June 2, 2023

A cute li'l tropical storm in the Gulf kicks off the 2023 hurricane season

The first named storm of the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season formed on Friday afternoon. 

Tropical Storm Arlene is a disheveled little thing spinning about a hundred miles off the western coast of Florida. It's not long for this world, thankfully, and it should dissipate near the tip of Cuba this weekend without much fanfare.

Arlene developed in the way most early-season storms do—a cold front stalled out over the northern Gulf of Mexico, giving rise to a low-pressure system that slowly gathered tropical characteristics.

An aircraft investigating the disturbance on Thursday discovered the system had organized into a tropical depression just about 18 hours into the first day of hurricane season. Another aircraft found it had strengthened just enough to warrant tropical storm status by Friday afternoon.

This is...not a healthy system. It's lopsided as a result of wind shear and dry air, essentially a cluster of persistent thunderstorms feeding off a tight, exposed swirl drifting over the open waters. It's a cute li'l thing to be sure, and it's exactly what you'd expect to see this early in the season.

The National Hurricane Center expects Arlene to steadily weaken into this weekend before dissipating off the tip of Cuba by Sunday.

Despite earning the first name on this hurricane season's list, this actually isn't the first storm of the year. That dubious distinction goes to an unnamed system that formed in the middle of January, believe it or not, about halfway between Bermuda and Nova Scotia.

While this system was a full-blown subtropical storm in the dead of winter, but the National Hurricane Center opted not to name it or issue any advisories at the time. Forecasters declared it a subtropical storm in hindsight in May, making it the year's first storm and one that'll forever live in the records as "Unnamed." (I wrote more about this unnamed storm for The Weather Network last month.)

That mid-January storm made this the eighth hurricane season in the past nine years to start before the 'official' kickoff of hurricane season on June 1st. Last year, the NHC began issuing its twice-daily outlooks on May 15 in response to this widening window. 

[top satellite image via NOAA]

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May 29, 2023

May ends on an odd note with 90s in Canada and 60s in the Carolinas

Things are a little wonky when it's 90°F in northern Canada and only 66°F in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Just about everyone who lives in the southeast or Mid-Atlantic is familiar with the low-pressure system that's brought uncharacteristically cool weather for the end of May.

This system is part of a larger pattern that's flipped eastern North America's conditions upside down, giving the northern U.S. and eastern half of Canada a spell of summer-like warmth while those of us farther south are mired in a gloom worthy of early March.

Monday afternoon only managed to climb into the mid- to upper-60s across large swaths of Tennessee, Virginia, and the Carolinas, with a few areas that managed some breaks in the clouds groaning above the 70-degree mark. It's been cool and rainy like this for days as a suspiciously wound-up low-pressure system moseyed just off the North Carolina coast.

Temperatures coming in 10-15+ degrees below normal are bad enough at the end of May—and even worse when it's the Memorial Day weekend—but the real kicker in this pattern is that folks up north, all the way north, experienced unusual temperatures in the other direction.

Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada

Fort Severn is a tiny outpost on Hudson Bay in far northern Ontario where the average temperature is "her eyeballs are frozen, Clark," for seven months of the year.

The temperature at that airport on Monday, May 29, climbed up to almost 90°F, according to Environment Canada, which is just as impressive in Celsius (32.2°C) as it is in Fahrenheit.

Conditions got even warmer in Fredericton, New Brunswick, on Sunday, a burst of summertime heat that fueled devastating wildfires in Nova Scotia. 

Source: Tropical Tidbits

This atmospheric flip-flop bathed the eastern half of North America courtesy of a pattern called a Rex block, named after the meteorologist who discovered the pattern back in the '50s. These setups occur when a ridge of high pressure aloft gets jammed in place beneath an upper-level low to its south.

A Rex block doesn't go anywhere in a hurry. These two features get stuck in place for days on end, leading to unusual warmth for folks under the ridge and an unseasonable chill for those beneath the upper-level low.

Modeled temperature anomalies on Thursday afternoon. | Source: Tropical Tidbits

Fortunately—though a little less so for folks who wanted to go to the beach for the long weekend—this pattern will start to diminish as the low weakens and broadens out, allowing the big ridge over New England and eastern Canada to dominate heading into the beginning of June.

