About Mark Sudduth

Greetings! I am Mark Sudduth, the founder and editor of HurricaneTrack.com. The site began in 1999 as a way to post info concerning tropical storms and hurricanes for any interested visitors. Little did I know how big it would become in the years since. Now, we have millions of visitors from all over the world who have come to rely on the site as a no non-sense, tell it like it is resource for all things hurricane related. We are supported by a combination of corporate sponsors and our loyal Client Services members who subscribe to premium content on our sister site, premium.hurricanetrack.com. I am married with six energetic and intelligent children and live in southeast North Carolina. I graduated UNC-Wilmington in 1995 with a BA in Geography and have studied the effects of hurricanes on our society ever since.

Tropical disturbance forms, labeled 90L, not much chance for development

Satellite Photo of Invest 90L

Satellite Photo of Invest 90L (click to enlarge)

It has been an odd winter for much of the nation. Snow has been hard to come by in many places while others have had several feet in just the last few days. Warm temps, plentiful rain fall and even a quick start to the severe weather season have all been the norm this year for much of the southern part of the country. We can now add “tropical interest” to the mix.

The NHC is monitoring an area of showers and thunderstorms over the northern Caribbean Sea and southern Gulf of Mexico. There is definitely a surface trough of low pressure across the region which is helping to focus the abundant energy found in the warm waters of the Caribbean and Gulf. In fact, water temps are easily above

SST Map

SST Map (click to enlarge)

the 80F threshold that we look for in tropical development. However, it is February and upper level winds, among other factors, are simply not going to allow 90L to do much more than create a buzz within the hurricane blogosphere. Its presence could lead to some scattered rain showers for the Florida Keys and perhaps mainland south Florida over the next day or two but that’s about it.

Has a tropical storm ever formed in February that affected the U.S.? Yes. In 1952 there was such an event. Check out the historical track map from Stormpulse: http://www.stormpulse.com/tropical-storm-one-1952

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Big time rains for the southern states

HPC 5-Day QPF

HPC 5-Day QPF

Get ready for some rain! If you live in eastern Texas, Arkansas and indeed a good deal of the Deep South, you’re in for some wet weather over the next five days. Take a look at the HPC QPF map. It shows the forecast precip over the next five days and a lot of it! The culprit? A potent upper level storm system now situated over southern Arizona and moving in to New Mexico. It will tap the warmer-than-normal Gulf of Mexico moisture supply and really ignite as we continue to move through the week.

While rainy, nasty weather is usually not a welcome event, in this case, I think people will be pleased to see it because of the drought relief it will bring.

U.S. Drought Monitor Map- Sept. 13, 2011

U.S. Drought Monitor Map- Sept. 13, 2011

The last few years have been exceptionally dry for the southern Plains and especially Texas. Looking at the U.S. Drought Monitor maps we can see that at the peak of last year’s hurricane season (Sept. 13 map), nearly the entire state of Texas was experiencing exceptional drought conditions. I have little doubt that this was the reason why TS Don literally dried up as it made landfall in south Texas in July. In fact, the air mass over the western Gulf remained very dry for a bulk of the hurricane season. When TS Lee formed in early September, it too entrained the bone-dry air over the region and actually transformed in to a sub-tropical storm, losing its purely tropical characteristics. I call this phenomenon the Texas Air Layer, similar to the Saharan Air Layer which can dominate the tropical Atlantic with dry, stable air.

Now let’s fast forward to the current winter pattern. We have seen quite an increase in rain fall over a significant portion of Texas and surrounding states due to a favorable storm track and possibly a warmer than normal Gulf of Mexico which supplies more moisture for storm systems. It has also been warmer than normal for the region as it has been for much of the Southeast. This is partly due to a positive NAO or North Atlantic Oscillation which has kept the deep east coast troughs which usher in Arctic Air at bay. Instead of prolonged periods of cold, dry air, the Arctic attacks are brief and the result has been a warmer, wetter winter for much of the southern tier states.

U.S. Drought Monitor Map- Jan. 17, 2012

U.S. Drought Monitor Map- Jan. 17, 2012

You can see the resulting improvements on the latest Drought Monitor map labeled January 17. A remarkable change to say the least and more rain is coming which will further knock down the dry conditions for Texas and elsewhere.

My theory is that if this pattern continues, perhaps the air mass over the southern U.S. and adjacent Gulf Waters won’t be as dry this hurricane season. If this is the case, maybe, just maybe it would open up the western Gulf, Texas included, to more tropical cyclone activity. It makes sense to some extent: if the abnormally dry air mass is gone, due in part to a wetter land mass underneath, then it stands to reason that approaching tropical cyclones won’t dry out nearly as much as we saw in 2011. I think we can all agree that watching Don erode away to nothing as it made landfall was one of most incredible demises to a tropical storm that we’ve ever witnessed. It provided next to no rain fall for the region that it impacted and was all but gone in less than 24 hours after landfall.

We’ll see how this all plays out for the upcoming hurricane season. It may have no bearing at all but I think that drought begets drought and thus more dry air; a kind of feedback mechanism. We know that tropical cyclones are incredibly sensitive to dry air and what we saw over the western Gulf last season was enough to keep the region well protected. I’ll keep tabs on the Drought Index and post a follow up report in the early part of June. For now, enjoy the abundance of rain fall but be mindful of the hazards that excessive rains can bring. It’s all good until somebody gets hurt and we don’t want that.

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How’s that La Niña going?

