Rare January tropical activity in Pacific, possible subtropical storm for Atlantic

You have no doubt heard plenty about the record-setting El Niño in the Pacific. It has been blamed for a litany of foul weather across the globe; whether all of those events are directly related to the El Niño remains to be seen.

Now we can add a rare January tropical storm to the list of El Niño-induced weather anomalies. The Central Pacific Hurricane Center (CPHC) is tracking tropical storm Pali, well to the southwest of Hawaii, not far from the Equator actually.

Check out the tracking map and you’ll see that the storm is located unusually far to the south and this is likely one of the reasons why the storm formed in the first place. Add the very warm El Niño water and a perfectly-timed westerly wind burst from the tropics and the result is a January tropical storm.

Tropical storm Pali tracking map from the CPHC

Tropical storm Pali tracking map from the CPHC

No worries about Pali – it is forecast to basically meander slowly well away from significant land masses and poses no threat to Hawaii. Still, it is yet another in a series of interesting, if not record setting, events that the current El Nino is at least indirectly associated with.

Meanwhile, the Atlantic, or more accurately, the subtropical Atlantic, has its own storm system worth watching.

Ocean storm in the vicinity of Bermuda that has a chance to become a subtropical storm over the next few days

Ocean storm in the vicinity of Bermuda that has a chance to become a subtropical storm over the next few days

The National Hurricane Center issued a special outlook product yesterday highlighting a strong ocean storm between the Bahamas and Bermuda. While currently non-tropical in nature, meaning that the storm has more or less the characteristics of a Nor’easter over warm water, there is a chance that environmental conditions, part of which also include warmer than usual water temps, could lead to the storm becoming more subtropical in the coming days. This basically means that the storm separates itself from any frontal boundaries in the vicinity and becomes more focused with deeper convection or thunderstorms closer to the center. This is typical of ocean storms that form out of the tropics or what we call the subtropics. Thus, it’s deemed a subtropical storm, kind of a first cousin to a classic warm-core tropical storm that we are more used to tracking during summer and fall.

Right now, the type of storm matters little for interests in Bermuda. The weather has been stormy for the past day or so with periods of heavy rain and gusty winds. The fresh water collected on the string of small islands is always appreciated but this unusual weather pattern is making for an unpleasant few days for the region.

Computer models indicate that the storm system will move generally east-southeast and make its way in to the open subtropical Atlantic. Water temperatures are not warm enough for a pure tropical storm to develop but it is possible that enough energy can be drawn from the Atlantic to allow the storm to acquire what I described before: more subtropical characteristics. If so, it would be named and would be Alex, subtropical storm Alex that is.

Once past Bermuda the storm poses no threat to land and is likely to be on the weather map for quite a few days since steering currents look to leave it hanging around out over the Atlantic in to next week.

So there you have it. The year is starting off with some interesting things to talk about even in the face of an obvious lack of cold and snow for most of the East. Will this change anytime soon? Probably. For now, the most interesting weather seems to be over the oceans with little sign of any big winter storms looming for the Lower 48. However, it’s still early January, as with hurricane season, we know how quickly things can change.

I’ll post more on the Pacific and Atlantic systems over the weekend.

M. Sudduth 8:40 AM January 8

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No worries, a repeat of Sandy not likely this time around

Energy emerging from the Southeast U.S. should form a surface low out in the Atlantic, well east of Florida in the coming days

Energy emerging from the Southeast U.S. should form a surface low out in the Atlantic, well east of Florida in the coming days

Once word got out today about the ECMWF global model predicting a coastal storm that had a track similar to Sandy, the buzz began. As you can imagine, a lot of people are still quite a bit on edge across portions of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast not quite a year after the most devastating storm event in recent memory. The good news this evening is this: what ever is going to form over the Atlantic in the coming days simply lacks the major ingredients to become another Sandy.

However, a storm along the coast is something to take seriously, especially if it were to track close enough to cause significant problems. A lot will depend, as it always does, on where the storm moves and how strong it is. Each day, the models will paint a slightly different picture but the outcome is probably the same generally speaking – it’s possible that a subtropical type storm will impact portions of the U.S. East Coast this weekend and in to early next week. This seems even more likely for interests in the Canadian Maritimes.

Right now, the players, if you will, are still gathering on the field. We need a couple of more days for the sophisticated models to ingest the upper air data and other parameters that go in to their super-computer calculations before we can really get a grasp on what we might be dealing with.

As for the worry of another epic event like Sandy, put that to rest. This is more like an early Autumn Nor’easter and not an extreme event, not yet anyway. I say that only because you never say never with the weather. I think that Sandy has one very positive lingering effect: its legacy will motivate people to pay closer attention and take action when needed. Kind of the “fool me once….” saying playing out. People are smart and won’t be caught unaware and the increase in people talking about this potential event is evidence of that in my opinion – thus it’s a positive thing.

So let’s see what the next day or two of model cycles bring forth. There will be plenty of people looking at this within the government and private weather firms. I will be curious to read various forecast discussions, particularly from New Jersey and New York. I’ll talk more about that in tomorrow’s post.

M. Sudduth 7:25 pm ET Sept 24

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Subtropics rule the season

Hurricane Chris set the tone for the remainder of the Atlantic hurricane season

Hurricane Chris set the tone for the remainder of the Atlantic hurricane season

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.

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