Temperatures will start to rebound in the Mid-Atlantic and Carolinas by mid-week, and very warm temperatures will persist across the northern U.S. and much of Ontario and Quebec heading into the beginning of June.

[Satellite Image: NOAA]

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May 2, 2023

Unusually cold start to May arrives with feet of snow in the mountains

It feels more like the beginning of March across a huge chunk of the eastern United States as an unusual pattern brings chilly temperatures and heavy mountain snows to the region.

The average high for Wednesday, May 3, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, comes in around 69°F, with the same afternoon up in Buffalo, New York, recording about 63°F.

The National Weather Service's predicted high for both cities on Wednesday is 48°F.

That's pretty darn cold for the beginning of May!

A strong upper-level low diving over the Great Lakes is responsible for the unseasonable start to May we're enjoying (for some) or loathing (for others) across much of the eastern U.S.

Cold temperatures and unsettled conditions often follow these upper-level lows along their path, and this pattern is no exception.

It would be brutally cold and snowy if this scenario unfolded in the heart of winter.

But it's the heart of spring, so "ugh it's cold" is just...jacket weather for most, and downright enjoyable here in central North Carolina, where it's 65 humidity-free degrees as I type this.

Not everybody is so lucky.

This wet and chilly pattern is bringing some epic snows to the Appalachians in West Virginia. Some of the higher elevations are expecting one to two feet of snow through Thursday morning as a result of this pattern, which is extremely unusual for this late in the year. 

In fact, it's not just unusual—this might just be the largest snowfall event ever recorded in West Virginia during the month of May.

The most snow that's ever fallen in Snowshoe, West Virginia, during May was 7.5 inches in May 1997. The observer there recorded 5 inches of snow through Tuesday morning, and the official NWS forecast calls for an additional 6-12 inches there through Wednesday night. 

Things will start to warm up toward the weekend as the pesky upper-level low pushes east out to sea. It looks like a ridge will start building in by next week, favoring above-average temperatures for areas where the atmosphere is waxing nostalgic for March right now. 

Take a look at the NWS's forecast highs for next Monday, May 9:

Mmm-m-m-m-mmm. Toasty.

[Satellite image via NOAA]

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April 25, 2023

North Carolina's snowy season is over—not that we had one this year

April 24 is a milestone in North Carolina's everlasting battle against wintry weather. 

That fateful Sunday back in 2005 was the latest on record we've seen measurable snow in a major city in North Carolina.

An observer at Asheville Regional Airport recorded 0.1" of snow on that date 18 years ago, a mere dusting among dustings that stands as the latest in the year in modern times we've seen a verified snow measurement in one of the state's big cities. 

Passing this marker in winter weather history doesn't seem to matter much this year, though, seeing as we just witnessed a near-historic snow drought across North Carolina.

A Rare Near-Snowless Winter Across North Carolina

Despite our reputation for falling to pieces the moment someone spots the first flake, it snows just about every year in North Carolina.

Even folks down by the coast sweep away an inch of snow every year or so. Once you're west of Interstate 95, it's actually pretty unusual not to see at least a dusting of snow every year, making this winter's lack of wintry precipitation all the more conspicuous. 

Every weather station in a shade of blue on the map below actually managed to record measurable snow (≥ 0.1") at some point this past winter:

...and every weather station in red on the map below recorded no measurable snow this past winter:

Almost all of this year's accumulating snow remained in the mountains, while a short-lived dusting managed to survive into pockets of the northern piedmont toward the end of March.

The most snow we saw at lower elevations was a "trace," which occurs when snow falls but melts on contact with the ground. Recording a trace gives meteorologists the ability to note that it snowed even though it didn't accumulate.

If you look at how folks drive and react to any predicted amount of snow, you'd think that every winter storm was our very first one. While we're far enough south that winters are generally tolerable to the warmth-inclined, we're also just high enough in latitude to get clipped by snow and ice storms on a regular basis.

Our major cities each benefit from generous weather records that stretch back to the mid-1940s or earlier, a depth that gives us solid frames of reference for what's normal and how fast our "normal" is changing these days.

