensity in the face of all this dry air?” said Ed Zipser, researcher from the University of Utah. “Is that dry air getting in? And if it is, is it going to kill the storm?”

NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC using data courtesy of the University of South Florida. Caption by Michon Scott.

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