Consensus growing for active hurricane season

We are now less than three weeks away from the start of the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season and already it looks to be a busy one. Before we jump to the “sky is falling” conclusion, let’s look at things objectively and put it in to some perspective that most can understand.

Subsurface anomaly chart showing the growing area of cooler than normal water mounting in the tropical Pacific

Subsurface anomaly chart showing the growing area of cooler than normal water mounting in the tropical Pacific

What we know is that the great El Nino of 2015/16 is almost certainly dying out. We can see this by looking at various data from a variety of sources. One of those is the subsurface anomaly chart that I have included here. Clearly the warm surface water is being eroded away with a vast expanse of cooler than normal water lurking across most of the tropical Pacific. This will very likely herald the arrival of La Nina conditions or an abnormal cooling of the Pacific along the equatorial region. In short, this is typically seen as a favorable sign for the development of Atlantic hurricanes. The sooner we see La Nina set in, and the stronger it is, the more influence it will have on enhancing the chances for Atlantic hurricane development once the season gets going.

In addition, we also know, again by looking at actual data, not computer model projections, that the Atlantic Basin is warming in the area between Africa and the Lesser Antilles. This is also called the MDR or Main Development Region. The irony here is that there were some indications in previous weeks that this region would actually cool abnormally; so far, it has done the opposite.

Check out the very latest NOAA/NESDIS SST anomaly map for the region. Water temps are running above normal across the entire MDR and in to the Caribbean Sea. This is a stark difference from what we saw last season although the MDR did warm some as the season progressed. Right now, the region is warmer than we have seen it since the 2013 season and this, coupled with the loss of the El Nino, should give another check mark in the column of enhanced hurricane Activity for the Atlantic.

Latest NOAA/NESDIS SST anomaly map showing a very warm tropical Atlantic

Latest NOAA/NESDIS SST anomaly map showing a very warm tropical Atlantic

Warm water alone does not make hurricanes. The atmosphere needs to cooperate as well with aspects such as moisture level and wind shear being take in to account. Right now, those parameters don’t matter too much since it’s just May. However, conditions do seem to be a little less dry in the mid levels of the atmosphere in parts of the tropical Atlantic which is yet another indication that things may be busier than we’ve seen for quite some time. Shear will drop as the summer approaches and the westerlies retreat to the north. Once we get to August, the beginning of prime time for the season, it looks like all systems go for a busy time ahead.

With all of this mounting evidence for a busy season, it comes as no surprise that several respected agencies are forecasting either an average season or slightly above average. So many different entities are making forecasts now that it’s hard to keep up. The trend however is what is interesting to me. All of them see a busier Atlantic than the past few seasons and that will seem very busy considering how relatively quiet things have been since 2012. We will get a new forecast from Dr. Phil Klotzbach and his team at CSU in early June. NOAA will release their seasonal outlook soon as well. I think it is safe to say that, at least for now, the scale has tipped in favor of the Atlantic.

None of this matters as far as who would be impacted. I need to make that very clear. Knowing that the general large scale environment favors more hurricanes is helpful, I think anyone would agree with that. You’d rather know than not, right? Just don’t get caught up in the headlines and lose sight of the fact that even a 40 mph tropical storm can ruin your entire life – or even end it. It’s all about the impact (hence why our app is called Hurricane Impact) and no forecast can tell you with any degree of certainty what impact you will face this season.

The bottom line here is that you’re going to hear a lot about the “busy hurricane season” coming up. What you won’t hear as much about is how you can process that information and make use of it. My advice is to use that info to beef up your knowledge of hurricanes and what to do if one comes your way. A busy season does not necessarily equate to one with many (or any) landfalls. It does up the chances but no one really knows by how much. That part of the equation comes down to timing and placement of the would-be hurricane within the Basin.

It’s almost time. We are ready and hope to help you to be as well.

I’ll have more here on the 15th when the east Pacific hurricane season begins.

 

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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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Tropical wave in cental Atlantic a sign of what’s ahead

Tropical Weather Outlook map from the NHC showing area of interest in the central Atlantic

Tropical Weather Outlook map from the NHC showing area of interest in the central Atlantic

Not much going on in the tropics since Arthur earlier this month. This is typical for July which is usually a very quiet month in the Atlantic Basin.