Asheville, for instance, has seen measurable snow every winter for the past 70+ years except for just four. With just a trace of snow recorded at the airport, this year ranks among those four. Boone has recorded snow every single winter since 1928; however, the 2.0" that fell there this winter was the lowest out of nearly a century of routine observations.

It's a similar story in our low-elevation metro areas. The big goose-egg measured in Charlotte this winter was one of just 11 winters where no measurable snow fell. Greensboro's trace of snow made this the sixth winter since 1928 where we couldn't even muster a dusting.

The lack of snow isn't for a lack of precipitation, either. Most stations west of I-95 saw slightly below-average precipitation, only by an inch or so. The mountains and piedmont managed to avoid drought all winter, with "unusual dryness" only starting to creep into northern sections around Rockingham and Caswell Counties here at the end of April.

It could have snowed. It should have snowed. But it didn't snow because it was just too warm to snow.

Record Winter Warmth

Calling the previous season "winter" even feels like an overstatement. It was pre-spring. Spring Junior. Aside from the epic cold snap that nearly wrecked our power grid in the days leading up to Christmas, this winter put a capital M in Mild.

The most "winter" we experienced last season was a lobe of the polar vortex that descended upon the United States right around Christmas. Temperatures plummeted into the single digits for much of North Carolina on Christmas Eve.

Highs and lows on December 24, 2022. (NOAA)

Such a spell of cold weather isn't unprecedented here, but a series of maddening failures and poor decisions on Duke Energy's part plunged hundreds of thousands of North Carolina homes into the dark on those coldest mornings, a series of self-imposed blackouts designed to prevent cascading damage to the power grid as a result of sub-standard power generation.

Other than that little hiccup...it just never really got all that chilly after Christmas.

This was still a capital-M Mild winter even when you factor in the atmosphere over northern Canada taking a brief sojourn south of the border.

Raleigh-Durham International Airport recorded its warmest-ever winter this past season. Boone achieved the same infamous feat. Folks in Charlotte, Greensboro, and Asheville all saw their fourth-warmest winters on record. 

Almost all of this winter's warmth wasn't necessarily driven by days that were mild enough for short-sleeve shirts, but rather nights that repeatedly came in warmer than normal. Average nighttime lows across the state came in well above normal throughout the entire season, widely ranking among the top-three warmest on record.

Source: Climate Central

That's not much of a surprise, unfortunately. Rising low temperatures are one of the most tangible ways we're experiencing climate change here in North Carolina. Low temperatures throughout the year have risen at an astonishing rate over the past couple of decades. The change is so pronounced here in the Triad that we've lost more than three full weeks of subfreezing nights since the 1970s.

We're still going to have finger-numbing cold in winters to come. It'll probably snow next winter, and there's a decent chance parts of the state will see a disruptive thumping from one of those wintry storms.

But the ongoing trend of warmer winter temperatures, especially warmer overnight low temperatures, will reduce our overall chances for snow going forward. It takes just a little more effort and alignment to get snow nowadays.  It's not our parents' climate anymore. We experienced it firsthand this past winterless winter.

[Top satellite image via NOAA]

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April 3, 2023

Another Round Of Significant Severe Weather Is Likely On Tuesday

Tuesday's severe weather map across the central United States may look eerily familiar if you paid attention to the weather last Friday.

Many of the same areas pummeled by terrible storms a few days ago are at risk for more severe weather over the next 48 hours, with strong tornadoes possible again alongside the threat for damaging winds and large hail.

The Risk

The Storm Prediction Center issued a moderate risk for severe weather—a four out of five on the categorical scale measuring the risk for dangerous storms—across two separate areas.

The first covers eastern Iowa and northern Missouri, while the second blankets much of western Arkansas and a large chunk of southwestern Missouri. These include the cities of Fayetteville, Arkansas; Springfield, Missouri; and Cedar Rapids, Davenport, Iowa City, and Waterloo in Iowa.

Both of these moderate risks are driven by the threat for strong, long-lived tornadoes. The strongest storms here could produce hail the size of golf balls or larger along with damaging winds. 

There's also an enhanced risk for severe weather—a solid three on the five-category scale—stretching from Tyler, Texas, all the way north to Madison, Wisconsin. Areas in and around the enhanced risk could also see tornadoes, some strong and long-lived, as well as large hail and widespread damaging wind gusts.

