National Tropical Weather Conference this week in South Padre Island

National Tropical Weather Conference 2016

National Tropical Weather Conference 2016

Hurricane season is a mere 50 days away and before things get started, a very important conference will take place in south Texas this week.

There are several hurricane related conferences each year, some are local or state and some are national level. All of them are important for their own reasons but the NTWC is special because it is designed to bring together broadcast meteorologists and other experts from the world of hurricanes.

As you can imagine, broadcast media is a critical part of getting the word out when hurricanes and tropical storms loom. Having a clear, consistent message is vital to saving lives and minimizing property damage. Thus, getting as many people “in the business” together in one room makes a great deal of sense.

The 2016 conference will feature speakers covering a variety of topics – ranging from seasonal forecast information to updates to the National Hurricane Center’s suite of watch/warning products.

One key element of the conference that I am impressed with is the inclusion of those who are on the front lines within the media. For example, Bryan Norcross has been a speaker and brings a level of insight to the table that few in the media have (Andrew 1992).

This year will feature John Zarella. Many of you may know from CNN, Miami. His coverage of hurricanes is extensive and includes the very important aspects of knowing an urban market with a huge spread of cultural diversity. In addition, Ed Piotrowski, Rob Fowler, Jim Gandy and Bryan Luhn will represent local media interests from South Carolina where unprecedented flooding took place last year, loosely associated with the deep tropical moisture plume from hurricane Joaquin. Their collective perspectives will help the group to better communicate during times of severe weather and especially hurricanes.

We will also hear from key players from the National Hurricane Center, both past and present, about upcoming changes and what improvements can be made to better communicate risk and impacts from tropical cyclones.

From the private sector, AccuWeather, Baron Services and StormGeo will have speakers who bring their wealth of experience, including dealing with the media, to the group. Lew Fincher will address industrial impacts while the topic “Hurricane Strong” will be presented by Leslie Chapman-Henderson from FLASH. This is so important as it helps to round out the discussion by having all of us on the same page; ultimately benefiting the public.

What will the 2016 season be like? Busy? Not so busy? We will find out from Dr. Phil Klotzbach who will present on Thursday, complete with a full run down on the factors that will help to shape the season ahead.

I will be presenting on Friday about our unmanned camera project and how far it has come over the past decade. I’ll also update the group about our HURRB project and what we hope to learn from launching a payload filled with technology in to the eye of a hurricane at landfall.

Remember hurricane Patricia last October? It was at one point the strongest hurricane ever recorded in either the Atlantic or the east Pacific. Josh Morgerman was in Mexico for the landfall and documented the event using not only a camera but also pressure sensors. His passion and drive for getting in to the teeth of the worst of the worst in the tropics is coupled with an important scientific role: collect data. His report on Patricia will be eagerly anticipated.

All of these speakers and more will pack quite a bit in to the two day conference in a beautiful part of south Texas.

It’s almost hurricane season and this year, things may be different than what we’ve experienced over the past several seasons. The El Nino is fading and the Atlantic, at least the deep tropics, is warmer than average. No matter, we are all on the lookout for that one singular tropical storm or hurricane that comes your way. Luck favors the prepared and the National Tropical Weather Conference is a key element in that effort.

For more information and to follow along later this week, check out the National Tropical Weather Conference

El Niño on its way out – to be replaced by….?

The strong El Niño that we heard so much about over the past several months is beginning to weaken (has been for a few weeks) and will soon be just a faded memory.

Current data and computer model forecasts overwhelmingly favor the continued demise of the current El Niño which was one of the strongest on record. Once this happens, what will replace it? The answer to that question is not as clear but has possible huge implications on the upcoming hurricane season for the Atlantic.

First, a quick re-cap of what El Niño is.