In fact, we did not have any tropical waves to flare up worth mentioning until yesterday when the NHC issued an outlook for one in the central Atlantic. It rolled off of Africa a few days ago and has a low pressure area associated with it at the surface. Water temps are warm and overall, environmental conditions are generally favorable for development right now. However, this is likely only temporary as it looks as though conditions will not be so great for development as the week wears on. It’s just too early in the season yet for robust Cape Verde tropical waves to get going this far east. We’re still looking at another month or so before that happens.

The presence of this system does remind us of what could lie ahead. As I mentioned, July is usually not very active, especially in the deep tropics. Once we get in to mid to late August, conditions change and we begin to see more and more active tropical waves moving west from Africa. At that point, it will come down to upper level winds and, perhaps more importantly, instability in the atmosphere. If the mid-levels of the atmosphere are too dry with lower humidity value than usual, then the tropical waves will struggle to develop deep convection and will remain weak. On the other hand, if moisture levels are where they should be or are above average, then we would likely see a very busy August and September.

I believe that much will depend on the situation with the El Nino which was forecast to be coming on quite strong by August. As it turns out, there is barely any El Nino to talk about, especially in the central regions of the tropical Pacific. It just never made it and what warming there was has all but vanished. However, the water just west of South America, extending westward for several hundred miles, is still quite warm compared to normal. This could have just enough negative influence on the Atlantic side to help keep the peak months of August-October quieter than normal.

One thing I will be watching for is how much, if any, cooling takes place in this region of the Pacific. There are indications that we could see a considerable drop off in the surface temperatures of this area and if this happens, I suppose it could remove at least a portion of the negative influence for the Atlantic Basin. It’s just so complicated and hard to tell if one puzzle piece really makes that big of a difference considering how the other pieces fit together and interact with each other.

For me, the tropical wave that the NHC is talking about this morning is a sign that we are approaching the peak months of August-October. Thus it is a good time to remind you to be aware and prepared. Arthur was an interesting event in that it was so early in the season and it did not fall apart at landfall – instead, it continued to strengthen despite its close proximity to the North Carolina coast. If that is the way things will go this season, it won’t matter much if tropical waves develop far out in the Atlantic. What matters are the ones that would do so close to land, leaving little time to react. We’ll see how things shape up over the coming weeks but August is just around the corner and from there on, at least from a climatological perspective, the season should become more active. Time will tell just how active, that is the only certainty at this point.

I’ll have another blog post here tomorrow morning.

M. Sudduth 10:24 AM ET July 21

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East Pacific hurricane season underway

East Pacific hurricane season typical tracks

East Pacific hurricane season typical tracks

The hurricane season has begun for the eastern north Pacific. It begins a couple of weeks ahead of the Atlantic but ends on the same date – November 30. In an average year, we can expect to see roughly 14 named storms form with about eight of them becoming hurricanes. The first name on this year’s list of names is Amanda.

Most east Pacific storms and hurricanes track generally west to west-northwest and away from land. However, some take a more northerly track and can impact Mexico and parts of Central America with devastating results. One huge issue, even with weaker systems, is heavy rain. The terrain across the region is mountainous and prone to mudslides and flash flooding. One rare occasion a tropical storm or hurricane will strike the Baja Peninsula or cross in to the Gulf of California, bringing heavy rain to part of the southwest United States. This usually happens in the latter part of the season when stronger troughs of low pressure dip south along the west coast of North America, pulling tropical systems north.

Also worth noting – when an area of interest is picked up by the National Hurricane Center in the east Pacific, it is designated with a number, 90-99, and the letter “E” for East Pacific. This is similar to the “invest” naming system for the Atlantic in which case we see the letter “L” used. So if you see me mention “91-E” or “95-E” that’s what I am talking about. It’s just a way to designate a system as being of particular interest and thus having appropriate amounts of satellite, computer model and possible recon resources allocated to track its future development potential.

Right now, there are no areas of concern brewing in the east Pacific and none of the long range computer models indicate anything substantial forming over the next few days.

