Felix's weakening has been fairly pronounced since this morning; it's now a weak Category 4, though the hurricane guys expect a slight bounce-back before landfall.
In the meantime, we're in the waiting phase: The damage will depend upon the precise track, speed, and so on. No one can predict it in any detail, though there are certainly some bad rainfall-related scenarios for Central America.
To pass the time, I pulled together some good links about Felix, which I'd encourage you to check out:
The Flight of Their Lives? It was a hell of a reconnaissance mission into the explosively intensifying Felix last night. Jeff Masters relates the details.
Which was the Real Anomalous Atlantic Hurricane Year, 2005 or 2006? The Houston Chronicle's Eric Berger asks that question in a very thoughtful post. My answer: We may well go into a more El Nino-like world, but for the moment it sure looks like 2006 was the anomaly...not only a quieter year in a very active era, but it has been bookended by years chock full of Category 5 hurricanes. Anyways, Berger rightly concludes: "The safe bet is that the scientific debate over hurricanes and global warming is back on the front burner."
Hurricanes and Coral Bleaching? Princeton climate scientist Simon Donner uses Hurricane Felix as the launching point for a very thoughtful post on what strong hurricanes and coral bleaching events have in common--namely, warm sea surface temperatures. Donner publishes top papers in this area, so definitely check out what he has to say.
Get Over It? Over at Stoat, William Connolley takes me to task a bit for my posts about how many Cat 5s we've seen lately. I really don't understand his criticism. I include a lot of caveats in my posts, so as to give a sense of what we do and don't know. But nevertheless, the facts are these: Many scientists think hurricanes are intensifying on average because of global warming, and have published as much in the literature. Meanwhile, we now have seen 8 Category 5 Atlantic hurricanes in the last 5 years. While these data are far too limited to be considered proof of systematic hurricane intensification, is it really unfair even to mention global warming and its relation to hurricanes in this context--even when including the requisite caveats, and even when I wrote an entire book that explains those caveats in further detail, and that outlines the various problems with our hurricane data that make broad conclusions so difficult? I hardly think so.
Under Pressure. And finally, I'll end with a question: Does anyone know how to account for the fact that Felix's apparent lowest pressure, 929 millibars, was so much higher than that of Hurricane Dean--906--even though both were at 145 knot peak winds? Is this just a difference dependent upon storm size, or is there more to it than that?
Size is only part of it. Felix peaked among higher environmental pressures. In any case - I think Felix has one of the highest minimum central pressures recorded for a category 5 hurricane. There are only 7 Atlantic cat 5 hurricanes on record with higher minimum central pressures, most of which were measured when the storm in question was known to be of less than cat 5 intensity.
Wind speed is a function of pressure gradient, not absolute pressure. At its peak, Felix had a small, tightly wound, almost-perfectly formed core, so that all the low pressure was on one side (the inside) of the eyewall. Usually, monster storms have a less steep gradient of pressure, often forming a double eye as they go through eyewall replacement cycles.
Chris -- I think you are misunderstanding your critics here. No one would disagree that it is very interesting to have a scientific debate about trends in hurricane activity. Hurricanes are intrinsically fascinating and terrifying. The problem is that you are letting your emotional reactions speak much, much louder than your caveats and asides. This does not serve to advance the scientific discussion most effectively, and tends to rub working scientists the wrong way.
An even bigger problem arises when the scientific debate is used as a Trojan Horse for extreme policy prescriptions. While I am not accusing you of this sort of intellectual dishonesty, you cannot deny that the poster for Al Gore's movie was anything but sheer propaganda.
"...you cannot deny that the poster for Al Gore's movie was anything but sheer propaganda."
Oh my, yes...very Stanlinesque!
Of course, we should be ever so grateful for the conservative movement's efforts regarding global warming and climate change the last couple decades. ;^}