Subsurface Temps of the Tropical Pacific

Subsurface Temps of the Tropical Pacific

So far this winter, the La Niña that has been in place since last fall continues to hold strong. As the graphic from the Bureau of Meteorology in Australia indicates, subsurface temperatures across the tropical Pacific remain much colder than average over a large area. There is a growing region of subsurface warmth beginning to pool in the western Pacific but it lacks a real mechanism to drive it eastward- a so-called westerly wind burst. We typically don’t see those unless there is a significant pressure change across the Pacific and that shows up in the SOI or Southern Oscillation Index. When it is substantially negative, and persistently so, the trade winds often slow or even reverse, allowing the warm water gathering in the western Pacific to migrate eastward.

The latest update from the BOM also points out that long range climate models suggest a gradual warming of the tropical Pacific as the La Niña fades. This means it is likely that we’ll see a return to more average, or neutral ENSO conditions (ENSO stands for El Niño Southern Oscillation) by the time summer arrives in the Northern Hemisphere. There is also the possibility that the warming will continue and a weak El Niño could set in by next fall. I do not see any evidence yet to suggest that a strong El Niño is coming. However, this time of year, it is difficult to predict what will happen several months down the road but the large subsurface cold pool coupled with a fairly strong SOI signal over the past 30 to 90 days tells me that La Niña is going to be the rule for a few more months at least.

Why does any of this matter? Aside from the effects outside of the hurricane season, which are far too detailed to get in to in this post, we typically see a more active hurricane season when El Niño is not present. This is due to the stronger and more numerous instances of wind shear, the change of wind speed and/or direction with height, over the deep tropics. El Niño events promote this negative impact to tropical cyclones where as La Niña events usually do not.

For now, the La Niña pattern will continue but we’ll watch for signs that it is breaking down and then we’ll see how much warming takes place in the tropical Pacific. The end result could have an impact, one way or another, on the upcoming Atlantic hurricane season. I’ll post more about the ENSO state next month.

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Welcome to 2012 and the all new HurricaneTrack!

Way back in 1999, I posted the very first update to this site when tropical storm Arlene formed. I termed it “commentary” and have used that moniker ever since. Today, I say goodbye to the venerable commentary and hello to the much more modern blog. Yes, I am now a blogger and this is my first official post.

So, where do I start? How about the look and feel (and functionality) of the site. The most significant change is the use of WordPress. Thanks to a nice little push from Ilene Jones who is the CEO of KittyCode (remember that name, it will be important later), I finally moved in to the advanced world of having a WordPress powered site. I was skeptical at fist; resistant to change. But after playing with several themes and learning what’s what, I settled in and have become quite comfortable with the new technology (new to me anyway).

The real power of the new site will be our ability to post blogs more efficiently. Our team can now post their own content without cumbersome FTP and HTML writing. Hard to believe that’s how things were done for over 12 years. What’s really nice is that we can post under categories, including off-season topics such as severe weather, Nor’easters and other disruptive weather events. After all, being aware is critical and we have a great team- why not utilize that talent pool even when it’s not hurricane season?

You will have access to blogs from our entire team and will be able to interact directly with them here or through their own social networking links. This will really help to provide a more rounded level of information from Mike, Jesse, Greg, Todd and me. I hope to add some guest bloggers to the list as well- perhaps an up and coming hurricane forecaster or an expert in some area of hurricane preparedness, mitigation or recovery. There really is no limit to what we can do now by utilizing the power of WordPress.

When we head out on our field missions to cover tropical storm and hurricane landfall events, this homepage will disappear- to be replaced by a special edition of the homepage with the free Ustream player embedded. The simplified “mission mode” homepage will provide our visitors with a live look at where we are and what we’re seeing/hearing. We’ll also embed our Twitter and Facebook feeds on to this page for continuous short posts throughout the event. With this plan in place, we can continue to provide free live video to visitors of the site while we also maintain our dedication to our private clients (our Client Services members) and those utilizing our new iPhone app. Once the mission is over, this homepage will return and the blogging will begin again.

You will notice too that you now have the ability to post comments to the blog posts. I will try this out but have a fear that it could get out of hand sooner rather than later. While I will hope and encourage relevant and useful feedback, there is an ever-present layer of troll scum that graces the Internet, always waiting for a chance to spout off with nothing more than grade school level non-sense and even hatred. If this becomes a chronic problem, I will disable comments and reserve them only for our subscribers. We shall see- this will be an interesting experiment to say the least.

The other big news of the New Year is our up and coming iPhone app. We are finally getting in to the mobile app business and ours will be an exciting addition to the world of weather/hurricane apps. Remember that I mentioned Ilene from Kitty Code? Her company, who produces the phenomenally successful Hurricane and HurricaneHD apps, is working with us to design HurricaneTrack for iPhone. Instead of writing about it in this post, check out the full description here. We anticipate the release date to be sometime in late March or early April but certainly before the hurricane season begins. I am very excited about this new feature and am honored to be working with KittyCode to make it happen. I will keep you posted on the progress and the expected release date of the app.

So that’s about it for now. We have a lot of work to do in the off-season and we all know it will go by quickly. I truly appreciate the people who visit this site and look forward to interacting via a whole new medium with this new WordPress site. Remember, hurricanes are very serious. We take them seriously and will do all we can to put our years of experience in tracking them, being right there at landfall and dealing with their aftermath to help you better understand what you may be up against. Don’t forget that we will discuss non-hurricane related weather events here and, from time to time, will stream live through our Ustream channel during such events when possible. Have a wonderful New Year and stay safe! We can’t do this without YOU!

 

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