Any chance of El Niño during Atlantic hurricane season is almost gone

I wrote about this in a recent blog post and so I thought it prudent to do a follow-up piece regarding the chances of El Niño making an appearance during the next few months.

Well, they say a picture is worth a thousand words…

Subsurface temperature anomalies along the equatorial Pacific as of June 2

Subsurface temperature anomalies along the equatorial Pacific as of June 2, 2017. Notice the lack of positive anomalies (yellow-orange-red) anywhere across the tropical Pacific. It’s mostly neutral for the time being.

 

Just looking at the most recent subsurface anomalies chart that was updated on June 2, we see that there is virtually no warm pool left in the tropical Pacific west of about 150 degrees longitude. The only positive anomaly, or warmer than normal area, is in the eastern Pacific and even here we’re talking about only a degree C at the most. To break it down in to simple terms: no El Niño anytime soon, if at all in 2017.

What does this mean for the Atlantic season? It means that we are likely to see less of the hurricane-inhibiting wind shear across the Caribbean and tropical Atlantic. That, in turn, should result in a busier season than we have seen in quite some time. It’s no guarantee as there are certainly other factors at play but the lack of El Niño is often seen as a significant enhancing signal for Atlantic hurricane activity.

We will get a new set of ensemble model plots from the ECMWF, which is often regarded as the model of choice, that will give us an update on its “thoughts” for the coming months. That model was quite aggressive in developing an El Niño going all the way back to the early winter months. We’ll see if it has seen the light, so to speak, and has backed off like other modeling has in recent weeks. I’ll keep an eye out for that new data and will include in during a future video discussion, so be on the lookout for that.

In summary, I think it is safe to say that El Niño will not be a factor this season and that, in and of itself, is reason enough to take the 2017 Atlantic hurricane quite seriously. We should be doing so any season but perhaps this time around, there may be more to it than normal. Time will tell.

M. Sudduth 8:20 AM ET June 7

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Atlantic hurricane season begins today

Here we are again, it’s June 1 and that means it is hurricane season. A lot has been said in recent weeks about what kind of season we may have. While it appears that conditions would support a busy season, it is just too tough to know with much certainty how things will turn out. Even if we have a lot of hurricane activity, there’s no way to know where they will track. It is always best to just stay aware and be ready no matter what.

Since it is hurricane season now, the video discussions will be pretty much every day. I’ll post them here and of course they will be in our app, Hurricane Impact, and on YouTube (search hurricanetrack).

In today’s video I go over the latest on east Pacific tropical storm Beatriz and its effects on Mexico and some potential for it to redevelop somewhere within the Gulf of Mexico early next week. I also break down the latest SST anomalies and a look at recent ENSO thoughts as we begin the season.

M. Sudduth 4:30 PM ET June 1

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If El Niño is coming, it will likely be too little, too late

Mid-March ENSO forecast showing a high probability of El Nino conditions setting in by the summer months.

Mid-March ENSO forecast showing a high probability of El Nino conditions setting in by the summer months. Click for full size image.

There was a lot of talk about the resurgence of El Niño just a couple of months ago and it looked as though we were in fact heading in that direction. This would have been unusual to see since we just had a substantial El Niño or warm ENSO event back in 2015.

The presence of El Niño is also a known detriment to Atlantic hurricane activity, especially in the deep tropics. As such, most of the reliable seasonal forecast agencies were calling for less activity than we saw in 2016.

So where do we stand now? As we approach mid-May, the odds of El Niño are going down. There are some mechanisms in place to get it started but so far, it’s stalling out of the gate.

Latest subsruface anomaly chart showing only limited warming overall and nothing significant at the surface of the tropical Pacific

Latest subsurface anomaly chart showing only limited warming overall and nothing significant at the surface of the tropical Pacific. Click for full size image.

Take a look at the latest subsurface anomaly chart and you’ll see what I mean. The top of the chart is the surface of the tropical Pacific while the bottom represents more than 400 meters of depth. While there is a large “blob” of positive anomalies showing up, it is no where near as substantial as what we saw in 2015. Furthermore, it is not strengthening and being reinforced by more warm water from the western Pacific. Instead, the tropical Pacific as a whole is in a neutral state – neither too warm nor too cold right now.

The latest climate models have backed off quite a bit in recent weeks with regards to warming of the tropical Pacific. Just a month ago, it appeared that we had a near 70% chance of seeing El Niño conditions by August/Sept/Oct – now that probability has dropped to 46% according to the latest update from the Climate Prediction Center. What happened? The easy answer is that spring is usually a difficult time for the climate models to resolve what will happen with the ocean/atmosphere state several months down the road. A more complicated answer lies in the fact that there are still many mysteries surrounding the evolution of ENSO or El Niño-Southern Oscillation as it is often referred to. Sometimes we get El Niño and sometimes we don’t and the reasons why are still unclear.

