A look back at the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season

2014 Atlantic hurricane season map

2014 Atlantic hurricane season map

Now that Arctic air has made its way in to a good deal of the Lower 48, the Atlantic hurricane season is effectively over – at least from the threat of landfall along the U.S. coastline. Technically we have two weeks left in the season but at this point, it won’t matter, the United States has escaped another season without even the threat of a major hurricane hitting.

The season was forecast to be below the long-term average and that is exactly what happened, for the most part.

We will likely end up with a total of eight named storms, six of which became hurricanes. Two out of the six hurricanes made it to category three or higher with one of those, Gonzalo, making it to category four.

While we fell short of the average number of named storms (usually we see 10 in a year) the numbers of hurricanes and major hurricanes is pretty much on par with what is expected in a typical season. All in all, the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season was fairly close to average in terms of hurricanes but the best measurement, in my opinion, the ACE index, fell short once again.

ACE or Accumulated Cyclone Energy is a better way to quantify a hurricane season. Sure, we could have 15 named storms with 8 hurricanes forming. Many people would say that was a busy season. If we look deeper, how strong were those named storms? How long did they last? Were the hurricanes short-lived too? All of this matters in what we call the ACE index which measures the energy that is output from tropical cyclones. An average season typically sees an ACE score of around 100 or so. This year, it was roughly 65 which is considerably below the average. So, looking at the season from the ACE perspective, it was quite a bit below normal and this is what was forecast by most reliable agencies who produce seasonal hurricane forecasts.

As far as impact goes, which is what really matters when all is said and done, there was very little overall for the United States.

Early in the season, hurricane Arthur made landfall in extreme eastern North Carolina, mainly affecting the Outer Banks. Arthur attained category two intensity and passed over the Pamlico Sound before heading out in to the Atlantic. Storm surge related damage south of Oregon Inlet was moderate in some places, especially around Rodanthe where at least 4 feet of water accumulated on the back side of Arthur. The loss of holiday income over the traditionally busy 4th of July period was certainly a problem but the area rebounded quickly, allowing vacationers back in within a couple of days.

Arthur went on to bring flash flooding and widespread power outages to parts of New England before making landfall again in Nova Scotia as an extra-tropical storm. It is interesting to note that Arthur was regarded by many to be the worst storm since Juan in 2003. More than 300,000 people were without power and for some, it took more than 10 days to restore the grid. This just goes to show that it only takes one event, one storm, to make a season memorable.

No other Atlantic hurricanes threatened the United States this season. However, there were indirect effects such as high surf, rip currents, etc. from Bertha and Cristobal which passed between Cape Hatteras and Bermuda. Other than that, no other hurricanes passed anywhere near the coast of the United States and none were observed in the Gulf of Mexico. Overall, the impact to the U.S. was extremely low in 2014 bringing the extended period between major hurricane landfalls to well over nine years. It is also worth noting that Florida alone has not had a hurricane of any intensity strike the state since October of 2005. This is simply an incredible statistic and one that may well have its own issues down the road when the time comes that hurricanes once again impact the Sunshine State.

Bermuda was the unlikely recipient of two direct hits from tropical cyclones this season. Fay and Gonzalo both passed right over the island causing power outages and some damage to buildings. The disruption to the economy due to loss of tourism dollars will take some time to tally up but for the most part, Bermuda fared very well considering the impact from two systems less than a week apart.

I had two Atlantic hurricane field missions this season: Arthur and Gonzalo. Both resulted in excellent ground data and the deployment of special camera systems that were placed out in each hurricane to record the effects. I will have a separate blog post about Arthur and Gonzalo on November 30 and will have plenty of data, pictures and video to share then.

The east Pacific hurricane season was exceptionally busy and produced a few hurricanes that impacted the Baja peninsula and Mexico with either direct hits or left over moisture. Two of these events, Norbert and Odile, provided an opportunity for me to travel to the Southwest where flooding was a big concern due to the remnants of these two hurricanes making their way north in to the region. I have always wanted to study the impacts of tropical cyclones on the Desert Southwest and this year, I had that chance. I will go over what I learned on my November 30 blog post. Needless to say, it was quite interesting to see the interaction between tropical moisture from a dying hurricane on the landscape of the Southwest.

Unless something develops over the next two weeks, the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season is done. While it was not a busy season, it was markedly more busy than 2013. In fact, the ACE index was almost twice as high as that of 2013. These two years of low overall activity have been great for coastal dwellers but we know that it cannot last. While I have no idea what 2015 will bring, I do think that there are signs that it will be busier than these past two seasons were. I will leave it to the seasonal forecast experts to make the call when the time comes but do not be surprised if this time next year, I am writing about a memorable 2015 season.

