The consequence of luck

The last hurricane to make landfall in Florida - hurricane Wilma, October 24, 2005. Not a single hurricane anywhere in Florida since...

The last hurricane to make landfall in Florida – hurricane Wilma, October 24, 2005. Not a single hurricane anywhere in Florida since…

October 24, 2005 – hurricane Wilma makes landfall in southwest Florida as a category three, weakening to a two before exiting the coast near Jupiter.

Wilma caused the single largest power outage in the history of Florida. Despite the rash of previous violent hurricanes such as Katrina and Rita just months before, scores of people went unprepared to deal with Wilma and lined up to receive ice and basic needs for weeks after.

That was the last time that a hurricane, any hurricane of any intensity, made landfall in Florida. It was also the last time that a category three (major) hurricane struck the United States.

Since that time, 66 hurricanes have formed in the Atlantic Basin and none have managed to make it to Florida. Yet, over 2 million people have moved to the Sunshine State since that fateful day in late October, 2005. (These stats from Dr. Phil Klotzbach via his recent Twitter posts – thanks Phil)

I think it is safe to say that Florida in particular and the United States as whole has been remarkably lucky considering what many believed to be the new normal post 2004-2005.

Those who said that could not have been more wrong if they tried.

The hurricane landfall drought for Florida is stunning. The major hurricane landfall drought for the United States just makes it even more so, almost to the point of absurdity. While it may be novel to discuss and remark over the fact that so many people have now gone a quarter of a generation with a grand total of ZERO hurricane experience, it comes with a price. I call it simply “the consequence of luck”.

I liken this theory to a bad driver who constantly speeds and drives aggressively without any consequences – no bad luck as it were. He never gets caught and keeps doing it until one day it all catches up and the worst happens. That driver suffered from stupidity combined with a learned behavior that taught him this equation: good luck while doing bad things = more bad things being done until the good luck ends. The analogy can be applied to anything really that has a negative outcome where luck is involved. Someone who embezzles money keeps doing it until they get caught which is another way of saying that their good luck of not getting caught helped to ensure that one day, they would in fact face the music. It goes on and on and I think the principle applies very well to our hurricane problem.

For ten years coastal residents (inland too) have enjoyed mostly hurricane-free living. Now I realize more than most that yes we have had hurricanes such as Ike, Gustav, Sandy, Isaac and so on. All of those matter for the people they affected. But on the grand scale, we have seen nothing like Katrina for 10 years. That is a good thing, no doubt about it. However, I ask this question: when does the string of good luck become a problem in terms of getting people to act and do their part to be hurricane prepared? During this time of no cat-3+ hurricane landfalls, millions of people have moved to the coast. Have hurricane plans been updated to take this in to account? How many coastal counties have new emergency management directors who have never experienced what a hurricane, let alone a cat-3+, can do? The list of questions could be lengthy if I had the time to think about all the possible bad outcomes to our string of good luck.

If we somehow knew with 100% certainty that hurricanes were a thing of the past, then this would be my farewell blog. Instead, it is my wake up call to remind you of how bad things can get. It’s not hype nor fear mongering – it’s a warning from someone who knows first-hand how miserable life is during and especially after a hurricane, particularly an intense one.

The NHC and local NWS offices are putting forth a tremendous effort to promote hurricane preparedness. Social media with the #hurricanestrong theme is abuzz with tips, ideas, risk assessment links and so on. Does anyone care anymore? I know some do but is it enough? How many people have become so relaxed or worse yet, know nothing about their risk, to pay attention?

I worry about this as we approach yet another hurricane season. The distractions in our daily lives are more than most of us can process. There is so much noise out there that the voice of reason is often muted and lost.

I fear that too many people are apathetic to the hurricane risk and have forgotten what it looks like (and feels like) when people stand in 95 degree heat waiting for ice and water. Forgotten? Heck, it hasn’t happened in so long that I believe it will come as a major shock to our collective souls once it happens again. It will seem worse than it actually is. Why? Because we’ve been lured by Lady Luck in to believing that every hurricane is going to miss or won’t turn out as bad as “they” say.

I am only going to say this one time: you have no idea what you’re dealing with if you think you know hurricanes.

It’s great to be lucky; it’s rewarded many people over the ages. Like time, luck runs out sooner or later and the two are more closely connected than you think.

Do yourself and the rest of us a favor if you live in a hurricane prone region of the United States or anywhere that tropical cyclones can impact: know the risks, know your vulnerability to those risks, make a plan and carry it out when time comes. Or, just flip a coin and hope for the best. My vote is on being armed with knowledge then utilizing that knowledge to minimize the impact.

Hurricane season for the Atlantic begins on June 1. The season lasts for six months. will be on top of it every step of the way. It is my sincere hope that my 20 years of studying the impacts of tropical storms and hurricanes when they affect land will help you to not suffer and become a front page story for Time or your local newspaper. If ever you have a question, no matter how lame you think it is, please ask via email or social media. I take it as a my responsibility to educate others considering that I have had the privilege of doing what I am most passionate about for my career. Be safe this season and don’t worry, most of my blog entries won’t be so full of angst. Sometimes you gotta hit people with a sledge hammer to get their attention :-)

M. Sudduth


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