Is Florida’s nearly ten-year hurricane drought about to end?

Latest tracking map with cone of uncertainty showing the potential for Erika to impact Florida in the coming days

Latest tracking map with cone of uncertainty showing the potential for Erika to impact Florida in the coming days

Wilma was the last in many ways. It was the last of the 21 names on the 2005 list of names for the North Atlantic hurricane season (after Wilma, the Greek Alphabet was used). It was the last major hurricane (cat-3 or higher) to make landfall in the United States and it was the last hurricane to make landfall in Florida.

Not a single hurricane since for the Sunshine State- though there have been a couple of close calls.

Is this long-standing hurricane-free drought about to come to an end? It is possible though not officially forecast just yet. Here’s what we know…

Of course, I am talking about tropical storm Erika which is still well east of the Lesser Antilles this morning. Overnight, the storm has made a bit of a comeback with deep convection returning and the pressure dropping just a little bit.

The latest discussion from the National Hurricane Center is still full of uncertainties. How can this be in this day and age? That’s an easy question to answer: tropical storms and hurricanes will likely always be tricky – not of all of them, but most. It’s just not cut and dry that this will happen or that will happen. In a season like this with so many road blocks in front of systems like Danny or Erika, it’s hard to put stock in model forecasts. So much can change and people are left either scratching their heads as to what the heck is going on (hype) or left unprepared because something happened that was not expected. Neither scenario is acceptable and so the challenge for the people at the NHC is to get the forecast right, even if that means forecasting a hurricane in to Florida in a few days. It’s darn close right now.

Erika is moving over warmer and warmer water as it moves west. This is an obvious plus for development. However, upper level winds are not very favorable and are tending to blow across the storm and this has acted to push the convection or thunderstorm activity away from the low level center. Without this machine running at full speed, the storm cannot intensify – at least not quickly.

I think the issue of dry air will be moot once Erika gets past around 65 degrees west longitude. The tropical Atlantic has become more favorable in recent weeks from a moisture standpoint. Another plus for Erika to eventually strengthen.

Then we have the models. This has been a real interesting phenomenon to watch over the past few days. You have some computer guidance indicating a very strong hurricane while, on the other hand, some of the best global models (not developed to predict hurricanes per se) simply get rid of Erika almost entirely. That would solve the problem, wouldn’t it?

Added to the madness are situations like the ECMWF which is widely regarded as the best overall global model on Earth. It has been going back and forth from run to run showing an intense hurricane followed 12 hours later on a subsequent run, a much weaker one at best. This happened night before last and the Internet hurricane world blew up with talk of a major hurricane lurking off the Southeast coast next week. Then, just like that, it was gone. Crickets….

Just wait 12 hours and a new version of “look out!” is cooking up with the ECMWF now showing a hurricane threat for Florida in less than a week. What is one to do? Well, I have the answer for that as well.

I have been doing this long enough to know that none of the models matter this far out. Seeing the ECMWF or the HWRF or whatever model you wish to follow show one thing after one run and something else later on will not change the outcome. What ever is going to happen will happen with or without computer guidance. To put it in simpler terms – people in the path of Erika or any future hurricane will likely have ample time to prepare and evacuate if need be. Relax. Spend less time fretting over the latest amazing model output map (there are some talented map makers out there – that is for sure!) and more time planning on what YOU will do if Erika heads your way. We have a five day forecast now from some of the best in the world. Trust that, not something affectionately called a “spaghetti plot”.

So as we watch Erika in the coming days, it will be prudent to remind people, as the NHC mentioned this morning in their latest discussion, that track errors at days four and five can be significant. A good deal of the Florida peninsula is now in the cone of uncertainty. In this case, Erika is providing plenty of uncertainty but as time goes by, things will settle down, leaving anyone within the path of the (potential) hurricane with time to take action.