I will have another blog post on November 30 that will review the field missions that I undertook this past season. I will also have an exciting announcement regarding a special project that I am working on. Until then, travel safe if you’re headed somewhere special for Thanksgiving. I’ll have more here on November 30.

M. Sudduth 9:20 AM ET Nov 14

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When there used to be hurricanes

Radar image of hurricane Wilma at landfall in SW Florida nine years ago tomorrow

Radar image of hurricane Wilma at landfall in SW Florida nine years ago tomorrow

Nine years ago right now, hurricane Wilma was on the move, headed for the southwest coast of Florida after pummeling the northeast Yucatan peninsula.

I was working with my team to finish up the placement of three unmanned camera systems, the first year of that project. We were ready, Wilma came, Wilma went. Millions lost power, stood in long lines waiting for ice, food, water, gasoline. It was as if the lessons from 2004 and the deadly hurricanes of 2005 hadn’t sunk in for people in south Florida. Some were prepared, most were not. Wilma ended up on the top five costliest hurricanes list and earned its place in hurricane history.

That was the last time any hurricane, no matter the category, made landfall in south Florida or anywhere else in Florida. Not a single one since 2005.

Let’s put it in to terms that most people these days can easily understand, especially considering the state of the Internet and social media.

When Wilma made landfall on October 24, 2005, Facebook was not yet open to the public (ages 13 or older with a valid email address). If there was Facebook for everyone, as there is now, you would not have been able to post a status update about your Wilma experience using an iPhone – it had not been invented yet.

What about posting 140 characters to Twitter about your harrowing encounter? You’d have to wait until late March, 2006 to do that.

When Wilma struck, there was no social network like we have today, not even close.

Children who were in 5th grade that day are now juniors if they chose to go to college.

Children who were born in Florida and have remained in Florida since Wilma have no experience with hurricanes what so ever. An entire generation is growing up without the fear, anxiety or any sense of what it is like to endure the greatest storm on earth. I worry, is this good?

We know that hurricanes are not extinct, they’re just not hitting the United States and in particular, Florida, with any regularity right now. We’ve had busy seasons – lest we forget two short years ago the legendary Sandy had its humble beginnings down in the Caribbean Sea. The hurricanes are there, they’re just not here.

I am not going to spend a lot of time on the “why” part of this issue. A lot of it is pure luck with the steering patterns that we’ve had. It also has to do with the overall numbers of hurricanes that have formed in recent years. The less of them there are, the less we have to worry – generally speaking.

This is not just a Florida issue. The lack of major hurricanes hitting the United States also stands at nine years now. We can certainly make the argument about what classifies as major. Look at Ike in 2008 or Sandy two years ago. Those were top five hurricanes in terms of dollar amounts, major events from an economic perspective. Therein lies the problem. If Ike and Sandy were not meteorological major hurricanes and caused that much damage, then we are going to be in for a world of hurt when a truly intense, large hurricane crosses the coast at the wrong location.

I know, you’ve heard all of this before. One day….blah, blah, blah. I assure you, the problem will be so big that it will overwhelm the state that it happens to and possibly tax the nation’s ability to deal with it on many levels. Why such a bold statement?

Consider this…

No major hurricanes anywhere in the United States in over nine years. That’s a long time for real estate to grow, both residential and commercial. Even with the slow-down during the recession/real estate bubble burst, there is still plenty of construction going on along the coast. People love the coast, always have, always will. The bait is out there, waiting for a hurricane to bite.

Coastal population has grown as well. I’ve read that some estimates indicate over 1 million people have moved to Florida since 2005. I wonder, how many of those folks have any idea of what it’s like to be on your own for two weeks? No food, no water, no services of any kind. It’s not pleasant.

I worry about emergency management and the ability of a community all the way up to the state level having the ability to respond to a major hurricane disaster. You can write up the best plans and attend countless conferences but until the experience hits you in the face and it’s real life, you cannot fathom what it’s like. I have friends in emergency management and even on the best of days, it is an utter nightmare to deal with the process of prepping for and then surviving a major hurricane. Add to the mix the fun and games of politics and you have a recipe for what amounts to leaving the people to fend for themselves. For the sake of the American people, local and state governments need to be ready to buckle down, work together, throw political gain out the window and get the job done. We’ll see, experience tells me that it won’t be that easy.

I worry most about the people. For the most part, people as a whole are not good at dealing with a sudden and catastrophic shock to the system. They eventually bounce back but the onset is often ugly and makes for interesting cover pictures on Time magazine.

There is nothing that I can do or say that can adequately prepare anyone for the nightmare of dealing with a devastating hurricane. Even a run of the mill hurricane can cause grief even if it’s just your house that was impacted by a falling tree of flooding from a nearby stream.

