Tropics getting very busy as we close out August

There is a lot going on, no doubt about that. It’s the end of August and the hurricane season is kicking in to high gear. Let’s start in the Pacific actually then move east from there…

TS Madeline/Hurricane Lester

TS Madeline is forecast to strengthen in to a hurricane as it tracks generally towards Hawaii in the coming days. It should weaken upon approach and perhaps turn more south with time.

TS Madeline is forecast to strengthen in to a hurricane as it tracks generally towards Hawaii in the coming days. It should weaken upon approach and perhaps turn more south with time.

We have a pair of tropical cyclones to watch closely in the east and central Pacific over the coming days. First up is tropical storm Madeline which is currently situated well to the east-southeast of Hawaii. The forecast calls for the storm to reach hurricane intensity as heads generally westward early next week. While the track suggests a threat to Hawaii, it seems as though less favorable conditions will set in and Madeline will weaken and probably push more south with time, avoiding a direct impact to the islands. However, as we know, this can change so it’s obviously a good idea to keep tabs on the progress of this storm.

Much farther to the east over the eastern Pacific we have hurricane Lester with 100 mph winds. It too is tracking almost due west and could reach the vicinity of Hawaii in about a week. It is something to monitor but remember, it is very difficult for hurricanes to make landfall in Hawaii from the east. We usually see hurricane threats from the south as they turn from lower latitudes and track northward across the region, such as Iniki did back in 1992. While Lester is a strong hurricane, I would not worry too much about it right now – plenty of time to watch.

99L

Morning track plots showing the spread of the various computer models. Most of the more reliable models suggest a landfall, if it were to develop, somewhere along NE Gulf of Mexico coast.

Morning track plots showing the spread of the various computer models. Most of the more reliable models suggest a landfall, if it were to develop, somewhere along NE Gulf of Mexico coast.

Next we have good ole 99L. Seems like it has been with us forever. The area of interest that just can’t seem to develop. So far, it still hasn’t and doesn’t look like it will anytime soon. Upper level winds continue to plague the would-be storm, pushing any deep thunderstorms that try to develop away from the low level center which is currently moving through the Florida straits and Keys area.

It has been a frustrating week tracking 99L with all of the computer model flip-flopping that we’ve had to deal with. About the only one that has been consistent with intensity is the hurricane specific HWRF model which goes bonkers with development on almost every run. So far, none of that has come to pass. The GFS has done fairly well indicating little development thus far and not much more to speak of in the days ahead. The Euro or ECMWF on the other hand has gone back to suggesting a hurricane threat for Florida and possibly the Southeast coast once the system moves back out over the Atlantic.

My feeling is that so far the system has under-performed and until the shear relaxes and we see deep convection wrapping around the low level center and maintaining for 24 hours or more, it won’t pose much of a threat as far as being a strong hurricane. That being said, it is possible that 99L could reach hurricane intensity somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico next week. Water temps are very warm and all it takes is a period of favorable upper level winds for the lid to come off.

I believe the next 24-48 hours is the key here. If we see it develop by Tuesday then folks in Florida could be in for some significant impacts from this system. Unfortunately we will just have to wait and see how things pan out. For now, it remains only a strong tropical wave of low pressure, nothing more.

91L

Invest area 91L with some deep thunderstorm activity near the center. It is moving towards the NC coast but should turn north and back out to sea before reaching Cape Hatteras and vicinity.

Invest area 91L with some deep thunderstorm activity near the center. It is moving towards the NC coast but should turn north and back out to sea before reaching Cape Hatteras and vicinity. (click to view animation)

Next we have invest area 91L between Bermuda and Cape Hatteras and moving westward with a turn more to the west-northwest expected soon.

Right now, strong upper level winds coming from the east are keeping the convection that has managed to develop just west of the well defined low level center. You can clearly see this on the satellite image I have posted here. In fact, this looks to me like it would be classified as a tropical depression but without recon in there to verify right now, it’s not officially anything but an area of interest. We should know later today once the recon crew gets in there – perhaps this becomes TS Hermine? We shall see.

