Window of development opportunity coming up?

It’s still early June and typically this time of the hurricane season means that things are usually quiet. Every once in a while we will get a June tropical storm or hurricane, but it’s not the norm. As most of you know, the season really begins to ramp up from about mid-August on. Usually….

This season might not be usual.

I am seeing the beginnings of signs that may point to a development window opening over the next week to ten days and beyond.

GFS and its ensemble members indicating a more favorable MJO state coming up for portions of the Western Hemisphere over the next couple of weeks

GFS and its ensemble members indicating a more favorable MJO state coming up for portions of the Western Hemisphere over the next couple of weeks

For starters, the Madden-Julian Oscillation or MJO is forecast by the GFS and Euro models to be moving in to the phase that often supports development somewhere within the Atlantic Basin. The MJO phenomenon is easy to think of as a period of fertility in the tropics, when deep convection can form and blossom, not just fizzle out and dissipate. While the MJO helps to enhance development it does not necessarily mean that development is a certainty.

The upcoming signal from the MJO is not especially strong but it is there (forecast to be there anyway) and could lead to better upper level winds over parts of the southeast Pacific and extending in to the western Caribbean and western Gulf. With water temps plenty warm in the region, all we need is a kick and it could lead to development in one basin or the other, maybe both. We will have to just wait and see.

If we look at the GFS operational model at the 850 millibar level which is about 5k feet up, we can see one week out from today that a wind shift or monsoonal trough begins to set up from the southeast Pacific, across Central America and in to the western Caribbean. This would act like a focusing mechanism for the air to come together or converge, probably leading to enhanced convection (thunderstorms) across the region.

GFS model at 168 hrs showing (yellow area) a wind shift and overall troff of low pressure stretched out over a large area, we call this a "monsson trough" and it can lead to development if conditions allow

GFS model at 168 hrs showing (yellow area) a wind shift and overall troughof low pressure stretched out over a large area, we call this a “monsoon trough” and it can lead to development if conditions allow

This large counter-clockwise “gyre” is so spread out that in and of itself it wouldn’t develop. We would need to see if an area of concentrated energy or vorticity breaks off and tries to develop out of this larger area of energy. If so, then a low pressure area could get going either in the Pacific or the western Caribbean – leading to the chance of a tropical depression or storm at some point.

As you can tell, the process is long and complex. I am not going to dwell on it day after day for two weeks but it is something to keep an eye on. At the very least, more rainfall than normal may be setting up for portions of Central America and it may lead to a named storm on one side of Central America or the other. Time will tell.

Then there is this interesting set up taking shape: The ECMWF (Euro) is indicating the possibility of an easterly wave (tropical wave) trying to develop way out in the deep tropics between Africa and the Lesser Antilles. Remember, water temps out this way are running above the long term average. If we do in fact see a strong area of energy emerge from Africa, it could take advantage of the warmer water and more favorable conditions overallĀ  and try to develop some. This would be highly unusual and a significant sign in my opinion that this season could be quite busy. Again, time will tell.

We live in an age when computer guidance and satellite information allows us to see in to the future of weather forecasting better than ever before. These early warning signs are helpful since we should no longer be totally caught off guard. It may not prevent a “Labor Day hurricane of 1935” scenario in which case we saw a TS become a Cat-5 hurricane in a very short amount of time but the advances in technology now allows us to be more aware than ever that a threat from the tropics is looming (or could be looming). My point is, do not be alarmed or worried. There’s no reason for that. Instead, be aware. We were told the season could be busier than average and these are possible signs of that happening. So just take note and pay attention a little more than normal perhaps. Applaud the fact that we have such tools at our disposal and as long as we know how to interpret them, it can be a good thing. After all, with such much at stake along our coastlines (all of us, not just the USA), the more lead-time the better; at least I think so anyway.

I’ll have more on Monday during my video discussion.

M. Sudduth 1:20 pm ET June 9

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Hurricane watch for portions of Haiti, all of Jamaica

Recent visible satellite image of Matthew. Notice the clearer eye now, it had been clouded over earlier in the morning.

Recent visible satellite image of Matthew. Notice the clearer eye now, it had been clouded over earlier in the morning.

The latest update from the NHC now indicates a hurricane watch for two areas in the Caribbean Sea: all of Jamaica and the western portion of Haiti. This means that hurricane conditions are possible in the watch area within the next 48 hours or so.

Matthew continues to move slowly west with winds of 145 mph. Some westerly shear has impacted the circulation and caused the hurricane to weaken overnight from its incredible peak of 160 mph. As of this writing, the eye seems to be clearing out again meaning that perhaps some slight re-organization is taking place but these ups and downs are to be expected, especially with exceptionally strong hurricanes. It is likely that Matthew will be a strong hurricane as it approaches Jamaica and western Haiti on Monday.

Interests in the two island regions need to be preparing for a hurricane at this time. Heavy rain, which will surely lead to flash flooding and mudslides in the mountains of the two countries, along with dangerous seas and high winds will be the expected impacts. To what extent each of these hazards will affect the area remains to be seen. We will know more tomorrow as Matthew gets closer and we can see how strong and well organized it is. Obviously the closer the core tracks to either location, the more pronounced the effects will be.