Mid-May climate models have backed off the chances of El Nino quite a bit.

May climate models have backed off the chances of El Nino quite a bit.

What is becoming increasingly clear, however, is the fact that for the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, El Niño isn’t likely to be a factor. This puts a check mark in the enhancing column for seasonal activity but the absence of El Niño alone is no guarantee of a busy season. That being said, there are recent developments in the climate models for the summer months that suggest the Atlantic Basin could be more favorable than we have seen in quite some time.

As of today, much of the deep tropics between Africa and the Lesser Antilles are warmer than normal while the subtropical Atlantic has cooled dramatically. This would tend to focus lower pressures and more favorable conditions right where we’d expect it to be – the deep tropics. While this can change, it appears that we will begin the 2017 season with no El Niño and a warmer than normal tropical Atlantic. I think it is a safe bet that for those who issue seasonal forecasts, their numbers will go up in the coming weeks.

SST anomalies have gone up in the deep tropics in recent weeks, a sign of possible higher hurricane activity during the season ahead.

SST anomalies have gone up in the deep tropics in recent weeks, a sign of possible higher hurricane activity during the season ahead.

Numbers aside, it is important to note that no one can predict where whatever does form will end up, if anywhere at all. A season like 2010 had plenty of hurricane activity but not a single one crossed the U.S. coastline. On the other hand, a season like 1992 had one significant hurricane – just one. And as they say, that’s all it took. We live in very different times than we did 10-12 years ago and that is not just hyperbole, it’s true. The advent of social media, the rise of so-called “fake news” and other political distractions mean that it is literally up to you, on a very personal level, to learn all you can about your local vulnerability to hurricane impacts. We could have 2 hurricanes form this season or 12, no one knows for sure. What really matters is where they end up and if that is your backyard, you will be doing yourself and your family a favor by being ready.

I will have much more on the coming season during a special live broadcast via YouTube Live on Thursday, June 1 at 7pm ET. Until then, get ready, hurricane season is coming – just like it does every year around this time. No reason to ignore it or act like the sky is falling, we should be prepare the same year in and year out.

M. Sudduth 8:50 AM ET May 12

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Signs of change for 2016?

After a couple of false starts in recent years, a strong El Niño finally developed and is now firmly entrenched across a good portion of the equatorial tropical Pacific.

El Nino at its peak in the tropical Pacific

El Nino at its peak in the tropical Pacific

This El Niño event has led to a substantial increase in Northern Hemisphere tropical cyclone activity, mainly in the Pacific (obviously), increased storms for parts of western North America with more to come in the weeks ahead and a fairly wet pattern overall for much of the South and Southeast U.S.

The outlook from the various groups who monitor El Niño calls for a gradual weakening of this warm event  as we move in to 2016. In fact, there is some evidence in the long range climate models that perhaps a cooling phase of what is called ENSO (El Niño Southern Ocscillation) is in store by 2017, if not sooner.

Once past the winter and the influence of the current El Niño, things begin to look very interesting for next hurricane season for the Atlantic.

One glaring consequence of this year’s El Niño was the record level of wind shear across much of the Caribbean Sea. Strong upward motion in the tropical Pacific resulted in strong wind between about 5,000 feet and 40,000 feet across the western Caribbean and extending as far east as the Lesser Antilles at times. This is what caused would-be hurricanes such as Erika to weaken and ultimately dissipate. Only a narrow band of favorable conditions existed in the deep tropics where we saw hurricanes Danny and Fred form, far away from land areas.

Outside of the extreme upper level winds, in the southwest Atlantic, there was another area of favorable conditions and the resulting hurricanes Joaquin and Kate owe their existence to that fact. Otherwise, El Niño really did help kill off the Atlantic season as far as direct impact on the United States was concerned.

2016 might not have that protection and in fact, there is a good chance of that happening, according to the latest projections from a suite of computer models.

CPC/IRI Consensus Probabilistic ENSO Forecast

CPC/IRI Consensus Probabilistic ENSO Forecast

As of the December 10th update from the CPC/IRI (Climate Prediction Center/International Research Institute), the probability of El Niño conditions holding on through March 2016 are near 100%. After that time, things change quickly.

Once we get to spring, El Niño begins to fade as cooler water moves in from the subsurface and stronger trade winds resume across the tropical Pacific. This is reflected in the projections with the probability of El Niño conditions dropping to 60% by late spring.

Moving further out in time, the various models suggest only a 20% probability of El Niño holding on by mid to late summer 2016. This has huge implications on the Atlantic hurricane season since the absence of El Niño by itself is typically a positive signal for Atlantic tropical cyclone activity.