The models are in pretty good agreement that this will turn more to the north and then curve back out over the Atlantic over the next couple of days. The key to any appreciable impacts to the North Carolina coast will be how close the system tracks before doing so. Most of the guidance keeps it just east of Cape Hatteras and vicinity but close enough to warrant concern, especially for off-shore boating interests.

I’ll keep a close eye on this one since recon is planning to investigate later today. Once we get their reports we will know if this has in fact become a next named storm or at least a tropical depression.

Hurricane Gaston

Hurricane Gaston track forecast showing it staying out over the open Atlantic.

Hurricane Gaston track forecast showing it staying out over the open Atlantic.

Gaston has become the strongest hurricane in the Atlantic Basin for 2016. Top winds are near 90 mph and are forecast to go up from there. The hurricane has developed an eye and is moving away from all of the hostile conditions that were hindering significant development over the past day or so.

The NHC is forecasting Gaston to reach peak intensity of 110 mph before reaching cooler water later this week. I won’t be at all surprised to see the hurricane reach 120 mph or more over the warm water of the sub-tropics. This seems to be the norm in recent years – hurricanes reaching peak intensity well outside of the deep tropics. Fortunately for land areas, Gaston will only be tracking over open ocean.

Future 92L in the far eastern Atlantic

Large tropical wave over Africa that will almost certainly be a named storm in the far eastern Atlantic in the coming days.

Large tropical wave over Africa that will almost certainly be a named storm in the far eastern Atlantic in the coming days.

A well developed tropical wave over interior Africa is forecast by all of the global computer models to move in to the eastern Atlantic and develop over the next five days. Conditions appear to be favorable across the entire swath of ocean this time around and we just might have something to track for days on end.

There is no doubt going to be a lot of talk about this system because the steering pattern looks to be one that could allow it track all the way to the United States. While this is a possibility, it is so far out in time that worrying about a specific location is pointless. Conditions appear to be favorable so let’s just watch and see what happens over the course of the week ahead and go from there. We have plenty of other issues to deal with on the west side of the Atlantic to keep us busy for a while longer.

I’ll post an update here later this afternoon or early evening once we get more info from the recon crew concerning 91L. I don’t think much will change with 99L today but if there is, I’ll certainly update that as well.

M. Sudduth 10:10 AM ET Aug 28

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When 80% is not enough

Wednesday, August 17 at 2pm ET the National Hurricane Center issued the first outlook on what would become probably the most talked about area of interest (invest) in the history of mankind. That outlook began a process that kept scores of weather geeks, emergency managers, TV meteorologists, weather forecasting firms and the general public glued to their Internet-connected devices. From the get go it looked like this could be “the one”. It had potential to make it all the way across the Atlantic and possibly affect the United States after roaring through the Caribbean. And so here we are at the other side of that long journey and what became known as “99L” to millions of people will long be remembered for what it didn’t do: failed to develop.

As the process of tracking the tropical wave got underway, computer models were generally in agreement that the system would move westward at a fairly low latitude. However, it was clear early on that mid-level dry air, somewhat associated with the Saharan Air Layer (SAL), would be an inhibiting factor for development. Never the less, by early Saturday morning the 20th, it looked as though a tropical depression would form. Chances went from virtually nothing to 50% in just three days.

By Monday evening the 22nd, the probability increased to 60% and it looked as though a hurricane was possible for the southwest Atlantic Basin, maybe even close enough to Florida or the Carolinas to warrant concern. The social media hurricane machine was in full throttle mode with every expert (and non-expert) opinion you could imagine being thrown in to the mix. It was “invest 99L” overload and it would only get worse.

Leading the charge for development at first was the dynamic duo of the GFS and the ECMWF. Both seemed to latch on to 99L and make something of it. At first, it looked like a track towards Florida and then a turn north was likely. At times, the GFS had an enormous hurricane sitting not too far off the North Carolina coast, moving harmlessly out to sea in the longer term. It looked like this would be a close call but no guarantees yet for a landfall.

