It looks as though the Main Development Region or MDR is still struggling in terms of the ability for tropical cyclones to take shape. The area between Africa and the Lesser Antilles is usually fertile grounds for development this time of year but it seems that for the past several years, dry air has been the rule. The result is we see vigorous tropical waves move off of Africa, various computer models over-develop them and then nothing much happens. It’s like the models (some, not all) are simply not “aware” of the dry, more stable environment that has become a semi-permanent feature of the deep tropics.
However, this is not necessarily a good thing in the end. I’ll explain why…
It is actually quite simple. The longer a tropical wave takes to develop, the farther west it will track. The low level easterly flow which is dominant in the tropics this time of year pushes the tropical waves generally westward. If they don’t develop at all, they often end up in the southeast Pacific and try to develop there. It’s when they don’t develop until they get past about 60 degrees west longitude that is problematic for land areas.
Think about it, a larger storm or hurricane in the atmosphere will more than likely feel the effects of the mid-ocean trough that is usually waiting to allow systems to turn north and eventually northeast and away from land. Sometimes, like 2008, the subtropical ridge of high pressure is so well established that even hurricanes such as Ike can make it from Africa to Texas. Obviously this is rare – otherwise no one would want to live on the coast of Texas or anywhere else for that matter – the hurricanes would be too numerous year after year.
On the other hand, a shallow tropical wave, void of deep convection or thunderstorms, can sail along with the easterly trades and gain longitude day after day. Eventually, conditions improve and a tropical depression forms. By now, the system is nearing the eastern Caribbean and it will most certainly bring squalls, heavy rain and brief high seas to the region.
Hurricane Earl is an example of this scenario. The parent tropical wave struggled as it raced westward across the tropical Atlantic and in to the Caribbean Sea. It was not until it reached the western Caribbean that it developed and became a hurricane. It made landfall in Belize instead of developing early, way out in the MDR, and turning out to sea.
So what does this have to do with anything currently going on in the tropics? Perhaps it has huge relevance. This is because as we watch the recent trends with 99L, we have seen some of the models delaying development until it is only a day or so away from the Caribbean Sea. This ends up sending a slowly strengthening tropical system in to the region, bringing heavy rain and other hazards to the region. Beyond that time frame, anything seems possible, including threats to the United States.
Even though we expect development out in the open Atlantic, just because it doesn’t happen there doesn’t mean it won’t happen at all. The farther west these tropical waves track, the warmer the sea surface temps get. It’s only a matter of time, I believe, until we see something strengthen quickly and close to home. I just don’t know whose home yet.
Bottom line – over the coming days we will see a lot of variations of the “end result” for 99L and perhaps even Fiona and soon-to-be 90L coming off Africa now. The down side to delayed development is that more people take notice when a hurricane is coming from seven to ten days out. It makes sense, the hurricane is there longer and it gets more attention and more people know about it. If it blossoms later, like Katrina did in 2005 (5 days from tropical storm to landfall) then it gives us all less time to react.
The next few weeks will likely be very busy with one named storm after another forming in the Atlantic Basin. Some will be possible impact threats, others will not. It will be important to keep up with what’s going on at least daily if not more. The advantage of seeing a hurricane coming from a week out might not be there and as such, being ready in case one pops up with only 72 hours to prepare will be more important than ever.
I will go over this topic in greater detail on today’s video discussion which I will post here. You can also follow along in our app, Hurricane Impact, available on the App Store. All of our blog posts and video discussions are posted to the app for easy access on the go. Plus, the app has incredible landfall features which I will talk about more when and if the time comes.
M. Sudduth 12:20 PM ET Aug 20