Hurricane threat growing for Caribbean as long range outlook very uncertain

Morning model plots showing a general west track for the next several days.

Morning model plots showing a general west track for the next several days.

It has been a strange year for Atlantic hurricane activity. So many sputtering, long-lived but relatively weak systems have formed with minimal impact overall to land areas. Luck has been kind to us for sure but I am not so sure it can hold out for much longer.

We should have a tropical depression or possibly even a tropical storm by later today just east of the Windward Islands. We will know a lot more once the Hurricane Hunters fly out late today for on-site info from the low pressure area. Right now, it certainly looks like it is well on its way to developing but it needs a defined low level center of circulation and the recon crew can confirm whether or not that exists.

Whether or not this becomes a tropical depression or a storm before reaching the Windward Islands will not change the outcome for that region very much. Squally weather will move in beginning later tomorrow with tropical storm conditions likely across a good deal of the Windwards, especially to the north of where the center passes. Expect heavy rain, gusty winds and building seas as the low pressure area moves in.

Once past the islands, what should be Matthew at that point will have an opportunity to strengthen and become a hurricane. The upper ocean heat content in the Caribbean Sea is ample and could support a very intense hurricane if upper level winds allow.

As far as where the system tracks over the next five to seven days? More than likely, we’ll see a westward movement in to the central Caribbean not too far north off the coast of South America. As such, the so-called ABC islands could feel some impacts from this system. We simply need to wait and see to know the depth of those impacts as the week progresses.

Obviously areas such as Hispaniola, Jamaica, Cuba and the Cayman Islands should all be watching the progress of this system very closely. Before any possible impacts along the U.S. coast would happen, the islands along the northern Caribbean could be hit first. There’s no question about it, the next few days will be full of anxious moments as we wait and see how the steering pattern evolves.

A lot of talk has been made of recent runs of the GFS model which takes the storm/hurricane north out of the Caribbean and along or just off the U.S. East Coast. With a huge area of high pressure building over Canada and the Northeast this could be a bad scenario for a large stretch of coastline. But will it happen this way? It is impossible to know right now. Other model guidance shows a slower moving system that tracks farther to the west with potential tracks in to the Gulf of Mexico. Split the difference and Florida becomes a target.

So what do we do? My advice: just keep up to date with the latest info and be ready to react if this comes your way. No one has the answer right now. I sure don’t. It’s just like last year at this same time ironically when Joaquin was a threat to the Mid-Atlantic according to the American generated models. You remember that duel right? The Euro was the outlier it seemed and yet it turned out to be correct and Joaquin missed the United States. Right now we simply don’t have enough to go on in terms of making a forecast of where this ends up in a week to ten days. As I often say, it’s hurricane season and people should be ready for anything no matter what.

M. Sudduth 12:45 PM ET Sept 27

Tropics look to remain busy as we leave summer behind

Aside from Karl and Lisa which will both turn out to sea, I will be watching this area of energy moving off the coast of Africa. Several of the computer models indicate the chance for this to develop next week as it moves westward.

Aside from Karl and Lisa which will both turn out to sea, I will be watching this area of energy moving off the coast of Africa. Several of the computer models indicate the chance for this to develop next week as it moves westward.

Summer is over. Football season is back. Baseball begins to look ahead to the World Series and soon enough the big box stores will roll out the Christmas displays. Yes, fall 2016 is here but will the hurricanes follow? So far, it’s been fairly benign with the exception of Earl and Hermine – both category one hurricanes with limited overall impacts. As we begin to look ahead to cooler nights, shorter days and eventually frost on the pumpkins, we still have to be wary of potential threats from the tropics.

Right now, we have two tropical storms, both of which have been struggling due to stronger upper level winds than normal across the tropical Atlantic. One of those storms, Karl, should become a hurricane as it turns north and eventually northeast and away from the United States. Karl may pass close enough to Bermuda to warrant a tropical storm warning at some point but the impacts should be minimal since the track will be to the south and east of the region. Hopefully, for the sake of the surfing community along the East Coast, Karl can strengthen over open water and at least send some increased swells back towards the coast. We’ll have to just wait and see about that.

