All kinds of things going on in the tropics this week – just no hurricanes

Wide satellite shot showing all of the areas of interest in the Atlantic Basin this morning

Wide satellite shot showing all of the areas of interest in the Atlantic Basin this morning

Here we are at the end of September and not one hurricane has formed in the Atlantic – not this month anyway. The only two hurricanes were Danny and Fred and those were in late August. I do not see much potential for hurricane formation over the coming days but there is plenty to talk about in terms of other action in the tropics.

First up, we have invest area 99L in the Gulf of Mexico. The latest info from the NHC suggests that it won’t develop in to a tropical storm before reaching the coast tomorrow or Wednesday. Upper level winds are just too strong and continue to blow across the top of the system, not allowing deep convection to develop. However, there is ample tropical moisture associated with this system and very heavy rain is possible for a large swath of the eastern Gulf Coast states and areas inland from there.

The coasts of Mississippi and Alabama received excessive rain over the weekend with flooding issues becoming a big problem in some locations. More rain is on the way but it looks like the heaviest totals will be shifting further to the east towards Florida as the moisture plume moves northward out of the Gulf.

Meanwhile, we now have TD #11 which formed yesterday over the warm waters of the southwest Atlantic. The official forecast calls for no significant additional strengthening but it would not take much for this system to become a tropical storm. It should not impact land directly but the track is aimed towards the East Coast of the U.S. and this could have an influence on the weather this weekend. More on that in a moment.

Next there is the ghost of Ida. Although no mention was made on the NHC’s latest outlook, I think there is a fair chance that Ida makes a comeback as it continues to move off to the west with time. Again, water temps are plenty warm and the MJO (favorable upward motion) is turning more positive for development for the Atlantic Basin. This should allow Ida to grow and possibly become a tropical storm again later this week. It won’t affect land, not yet anyway but needs to be watched since the pattern is such that a lot of energy from the tropics is being aimed at the East Coast of the U.S. This brings me to the weekend….

Some of the model guidance is suggesting that a combination of energy coming in from the Gulf, meeting up with energy from TD11 could produce a coastal storm that would affect areas from the North Carolina Outer Banks to points north towards Cape Cod. It has been interesting to watch each run of the various models over past few days as some will show quite a bit of wind and rain while others do not or are not as pronounced with the effects. What does look like a certainty is that a lot of rain is headed for areas of the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and eventually parts of New England as the week wears on. How strong any one system is remains to be seen. Will we have a singular intense coastal storm or a large, spread out mess? It’s tough to call right now but there is an awful lot of heat energy available from the tropics right now during a time of year when the atmosphere is changing from summer to fall. Stay tuned, looks like a wild week ahead!

In the Pacific, tropical storm Marty is lurking off the coast of Mexico with 70 mph winds. The forecast track bends Marty sharply west before reaching land but as always, heavy rain is a possibility as outer bands from the storm circulate inland over the next couple of days.

I will have a full video discussion posted later this afternoon covering all of the goings on in the tropics.

M. Sudduth 9:20 AM ET Sept 28

End of the road coming up for Erika? More like hitting a brick wall…

It has been a tough few days for hurricane forecasters and not because of something like Katrina 10 years ago. This time, it has been because the storm in question, Erika, has been such a pain in the neck to forecast. Fortunately, any deviations from the ideas set out by the National Hurricane Center, then echoed by others (including me), have been positives in terms of overall impact. In other words, Erika has not lived up to expectations and that is a good thing.

Before I get in to the (likely short) future of Erika, let’s not forget what happened around this time yesterday. Copious amounts of rain fell as deep convection developed right over Dominica in the eastern Caribbean Sea. This led to the unfortunate loss of life and terrifying flash flooding in the mountainous terrain of the island. Please let this be a reminder that even a tropical storm can be lethal. So much emphasis is placed on wind speed and pressure and category that the general public loses sight of the overall idea that we are talking about a destructive weather phenomenon. Rain is absolutely an impact from tropical cyclones as the people of Dominica were painfully reminded of yesterday.

So what does the future hold for Erika and any potential impacts to the United States? The answer to that question is rooted within what happens during the next 24 hours or so.

Satellite photo showing the poorly organized structure of TS Erika as it approaches Hispaniola

Satellite photo showing the poorly organized structure of TS Erika as it approaches Hispaniola

Erika is poorly organized but does have a fairly large envelope of energy. Tropical storm conditions are mainly being felt to the east of the center of circulation which itself is located just to the southeast of the Dominican Republic. In fact, you can see in the satellite photo that a burst of convection has popped up right near that center, giving Erika a little longer before the brick wall.