As the days went by, seemingly very slow considering we can watch the computer models come and go virtually 24 hours a day, things began to change. The GFS dropped the development almost completely while the ECMWF put memories of Katrina, Andrew and Betsy in our collective minds. It wasn’t just the Euro, the new and improved HWRF model, which is specifically designed to forecast tropical cyclones, showed similar forecasts of a hurricane headed towards south Florida and then turning west as it tracked south of a strong high pressure area over the mid-Atlantic. The hurricane world went in to full meltdown mode. It had been since before Twitter, Facebook as we know it, the iPhone and even the birth of One Direction that Florida had been hit by a hurricane. It was Tuesday, August 23 and 99L had a 70% chance of developing in to at least a tropical depression. The “H” word was bound for Florida.

To make matters worse, the ECMWF ramped up 99L to beast mode and sent it towards Louisiana, the LAST PLACE that needs a hurricane this season. Meanwhile, the GFS showed almost nothing at all. Just weak energy coming across and never really doing much. People were scoffing that if the Euro was right, congressional hearings needed to take place immediately to “fix the GFS!”. It was pure madness because, you know, the ECMWF nailed Sandy’s forecast from 8 days out. People were hung up on a hurricane from four years ago, forgetting the failures of even recent events like Erika last season and Fiona in 2010. Oh yeah, let me tell you about that one.

In 2010, we had Earl, headed for a possible landfall up the East Coast. Meanwhile, the ECMWF was advertising Fiona to be “the next Katrina”. A few in the weather business bit off on this and ran with it like the end times were coming. Earl was going to be a dud while Fiona would be a disaster of epic proportions. All the while, the GFS showed Earl doing exactly what it ended up doing: coming close to the NC Outer Banks then turning out to sea as a strong hurricane. As for Fiona, the GFS showed it as nothing more than a nuisance and that’s how it all turned out. GFS right, Euro wrong. Funny how few people remember that. I remember, trust me, I was on the Outer Banks where Earl brought 85 mph wind gusts to our anemometer that was set up next to Oregon Inlet.

By Wednesday morning, just 48 hours ago, the chance for 99L to develop made it to 80%. It looked like a sure thing now. I mean 80% is pretty good, right? In basketball an 80% free throw shooter is considered to be almost lethal from the line. You foul that player and you might as well put two points on the board. Eight times out of ten the shots go down.

But what happens when that player is in the title game and his team is down 1 with .90 seconds on the clock and he is fouled driving to the hoop? Everyone holds their breath as he lofts the first shot to tie the game. He misses. It’s stunning. The announcers balk about his percentage and how they can’t believe he missed. Must be the immense pressure. Time for try number two. He misses. No one gets the rebound and the clock expires. His team loses the National Championship for one simple reason: 80% is not enough. It’s not 100%. There was a 20% chance he missed either of those two shots. Now this is purely hypothetical but it makes my point. Sometimes high probability is mistaken for certainty.

In the case of 99L, it looks dead and gone now. The GFS, in its past few days of runs, turned out to be correct, for the most part. No hurricane coming for south Florida this weekend like the Euro showed. To be fair, the HWRF did as well and it busted big time. Instead, the Euro now has weak energy bringing possible heavy rain to portions of Florida. No hurricane in to Louisiana or elsewhere, just a strung out mess.

Odds of development over the next five days are down to 60%. Strong wind has all but beat the system in to oblivion. There is virtually no convection or thunderstorm activity with it and the USAF Hurricane Hunter crew has been grounded since there’s nothing there to investigate.

Sixty percent. Hmmmm. That’s not too high nor is it very low either. What is the reason behind this number? It’s because there is still a chance, apparently a 60% chance as of this writing, that 99L will develop some in the Gulf of Mexico. How could this be? The Euro “dropped it”. Well, the ever-excited HWRF sure didn’t and the GFS now shows limited development in a few days with some rather wacky tracks thrown in for good measure. To be honest, it’s giving me a headache to watch this day in and day out and all we have is an area of interest, even if fading to an area of blue skies.