Nighttime Storms Are A Serious Hazard

It looks like things are going to kick off a little later in the day than they did on Friday, which will push a good chunk of Tuesday's severe weather risk later into the evening and nighttime hours. Severe weather is bad any time of the day, but it's especially hazardous at night.

Folks are at serious risk of missing urgent warnings as they wind down and go to bed. Wireless emergency alerts on smartphones have saved countless lives over the past decade after the screeching tone woke people up and gave them just enough time to dive for cover. It's best to have multiple ways to receive alerts in case one fails—get a weather radio!—but if nothing else, make sure your phone and all your friends' and family members' phones are ready to receive tornado warning alerts.

The other reason nighttime storms are extra dangerous is that it's nearly impossible to see tornadoes at night until they're right on top of you. Like it or not, it's human nature and a cultural idiosyncrasy that we want to see a tornado before taking shelter. That's dangerous during the day, but a straight-up gamble with your life at night.

The Setup

It's worth saying up front that no two severe weather events are ever exactly alike. Not everyone under the highest risks here will see severe weather. There are always "modes of failure," as meteorologists like to put it, that can preclude widespread severe weather.

That being said, the potential certainly exists for Tuesday's storms to produce strong, long-lived tornadoes, as well as widespread damaging wind gusts and hail the size of golf balls or larger.

Another low-pressure system moving out of Colorado will scoot across the Plains toward the Upper Midwest during the day Tuesday. This strengthening storm could moonlight as a model for a textbook illustration of a classic early-spring troublemaker.

Source: TwisterData.com

Cold air to the north, warm air to the south, and an abundance of tropical moisture will allow the system to generate a ripping blizzard over the northern Plains while fueling a significant severe weather risk from Wisconsin to Texas. 

The above model shows Theta-E, which is a good illustrator of instability as it combines temperatures and dew points all in one graphic.

Higher values show a warmer, soupier air, while cooler colors show drier and more stable conditions. This does a really good job showing the center of the low and its associated cold and warm fronts, laying out the general setup that'll fuel Tuesday's severe weather threat. You can also see the stout southerly winds feeding the wind shear that boosts the storms.

Strong supercells are likely near the triple-point, or the area where the cold and warm fronts meet near the center of the low. This accounts for the heightened tornado and large hail risk across eastern Iowa and northern Missouri.

Farther south, another bullseye for the tornado/hail risk exists over western Arkansas and southwestern Missouri as supercell thunderstorms develop amid strong wind shear blowing over the region.

The Severe Risk Continues Wednesday

This low-pressure system will track northeast across the Great Lakes into northern Ontario through Wednesday, which means that the cold front is in no hurry to race to the Atlantic coast. 

We'll see a renewed round of severe thunderstorms from the Mississippi to the Appalachians during the day Wednesday.

An expansive threat for damaging winds will develop in any lines of thunderstorms that bubble along the cold front on Wednesday, with the risk for isolated tornadoes popping up from time to time.

The SPC mentioned in their forecast on Monday that supercells are possible around the eastern Great Lakes, which could enhance the tornado threat in this region.

Snow And Ice

Severe weather is far and away going to be the biggest threat from this storm, but don't sleep on the risk for serious snow and ice on the cold side of the low.

Source: NWS

Folks across the northern Plains are on alert for blizzard conditions and the potential for two to three feet of snow. The latest forecast from the National Weather Service shows a swath of 12-18+ inches of snow covering a huge area from central Wyoming straight into northwestern Ontario.

This heavy, wet snow will be accompanied by powerful wind gusts that will lead to prolonged blizzard conditions at times. Travel will be impossible for a time during the storm.

Source: NWS

A lengthy period of freezing rain is likely in the murky area between the heavy snow and the strong storms. Plenty of folks across the Upper Midwest could see one-quarter of an inch of ice accretion through Wednesday, which is enough to cause tree damage and power outages.

Even greater ice accretions are likely across interior Maine on Wednesday night, which is certain to lead to tree damage and power outages.