Current look at SST anomalies across the tropical Pacific and the tropical Atlantic

Current look at SST anomalies across the tropical Pacific and the tropical Atlantic

The easiest way to understand the El Niño phenomenon is to think of an abnormal warming of the Pacific along the Equatorial region – usually extending from the coast of South America (where El Niño gets its namesake) westward in to the tropical Pacific. How far west and how much warming then determines the extent of the effects from said event. In the case of the current El Niño, some areas peaked out at roughly 3.0 degrees C above average – quite a significant deviation from normal.

Now things are changing. The warm episode is fading as much colder water in the subsurface continues to gather in the west Pacific, slowly moving eastward and closer to the surface. Once the trade winds return to normal across the region, this cold water will have a chance to over take the El Niño and finish it off for good. It’s just a matter of time.

Latest subsurface analysis showing the growing pool of cold water in the western Pacific

Latest subsurface analysis showing the growing pool of cold water in the western Pacific

As you can see by the computer model chart, the signal is very strong that El Niño will be gone by summer. How far gone and whether or not the Pacific does in fact swing the other way remains in question but most of the reliable long-term guidance at least suggests the possibility of La Niña conditions setting in by fall. Why does this matter? Hurricanes, that’s why.

We should all know by now that El Niño typically equals a quieter, less intense Atlantic hurricane season. This is due to strong wind shear generated across the deep tropics and other factors that act to kill off developing storms before they can get too strong. This doesn’t mean everyone is safe during an El Niño but the intense hurricanes on the Atlantic side are often kept at bay.

Latest IRI/CPC model output chart which clearly shows the demis of the current El Nino

Latest IRI/CPC model output chart which clearly shows the demise of the current El Nino

Conversely, La Niña presents us with the opposite effect. Shear is typically very low across the deep tropics and tropical seedlings have a much better chance of becoming strong hurricanes at some point. It should be pointed out that La Niña does not necessarily mean someone will get hit by a nasty hurricane. On the whole, La Niña tends to have more dreaded landfalls and so it tends to stick out more – especially compared to warm events or El Niño.

Looking at the average of the dynamic models, it would appear that El Niño is on its way out and could be replaced by La Niña conditions by late summer early fall – just in time for peak hurricane season in the Atlantic.

It wouldn’t be fair to not mention that there are other large-scale factors than can shape a hurricane season. The mere absence of El Niño can certainly change things and allow for more development but it is just one piece of the overall puzzle – a large piece, but not the only one.

Water temps off the coast of Africa have warmed considerably in recent weeks, something that will need to be monitored closely as we get in to the Atlantic hurricane season

Water temps off the coast of Africa have warmed considerably in recent weeks, something that will need to be monitored closely as we get in to the Atlantic hurricane season

Atlantic sea surface temperatures will also be a huge factor and right now, especially off the coast of Africa, those temps are running above the long term average. This can change, heck, it’s only February, but these are the puzzle pieces we keep an eye on in the off-season.

By mid-April, we will get a solid look at what to expect as Dr. Phil Klotzbach and his team from Colorado State University issue the first quantitative forecast for the Atlantic Basin. I can assure you that the state of the Pacific – whether it be El Niño or La Niña – will weigh heavily in to his predictions. Once we get to June, the outlook becomes more clear and again we’ll have an update from the team at CSU.

For now, it appears that the writing is on the wall. La Niña may be coming and if so, we just might have more to track than we have in quite some time.

I’ll have more on this topic in a few weeks as more data and other information becomes available.

M. Sudduth 12:55 pm ET February 11

Lightning? Static discharge? Something interesting in last week’s blizzard

Wanted to post the video that I produced which shows what appears to be some kind of electric discharge, maybe similar to lightning, during the blizzard last weekend in New Jersey.

The 15 second video shows blowing snow with the Chevy Tahoe in the shot, along with the boardwalk in Belmar, NJ. It was around 10:08 pm ET Friday night, January 22. Check out the video and see what you think.