As we know all too well, there are many other factors at play and the Atlantic Basin seems to have the most year to year variability and is subject to large errors in forecasts for seasonal activity – 2013 being a prime example. There was no El Niño that year and it appeared that conditions would be favorable for one of the busiest seasons since 2005. Other unforeseen factors set in by summer and the season was one of the most tranquil in recent memory.

SST anomaly forecast going out to July 2016. Notice the blue showing up in the tropical Pacific - that is the beginning of La Nina conditions there

SST anomaly forecast going out to July 2016. Notice the blue showing up in the tropical Pacific – that is the beginning of La Nina conditions there

While the El Niño fades, another interesting phenomenon may begin to take shape. Some of the climate models are developing a very warm tropical Atlantic next year. If this comes to pass, especially if the far northern Atlantic is cool compared to average, then it would signal yet another reason to believe that changes are ahead for Atlantic activity next season.

Much of this was reflected in Dr. Phil Klotzbach’s first outlook for the 2016 hurricane season which was released last week. The December discussion indicates a 25% chance of seeing a hyper-active season in 2016 which would be a significant change in what we’ve seen in recent years. A lot will depend on exactly how much the El Niño weakens and how warm the tropical Atlantic manages to get before August-September-October rolls around.

Trying to put this all in to perspective, it is kind of like having a the #1 recruiting class in college basketball. Your team is loaded with incoming talent, maybe a couple of seniors with terrific skills to round things out. It appears that the next basketball season is going to be spectacular for your team. They might even have a chance to win it all and be National Champions. Along the way, things can happen: a torn ACL for your star forward. Coach gets sick during tournament play. Another player goes down with a broken hand. All of a sudden, your #1 team is now losing game after game and what looked like a sure-thing season turns out to be anything but. You just never know.

Hurricane season is much the same. It really is. There can be a plethora of signals for the Atlantic Basin to be very active and yet, when all is said and done, it wasn’t and no one really knows why until after the fact. Right now we are in the equivalent of the signing period of college basketball – when the top recruits begin to choose their college. We won’t know how things pan out until much later – maybe even during the season itself. Yet, much like college ball, I see potential building for a busy 2016 in the Atlantic. However, just because something might happen, doesn’t mean that it has to happen.

I’ll post an update to this blog in mid-January. By then, we will have even more data from the various climate models and the picture of what lies ahead will become just a little bit clearer.

M. Sudduth 10:15 AM ET Dec 14

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X marks the spot as tropics stay busy

NHC's Graphical Tropical Weather Outlook map showing several areas worth monitoring over the coming days

NHC’s Graphical Tropical Weather Outlook map showing several areas worth monitoring over the coming days

We are in prime time of the hurricane season and with the Atlantic Basin as warm as it is, it comes as no surprise really that there is plenty to talk about.

The NHC has several areas outlined this morning, including the remnants of TS Grace, that bear watching over the coming days.

First up, TS Henri is weak and is moving quickly now to the north. The forecast calls for a turn to the northeast as it transitions from a tropical storm in to a more spread out extra-tropical system over the far reaches of the North Atlantic. Seas will begin to subside in and around Bermuda where some beach erosion took place over the past couple of days due to the constant easterly swell that Henri was generating.

Henri could bring a period of heavy rain to parts of extreme southeast Newfoundland but the fast movement will limit the impact and its duration.

Next we have the remnants of tropical storm Grace moving towards the northern Leeward Islands. There has been a significant increase in deep convection with the system which could lead to periods of heavy rain and gusty winds as the low pressure area moves through. While there is little chance for it to become a tropical storm again, we know by now that rain alone is enough to cause major issues if too much falls at once. The forecast indicates that the remnants will track westward towards Puerto Rico over the weekend. We’ll have to watch and see what happens once the energy gets in to the southwest Atlantic or possibly the southeast Gulf of Mexico some time next week.

Off the coast of Africa is where the next large tropical wave is making its debut. The NHC is giving it a medium chance of development over the next five days and if it does in fact do so, it would be the 5th such development in the MDR or Main Development Region since late August. This is almost unheard of during strong El Nino seasons yet here we are, Danny, Erika, Fred and Grace all developed between Africa and the Lesser Antilles. This next system shows promise to become a hurricane over the open waters of the Atlantic in the coming days. As long as it remains away from land, so be it.

Finally, a small low pressure area has developed well to the southwest of the Azores Islands in the northeast Atlantic. It has only a small opportunity for development and of course wouldn’t be an issue for any land areas; something to watch but nothing to be concerned with.

To sum things up, there is plenty to keep track of but no major issues brewing in the tropics as of now. Enjoy the weekend, nice fall-like weather will be in store for much of the eastern part of the nation but then we return to the summer look and feel to things shortly, so take advantage of the cooler temps while you can! I’ll have a video discussion posted later this afternoon.

M. Sudduth 9:40 AM ET Sept 11

 

 

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