Meanwhile, Lisa is also suffering from adverse environmental conditions which will limit strengthening as the storm moves on a path towards the open Atlantic as we get in to the weekend.

This leaves us with a new pattern setting up as we get in to early next week. There are two distinct areas that I will be watching: the western Gulf of Mexico and the deep tropics between Africa and the Windward Islands.

The first significant cold front of the season will finally drop in to Texas and push off in to the western Gulf of Mexico where we might see a low develop sometime next week. How strong and organized this low might be remains to be seen but dropping a frontal boundary in to the Gulf where water temps are in the upper 80s is just asking for something to pop up. Obviously this needs to be watched closely since it would be close to land already.

The other area I will be watching is the deep tropics as we get in to next week as well. For several days in a row, the general consensus of the global models is to develop a low pressure area at quite a low latitude and send it west towards the Windward Islands. Right now, there is a tropical wave and weak area of energy moving through west Africa that would be the seedling of this potential low pressure system. It’s days away from getting better organized but the remarkable consistency in the models leads me to believe it is at least worth watching. Given the lower latitude that it would be tracking along, the odds of it turning out to sea early are reduced and as such, it could be an issue for the eastern Caribbean later next week.

I will go over all of these areas in greater detail during my daily video discussion which will be posted early this afternoon here, on our YouTube channel and in our app.

M. Sudduth 9:15 AM ET Sept 22

Tropics going to be very busy for a while

TS Karl track map from the NHC. Click for full size.

TS Karl track map from the NHC. Click for full size.

We are past the mid-way point of the month and the climatological peak of the hurricane season. However, I do not think that means things will begin to calm down. Instead, it looks as though the Atlantic Basin will be very busy over the next few weeks.

Let’s begin with Julia. It’s interesting that the storm is even there in the first place since it was not forecast by any of the global models – yet, there it is. Ever since it was named it has defied almost every forecast that the NHC has put out on it. Fortunately Julia is far enough off the coast and is being sheared to the point where it is not much of an issue anyway. Strong upper level winds will likely keep it from wrapping the deep thunderstorms around the center. As for movement? Probably a slow drift pretty much where it now for the next couple of days. This will result in continued elevated rip currents for the Carolinas and Georgia but the rain and any wind will likely be well offshore.

Next up is a tropical disturbance with limited thunderstorm activity over the northwest Gulf of Mexico. Time is running out for this to develop much further but it could bring periods of showers and thunderstorms with locally gusty winds to Texas and Louisiana before moving inland this weekend.

My main concern right now is tropical storm Karl. It was upgraded from TD12 last night and is moving west over the tropical Atlantic. The overall area of energy with Karl is very impressive but it means that it could take some time for it to consolidate and strengthen. Dry air out ahead of it will likely slow its growth but this will allow it to track well to the west with time.

The NHC, along with several of the intensity models, indicate that Karl will eventually find itself within an environment more conducive for strengthening. Warmer sea surface temperatures along with less and less shearing wind just might allow the storm to become a hurricane later in the forecast period.

As we track Karl, we should see a notable bend to the south in a couple of days as strong high pressure builds to its north. I do not think that this southward push will be enough to make it a direct threat to the Lesser Antilles. All of the guidance suggests a path well to the north of the islands but we cannot be 100% sure just yet.

As for what happens beyond the five day time period – a lot will depend on how far west Karl has tracked and how strong the western Atlantic high pressure area is at the time. It is simply impossible to know this far out whether or not the pattern favors any impacts for the East Coast or Bermuda for that matter. We are going to have to wait and see how things pan out as we move through mid-week next week. I suspect that Karl will have a lot of people talking and speculating on where it’s headed. For now, we have ample time to watch it and let the pattern evolve. It’s peak time during hurricane season – we should be ready for anything.

After Karl moves farther west across the Atlantic, I suspect we will have another area of low pressure to move off of Africa and try to develop. The global models are in generally good agreement on this and it’s possible that we could have Karl and Lisa on the map at the same time.

