GFS up to no good with its phantom hurricanes

GFS model output from a few days ago showing a hurricane looming in the Caribbean Sea

GFS model output from a few days ago showing a hurricane looming in the Caribbean Sea

It looks as though the GFS model, the main U.S. generated global model, is suffering from some kind of issue that creates hurricanes out of cumulus clouds.

As I mentioned in recent posts, there appeared to be a chance that we would see development take place down in the Caribbean Sea as the week progressed. While that could still happen, I don’t see it as being a big issue.

This year in particular, the GFS model has had an annoying tendency to develop hurricanes out of the slightest of disturbances when other models, especially the rival ECMWF, did not. Remember Cristobal back in late August? At one point the GFS had it becoming a powerful hurricane, parked right off of New Orleans. Social media went nuts about this since some decided to post images of the output without any explanation of how ludicrous the notion was, considering how far out in time we were talking about, etc. If every hurricane that the GFS developed in week two of its 16 day output actually happened, no one would want to live at the coast! It’s pretty bad and I hope it gets fixed sooner rather than later.

Fortunately, we do have other global models available when looking for what is called “tropical cyclogenesis”. This is just a fancy way of saying development. I do not claim to be a computer model expert, not by any stretch. I imagine there is quite a bit of physics and math that goes in to programming the powerful suite of models used around the world to predict the weather. Picking out the birth of a tropical cyclone is not always an easy task but some models seem to do better than others. This year, the GFS has not been one of those models and I think this is another case of crying hurricane instead of wolf.

Nevertheless, the Caribbean Sea is favored this time of year and it would not be smart to completely ignore the chance of development in that region. Remember too that it does not take a hurricane to cause significant problems. Even a tropical storm with torrential rain could impact land areas from the Caribbean northward to Florida and the Bahamas during this time of the season. While the GFS may be suspect, and perhaps even more so now, it’s worth keeping tabs on the Caribbean until the end of the season but as for now, any hurricanes that the GFS dreams up look to be just that, the stuff of fantasy land.

In the east Pacific, Simon continues to dwindle away and will soon be a remnant low pressure area. Periods of rain, sometimes heavy, will move in to the Southwest U.S. but this does not look to be as widespread an event as Norbert and Odile were. So far, there are no flood watches posted for the region. Check out this graphic from the NWS Tucson. It explains the upcoming event very well in one convenient graphic.

Meanwhile, a powerful typhoon is churning away in the west Pacific. It is currently one of the strongest tropical cyclones of 2014 and could threaten Japan, though much weaker than it is now, in several days. It seems as though the Pacific Basin as a whole is the place for all the action this year. If it were not for hurricane Arthur back on the 4th of July, the Atlantic season would seem almost non-existent which is pretty much in line with what was forecast for this season. I will discuss that in more detail in an upcoming blog post.

M. Sudduth 1:15 PM ET Oct 7

Simon will bring some rain to Southwest as Caribbean shows signs of development – or not

Tropical storm Simon in the east Pacific is continuing to weaken at a rapid pace. It won’t be long until it becomes just a remnant area of low pressure as it tracks towards the Baja peninsula.

Fortunately, Simon is smaller in size than Odile was and thus the deep tropical moisture is more limited. This means that even though heavy rain is possible for parts of the Southwest, particularly southeast Arizona and points east, it does not look like a very high impact event.

According to the discussions that I have read, perhaps an inch or so of rain could fall in the heavier cells that manage to develop but that is about it. Contrast this with the remnants of Odile which had the potential of dropping up to nine inches of rain in the mountains of the Southwest. It’s something to keep a close eye on if you live in or are traveling through the area but don’t expect a major widespread event to unfold.

Now we need to turn our attention to the Caribbean Sea. For several days in a row, the GFS computer model has developed a tropical cyclone in the southwest Caribbean Sea, moving it north with time and in to the Gulf of Mexico.

Other models are showing this scenario as well to one extent or another.

ECMWF model showing weak development in the east Pacific in five days

ECMWF model showing weak development in the east Pacific in five days

On the other hand, the one model that has yet to join the chorus is the ECMWF (Euro). Instead of development in the Caribbean Sea, this model develops something on the other side of Central America, in the east Pacific. This is where the NHC currently has a yellow area outlined for low probability of development over the next five days. It is interesting to see that the Euro has quite a weak system in the Pacific and never develops it much, so it’s not as if the Euro is blowing up a powerful hurricane on the other side of Central America.

