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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National Tropical Weather Conference kicks off next week in Texas

National Tropical Weather Conference

National Tropical Weather Conference

It’s getting closer to hurricane season. Yes, despite the harsh winter that the Lower 48 endured, hurricane season still begins on June 1 for the Atlantic Basin. Therefore, it is time to start planning and preparing for what may lie ahead. One effort to do just that begins next week in south Texas: the National Tropical Weather Conference.

This particular conference focuses on the broadcast meteorology field, an important ally in relaying hurricane information to the public.

The conference director, Alex Garcia, told me in a recent email interview that the conference officially began last year as a continuation of what was the Bahamas Hurricane Conference – put on by the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism. Here is that interview:

MARK: When did the National Tropical Weather Conference begin and why?

ALEX GARCIA: In years past The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism would sponsor a three day conference focused on Tropical Meteorology for Broadcast Meteorologists.  It was a great way to get a complete update for the upcoming hurricane season.  Topics included, storm surge modeling, forecasting, watches/warnings dissemination, mitigation programs, forecasting and much more.  Additionally, it provided an opportunity to meet and interview the top names in tropical meteorology, mitigation and preparedness.  In, 2010, the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism announced they would not have the 2011 conference.  Tim Smith and I felt we had to find a way to bring it back and the National Tropical Weather Conference was born.

MARK: Who benefits from the conference?

ALEX GARCIA: The primary group that benefits from this conference are the broadcast meteorologists that attend.  They gain important knowledge about the upcoming hurricane season that they can take back and share with their viewers. The knowledge includes the latest forecasting techniques, disaster preparedness, social media communications, hurricane special production, mitigation elements, and much more. They also have the opportunity to interview conference speakers for their hurricane specials and to go “live” in their hometown weathercasts from the conference to raise awareness about hurricane safety.  A secondary group to benefit is the South Padre Island Convention and Tourist Bureau.  The coverage and live shots from the conference provide an excellent venue for highlighting the island.

MARK: Tell me about this year’s highlights? Who will be speaking?

ALEX GARCIA: The highlight this year is the announcement of the Hurricane Seasonal Forecast made by Dr. Bill Gray and Dr. Phil Klotzbach “live” at the first session of the conference.  Dr. Gray will also be honored and presented the first Robert and Joanne Simpson Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Field of Tropical Meteorology.

Other highlights include a Director’s Panel featuring Directors of the National Hurricane Center that will include Dr. Richard Knabb, Neil Frank, Max Mayfield, and Bill Read.  The National Tropical Weather Conference is the only conference that features a number of former directors in its program.  Additionally, Dr. Frank will make a special presentation on the Bolivar Peninsula.  Other highlights include presentations from Tim Marshall, wind engineer and wind damage specialist, Trenise Lyons from the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, and special luncheon address from Jack Williams, author of the USA Today’s Weather Book and John Coleman, founder of the Weather Channel.

MARK: How do you see the conference growing in the years to come?

ALEX GARCIA: We envision a healthy rate of growth in the coming years.  The 2014 conference will be our second conference with twenty-nine broadcast meteorologists attending.  This represents a 140% increase from our first year.  Our conference is focused on the needs of the broadcast meteorologist and we plan to refine the topics keep a sharp focus on the items and information they need.  We also plan to reach out to meteorologists in countries like the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Mexico and others that have hurricane impacts.  Our goal is to get 100 broadcast meteorologists at the conference.

END OF INTERVIEW

The conference will also feature several speakers, such as Jim Edds of extremestorms.com, Jason Dunion from the University of Miami, Lew Fincher of Hurricane Consulting, Inc, Nate Johnson from WRAL-TV in Raleigh, Derek Ortt from Impact Weather, storm chasers Skip Talbot and Jennifer Brindley Ubl, Lucas Macdonald from Walmart’s Emergency Operations Center. I will be co-presenting with colleague Mike Watkins on our work intercepting hurricanes and the data that we have collected over the past decade. For a full list of the speakers, click here.

I would also like to note that Mike and I will be unveiling a brand new project at the conference. It is something that we feel will be a major step forward in understanding storm surge effects from an entirely different perspective. Our presentation will end with the announcement of this new project. I will have a special blog post about the project that will go live during our presentation. I am very excited about this and cannot wait to share it with not only the conference attendees but our followers as well.
Hurricane season will be upon us in less than 60 days. Whether or not it is an active year with a lot of overall activity matters little. What does matter is the impact to YOU. This conference, along with several others around the country that will take place over the coming weeks, is an excellent example of team work, leadership and proactive steps being taken before a storm comes knocking. I will post updates and interviews from the conference here and in our app – Hurricane Impact. Remember, it has a convenient video section where you can catch the latest video blogs or updates, anytime, anywhere.
A special thank you goes to Alex Garcia for taking the time to answer my email interview questions. Mike and I both look forward to attending this important forum and are honored to be among the featured speakers.
I will have more here late next week from South Padre Island, Texas.
Visit the official site of the National Tropical Weather Conference
M. Sudduth 9:10 AM EDT April 2
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Polar Vortex out, El Niño in?

Cross section of subsurface water in the tropical Pacific over the past few months. Clearly, a warm pool of water has developed deep beneath the Pacific and is expanding east.

Cross section of subsurface water in the tropical Pacific over the past few months. Clearly, a warm pool of water has developed deep beneath the Pacific and is expanding east.