It’s been a while for Florida since a hurricane threatened landfall. Erika may be the one to end the drought and if it is, I challenge people in Florida to be ready and not let all the fuss get to your heads. If you’re new, ask a hurricane veteran what it’s all about. Avoid stressing over social media posts of doom and gloom. If the time comes and Erika prompts a hurricane watch or warning, listen to your LOCAL TV and radio sources, check Twitter and Facebook for LOCAL information from emergency management. Above all else, do not give the hurricane trolls the time of day. They will be lining up to post ominous no-context maps just to gain “likes” or “clicks”. That’s feeding their ill-found egos. Look for local, trusted sources and of course, the National Hurricane Center and your local National Weather Service office. Do that and you’ll be fine. Act like you’ve been there Florida – even though it’s been nearly ten years, you all know hurricanes probably better than most.

I’ll have more here late this afternoon.

M. Sudduth 5:30 AM ET August 26

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Danny prompts tropical storm watch for portions of Caribbean islands

Danny put on quite a show yesterday, becoming the first major hurricane to form in the MDR or Main Development Region in quite some time. Its small size almost certainly aided in its impressive strengthening, shielding the tiny core from any dry air intrusions.

Things are different today for Danny as it heads in to a region where stronger upper level winds will pound away at the deep convection located around the center. This will also help to force drier mid level air in to the core which will induce fairly rapid weakening. As such, Danny is forecast to be of tropical storm intensity once it reaches the vicinity of the Caribbean Sea. In response to this forecast, several governments of a handful of Caribbean islands have issued a tropical storm watch (see graphic). This does not mean the center of Danny is expected to pass over any particular location but rather that tropical storm conditions are possible within the watch area within the next 48 hours.

I think that most people in the region will welcome Danny because of one major benefit that it will bring: rain. The Caribbean is going through a serious drought right now and any rain will at least curb the situation even if only a little bit. Fortunately, Danny is not a large, moisture-rich hurricane and thus it won’t be able to dump more rain than the region can handle. Perhaps this truly will be a small blessing for the region as Danny passes by over the next few days.

The forecast is interesting beyond the next three days as models have shifted the track of Danny more north with time. In fact, it won’t surprise me at all to see Danny’s center miss the Caribbean islands entirely. This would keep what ever center remains intact after doing battle with the dry air and shear over very warm water. That is probably going to be the only plus in Danny’s favor as most of the reliable computer guidance strongly suggests that Danny will weaken to a tropical depression and likely dissipate in to a trough of low pressure as it travels close to the southern Bahamas. It goes without saying, you never just ignore a tropical system in late August in the southwest Atlantic – we’ll see what happens with the modeling in the coming days but odds favor Danny being very weak to non-existent by early next week.

Meanwhile, another area not too far off the African coast is being monitored for possible development over the coming days. Water temps are plenty warm and it seems that the dry air is not much of an issue over much of the tropical Atlantic right now so we may see a period of time with several named storms coming up as we head in to September. So far, with the exception of Danny, none pose a threat to land and all will give us plenty of time to monitor.

Out in the central Pacific, tropical storm Kilo has managed to kick up quite a bit of buzz about being a possible threat to Hawaii. So far, it looks like the storm (and probably a hurricane at some point) will track well west of the string of islands before it turns back to the north and east. Of course, it needs to be monitored to make sure that does in fact happen. Hurricanes approaching from the south are much more likely to impact Hawaii than those tracking in from the east. Hurricane Iniki in 1992 comes to mind but it looks like Kilo won’t be a repeat of that event.

I’ll have a Saturday edition of my video blog posted later this afternoon and will go over in great detail what the impacts from Danny are likely to be for the Caribbean.

M. Sudduth 1:35 PN ET August 22

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Prospects for Danny not clear at the moment

Tropical storm Danny is not moving very fast which is probably why it is still a tropical storm and not an open wave of low pressure. Usually we see tropical systems moving quite fast across the open Atlantic in the position that Danny is currently located – steered by strong, deep layered high pressure to the north. This acts to literally push the storm along, sometimes exceeding a forward speed of 20 knots!

In this case, Danny is moving at only 12 mph or about 10 knots. Why is this important? I am of the opinion that the slower forward speed has allowed the storm to stay just out of the worst of the SAL or Saharan Air Layer and maintain at least some convective activity although is it struggling to do so at the moment.