 

Damaging storm forecast to rock parts of East Coast

Winter is about to make a grand appearance for people in many states east of the Mississippi River and it won’t be all fun and games – not by a long shot.

Energy coming in from the Pacific (outlined in gray) will drop south and east over the coming days and become a strong coastal storm

Energy coming in from the Pacific (outlined in gray) will drop south and east over the coming days and become a strong coastal storm

After a very warm December and tranquil start to the winter storm season, it looks as though time will run out and things will turn nasty later this week. The culprit is a low pressure area still over the Pacific just off of California and Oregon that is forecast by the major global computer models to dive south and east for a date with destiny. I know that sounds rather over the top but what happens to that piece of energy over the coming days is quite remarkable.

By Friday morning, the evolution of the pattern will be such that snow will begin to break out across parts of North Carolina and Virginia. By this point in time, the energy from the Pacific has carved out a sharp trough of low pressure over the Mississippi Valley region – indicating a lot of energy gathering in the atmosphere.

Meanwhile, a surface low will develop in eastern North Carolina by Friday afternoon that is the match that lights the fire. From there, things become very interesting and even concerning as the storm begins to fester over the warm water of the western Atlantic.

GFS depiction of the coastal storm and all of its impacts affecting many states along the East Coast and inland

GFS depiction of the coastal storm and all of its impacts affecting many states along the East Coast and inland

All of the available model guidance suggests that a fairly strong low pressure area will move up the coast from around Cape Hatteras to just offshore of southern New England. This classic Nor’easter pattern is set to bring phenomenal amounts of snow to a lot of people, especially away from the immediate coast. I am no weather winter expert so trying to decipher how much snow and where is beyond my ability. What I do know a lot about is impact and I see this storm as bringing potentially major impacts to people across more than a dozen states.

The snow will be excessive in places, again, impossible to know precisely where. Travel from many major airports will be snarled and people will be stranded. Highway travel will become a matter of taking your life in to your hands when the insane snow begins. Best to just stay put.

The storm will have a lot of energy with it, due in part to the very warm ocean temps as compared to normal. Also, the atmosphere will add plenty of energy and force the storm to intensify and crank up the wind. This will be an especially important impact since high wind coupled with feet of snow never makes for a happy ending.

Along the coast from Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and points north, the potential is there for coastal flooding not seen since Sandy in 2012. Luck is not on our side either because the moon is full this weekend and that will add to the overall storm tide that sets up. Make no mistake, this part of the storm will go vastly overlooked by major media who will focus on the blizzard conditions inland. Meanwhile, the coastlines of New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware will get pounded by coastal flooding, potentially causing significant damage in surge prone areas.

Farther north, strong winds and heavy rain in the warmer sector of the storm will mean miserable conditions for areas such as eastern Long Island and southern New England. Once the cold air mixes in enough, the snow will come, though it’s hard to say how much and for how long.

When all is said and done, this storm will likely be compared to some from the mid-1990s that battered the region with near hurricane conditions. Yes, it could be that bad.

Or, it might not be.

As the case seems to always be, enough uncertainty exists this far out ahead of the event that there is still room for something to happen that changes the outcome significantly. Remember, weather is about the probability of something happening in most cases. Right now there is a rather high probability that a major Nor’easter will develop and impact a lot of people. This is not the same as a certainty. Even when it is unfolding on top of the East Coast, timing, track and other factors will determine the final result. I am here to make sure you realize the totality of the storm. It’s not just fluffy white snow that will make for some pretty Instagram pics. Some places will be slammed with more snow than they can handle. Again, coastal areas of the Mid-Atlantic are likely to be blasted by near hurricane force winds and possible major coastal flooding. In other words, as much as we like winter storms (most people do I guess) they are a deadly part of weather not unlike hurricanes and tropical storms. Don’t let the enormous snow totals being thrown about blind you to the other hazards and prepare accordingly.