GFS model showing same time frame but with development in the western Caribbean instead

GFS model showing same time frame but with development in the western Caribbean instead

Contrast this with the latest run of the GFS, the main U.S. generated global model. At day five, we see a fairly well developed tropical cyclone in the western Caribbean Sea. This fits with climatology which suggests that this region is prime for development this time of year. Water temps are also plenty warm. I think that the GFS has had too many false-starts this season and despite run after run showing development in the Caribbean, it is being discounted for now.

I suspect that we will know for sure over the next few days. If we do not see anything begin to develop in the southwest Caribbean then I suppose it means that the GFS model was “wrong” so to speak. However, with other models showing Caribbean development, I would not be surprised to see something get going before the end of the week. As I said, we would normally be watching this region in October anyway, so it makes sense at least from a climatological perspective. As they say, stay tuned, not sure how this one is going to end.

I’ll have an update on all of this tomorrow.

M. Sudduth 1:5 PM ET Oct 6

More heavy rain possible for Southwest as we watch Caribbean for possible development

NHC forecast track for hurricane Simon

NHC forecast track for hurricane Simon

It looks as though another round of heavy rain is possible for parts of the Desert Southwest as hurricane Simon is forecast to track northeast and across the Baja Peninsula.

The latest from the National Hurricane Center indicates that Simon, once a very intense category four, is beginning to weaken very quickly. However, it is the deep tropical moisture that could be a big issue for not only the Southwest United States, but also the Baja and portions of northern Mexico.

It may take another day or two for the computer guidance to get a better handle on the exact track and extent of moisture that might find its way in to areas such as southeast Arizona and western New Mexico. For now, people in the area should be watching the progress of Simon very closely. As we saw with the remnants of Norbert and Odile in this region, it is very difficult to know ahead of time which areas will receive the heaviest rain. One thing is for certain – the region has had more than enough rain over the past month and another round of potentially heavy precip could be a problem as the week ahead progresses.

GFS model showing day-7 output which has a tropical cyclone developing in the western Caribbean Sea

GFS model showing day-7 output which has a tropical cyclone developing in the western Caribbean Sea

Meanwhile, there are indications from various global computer models that we might see some development down in the southwest and western Caribbean later this coming week.

The GFS model in particular is the most ambitious with this development and in fact, has shown something brewing in this region for quite some time. On the other hand, this same model has had a real problem this season in over-developing systems that actually never came to pass. Will this time be different? It’s possible since we are in a time of the year when the western Caribbean is the prime area to watch. Also of note, as I mentioned, other models also develop a low pressure in the same general area. Right now, it’s far enough out in time that my confidence it not very high in terms of seeing something actually form. So let’s keep an eye on this area and see what happens over the next few days.

I’ll have more here concerning Simon and the Caribbean tomorrow morning.

M. Sudduth 10:15 AM ET Oct 5

Odile leaves trail of destruction along Baja, heavy rain poised to inundate parts of Southwest

Tropical storm Odile continues to churn away over the Baja peninsula and the Gulf of California

Tropical storm Odile continues to churn away over the Baja peninsula and the Gulf of California

Even though the Atlantic hurricane season is certainly not very busy, the impacts from tropical cyclones on people and places within the United States cannot be ignored. We are about to see once again how tropical moisture from an east Pacific system gets pulled northward in to the Desert Southwest and causes all kinds of issues.

In this case, it’s the remnant circulation of once powerful hurricane Odile. So far, we are seeing quite a bit of evidence of damage to parts of the southern Baja peninsula where Odile made landfall as a strong category three hurricane just a couple of nights ago. There are a lot of people who are without fresh water and other basic needs due to the hurricane and its unlikely path right in to Cabo San Lucas. That story will continue to play out over the coming days as rescue and recovery efforts unfold.

Meanwhile, the moisture from what is still tropical storm Odile will continue to move northward towards Arizona and New Mexico. As a result, flash flood watches have been posted for most of Arizona, parts of southeast California and southern Nevada and a good deal of southwest New Mexico. The threat of excessive rainfall across the region is high over the next few days and this could lead to major issues for areas not used to this much rain.

It looks as though the heaviest rain will come tomorrow and in to Thursday when the bulk of the moisture from Odile arrives. The possibility of seeing 3 to 5 inches of rain raises the odds that significant flooding will occur but the exact location of this is impossible to know right now. Being alert for rapidly changing conditions and being ready to move to high ground will be essential to keeping safe. Anyone traveling across the region is advised to keep a close watch on the local weather conditions and do not try to cross any flooded roads, no matter what you’re driving. Swift moving water can overpower your vehicle in a matter of seconds, we saw this during last week’s flash flood along I-15 northeast of Las Vegas. This is a serious flood threat for the region and people need to take it as such.