I caution that while the gist of my post is aimed at pointing out the obvious, that anything short of 100% probability has a chance of falling short, it is also true that unless it’s zero, there’s still a chance. Even the 60% free throw shooter is sometimes the hero.

There is still some energy down in the region near the southeast Bahamas that might be able to survive long enough to warrant keeping an eye on. None of the computer models that show any development potential do so until later in the weekend – so let’s see what happens. Perhaps 80% was too high early on but 60% will be just enough for now.

We want to be able to trust the computer guidance to give us time to prepare if in fact something is going to develop. However, the public should understand probability and know the limitations of forecasts even in the relative short term. Most people don’t have time or interest to fully invest their energy in to making sense out of it all. I do my best and could not for the life of me understand why the GFS gave up on this system while the Euro did not. Sometimes you need to look out the window, so to speak, and view the actual weather and not just the predictions. The satellite presentation of 99L never really looked promising for development. It came close a couple of days ago but the reality was it didn’t have that “look”. So logic should have dictated that if it looks poor and one of the major global models insists on non-development, then maybe that’s why: because it won’t. It’s a simple concept and for now, it turned out to be right. Shear and lack of convection and overall organization has kept 99L from developing but it’s not necessarily over.

I think the next 48 hours will be all we need to know how this ends. If nothing happens by then and the wave of energy basically spreads out or dissipates completely, then we’re golden. Until that happens, it’s obviously prudent to keep an eye on things – just in case 60% is just enough to do what 80% could not.

I’ll have more in my daily video discussion posted here, to our app and on YouTube later this afternoon.

M. Sudduth 9AM ET Aug 26

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Is Florida’s hurricane drought about to come to an end?

One look at the upper ocean heat content for the western Atlantic Basin and you can see why I am concerned for the Bahamas and Florida over the coming days.

One look at the upper ocean heat content for the western Atlantic Basin and you can see why I am concerned for the Bahamas and Florida over the coming days.

The past few days have been very tedious in terms of tracking invest area 99L and what it may or may not do over the coming days. Unfortunately, tedious may be traded in for anxious and stressful from here on out as it looks like we could be facing a potential hurricane threat for late in the weekend.

Before any concern arises for Florida, the system is first impacting portions of the northeast Caribbean islands with heavy rain and gusty winds. All of this mess will spread westward towards Puerto Rico and eastern Hispaniola later today through tomorrow. The potential for very heavy rain which could induce flooding is certainly there and needs to be considered as a serious threat.

As I type this blog post, the Hurricane Hunters are about to head out in to the broad area of low pressure to determine what its status is. There is a chance we will have a tropical depression by later today but overall, I think the organizational process will continue to be slow and steady.

The dry air we have heard so much about is likely going to be mixed out and the convective process will take over – meaning we will see sustained thunderstorm activity develop along with more curved banding. This indicates strengthening but also better internal structure which leads to even more strengthening. It is only a matter of time until we have a tropical storm to track and it looks to be headed towards the Bahamas as the week comes to an end.

This brings me to the possible impacts to the Bahamas and Florida there after. Assuming the system goes on to develop as most of the modeling now indicates, it will be a matter of how strong it becomes as it moves west-northwest and then bends back to the west. This is VERY important as history shows us that when tropical cyclones (tropical storms and hurricanes) bend westward, south of a strong ridge of high pressure in the atmosphere, that they strengthen, usually quickly. It all has to do with lining everything up under almost ideal conditions. Many hurricanes have done this in the past and in the general vicinity that this system would be in over the weekend. As such, the potential is there for south Florida to experience a hurricane before all is said and done. How strong and exactly where is hard to say right now. Water temps are plenty warm and the models are suggesting a favorable environment for intensification. We need to watch this very closely – it’s been more than a decade since the last hurricane affected the state directly. Preparedness will be critical, especially if we see a period of rapid strengthening. I am putting the region on notice, you had best be ready! We have a few days to go still before we know enough to say for sure what will happen but by then, it could be too late to react properly and no one needs to be in panic mode. Use this time to make sure you have a plan in place and be able to enact it should the need arise this weekend.