Danny is headed in to very dry mid-level air which is not supportive of deep convection or thunderstorms

Danny is headed in to very dry mid-level air which is not supportive of deep convection or thunderstorms

There is a chance that the SAL or dry air wins out. I thought this the other day while it was still just an area of interest (96L) but the sudden increase in organization changed my mind somewhat. It was actually somewhat shocking to see the storm develop as well as it did considering the fairly hostile environment that surrounds it. Now I think we are seeing that environment take its toll and Danny may be on the ropes so to speak as the hours tick by.

Take a look at the fantastic graphic produced by the University of Wisconsin that clearly depicts the SAL out ahead of Danny. The track leads right in to it which is not something that will aid the storm at all.

Looking down the road, if Danny survives the next day or two, I have to think that strong upper level winds waiting in the Caribbean will finish the job that the dry air started.  The entire Caribbean is dominated by strong winds blowing in the opposite direction that Danny would be moving. This will literally separate the storm from itself, quite an ugly picture as far as tropical cyclones go.

One thing to hope for – perhaps Danny can bring some much needed rain to parts of the Caribbean if only by way of a dying or struggling tropical storm. While the NHC currently has a hurricane forecast in the extreme eastern Caribbean on day-5, maybe the region catches a break and A) it won’t be nearly that strong and B) remnant moisture will be the only impact which would actually be good news for the region. Time will tell.

Outside of Danny, the Atlantic is generally quiet. The only exception is the possibility of a non-tropical low to develop somewhere near Bermuda in the coming days. It may develop some deeper, banded thunderstorms which resemble a tropical storm in some respects. Otherwise it is likely to be a larger, spread out system that meanders northward over open water.

I’ll have more here tomorrow and in my video blog discussion which will be posted shortly.

M. Sudduth 2:00 PM ET August 19

 

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96L: defying the odds, could become “Danny”

Satellite photo showing the position of 96L in the tropical Atlantic

Satellite photo showing the position of 96L in the tropical Atlantic

Despite being surrounded by an impressive plume of Saharan air or SAL, the vigorous tropical wave and associated low pressure area, also known as 96L, continues to get better organized.

Latest satellite images show more deep convection developing along with classic banding “arms” indicating that the low pressure area continues to strengthen over the warm tropical waters of the east Atlantic.

I was not convinced as of yesterday that 96L would amount to much but this morning, my tune is changing somewhat. It seems as though conditions are not quite as hostile as I thought and it looks as though the system has a chance of becoming a tropical storm before too long.

Upper ocean heat content is decent along the path of 96L as it moves west to west-northwest

Upper ocean heat content is decent along the path of 96L as it moves west to west-northwest

If we look at sea surface temperatures and more importantly, upper ocean heat content, we see that 96L is moving over fairly warm water with decent heat content. In other words, the warm water is not just at the surface, it extends down in the ocean for several dozen meters if not more. This allows sufficient moisture to be drawn in to the developing low as it stirs up the ocean’s surface, essentially bringing up more warm water. In addition, the farther west it travels, the warmer the water becomes.

Wind shear is not an issue either right now as it looks like a well-established bubble of high pressure in the upper atmosphere is allowing deep thunderstorms to develop and rise vertically, not being blown off in one direction by shearing winds. If this pattern holds, it will only aid in the development of 96L in to a tropical depression and eventually a tropical storm.

GFS ensemble tracks indicating a general track towards the NE Caribbean and eventually, the southwest Atlantic

GFS ensemble tracks indicating a general track towards the NE Caribbean and eventually, the southwest Atlantic

Let’s say it does go on to develop in to a named storm. If so, it will be “Danny”. The computer models generally agree that it will move west-northwest with time towards the northeast Caribbean Sea. In a way, this could spell great news for the region which has seen little in the way of rain over the past few months. As long as the would-be storm doesn’t get too strong, it could be a huge benefit rain-wise for parts of the Caribbean. It is still way too soon to know for sure about the future track but it looks as though a general west to west-northwest path will continue for the next few days.

