NHC upgrades TD 3 to tropical storm Colin – rain and some coastal flooding biggest issues

Crooped image of NHC track map showing TS Clolin forecast points and the TS warning area along the west coast of FL

Cropped image of NHC track map showing TS Colin forecast points and the TS warning area along the west coast of FL

The 2016 hurricane season is seemingly off to quite a start with the 3rd named storm of the year (Alex back in January of all months and Bonnie last week) forming in the Gulf of Mexico this afternoon. I will talk more about what this may or may not mean for the rest of the season in a future blog post later this week. For now, let’s focus on Colin and what Floridians can expect.

First off, this is not going to be a big wind event, so get that notion out of your head now. Do not focus on “oh, it’s just a tropical storm”. We have to move away from that. No one EVER says, “oh, it’s just a small rattle snake that bit me”. Well maybe they do, but you get the point. Any poisonous snake is likely to be treated with respect and even fear. While we don”t have to fear tropical storms, they need to be understood (like snakes) and respected. That being said, let’s look at the current situation.

The latest info from the NHC tells us that top winds are 40 mph according to report from the Hurricane Hunter crew that flew recon earlier today. The forecast calls for only modest strengthening before Colin reaches Florida later tomorrow night or early Tuesday, most likely near the Big Bend area of Florida.

Let me be very clear. This forecast is for the CENTER of the storm, not for the entire storm and all its bad weather. The advisories give us information on the center forecast in latitude and longitude, with additional information throughout the rest of the package. So even though the center is moving onshore well north of Tampa, for example, heavy rain, squalls, storm surge flooding and tropical storm force winds are likely for Tampa and vicinity. Obviously, no one knows precisely where the worst weather will be, we can only rely on coastal radar when the storm gets closer to help with that. For now, if you are within the tropical storm warning area (Indian Pass to Enlgewood along the FL west coast) then you need to be ready for bad weather, it’s that simple. This is not a hurricane with a defined eyewall which is typically where the worst conditions are felt. In this case, the impact will be spread out over a good chunk of Florida from parts of the panhandle on down the peninsula, including perhaps a bit of south Florida proper.

Weather prediction center rainfall map showing impact from Colin on Southeast U.S.

Weather prediction center rainfall map showing impact from Colin on Southeast U.S.

I have included the WPC rain forecast for the next 72 hours and you can clearly see the threat here. Torrential rain, possibly wind driven at times, will make travel tough and even dangerous at times. For the love of Pete, slow down on the highways and biways out there! I am serious, traffic deaths and injuries because of rain soaked roads are 100% preventable. Colin is headed your way with plenty of rain, take notice and slow down if you’re driving through the region.

After Florida, the storm is forecast to emerge in to the Atlantic somewhere off the Georgia coast. This means heavy rain, some wind and minor coastal impacts for GA, SC and extreme southeast coastal NC. I will address these areas more tomorrow once we get a better idea of how well Colin will hold together as it crosses Florida.

So that’s it for now. We have plenty to keep up with in the coming days. I will not be traveling to Florida for the storm, it’s not quite the classic structure and impact that would warrant our specialized equipment – which is better suited for possible hurricane events later in the season. So I will watch from my office in Wilmington, NC where things could get interesting depending on how close Colin tracks to the NC coast. I’ll have more tomorrow morning bright and early.

M. Sudduth 7:20 PM ET June 5

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Florida in line for impacts from tropical system

NHC indicating a high chance of development in the red area, meaning impacts for Florida early this coming week

NHC indicating a high chance of development in the red area, meaning impacts for Florida early this coming week

It looks like we are on our way to having another tropical system develop and it’s only June 5th. This time, we are looking at the southern Gulf of Mexico where a broad area of low pressure is taking shape, trying to organize enough to become a tropical depression or maybe even a tropical storm by later today.

The NHC indicates a 90% chance of this happening and the Hurricane Hunters will be flying out in to the system this afternoon for a close up look. At that point we’ll know for sure what is going on in the region just north of the Yucatan peninsula, extending in to the southern Gulf and northern Caribbean Sea.