I am most likely going to head out in to the storm myself with some of the same equipment that we use during hurricane landfalls. I will wait until tomorrow to make the final call and will post more about my plans and what equipment I will be putting out. It should be one heck of a storm and I will do by very best to immerse you in to it like no one else can.

One last bit of advice. I mention the NWS a lot in my blogs when something big is about to go down. If you want straight-up info without any bias thrown in for website clicks or page likes, simply go to weather.gov and input your ZIP Code. From there scroll down to where you see “Forecast Discussion”. Click that and read it. It’s technical in nature but you can get an inside look at precisely what your LOCAL forecast office is thinking and why. No hype, no agenda, just raw analysis based on the best available data. Use it and be informed!

I’ll have more tomorrow morning.

Rare January tropical activity in Pacific, possible subtropical storm for Atlantic

You have no doubt heard plenty about the record-setting El Niño in the Pacific. It has been blamed for a litany of foul weather across the globe; whether all of those events are directly related to the El Niño remains to be seen.

Now we can add a rare January tropical storm to the list of El Niño-induced weather anomalies. The Central Pacific Hurricane Center (CPHC) is tracking tropical storm Pali, well to the southwest of Hawaii, not far from the Equator actually.

Check out the tracking map and you’ll see that the storm is located unusually far to the south and this is likely one of the reasons why the storm formed in the first place. Add the very warm El Niño water and a perfectly-timed westerly wind burst from the tropics and the result is a January tropical storm.

Tropical storm Pali tracking map from the CPHC

Tropical storm Pali tracking map from the CPHC

No worries about Pali – it is forecast to basically meander slowly well away from significant land masses and poses no threat to Hawaii. Still, it is yet another in a series of interesting, if not record setting, events that the current El Nino is at least indirectly associated with.

Meanwhile, the Atlantic, or more accurately, the subtropical Atlantic, has its own storm system worth watching.

Ocean storm in the vicinity of Bermuda that has a chance to become a subtropical storm over the next few days

Ocean storm in the vicinity of Bermuda that has a chance to become a subtropical storm over the next few days

The National Hurricane Center issued a special outlook product yesterday highlighting a strong ocean storm between the Bahamas and Bermuda. While currently non-tropical in nature, meaning that the storm has more or less the characteristics of a Nor’easter over warm water, there is a chance that environmental conditions, part of which also include warmer than usual water temps, could lead to the storm becoming more subtropical in the coming days. This basically means that the storm separates itself from any frontal boundaries in the vicinity and becomes more focused with deeper convection or thunderstorms closer to the center. This is typical of ocean storms that form out of the tropics or what we call the subtropics. Thus, it’s deemed a subtropical storm, kind of a first cousin to a classic warm-core tropical storm that we are more used to tracking during summer and fall.

Right now, the type of storm matters little for interests in Bermuda. The weather has been stormy for the past day or so with periods of heavy rain and gusty winds. The fresh water collected on the string of small islands is always appreciated but this unusual weather pattern is making for an unpleasant few days for the region.

Computer models indicate that the storm system will move generally east-southeast and make its way in to the open subtropical Atlantic. Water temperatures are not warm enough for a pure tropical storm to develop but it is possible that enough energy can be drawn from the Atlantic to allow the storm to acquire what I described before: more subtropical characteristics. If so, it would be named and would be Alex, subtropical storm Alex that is.

Once past Bermuda the storm poses no threat to land and is likely to be on the weather map for quite a few days since steering currents look to leave it hanging around out over the Atlantic in to next week.

So there you have it. The year is starting off with some interesting things to talk about even in the face of an obvious lack of cold and snow for most of the East. Will this change anytime soon? Probably. For now, the most interesting weather seems to be over the oceans with little sign of any big winter storms looming for the Lower 48. However, it’s still early January, as with hurricane season, we know how quickly things can change.

I’ll post more on the Pacific and Atlantic systems over the weekend.

M. Sudduth 8:40 AM January 8