With the likely El Nino taking shape, it is possible that the east Pacific will see more activity than average this season. Warmer water temps usually lead to more storms but this is not always a guarantee. If there is unusually dry air around or a lack of focused upward motion in the atmosphere, then no matter how warm the ocean is, it is difficult to have prolific development. Odds are, however, that this season will be a little busier than we’ve seen in a while for the east Pacific. Time will tell.

I will post updates here about any activity in the east Pacific and if something is threatening land, I will have video blogs posted in our app, Hurricane Impact, as well as with our friends at Hurricane Pro/HD in their app.

Check back on Monday for a very important post concerning two big events coming up at the end of the month and to start off the month of June.

M. Sudduth 2:21 PM ET May 15

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Hurricane unprepared: we don’t prepare for what we don’t understand

Hurricane Hugo in 1989

Hurricane Hugo in 1989

It is that time of year again. We start hearing more and more about the upcoming hurricane season. News articles are released highlighting the potential for the season: will it be quiet or busy? What does that even mean? Most people have no idea.

Soon, the TV hurricane specials will air, printed hurricane guides will grace the check-out lanes at your local grocery store or big box retailer. All of this material is intended to help get you prepared for the season ahead. Unfortunately, none of the material can give you what you really need and that is experience and thus understanding. This is why, in my opinion, most people do not prepare adequately – they simply have no hurricane motivation; they have not been in one previously to fully understand the ramifications of not preparing for the next one.

Experience is our best teacher. This is proven time and again in just about anything we deal with in life. The more we experience something, the better we are at dealing with it in most cases.

Think about Florida for a moment. It has been over eight years since any hurricane what so ever has directly impacted the state. The last one was Wilma in late October of 2005. Anyone born in the state since then has zero hurricane experience. Anyone who moved to Florida since 2005 likely has zero hurricane experience. So why would we expect these people to prepare in such a way as to deem them “hurricane prepared”? They have little to no idea what it’s like and thus no measuring stick to gauge their own risk. Television meteorologists and printed hurricane guides can show mountains of video, computer graphics and more to drive the point home but I believe the lack of preparedness is directly related to the lack of true understanding of what hurricanes are all about.

While education is very helpful, I think that the vast majority of coastal dwellers will not fully grasp the risks they face when dealing with hurricanes unless they have been in one, especially a high-impact event like Katrina or Andrew. This makes perfect sense. People in coastal Mississippi who have lived there for a while know hurricanes and they prepare for them. On the other hand, how many people in New Jersey or New York really understood what was about to happen when Sandy was approaching? Time and time again we heard the reports of how surprised people were in the wake of Sandy. It’s all based on experience. This is not difficult to figure out. And so I cannot really find fault with people who do not prepare to the extent that we hope they would. What motivation do they have to prepare for something that they don’t truly understand? Very little….until it happens to them.

As we inch ever closer to June 1 and the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season, I offer this advice for people who live in harm’s way. Talk to those who have been through a hurricane – especially a significant hurricane. Ask them what it was like, not just the effects but the stress of dealing with everything before, during and after. Perhaps some of their experience can translate to you and give you just enough motivation to do something, anything, to lessen the effects of the next hurricane on you and your family. History is a great learning tool and America’s hurricane history is profoundly rich with stories from legendary hurricanes of the past. Read about them and then try to project those scenarios on your life. Can you handle a modern day Galveston 1900 storm? What about a Camille? Andrew? Hugo? Those events really happened and although they are in the past, they all have the ability to transcend time to teach us something.

I worry about how long we have gone without a true intense hurricane impacting the United States. Are we ready to deal with plucking people from rooftops? Do we have enough supplies to feed and shelter potentially tens of thousands of people left homeless by the next Andrew or Katrina? Are local, state and federal officials prepared? How much hurricane experience do they have? It’s been a while folks and even though we would rather go forever without there being another hurricane landfall, we know that won’t happen. The hurricane clock is ticking, even if it does so in silence. None of us knows when the alarm will sound and I assure you, there is no snooze button. Take it from me, you had best do what you can to try and understand hurricanes and their hazards now, before one comes knocking on your door.

Hurricane season begins June 1. National Hurricane Preparedness Week kicks off May 25. Use that time to learn about hurricanes, know their history, know their impacts. As the classic G.I. Joe saying goes, “Knowing is half the battle”.

M. Sudduth 8:15 AM May 1

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