The United States and even Cuba for that matter owes a great deal of its hurricane protection to the island of Hispaniola. It’s all a matter of luck and geography but the fact remains that without Hispaniola in the way, many more powerful hurricanes would have lashed Florida, Cuba and eventually other locations along the western Atlantic Basin. This comes with a price though. The high terrain of the island literally wrings out the moisture from passing tropical storms and hurricanes. The resultant flash floods and mudslides can produce appalling loss of life and mind-boggling damage. Erika is headed right for the island and will slam in to it – likely bringing very heavy rain to the region.

As the storm traverses the rugged terrain, the low level center will almost certainly dissipate and we will be left with a trough of low pressure that was formerly Erika. Now, there’s a chance that the tenacious storm will just dance across and emerge in to the Florida Straits ready to go. I wouldn’t bet on that happening but you never, ever turn your back on a tropical anything coming through water that is near 90 degrees F! The next day or so is the key. If there is anything left of Erika once it passes over Hispaniola, then Florida might have to deal with a tropical storm and maybe, just maybe, a hurricane. So much will depend on how much warm water it has to work with and what the upper level winds are like. For now, Erika is headed for the Caribbean Road Block otherwise known as Hispaniola. What happens after that is beyond my ability to figure out – it’s a wait and see deal, nothing more.

Meanwhile, in the Pacific, hurricane Ignacio continues to track northwest in the general direction of Hawaii. The five day forecast keeps the center north of the island chain but we know how that can go. Obviously, interest out that way should keep watching and be ready to act should the track shift south even by a little bit. Water temperatures in the east Pacific, especially the northern Pacific, are quite a bit warmer than normal. So far, Hawaii has escaped major calamity this season – we’ll see if that luck holds.

I’ll have a video discussion on Erika and other happenings in the tropics, including a look back at Katrina 10 years ago today, posted later this afternoon.

M. Sudduth 8:55 AM ET August 28

Is Florida’s nearly ten-year hurricane drought about to end?

Latest tracking map with cone of uncertainty showing the potential for Erika to impact Florida in the coming days

Latest tracking map with cone of uncertainty showing the potential for Erika to impact Florida in the coming days

Wilma was the last in many ways. It was the last of the 21 names on the 2005 list of names for the North Atlantic hurricane season (after Wilma, the Greek Alphabet was used). It was the last major hurricane (cat-3 or higher) to make landfall in the United States and it was the last hurricane to make landfall in Florida.

Not a single hurricane since for the Sunshine State- though there have been a couple of close calls.

Is this long-standing hurricane-free drought about to come to an end? It is possible though not officially forecast just yet. Here’s what we know…

Of course, I am talking about tropical storm Erika which is still well east of the Lesser Antilles this morning. Overnight, the storm has made a bit of a comeback with deep convection returning and the pressure dropping just a little bit.

The latest discussion from the National Hurricane Center is still full of uncertainties. How can this be in this day and age? That’s an easy question to answer: tropical storms and hurricanes will likely always be tricky – not of all of them, but most. It’s just not cut and dry that this will happen or that will happen. In a season like this with so many road blocks in front of systems like Danny or Erika, it’s hard to put stock in model forecasts. So much can change and people are left either scratching their heads as to what the heck is going on (hype) or left unprepared because something happened that was not expected. Neither scenario is acceptable and so the challenge for the people at the NHC is to get the forecast right, even if that means forecasting a hurricane in to Florida in a few days. It’s darn close right now.

Erika is moving over warmer and warmer water as it moves west. This is an obvious plus for development. However, upper level winds are not very favorable and are tending to blow across the storm and this has acted to push the convection or thunderstorm activity away from the low level center. Without this machine running at full speed, the storm cannot intensify – at least not quickly.

I think the issue of dry air will be moot once Erika gets past around 65 degrees west longitude. The tropical Atlantic has become more favorable in recent weeks from a moisture standpoint. Another plus for Erika to eventually strengthen.

Then we have the models. This has been a real interesting phenomenon to watch over the past few days. You have some computer guidance indicating a very strong hurricane while, on the other hand, some of the best global models (not developed to predict hurricanes per se) simply get rid of Erika almost entirely. That would solve the problem, wouldn’t it?

Added to the madness are situations like the ECMWF which is widely regarded as the best overall global model on Earth. It has been going back and forth from run to run showing an intense hurricane followed 12 hours later on a subsequent run, a much weaker one at best. This happened night before last and the Internet hurricane world blew up with talk of a major hurricane lurking off the Southeast coast next week. Then, just like that, it was gone. Crickets….