I have been in at least 25 hurricanes myself, most of them on purpose. Many of those experiences were not severe, more of a nuisance than an epic disaster. If every hurricane that hit was on the caliber of Katrina, no one would dare live at the coast. The fact is, most seasons go by without even a bother from the tropics, let alone a life-changing hurricane experience. It is difficult to convince people to take precautions against something that seems more like legendary stories than a real threat. It’s a tough balance between enjoying the lull and and at least keeping an open mind about what could happen.

I don’t want to scare people when it comes to hurricanes. They are to be respected, not feared. We fear what we don’t understand and it’s up to everyone who lives along the coast to develop at least some understanding of what hurricanes are all about. We’ve been given a gift of sorts these past nine years, especially in Florida. I just hope that gift was not Pandora’s Box.

M. Sudduth 1:00 PM ET Oct 23

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Stormy in Seattle?

Intensity plot of TD 9 showing very little strengthening over the coming days

Intensity plot of TD 9 showing very little strengthening over the coming days

While we do have a tropical depression to keep track of in the extreme southeastern Bay of Campeche, it is what’s possible in the Pacific Northwest that has me intrigued.

First up, TD9.

So far this has been only a nuisance event with periods of squalls for portions of the Yucatan and southeast Mexico. I do not see the depression strengthening much before it reaches the coast later tonight though it does have at least a small chance of becoming a tropical storm. The biggest impact will be rain and even that is not likely to be too widespread nor very intense.

Long range computer guidance suggests that the depression will move in to the western Caribbean Sea where it is more than likely to be absorbed in to a frontal boundary and stretched out over the southwest Atlantic. There is an outside chance that a piece of energy hangs back and tries to develop further in the coming days. However, a lot of dry air is funneling down from the north across the Gulf of Mexico and this is likely to shut things off, perhaps for the rest of the season. It is wise to keep monitoring the system but I see very little to be concerned with at this point in time.

Of bigger interest to me now is Ana in the central Pacific. Yes, a tropical storm way out past the atolls of the open Pacific.

TS Ana forecast track showing it heading towards the Pacific Northwest in several days

TS Ana forecast track showing it heading towards the Pacific Northwest in several days

I took a look at the track map, embedded here in the blog, and thought, hmmm, what if it were to get back all the way to the west coast of the United States as an ex-tropical cyclone? I took at look at the GFS and sure enough, it shows that scenario happening! It’s six days out in time but the storm transitions in to a potent non-tropical storm system over the north Pacific and slams in to Washington and Oregon next week. The implications are that we could see very heavy precip, strong winds and a coastal wave event that could lead to issues along the immediate shoreline.

This is going to be something to watch in the coming days. It’s far enough out in time to know that things could change quite a bit but the chance is at least there that an ex-Pacific hurricane could lead to serious weather issues for a big population area of the northwest U.S. down the road. I’ll have more on this each day over the next several days.

Otherwise, the tropics are of little concern as fall weather really takes hold over the Lower 48. We have likely escaped this hurricane season without a major hurricane making landfall – an extraordinary record to be sure. I don’t want to jinx things but the pattern right now suggests that it’s going to be quiet from here on out. We’ll see, it’s not over until it’s over, I saw that first hand in Bermuda not quite a week ago now with Gonzalo.

I’ll have more here tomorrow morning.

M. Sudduth 3:35 PM ET Oct 22

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Disturbance in SW Gulf could mean a lot of rain for part of south Florida, but will it develop?

Gulf disturbance, also known as 93L, forecast to bring copious amounts of rain to parts of south Florida later this week

Gulf disturbance, also known as 93L, forecast to bring copious amounts of rain to parts of south Florida later this week

The situation in the southwest Gulf of Mexico is fairly complicated. We have the energy from what was once tropical storm Trudy in the southeast Pacific. This energy crossed over Mexico and is now festering again in the southwest Gulf of Mexico. In fact, convection is on the increase this morning and the NHC has bumped the chances of development up to 40% now.

Model guidance suggests that upper level winds are not all that bad for additional development. Water temps are plenty warm and the region is still within a favorable MJO pattern which supports upward motion in the atmosphere.

However, none of the computer models are showing much in the way of robust development, none of them show a hurricane out of this, not yet anyway.

What is more likely to happen is that we see a weak, spread out tropical storm develop and move towards the east or east-northeast, in the general direction of Cuba and Florida. This means there is potential for a lot of rain in the coming days for parts of south Florida. Some guidance suggests upwards of 8 inches of rain or more for the Keys and other areas of extreme south Florida. Obviously this could change either in amounts or locations over the coming days but people in south Florida need to be ready for a possible big rain event.

Whether or not this disturbance eventually becomes a tropical storm remains to be seen. As I mentioned, I do not see any evidence just yet that this holds much potential for being a stronger wind event. The rain effects will be enough of an issue, believe me! We will see how things develop and go from there. At least it is not in a hurry to move or develop quickly.