I will be watching things very closely over the weekend. Check back here, or our app, for new blog posts. I’ll also post video discussions covering what to watch for with all of these systems over the next several days.

M. Sudduth 12:40 PM ET Sept 16

TS Ian forms out in open central Atlantic; otherwise, all is quiet

Visible satellite image showing TS Ian and not much else for the time being. Click for full size image.

Visible satellite image showing TS Ian and not much else for the time being. Click for full size image.

Hard to believe that it is close to mid-September and the only track-able feature is a highly sheared tropical storm named Ian.

The NHC upgraded what was invest area 94L to tropical storm Ian around 11am this morning. Top winds are 40 mph but mainly within what little organized convection the storm is able to generate. Strong upper level winds are pushing the deep thunderstorms away from the low level center and this will limit the development of Ian and could keep it from becoming a hurricane.

There is almost zero chance that Ian will directly impact the United States or any other area of the western Atlantic. Steering currents are such that a south to north movement will continue for now followed by a gradual turn to the northeast and in to the far North Atlantic. Ian will generate a few ACE points for the season but that’s about it.

Ian is the ninth named storm to form in 2016 and replaces Igor which itself replaced Ivan, both powerful hurricanes with lasting impacts worthy of having those names retired from the list. Ivan was a devastating hurricane from the 2004 season and so Igor replaced that name in 2010. As fate would have it, Igor was destined for infamy due to its destructive path which included massive damage in Newfoundland after brushing past Bermuda in the latter half of September 2010. I don’t think Ian is in jeopardy of having its name replaced this cycle.

Wind shear analysis where red is unfavorable. As you can see, the Atlantic Basin is full of strong upper level winds. Click for full size image.

Wind shear analysis where red is unfavorable. As you can see, the Atlantic Basin is full of strong upper level winds. Click for full size image.

As for the rest of the tropics – the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico are all free and clear of any potential development threats. Strong upper level winds dominate the pattern right now and I do not see this changing anytime soon. There is plenty of warm water available, much of it above the long-term average in terms of temperature but without a favorable atmosphere, warm water alone is not enough.

Meanwhile out in the western Pacific, a typhoon with 180+ mph winds is tracking towards Taiwan and mainland China. This will be one to watch over the coming days as it is the equivalent to a category five hurricane. Forecast models suggest that it may track just far enough south of Taiwan to avoid a direct hit but this would mean a stronger impact for China a couple of days later. I’ll take a look at this and more in my video discussion which will be posted later this afternoon.

M. Sudduth 11:55 AM ET Sept 12

Atlantic generally quiet, only a couple of areas to monitor

NHC graphical tropical weather outlook map showing two areas to watch over the coming days

NHC graphical tropical weather outlook map showing two areas to watch over the coming days

I’ll keep this fairly short and to the point as there really isn’t much to talk about right now.

Now that Hermine has come and gone things are quieting down for the time being. There are a couple of areas to monitor over the next few days but none seem ready to develop any time soon and certainly are of no concern for land areas.

The first feature is a broad area of low pressure that developed some fairly organized deep convection over night out to the east of the northern Leeward Islands. The NHC says in their morning outlook that any development should be slow to occur. I don’t see much in the computer models to suggest this system will do much but it’s there and is tracking over warm water at the peak of hurricane season so we’ll certainly keep an eye on it.

Next up is a large tropical wave and overall area of disorganized showers and thunderstorms in the far eastern Atlantic not too far off the coast of Africa. Here too, conditions seem only marginal for what ever reason and I expect development to be quite slow if at all. There just seems to be something missing from the Atlantic Basin again this season and it’s preventing the tropical waves from getting going like we saw from 2004 through 2008. Perhaps it’s a sign that things have changed back to a more normal or even inactive period of hurricane activity in the Atlantic. I just don’t know and we really won’t know unless this keeps going for a year or two more. For now, let’s enjoy the quiet spell since we know all to well what the alternative is.

M. Sudduth 8:40 AM ET Sept 8