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March 31, 2023

Central U.S. Faces First 'High' Risk Severe Weather Day In Years

The Storm Prediction Center (SPC) expects a widespread and significant severe weather outbreak across much of the central United States on Friday, including the potential for "violent, long-lived tornadoes," as well as destructive wind gusts of 75+ mph and very large hail in the strongest storms.

This is the first high risk issued by the SPC since March 25, 2021, a day that saw multiple violent tornadoes tear across Alabama and Georgia. This also appears to be the first 'double' high risk—with two distinct bullseyes—in over a decade.

Friday's upgrade to high risk is tornado-driven, according to SPC forecasters, with a better-than-even chance of violent, long-lived tornadoes in eastern Iowa and northwestern Illinois—including Cedar Rapids, Davenport, and Peoria—as well as a swath of the Mid-South, centered around the Memphis metro area.

Areas under the high risk are just where dynamics are approaching peak favorability for significant tornadoes. We still have a very large swath of the country under a moderate risk, including almost the entire state of Illinois, most of Indiana, and large portions of every state bordering the Mississippi River down to Greenville.

Communities in and around the moderate and enhanced risk areas could also see widespread destructive wind gusts, significant tornadoes, and large hail. Many major cities and transportation hubs are included in this sprawling threat for severe weather.

"Particularly Dangerous Situation" (PDS) tornado watches were issued for most of the high risk and moderate risk areas by midday on Friday, with the threat growing through the afternoon hours and spreading east into the overnight.

This wide-ranging severe weather outbreak will push east Friday night into early Saturday morning as the powerful Colorado low responsible for this outbreak tracks across the Great Lakes into Ontario.

Another round of severe weather is likely on Saturday up and down the East Coast, with damaging winds and isolated tornadoes possible from near the Quebec border down through the Florida Panhandle.

Make sure you've got a way to get warnings and seek safe shelter, and give your friends and family a heads-up if they're in the area.

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March 30, 2023

Widespread Severe Weather Expected Friday Across The Central U.S.

A classic springtime system rolling across the northern U.S. will lead to a widespread risk for severe weather across the middle of the country on Friday.

We've had some potent severe weather already this year—including a devastating EF-4 tornado in Mississippi last week—but this is the widest-ranging severe storm risk we've seen so far this season.

The Storm Prediction Center (SPC) expects severe thunderstorms on Friday from east-central Texas all the way into central Wisconsin, stretching as far east as the Ohio River Valley through the overnight hours into Saturday.

A strong Colorado low sweeping across the Upper Midwest on Friday will sow the seeds for this potential severe weather outbreak. Unstable air streaming north into the low will provide the instability, and powerful upper-level winds will supply the wind shear needed to turn thunderstorms severe.

Source: TwisterData.com

As with most classic springtime severe weather outbreaks, we'll see the hazards play out in two distinct rounds. The initial thunderstorms have the best opportunity to grow into supercells capable of producing strong, long-lived tornadoes, as well as large hail and damaging winds.

These supercells are most likely in and around the two moderate risk areas: near the center of the low in Iowa, and near the greatest instability and wind shear over the Mid-South.

As the day wears on, a lengthy squall line will develop along an approaching cold front, transitioning the threat to widespread damaging wind gusts (60+ mph) and the potential for fast-spawning tornadoes in the kinks along the leading edge of the line. This line will push east late Friday through the overnight hours.

A large area falls under an enhanced risk for severe weather, or a 3 out of 5 on the scale measuring the potential extent of powerful thunderstorms. Two separate areas are under a moderate risk, or a 4 out of 5 on the scale, including eastern Iowa and northwestern Illinois, as well as the Mid-South centered around Memphis.

Strong, long-lived tornadoes are possible throughout most of the Mississippi River Valley between Dubuque, Iowa, and Clarksdale, Mississippi, with the potential for significant tornadoes pushing east into central Tennessee and northern Alabama.

Tornadoes get top billing on red-letter severe weather days, of course, but damaging wind gusts—potentially reaching 75+ mph—are far and away the most immediate threat to any one location. These winds can cause as much damage as a tornado, just over a wider area.

Keep a close eye on watches and warnings if you live in the region, and let your friends and family know to do the same if they're under any severe weather risk on Friday. Have a plan in place to seek sturdy shelter in a hurry if a warning is issued for your location, whether you're at home, work, school, or out running errands.