This is the only area of concern that could impact land. Ex-Gonzalo is moving quickly towards the northern portions of the United Kingdom where strong winds, rough seas and heavy rains are expected later today and tomorrow.

Another area of disturbed weather is located way out in the far eastern Atlantic. It may have a chance to develop more over the fairly warm waters of the region but it won’t have any significant impact on land.

In the Pacific, tropical storm Ana is moving south of the Hawaiian islands and will turn north across the atoll islands west of Hawaii. Ana is expected to become a hurricane again but will be moving past any land areas at that time with minimal impact overall.

I will have more here on the situation in the Gulf with a post later this evening. I am back from Bermuda where a near perfect intercept of Gonzalo took place. I will be posting a full write-up, complete with video and data info that was collected, by later in the week.

M. Sudduth 10:55 AM ET Oct 20

 

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Bermuda in recovery mode, won’t take long, as we watch the Gulf of Mexico next week

More development possible as we continue in a favorable period as we move through the remainder of October

More development possible as we continue in a favorable period as we move through the remainder of October

I cannot say enough about the people of Bermuda. They are as warm and kind as I have ever met on any of my field missions. Their island is also about as prepared for hurricanes as you can get with buildings that are able to withstand the elements already – without having to panic and prepare all at once in rush-mode. The recovery process is well underway and it won’t be long before Gonzalo is talked about only as a memory. So far, I have not heard of any loss of life or serious injury, another testament to the respect that these folks have for the weather.

Planes are starting to come back to Bermuda to both bring people in and allow people to head home who have been here on business or pleasure over the past several days to a week or more. I head out this evening and should be back in North Carolina by late tonight. I will miss the friends that I have made here but I’m leaving them in good spirits, knowing that they are going to be just fine. If you’ve never been here, you owe it to yourself to come on out.

Hurricane season is not over with the passage of Gonzalo. When I get home, it will be time to pay attention to the Gulf of Mexico for possible development next week.

Computer models are suggesting that we will see a low pressure area take shape but it’s not clear as to where or how strong. One thing I am not seeing in the models, yet, is a clear-cut well organized system. Instead, I see a more spread out storm without much concentrated energy around the center. Now, one of two things could be going on in the models. Either this is what will in fact happen and we see a larger, strung out system with a lot of rain and not much wind or the models simply cannot resolve the fact that we will eventually end up with a more focused tropical storm somewhere in the Gulf. Needless to say, water temps are plenty warm and conditions will be generally favorable for development. This will be something to monitor closely in the coming days.

Meanwhile, Gonzalo is racing off in to the Atlantic, now east of Newfoundland and headed rapidly towards the northern United Kingdom as a powerful extra-tropical storm.

In the Pacific, Ana passed well south of Hawaii and should turn northward across the many atolls that are spread out west of Hawaii. Ana is forecast to become a hurricane again after some weakening from its current hurricane status. For the most part, the impact to Hawaii has been minimal and will remain that way until Ana is well away from the region.

I am working on processing all of the data and video that was collected here in Bermuda. Right now, I do know that our laptop used with our weather station shut off, went in to hibernation actually, 12 hours after we turned it on for the hurricane. There was an advanced setting that I overlooked when testing the equipment that allowed the computer to hibernate when not being actively used and plugged in to a power source. I did manage to capture 12 solid hours of wind data which is better than zero hours of wind data. The peak gust in the front part of Gonzalo was 104 mph on top of the roof of the house I was utilizing near Shelly Bay. I did not see any sustained winds to hurricane force but I am still analyzing the data to make sure. The gusts are what typically cause the damage and there were numerous gusts in the upper 90s within the front side.

Sadly, since the laptop did exactly what it was set up to do, and that is hibernate after 720 minutes, the data was lost from about the beginning of the eye until Gonzalo passed by. I will never know how strong the winds were at that location during the much talked about stronger back side.

On a positive note, several other wind instruments on the island recorded exceptional data and this is important for understanding the wind field of Gonzalo. I am bummed about the laptop but now I know about that setting and can make sure that it does not happen again on future field missions. Live and learn, no doubt about it.

The video that I collected, besides any hand held shots of effects, will be fascinating to process in to time lapse to see the evolution of the hurricane. I will be working on all of that this coming week and will share what I can as soon as it is ready.

Thank you for following along. Many more people are now following my work on Twitter and other social media. Hurricanes are part of our active weather patterns and need to be dealt with. It is quite an honor to know that people trust what I say and rely on me for information. I have a great team of supporters and colleagues who assist in ways you cannot imagine. I may be the face of HurricaneTrack.com but it is a team effort. I have been in the eye of two hurricanes now this season – will there be a third? Stay tuned….

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