Water temps in the area are plenty warm and it will not surprise me at all to see this get named – if so, it would be “Colin”.

Now, as I said yesterday, before folks in Florida get too nervous about all of this, let’s take a look at something very important: upper level winds. I think this is what keeps the system from becoming very strong. Looking at the latest 200mb wind forecast from the GFS computer model, we can clearly see very strong winds blowing across the top of the would-be storm at the 36 hour mark. This will likely keep the system from being very symmetrical in shape and with that, it should be rather lopsided with most of the wind and rain on the east side of the low pressure center.

GFS 200mb chart from the 6Z run showing the low pressure area at 36 hours. Notice the strong southerly to southwest winds blowing across the storm. This "shear" is not favorable for strengthening but could aid in severe weather for Florida

GFS 200mb chart from the 6Z run showing the low pressure area at 36 hours. Notice the strong southerly to southwest winds blowing across the storm. This “shear” is not favorable for strengthening but could aid in severe weather for Florida (click to enlarge)

On the other hand, there will be substantial impacts for portions of the Florida peninsula. Exactly where and to what extent remains to be seen.

Winds to tropical storm force, maybe reaching 50 mph in some locations, could be expected but it’s tough to know where right now.

Very heavy rain coming from the warm Gulf of Mexico will move in as early as tomorrow afternoon. This is the biggest impact that I see for now and could cause localized flooding. It will be important to monitor your local NWS information and news sources as this will be a dynamic, constantly evolving part of the storm. In other words, it will come down to where the heavy rain bands or squall line(s) set up. Your area could get several inches of rain, along with strong gusty winds, or very little at all. We won’t know until the system is within radar range of NWS sites along the Florida west coast.

Coastal flooding will be a concern in typical onshore, surge prone areas of the west coast. I’ll know more about this once the NHC issues advisories and releases their storm surge and coastal flooding forecasts. I can highlight this better in my video discussion, especially tomorrow.

Severe weather as a whole could be a problem as well. With the very strong upper level wind pattern, it won’t take much to produce isolated tornadic thunderstorms along with possible strong down burst winds during the passage of the storm system. Again, there is no way to know where this might occur until we can see the storms on radar. The severe weather threat is high enough to warrant considerable concern, it’s just impossible to know precisely where and when.

Once the low moves across Florida on Tuesday, it will quickly move in to the Atlantic and could become stronger as it moves out to sea. The impacts along the Atlantic side won’t be as pronounced but even up the coast from Georgia to North Carolina could see heavy rain from the storm – it all depends on the angle of its track once it emerges in to the Atlantic.

I will post a video discussion shortly to follow up on the blog post for today. As new information comes in throughout the day, I will post updates on Twitter and our Facebook page – so be sure to follow along if you’re not already. We also have an app that consolidates all of our info in to one nice package. Search Hurricane Impact in the app store or Google Play.

M. Sudduth 10:25 AM ET June 5

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High chance of seeing another tropical system develop and head towards Florida

Track forecasts from the various computer models showing the potential for a Fllorida landfall from what ever develops in the Gulf of Mexico early next week

Track forecasts from the various computer models showing the potential for a Fllorida landfall from what ever develops in the Gulf of Mexico early next week

The tropics continue to be busy during this young hurricane season with another system developing in the northwest Caribbean Sea this weekend. This time, it will track towards Florida and bring with it copious amounts of rain and the possibility of severe weather.

Overnight, shower and thunderstorm activity has increased quite substantially over portions of the northwest Caribbean Sea. The latest outlook from the National Hurricane Center gives an 80% chance of the system developing in to at least a tropical depression over the next few days. As it slowly organizes, the disturbance will bring heavy rain and occasional gusty winds to portions of the Yucatan peninsula this weekend. After that time, what should eventually become perhaps a tropical storm will move northward in to the Gulf of Mexico and then turn northeast towards Florida.