As far as intensity goes, this is tricky. Warm water temps and light winds aloft should allow 96L to become our next tropical storm. However, this is where I am skeptical; knowing how hostile conditions have been in the deep tropics for some time now. On the other hand, I also know the limitations of intensity forecasting and realize that anything can happen within reason. It is not completely out of the question that this system becomes a hurricane at some point. It’s also probably fair to say it has just as good a chance of being a weak tropical storm at best. We are simply going to have to wait it out and see what happens.

Fortunately, what ever becomes of 96L will be within range of reconnaissance aircraft in a few days. It won’t be long before we see the NHC task recon to fly out and investigate the system as it closes in on the Caribbean later in the week. Until then, we’ll rely on satellite and possible ship data to determine what the strength of 96L is.

I will have an in-depth discussion on my video blog to be posted this afternoon. It will be accessible via our YouTube channel and in our app, Hurricane Impact for iOS and Android devices. I’ll also post a link to it on our Facebook and Twitter.

M. Sudduth 6:45 AM ET August 18

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It’s mid-August, do you know where your hurricanes are?

Sea surface temperature anomalies showing the El Niño in the Pacific. Notice how much warmer the Pacific is than the Atlantic

Sea surface temperature anomalies showing the El Niño in the Pacific. Notice how much warmer the Pacific is than the Atlantic

Normally we would have had a hurricane by now in the Atlantic Basin. Normally.

This year is far from normal.

First of all, El Niño is in full swing along a vast stretch of the tropical Pacific. This abnormal warming of both the surface and subsurface waters has created all kinds of weather havoc with more to come. Luckily for those of us in the Atlantic, El Niño is typically a big bully to developing hurricanes.

Second up – wind shear and lots of it. Strong upper level winds blowing across the deep tropics, especially coming through the Caribbean, has done its job of keeping fledgling hurricanes from taking flight. This too is a common occurrence during El Niño years.

Saharan Air Layer still holding on in the tropical Atlantic

Saharan Air Layer still holding on in the tropical Atlantic

Third culprit – dry, sinking air. A lot is often made of African dust and the Saharan Air Layer but I think it sometimes gets more attention than it deserves. There have been quite a few impressive outbreaks of dry, warm air spewing off the Sahara in recent weeks and months but it is the overall pattern of dry, sinking air that has really put a lid, literally, on tropical development in the Atlantic. Any why not? With all of the warm water in the Pacific, the upward motion has been focused there while the Atlantic, though warmer than perhaps some had expected, is still out of balance and thus the non-rising nature to the atmosphere. This lack of general upward motion has been a serious impediment to development this season.

Now enter 96L in to the picture. What about its chances?

NHC 5-day Graphical Tropical Weather Outlook showing 96L and its potential development/track area

NHC 5-day Graphical Tropical Weather Outlook showing 96L and its potential development/track area

The National Hurricane Center is giving it a high chance of becoming a tropical depression sometime this week. After all, it’s mid-August, water temps are plenty warm and we have a well developed tropical wave and surface low moving across the deep tropics. It seems like it would be all systems go, right? Maybe but probably not – at least not this time.

Conditions for development are marginal right now though the water is warm, there’s no doubt about that. But warm water alone is not enough. The environmental conditions needed to produce deep, tropical convection just seems to be lacking once again in the tropical Atlantic. This was predicted very well in advance of the season by models such as the ECMWF seasonal forecast. In other words, it’s no surprise that we’re seeing such little activity. That being said, there is at least a chance that 96L makes it to become a tropical storm over the open Atlantic. If so, its name will be Danny.

Recent intensity plots for 96L

Recent intensity plots for 96L

Some of the intensity models indicate that 96L will become a tropical storm and eventually a hurricane. I just have a hard time seeing this considering the hostile environment ahead of the system. Never the less, we have something to watch now and as August comes to a close in a couple of weeks, we may have even more to watch. For now, the hurricanes have been shut out completely this season in the Atlantic and it looks to remain that way for the time being. We shall see.

Check out my video blog which will cover all of these topics and more – I’ll have it posted later this afternoon.

M. Sudduth 6:00 AM ET August 17

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