The much maligned term “Polar Vortex” that was used quite often this winter within the weather blogosphere is about to be replaced….maybe. By what? El Niño. Yep. The Great El Niño could be making a comeback. Remember the Saturday Night Live sketch with Chris Farley about this phenomenon? It was a classic and just another example of how weather mixing with pop culture can be fun but sometimes quite wrong.

El Niño is not a single event like a storm or a hurricane. Instead, it is just a name that us humans have assigned to a change in the tropical Pacific that results in sea surface temperatures being warmer than the long-term average. Once a certain threshold has been met, we call it El Niño. Make no mistake, it will get a lot of play in the media, especially where Global Warming is concerned. The reason? The oceans act like giant cooling or heating agents. When the Pacific, the largest water basin on the planet, is warmer than it should be, then we typically see global temperatures spike – as if someone turned up the thermostat for the earth. My bet is that the pro-global warming crowd will be salivating at the potential El Niño event as it will help to boost their notion that man is screwing things up in a big way. I have no dog in that fight as it does not matter to me. What I mean is, so what? If man is making Earth warmer, who is going to go first to completely stop living in modern times? Anyone? That’s what I thought. My take is: adapt and mitigate. If not, we perish. No debate there, just ask the dinosaurs.

Back to the topic at hand.

The reason El Niño is important, other than acting like a massive thermostat for the planet, is that it seems to wreak havoc on the Atlantic hurricane season. The simple reason seems to point to higher than normal wind shear and sinking air across the tropical Atlantic due to the presence of the warmer than normal water in the tropical Pacific. In other words, El Niño would be perceived as a positive for those who would rather not deal with hurricanes; except for times when something like Andrew comes along. You can add to that list: Audrey, Camille, Alicia and even all of the landfalls of 2004. Those were all El Niño years. The point is, generally speaking, El Niño has a negative impact on Atlantic hurricane activity but this is not a guarantee. Kind of like how the 2013 hurricane season turned out. You just never know even in the face of what seems like a near certainty.

The reason behind the talk of an impending El Niño is due to several things that we can see going on across the tropical Pacific right now and within the past few weeks.

Pressure differences in the west Pacific have resulted in stronger winds blowing from the west. This causes a change in the way the ocean behaves and helps to generate what is called an oceanic Kelvin wave. I call it a Monkey Wrench in the ocean state. Normally, the trade winds in the Northern Hemisphere blow from east to west and thus the west Pacific is almost always warmer than the east Pacific. When the pressure pattern is altered, for reasons yet unknown, then the wind reverses course and that warm water is pushed eastward. This happens more so at the subsurface believe it or not in what is called downwelling. Warm water is literally pushed downward and then begins a very slow trek eastward where it upwells in to the eastern Pacific. The result: the birth of El Niño. It’s much more complicated but that’s the general idea. No one knows precisely what triggers these events to begin the chain reaction but it appears, at least for now, that forces are being set in to motion that could have huge global impacts as we move through 2014.

As for predictions, computer models are very unreliable for predicting long term weather patterns. They just cannot resolve the complex atmosphere coupled with the ocean several months in advance. In fact, the ECMWF, considered to be the very best global model in the world, called for an El Niño event last summer. It did not happen. So we shall see. While there is mounting evidence to support an El Niño event taking shape this year, it’s not clear at all how strong the El Niño would be. Obviously, the warmer the anomalies (departures from normal or average) then the more dramatic the impacts would likely be. We just don’t know yet.

As for how this potential El Niño will affect the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season – well, let’s just make sure we remember Andrew in 1992 as a case study in “it only takes one”. Sure, the overall numbers may be way down compared to the past 15 years or so. All it takes is for one, and it doesn’t even have to be a hurricane, to spoil the summer fun.

Stay tuned. El Niño is about to show Polar Vortex the door…maybe. I’ll have an update on this in mid-April.

M. Sudduth 9:15 AM ET FEb 25

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Latest forecast suggests no El Nino in sight

Latest CPC/IRI ENSO forecast chart

Latest CPC/IRI ENSO forecast chart

It’s approaching mid-June and the latest info from the Climate Prediction Center and International Research Institute (CPC/IRI) suggests that El Nino is not going to happen this hurricane season.

First, what is El Nino and why is it an issue? Well, basically, it is the abnormal warming of the tropical Pacific along and near the Equator. This warming tends to throw off the typical weather pattens and usually equates to a below-average Atlantic hurricane season. This is due to stronger upper level winds, or shear, that streaks across the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean, cutting off the tops of developing hurricanes. In the absence of El Nino, we often experience a busy Atlantic hurricane season, especially if the tropical Atlantic sea surface temps are themselves running above average – as is the case this season.

For reasons not well understood, El Nino comes and goes every few years. In between we have neutral periods where the water temps are more or less average. Then we have La Nina or an abnormal cooling of the tropical Pacific. That phenomenon also has its own set of interesting side-effects which are better explained another time. For this season, we are looking at a neutral pattern setting up and remaining in place.

The latest data and forecast from the CPC/IRI suggests less than a 10% chance of seeing El Nino develop during the August/September/October peak time of the Atlantic hurricane season. This should act to allow for prolofic development once we reach mid-August and beyond, especially considering the warmer than average SSTs in the Atlantic.

This chart gets updated a couple of times per month and I’ll post another write up on the state of the ENSO or El Nino Southern Oscillation towards the end of the month. In the meantime, the tropics are nice and quiet with no areas of concern noted in either the east Pacific or the the Atlantic.

M. Sudduth

 

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