So far, the computer models only show modest strengthening due to strong upper level winds that will be present over the top of the system as it moves towards Florida. This should keep the wind from being too strong and I do not see any evidence right now to suggest a hurricane threat. On the other hand, I think we all know by now that one does not need a hurricane to have big problems, especially when considering the very heavy rain that is likely headed for Florida.

It is difficult to know this far in advance which areas will receive the heaviest rain. Right now, it looks as though south Florida will be spared the worst of the weather while points farther north, especially along the west coast, could be in for a rough start to the week. The possibility of severe weather exists too as strong upper level winds tearing across the tropical system will help to aid in severe thunderstorms which could bring their own locally intense down burst winds and the chance for tornadoes. This is something that people in the region will need to monitor closely over the next few days.

Once the system develops further, assuming that it does, we will know more about specific impacts to Florida. I think the bottom line is that we will be looking at a large, low-end tropical storm from a wind perspective, with plenty of heavy rain and possible severe weather. While not a hurricane threat, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of understanding all of the hazards associated with even “weak” tropical storms.

I will have another update on this system tomorrow morning.

M. Sudduth 9:00 AM June 4

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Bonnie leaving, now we turn attention to the Gulf of Mexico

Tropical depression Bonnie well off the NC coast this morning, finally moving away

Tropical depression Bonnie well off the NC coast this morning, finally moving away

After hanging around the Carolina coast for several days, the year’s second named storm is finally moving on. Tropical depression Bonnie is far enough off the North Carolina coast to finally have taken the rain with it. This trend will continue and eventually, the system will become absorbed within a larger weather pattern and that will be that – no more issues from Bonnie.

In the east Pacific, invest area 91-E is struggling a bit as of late with limited convection associated with it. As such, the NHC has lowered the chance for further development to 60% over the next five days. The system remains well to the southwest of Mexico and there are no indications that it will be turning back towards land even if it does manage to develop.

Now we turn our attention to the Gulf of Mexico where it is possible that we will have to deal with a broad low pressure area that is forecast to take shape over the coming days.

Computer models are in generally good agreement that energy arriving from the Caribbean Sea will gradually consolidate around the Yucatan peninsula this weekend, eventually making its way in to the southern Gulf of Mexico where it could become a tropical storm.

GFS computer model output showing weak low pressure in the Gulf of Mexico early next week. Notice how almost all of the "heavy weather" is located on the east side of the low, a sign of a generally disogranied, sheared system

GFS computer model output showing weak low pressure in the Gulf of Mexico early next week. Notice how almost all of the “heavy weather” is located on the east side of the low, a sign of a generally disorganized, sheared system

Before folks get too worried about this, let me say that this is not something that appears to be a big wind and surge issue, if it forms at all. What does concern me is the chance for heavy rain for parts of the Florida peninsula next week. As we have seen in Texas with the continued bombardment of rain there, freshwater flooding is a big deal, even coming from so-called “weak” or “lopsided” tropical storms. Even though nothing like that has affected Texas so far this year, rain is rain and the resulting flooding can be devastating and dangerous.

Taking a look at the latest GFS computer model, we can clearly see the overall disorganized look to this potential system at around the 96 hour mark. The low pressure center hangs back over the Gulf while most of the rain and any wind would be located on the east side. This is very typical of June tropical storms due to the fact that upper level winds are still strong across the region, pushing the system faster than it can line up vertically and become better organized, such as what we would see in a hurricane. In this case, even though water temperatures are warm enough for a hurricane, the pattern does not look anywhere near conducive enough for that to take place.

Right now, the NHC is giving the future disturbance a 50% chance of developing. We’ll see if this goes up over the coming days, which I suspect it might. However, what could end up happening is that we just see a broad, strung out low pressure area develop, almost like a frontal wave instead of a true tropical storm, and head towards Florida with plenty of rain.

Elsewhere in the tropics, nothing of concern brewing and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. I’ll have an in-depth look at everything I mentioned in this post during my daily video discussion which will be posted later this afternoon.

M. Sudduth 7:10 AM ET June 3

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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. HurricaneTrack.com 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

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