Just wait 12 hours and a new version of “look out!” is cooking up with the ECMWF now showing a hurricane threat for Florida in less than a week. What is one to do? Well, I have the answer for that as well.

I have been doing this long enough to know that none of the models matter this far out. Seeing the ECMWF or the HWRF or whatever model you wish to follow show one thing after one run and something else later on will not change the outcome. What ever is going to happen will happen with or without computer guidance. To put it in simpler terms – people in the path of Erika or any future hurricane will likely have ample time to prepare and evacuate if need be. Relax. Spend less time fretting over the latest amazing model output map (there are some talented map makers out there – that is for sure!) and more time planning on what YOU will do if Erika heads your way. We have a five day forecast now from some of the best in the world. Trust that, not something affectionately called a “spaghetti plot”.

So as we watch Erika in the coming days, it will be prudent to remind people, as the NHC mentioned this morning in their latest discussion, that track errors at days four and five can be significant. A good deal of the Florida peninsula is now in the cone of uncertainty. In this case, Erika is providing plenty of uncertainty but as time goes by, things will settle down, leaving anyone within the path of the (potential) hurricane with time to take action.

It’s been a while for Florida since a hurricane threatened landfall. Erika may be the one to end the drought and if it is, I challenge people in Florida to be ready and not let all the fuss get to your heads. If you’re new, ask a hurricane veteran what it’s all about. Avoid stressing over social media posts of doom and gloom. If the time comes and Erika prompts a hurricane watch or warning, listen to your LOCAL TV and radio sources, check Twitter and Facebook for LOCAL information from emergency management. Above all else, do not give the hurricane trolls the time of day. They will be lining up to post ominous no-context maps just to gain “likes” or “clicks”. That’s feeding their ill-found egos. Look for local, trusted sources and of course, the National Hurricane Center and your local National Weather Service office. Do that and you’ll be fine. Act like you’ve been there Florida – even though it’s been nearly ten years, you all know hurricanes probably better than most.

I’ll have more here late this afternoon.

M. Sudduth 5:30 AM ET August 26

Weak low pressure in northeast Gulf of Mexico bringing rain to FL but nothing more

Weak low pressure in the Gulf is producing rain for Florida but little else in the way of development is expected

Weak low pressure in the Gulf is producing rain for Florida but little else in the way of development is expected

The tropics are fairly quiet as we start the week. About the only area worth watching as of now is a weak low pressure and associated surface trough draped across portions of the northeast Gulf of Mexico.

There was concern late last week that we could see tropical development from this stalled out frontal boundary but it looks as though that won’t happen now. However, very heavy rain has been falling across portions of the Florida peninsula in recent days, causing flooding with the risk of more to come. Computer models generally agree that the low will move over Florida as the week progresses and as such, the chance for widespread rain, heavy at times, will be part of the forecast for the region.

Why won’t this develop in to a tropical storm?

Strong northeast flow in the upper levels of the atmosphere will likely keep the low from developing further

Strong northeast flow in the upper levels of the atmosphere will likely keep the low from developing further

Normally, low pressure sitting over water temperatures that are in the upper 80s would be cause for alarm. While the heavy rain threat is enough of a problem, it looks as though that will be the only issue Floridians face with this system. So why won’t it develop in to a tropical depression or a tropical storm? The biggest reason are the upper level winds. Right now, they are blowing over the top of the low from the northeast, pushing the deep thunderstorms or convection away from the low center itself. This does not allow the low to strengthen by way of convection wrapping around itself, allowing pressures to drop and the process to get going.

There might be a small window for the low to become better organized but the forecast from computer models indicates that the strong northeast flow across the region will continue.

The bottom line for interests in Florida, especially the central peninsula and points south to an extent, is that heavy rain is possible over the next couple of days as the low moves across. If you have travel plans, leave extra time for that and slow down during the downpours – tropical showers can be very heavy with blinding rain. Also be aware of any flooding that may take place and keep kids away from swollen ditches, creeks and rivers – remember, water is not the only danger when we’re talking about Florida and flooding.

As for the rest of the tropics? The Atlantic is mostly dead right now with a pattern in place that does not promote upward motion in the atmosphere. I do not see this changing anytime soon and so we will likely end July without any hurricanes to worry about.

In the eastern Pacific, there are two low pressure areas to monitor far from land over open water. None of the computer model guidance suggests that either will become a hurricane nor will they impact land anytime soon.

That’s about it for this Monday. I’ll have a special blog post later this week concerning our new generation of storm surge camera systems and how we plan to utilize them when the next hurricane makes landfall along the U.S. coast.

M. Sudduth 12:10 PM ET July 27

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