Unfortunately, the overnight models, namely the ECMWF or Euro, have come around to suggesting a track towards the west in to the southeast Gulf of Mexico early next week. This would give the would-be hurricane ample fuel and time to strengthen further. This is beyond the 5 day time frame so speculating on where it might end up is pointless right now. I know people want answers as soon as they can get them but it’s just too tough to make any definitive call at the moment. Needless to say, residents along the Gulf Coast from Texas to the Florida panhandle should stay on top of this and be ready in case it comes their way. We will have time to dissect the possibilities later on as more data comes in and the track and intensity becomes clearer.

To give you an idea of how seriously I am taking this situation, I am making plans now to pack up my gear and head to south Florida as early as Friday morning. With the potential for a hurricane crossing the region, it warrants a field mission to the area. I will talk more about my plans for Florida and a potential Gulf Coast landfall in future blog posts. It’s been a while since a full-throttle hurricane took aim at the United States. While the jury is still out on just how strong 99L could become, I am not leaving anything to chance. The technological firepower that I have in my possession is stunning. So much has changed since a decade ago and even the past five years. I’ll keep you posted on my plans and what kind of information to expect as I travel south for what could be a break in the streak of no hurricanes for Florida. As they say, stay tuned but let me add, be ready! Even if this does not pan out, it’s still very much hurricane season and we have a long way to go. Luck favors the prepared – always.

M. Sudduth 10:15 AM ET Aug 24

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NHC outlining two areas to watch over the coming days

NHC map showing two areas to watch over the coming days

NHC map showing two areas to watch over the coming days

While the deep tropics remain quiet with no sign of development anytime soon, we do have a couple of areas to monitor farther west, and closer to land.

The first is a disturbance or weak surface trough situated in the northeast Gulf of Mexico. It is nearly stationary for the time being and could form a low pressure area within the next couple of days. However, the main issue here will be the very heavy rain that is forecast by several of the computer models. In some cases, rain could be excessive, especially for portions of Florida, southern Georgia and Alabama as the low pressure area just mills around in the region.

I do not see much chance of this becoming a tropical storm and so wind won’t be a factor but the rain is sure to be. If you live in the area or plan to travel to or through, be advised that the potential exists for flooding rain which will make travel difficult. It is impossible to know precisely which areas will receive the heaviest rain but widespread areas of several inches seems likely for parts of the Florida panhandle and along portions of the western peninsula.

Meanwhile, what was once invest area 96L is back again with convection beginning to develop in an area north of the Leeward Islands.

The NHC indicates only a 20% chance of development over the next few days as it tracks generally west-northwest and eventually turns more north with time.

Several global models develop this system once it gets in to the southwest Atlantic. How strong and how far west remains to be seen but it looks like we just might have something coming together off the Southeast coast sometime next week. It certainly bears watching and it probably won’t be too long until it gets termed as an “invest” once again. At that point, we will begin to see more computer models run on the system and have a better idea of where it will go and what the intensity looks like. Until then, it’s just a vigorous tropical wave that looks to slowly organize.

In the east Pacific, an area of showers and thunderstorms near the coast of Mexico, not far from Manzanillo, will move northwest and merge with the remnants of what was once hurricane Earl in the western Caribbean and Bay of Campeche. The system is expected to develop and track northward towards the Baja peninsula, probably as a tropical storm. Interests in the area should be monitoring closely over the coming days.

I will have a video discussion of all the goings on in the tropics posted later this afternoon followed by another blog post tomorrow morning.

M. Sudduth 10:45 AM ET Aug 6

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Disorganized Colin headed for Florida with additional impacts for Georgia and the Carolinas

Posted a video discussion of TS Colin to explain what to expect in the coming hours as the storm, disorganized as it may be, heads for a landfall in Florida. Overall, the impact idea has not changed: the biggest threat will be heavy rain with some coastal surge issues in the Big Bend area of Florida.

After landfall, Colin should emerge in the Atlantic off the Georgia coast and then track fairly close to the Carolinas, potentially dumping heavy rain along the immediate coast later tomorrow.

I will have another blog post concerning Colin this evening.

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