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What's next, a 'cane?

Published August 25. 2011 05:02PM

It's been quite a year for natural phenomena.

There have been tornadoes, storms that dropped hail the size of tangerines, and on Tuesday, an earthquake - an occurrence people think of happening only in California, Japan, or other far-away places.

The year of the potent and unpredictable natural events might not be over. Indications are that next on our list is Hurricane Irene.

This morning, the Hurricane Center was confident that Irene will strike the Outer Banks of North Carolina Saturday evening as a strong Category 3 or Category 4 hurricane.

Beyond that point, latest indications put Irene on a path extremely close to or over the mid-Atlantic coast and New York City before plowing into western New England.

A track directly over Atlantic City, N.J., and New York City would bring bring intense winds westward to Philadelphia, according to Accuweather. Damaging tropical storm-force winds (winds between 40 and 70 mph) will extend 150 miles westward and nearly 250 miles eastward from Irene's center.

This forecast does not bode well for the West End Fair which opens on Sunday. The opening day of the fair is always one of its most successful and often sets the pace for attendance the rest of the week.

Predicting the path of a hurricane is difficult for meteorologists.

Last September, there was concern Hurricane Earl was going to be a weather factor locally, but it drifted east and only the most eastern part of our area got light rain.

Hurricane Ida, in November 2009, gave us a drenching, but little more.

Various frontal boundaries could impact the course that Irene also could move far enough out to sea to virtually go unnoticed.

On the other hand, it could be close to shore and bring with it several inches of rain and wind heavy enough to down power lines and cause other damages.

The more precise course won't be known until tonight or Friday.

For at least three summers in a row, there have been local areas hit by confirmed tornadoes.

The most serious this year happened May 24 when a funnel cloud was spotted in Walnutport and in the same storm system, tornadoes damaged homes and property in Walker Township and Franklin Township.

Just two days later, on May 26, major thunderstorms drifted through and struck some areas with hail balls larger than anyone can ever remember seeing locally. Hardest hit were the Lansford, Coaldale and Tamaqua areas. The hail was as big as tennis balls and broke car windows, damaged roofs, and knocked out house windows. Damages locally were extensive, with car repair shops and housing contractors booked well into the future making repairs to vehicles and homes, respectively.

Not long after this, another major storm occurred, this time giving the greatest thrashing to the Lake Hauto area. Large hail damaged homes there, and heavy winds caused trees to topple onto numerous homes.

On Tuesday, the ground shook locally from an earthquake that had its epicenter in Virginia. It's rare for the East Coast to experience any earthquake, let alone one with a magnitude of 5.8.

Coincidentally, also on Tuesday, a rare earthquake also occurred in Colorado.

Will the local trend of unique natural events continue on Sunday with the arrival of a hurricane?

Locally, the most devastating hurricane season happened in August 1955 when first Hurricane Connie, and then Hurricane Diane, brought spectacular amounts of rain. The resulting flooding caused deaths in Tamaqua and Weissport, and extremely heavy damage to towns along the Lehigh, Schuylkill, and Delaware Rivers.

Better flood protection measures are in place today than had existed 56 years ago, but considering how things have gone this year, you might want to pay heed to updated weather forecasts.

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