Update from the National Hurricane Center
JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:
NPR's Jon Hamilton has been tracking the storm from the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
JON HAMILTON reporting:
LUDDEN: I understand the storm weakened before it hit land. What happened?
HAMILTON: Yeah. Fortunately, it got a little bit less powerful than it had been just a couple of hours earlier. Maximum winds had been about 140 miles an hour when Dennis was in the Gulf of Mexico, and that made it a Category 4 storm. And it was down to a Category 2 storm at about 120 miles an hour by the time it actually hit the coast. What happened was that the storm became less organized. Here at the Hurricane Center, they have all these animated satellite pictures of the storm, and you could actually see the eye begin to come apart and become less organized just as the leading edge began to reach land.
LUDDEN: Huh. So given that and given that the people where you are track these things all the time, any sense yet of how bad the damage might be?
HAMILTON: Well, it's not a big storm; in other words, it was not a huge distance across. But it was powerful, and so that suggested damage would be pretty bad. In part, that's because a lot of this coastline is really not much above sea level. So you get the combination of rain and waves and storm surge, and it can put just everything under water. And it's worth noting it's only been a year since the last Category 3 hurricane hit this coastline; that was Ivan. And it landed about 50 miles west of where Dennis hit, and it did about $13 billion worth of damage.
LUDDEN: So where is Dennis headed now?
HAMILTON: North would be the short answer and pretty quickly, too. It's moving at about 20 miles an hour, and Dennis is going to pass through Alabama and Mississippi probably tonight. Tomorrow it's expected to reach Arkansas and Tennessee. And, of course, the longer the storm is over land, the less intense it becomes. But it could still drop 5 or 10 inches of rain in a few hours in some places and bring winds of much more than 60 miles an hour. So people are going to be feeling the effects of this at least as far north as Memphis.
LUDDEN: And do you know how far north evacuations have been ordered?
HAMILTON: No, I don't.
LUDDEN: This is a powerful storm for so early in the year. Do you have a sense of whether we might be in for a long hurricane season?
HAMILTON: Well, there's a lot of talk about that, and it's interesting because there's something that they call a hurricane fatigue that sets in here at the Hurricane Center, and a lot of the forecasters here are already looking tired. And what they say about it is this. They say, `Look, the season certainly has started early. That doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be a--it's going to run late, but it could.' It's very rare to have a major hurricane in the Gulf in early July, and last year's hurricanes all came in August and September. So forecasters here are saying the conditions are right for more hurricanes, and they would not be surprised to see more.
LUDDEN: NPR's Jon Hamilton, at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, thanks very much.
HAMILTON: You're welcome.
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