The threat for severe weather will shift east on Saturday, albeit on a much weaker scale as the low-pressure system lifts into Quebec. Damaging winds and a couple of tornadoes will be possible across parts of the southeastern states, as well as a damaging wind threat in any storms that pop up across the eastern Great Lakes.

Another storm next week could produce significant severe weather across many of the same areas expecting bad storms on Friday. It's that time of year. Stay ready, and stay alert.

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March 13, 2023

Another Atmospheric River Hits California As New England Deals With A Nor'easter

Two major storms will bookend the country on Tuesday, bringing more flooding rains and prolific snows to California while New England deals with its strongest nor'easter of the season.

The Setup

A jet stream firmly parked over the southern half of the United States will set the stage for the two major systems we'll have to deal with over the next couple of days.

Out west, upper-level winds will funnel a rich plume of moisture straight into California. (Stop me if you've heard this one before.) This latest atmospheric river will fuel widespread heavy rains at lower elevations and very heavy snows for the Sierra Nevada.

Back east, the combined lift of a trough digging across Eastern Canada and that strong jet stream over the southeastern U.S. will lead to the rapid development of a low-pressure system off the Mid-Atlantic coast late Monday evening.

This low will spin itself up in a hurry, likely meeting the criteria for bombogenesis, or a "bomb cyclone" as you'll probably hear it termed. This just means that the storm's minimum pressure will deepen very quickly, leading to wicked winds and widespread heavy snowfall across much of New England.

More Flooding For California

A weather alerts map of California today looks like a toddler went at it with a fresh pack of Crayola and a vivid imagination. The state is blanketed with flood watches, wind advisories, high wind warnings, and winter storm warnings for the mountains.

Source: NWS

Wind gusts could reach 50 mph for much of the northern half of California through Wednesday, with gusts up to 70 mph possible along the coastline and elevations above 1,000 feet. Those winds could easily lead to downed trees and power outages, especially with soils soaked from all the rain over the past couple of weeks.

There's plenty more rain where that came from. The latest forecast from the Weather Prediction Center paints widespread rainfall totals of 3-5 inches along the coast, with up to 2.5 inches in the Central Valley and higher totals up north. Much of that precipitation in the mountains will fall as snow, with five feet of additional snow possible above 8,000 feet. 

This latest slug of rain and snow will add further stress to the region's waterways, many of which already spilled over their banks with the round of precipitation a few days ago.

As always, stay alert for flooding and be prepared to change your travel route if you come across a flooded road. It's impossible to tell how deep the water is until it's too late, and it only takes a few inches of moving water to lift a vehicle and carry it downstream. California's hilly terrain increases the odds that there may not even be a roadway left under the floodwaters.

Heavy Snow And High Winds For New England

Meanwhile, the East Coast will soon deal with a storm that could be its most significant thump (in fact, one of its only bouts) of wintry weather this year.

A classic nor'easter will spin up off the East Coast tonight and roar through early Wednesday morning, targeting much of New England with heavy snow and high winds for the day Tuesday.

The storm will really get cranking early on Tuesday morning, plastering almost everyone from northeastern Pennsylvania to coastal Maine with double-digit snowfall totals by the time the storm is over on Wednesday.

Most of the snow will fall north and west of I-95, sparing Philly and New York from much more than a dusting at best. Higher elevations in upstate New York could see up to two feet of snow.

Boston is going to be right on the borderline between a nuisance and a solid storm, with about 6-8 inches of snow in the forecast right now—with much lower totals just east and much higher totals just west. It wouldn't take much of a nudge in the storm's ultimate track to push that fine line in either direction. I don't admire local meteorologists up there right now.

Strong winds of 50-60 mph are likely during the storm, which will lead to tree damage and power outages for many location. This is going to be a wet, sloppy snow, to boot, which will weigh down trees and power lines and make damage and outages even more likely. Coastal flooding is also possible.

Heavy snowfall rates and high winds will lead to reduced visibility during the height of the storm, with whiteout conditions possible at times. If you have to travel through the area, it'd be a good idea to get where you need to go by Monday night and plan to stay put for a couple of days. 

[Top Image: Tropical Tidbits]

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