I am currently in Tuscon working to document and report on the situation over the next few days. My team and I will will make use of some of the same equipment we use in hurricane storm surge with the idea being that we try to capture video of a dangerous flooding situation without having to be there ourselves. There are numerous low spots, washes, dry stream beds, etc that we can place an unmanned camera close enough to capture video of a flash flood. With the amount of heavy rain forecast for the area, I don’t think we will have too much trouble and in fact, will have to make sure we are well away from those areas when the flooding begins.

I will post updates from time to time using Instagram – follow along @hurricanetrack. These posts automatically hit our Twitter feed as well. In addition, I will have longer duration video blogs posted to our app, Hurricane Impact, throughout the next few days. If you know people in the region, let them know that this is a very serious situation. We may think of rain as being a necessary element of survival, especially in the desert, but too much in too short a period of time can bring havoc. I’ll keep you updated from the ground from the Tuscon area up to Phoenix and over towards New Mexico over the next few days.

As for the Atlantic – no worries anytime soon, Edouard will continue to move on out over open water and no other developments are seen within the global models for the time being.

I’ll post more here later tonight from southern Arizona.

M. Sudduth 10:19 AM ET Sept 16

Edouard on its way to becoming a major hurricane but the major news story is Odile

NWS news and information graphic concerning upcoming flood threat in AZ and NM

NWS news and information graphic concerning upcoming flood threat in AZ and NM

Hurricane Edouard is the strongest hurricane in the Atlantic Basin in over two years. We have to go back to Sandy in late October of 2012 to find a stronger hurricane than Edouard – that’s how slack the Atlantic has been as of late. Never the less, the NHC is forecasting Edouard to become a major hurricane with winds peaking at 120 mph. I suspect it will be stronger given the nature of intensity forecasting. This will help to boost the ACE score for the Atlantic which is now in the mid-20s and climbing. The only issue from Edouard will be swells that eventually reach Bermuda and parts of the East Coast and of course shipping interests in the open Atlantic.

The remainder of the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf are free of any areas of concern for the time being.

In the east Pacific, the mega-season continues. Hurricane Odile made landfall last night near Cabo San Lucas as a strong category three causing significant damage to the region. It will be some time before we get a full picture of what happened but rest assured, the region took a hit last night and it’s still going on as Odile tracks up the spine of the Baja peninsula today.

The NHC forecast track keeps the hurricane over the peninsula and then turns it northeast across the northern portion of the Gulf of California. With most of the circulation of Odile over water, it may not weaken as much thus the risk of hurricane conditions spreading northward over the next day or so is high.

As Odile makes its way northward, deep tropical moisture will spread in to parts of the southwest United States. This will lead to an increase in rain chances as the week progresses and may result in significant rain fall for some locations. It is impossible to know which areas will receive the most rain but it is not out of the realm of possibility that we could see 3 to 5 inches. Flooding will once again be a big concern, especially in Arizona and New Mexico where it looks like a bulk of the moisture is headed. It is important for people in the region to pay close attention to NWS watch, warning and other info this week. Tropical cyclone impacts to the Southwest are rare but when they do happen, the results are often dramatic and dangerous.

I am going to be traveling out to Arizona later today – arriving in Phoenix this evening. I will have a full crew to work with utilizing two vehicles and plenty of equipment to document this potentially extraordinary event as it unfolds.

Our goal is to capture a flash flood as it happens using some of the same unmanned camera systems that we use in deadly hurricane storm surge. We can also provide on-site reports to our followers via Twitter, Instagram and of course, our app, Hurricane Impact. In addition, I will be providing The Weather Channel with several reports and live video throughout the field work over the coming days. We will go where the weather takes us, it’s not like a hurricane landfall where we need to be where the eye crosses the coast. The Desert Southwest is vast and often harsh, I have last week as somewhat of a guide to know what to expect but each trip is different and Odile is likely to bring an entirely new set of problems to the region. I cannot stress enough how important it will be for people in the area to keep up to date on the ever-changing situation.

I will post another update here late tonight, probably past Midnight ET and then more tomorrow morning.

M. Sudduth 10:25 AM ET Sept 15