It has been a rather odd hurricane season so far. I say this because most of the activity, the stronger activity anyway, has developed well outside of the usual breeding grounds of the deep tropics.
Hurricane Chris, which formed back in the latter half of June, did so at 41.1 N latitude! That is incredible for so far north so early in the season.
Next up was hurricane Ernesto, the only hurricane to form south of 20 N latitude this season out of eight total hurricanes so far. However, Ernesto struggled to become a hurricane until right before landfall, another common trait this season as we’ll see with Isaac.
Gordon became the season’s third hurricane and again, well outside of the deep tropics, attaining hurricane status at 34.0 N latitude while heading for the Azores Islands.
Then there was Isaac. Several times during Isaac’s life span it looked as though it could become a powerful hurricane. Instead, Isaac struggled with dry air and the lack of an inner core all the way in to the north-central Gulf of Mexico. One private weather firm loudly proclaimed that Isaac could be another Katrina or worse! And yet the fourth hurricane of the season only managed to reach 80 miles per hour before making landfall in Louisiana. While Isaac was a large hurricane and caused significant flooding from surge and fresh water flooding, it was not a very convectively active hurricane with a well defined inner core. This kept the winds at flight level that were being measured by recon from reaching the surface. Fortunately for residents of the central Gulf Coast, Isaac was only a fraction of the intensity that we all know it could have been had environmental conditions been more favorable.
It took all the way until hurricane Kirk on August 30 to finally get a category two hurricane. And of course, this happened while Kirk was well out of the deep tropics, affecting only shipping interests.
Leslie also had promise to become a large and intense Atlantic hurricane but it too fell far short of that potential and spared Bermuda with only passing tropical storm conditions. Stronger winds and more pronounced effects were felt in Newfoundland but even here conditions were not as bad as what could have been experienced had Leslie been a much stronger hurricane.
Michael is the season’s only category three hurricane so far and guess what? It made it to this intensity at 29.6 N latitude while out over the open central Atlantic over water temps of about 80 to 81 degrees. That’s it. Just enough to get the small hurricane to really ramp up – and it maintained a strong eye feature for several days. Luckily, Michael was far from land and only padded the ACE index score for the season.
We are still tracking Nadine which has been on the map since the 11th of this month. Nadine became the season’s eighth hurricane on the 14th at 30 N latitude. This is remarkable and a sign that something is definitely “wrong” in the deep tropics this year.
I have heard everything from El Nino to mid-level dry air being responsible for the lack of intense cyclones in the deep tropics. I am sure researchers such as Dr. Philip Klotzbach at Colorado State University will be looking in to the source of this unusual pattern and I look forward to learning more about it myself at next year’s National Hurricane Conference in New Orleans. The obvious benefit here has been a substantial reduction in damage resulting from less intense hurricanes impacting land. What if Ernesto had become a 140 mph cat-4 at landfall along the Yucatan? What if Isaac had become another Katrina and brought 30 feet of surge instead of 12? We know the answers….it would have been horrible. Been there, done that. I am sure no one is complaining about the feeble nature to this season’s hurricanes. I hope too that people are curious as to why? Why would conditions be so hostile in the deep tropics? What was the root cause if it can be pin-pointed down to something that simple? Will this pattern continue for the next several seasons? While we can be thankful for the lack-luster performance of this year’s hurricanes thus far, I think understanding the mechanics of such good fortune (it’s relative, I know, as plenty of people are still cleaning up after Isaac) is important in case we see the reverse take place next season or next month for that matter.
In any case, it all boils down to this: the tropics have been strange this season and strange has meant fairly benign events for us to deal with. So far, it looks to stay that way for the next week at least. Although, once again, we will be looking for possible storm development out in the open central Atlantic, well north of the deep tropics which seem to be closed for repairs….
I’ll have more tomorrow.