Next up will be a landfall in southeast Cuba along the Caribbean coast. The mountain range that runs east-west across Cuba at that latitude will disrupt the circulation of Matthew some but it is forecast to reach category three intensity once again over the very warm waters of the southwest Atlantic.

The next few days are fairly certain in terms of the forecast track for Matthew. It’s what happens after Cuba that has tremendous uncertainty. Essentially it’s another duel between the GFS global model and the ECMWF global model with other models picking sides either way. Instead of trying to figure it all out with lengthy explanations of why one model shows this and why one shows that I want to set a benchmark – point in space and time to watch for.

If Matthew goes over Jamaica, the center of the hurricane that is, then the GFS seems to have the right forecast so far. If it goes over Haiti, then the latest runs of the ECMWF are doing better. We will absolutely know the “winner” by Monday. It’s that simple in terms of the short-term (3-day) window of which model is performing best on track. From there, we will have ample time to prepare in the Bahamas and the United States as needed.

I will post one or two video discussions on Matthew later today here, our YouTube channel and to our app, Hurricane Impact.

M. Sudduth 11:05 AM ET Oct 1

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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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Model guidance duel continues as 99L tries to organize

Satellite image clearly showing that the low level center, weak as it may be, remains exposed due to strong upper level winds

Satellite image clearly showing that the low level center, weak as it may be, remains exposed due to strong upper level winds (click for full size)

The overnight runs of the various computer models did not really get us any closer to “knowing” the outcome of what becomes of 99L.

As it stands now, the tropical wave continues to slowly get better organized over the warm waters of the extreme southwest Atlantic – but I emphasize the word “slowly”. It seems that strong upper level winds are continuing over the system, preventing the thunderstorms from persisting and wrapping around the broad area of low pressure situated just north of eastern Hispaniola.

Despite the lack of organization, strong winds are being observed in the convection that itself is well removed from the low level center (poorly defined low level center). In addition, heavy rain is spreading over portions of Hispaniola and this is cause for great concern due to the risk of flash floods and mudslides. Remember, there are some fairly tall mountains in the region and tropical rain fall can lead to lethal flooding and tremendous damage.

The wave of low pressure is forecast to continue moving off to the west-northwest today and tomorrow, reaching the southeast Bahamas during that time frame. From there, it is likely to track through the Bahamas and toward Florida this weekend.

Early morning run of the HWRF model showing a strengthening hurricane in the eastern Gulf of Mexico in about 96 hours

Early morning run of the HWRF model showing a strengthening hurricane in the eastern Gulf of Mexico in about 96 hours (click for full size)

Now the tricky part: how strong does this system get – if at all? My answer: I honestly don’t know. The computer guidance is very confusing with the majority of the U.S. generated models, such as the GFS and the hurricane-specific HWRF model both showing little to no development, at least not in the short term. It is interesting to note that the HWRF, which stands for Hurricane Weather Research Forecast, is now indicating significant strengthening in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, around days 4 and 5. I am skeptical since that same model has had a very difficult time developing 99L much at all the past day or so.

On the other hand, consistency has been the rule for the much talked about ECMWF model or Euro. It has not strayed from its forecast of a possible hurricane impacting south Florida later this weekend. From there, it goes on to strengthen and make landfall up near the Big Bend area as a formidable hurricane. Needless to say, this is quite concerning but exactly how much stock do we put in to it? I just don’t know what to make of all this right now. On the one hand, the remarkable run to run track record of the Euro makes me think it could have the correct overall solution – that being a potential hurricane for some portion of Florida in the coming days. Conversely, the lack of development seen by the GFS and the waffling of the HWRF model for track and intensity makes me wonder: will anything happen at all?

ECMWF from the overnight run showing tropical storm conditions for the southern portion of Florida this weekend

ECMWF from the overnight run showing tropical storm conditions for the southern portion of Florida this weekend

All of this is not good for the public and the perception of how hurricane forecasting is “supposed” to be. Usually we don’t keep waiting and waiting just to see if a system will develop. The advantage, if you’re going to have to deal with a hurricane, is knowing it is coming in the first place. The “what if” scenario here is a little unsettling.

Let’s suppose that 99L does indeed wait until 24 hours before landfall in south Florida, assuming it does in fact take a path in that direction. If it were to quickly intensify over the very warm waters, how fast would it ramp up? Could it become a hurricane rapidly? Yes it could. We’ve seen it before but it’s been a while. Katrina in 2005 was on a fairly steady pace to strengthen as it approached SE Florida from the Bahamas but we at least knew it was a strong possibility well ahead of time. People will react better to a named storm or a hurricane headed their way than to a tropical wave. At least that’s my thought on the matter. This is a tough situation as the longer we wait, the less time there is to get ready if the need arises. While we would all like to wish that everyone along the coast was prepared anyway, we know the reality and it makes for quite the sitting duck in situations like this.

The afternoon runs of the various models (actually based on morning data) will be quite telling – or not. Questions about whether or not the GFS steps it up and develops 99L may be answered. What if it has the answer already and nothing much is going to happen to begin with? Maybe if the Euro suddenly shows little to no development we can at least say, ok, two major global models now show a low impact event. We will just have to wait and see. Either we know more or are stuck with dueling models once again.

I will post more here this afternoon including my daily video discussion.

M. Sudduth 8:50 AM ET Aug 25

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