Is The U.S. Falling Behind in Weather Forecasting?
Back in late August 2005, the National Hurricane Center was one of, if not the only one, the lone bright spots in terms of the federal government’s handling of Hurricane Katrina. The NHC forecast performed very well, and helped save many more lives along the Gulf Coast. Overall, hurricane forecasting has improved significantly, especially in the area of determining the future track of these storms. However, in recent years, the United States has begun to yield its leading position in the world of forecasting, particularly in numerical weather prediction.
Over the past several seasons, the European Model has done quite well in a several notable storm tracks including Hurricanes Irene (August 2011) and Sandy (October 2012), and most recently with Tropical Storm Karen. While media outlets have begun doing a great job in depicting storm solutions from both the Euro and the GFS (American) models, there always appears to be a nudge toward the GFS.
At the time of the Karen’s emergence in the Southern Gulf of Mexico, the European model was spot on with Karen having it ending up as a weaker storm or depression on a westerly track into Louisiana. Meanwhile, the GFS had the storm taking a more easterly track, being a stronger storm, and possibly a hurricane by the time it was forecasted to come ashore in the area of Mobile, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.
In the end, the Euro fared much better than the GFS as it correctly anticipated the effects of dry air and shear on Karen. The storm had notable success with the track of Hurricane, or Superstorm Sandy. Back then, the European model had indicated as early as October 22nd of last year that Sandy, which was a depression at the time, was going to come ashore in the Mid-Atlantic by the following week as hurricane, nor’easter, or hybrid type storm. Eventually, the GFS as well as the other models came in line with the Euro forecast, but it took another few days before that happened.
Prior to this season, the Euro model had gained the respect of many tropical experts. Many had grown to favor the ECMWF, another name for the Euro, in forecasting the development and track of tropical storms and hurricanes according to John Nelander’s Weather Matters blog at the Palm Beach Daily News. This development has been making many in the meteorological community wonder if the United States is beginning to lose its place as the leader in weather forecasting. Cliff Mass, who writes for his own weather blog, cited the lack of funding and resources, proper management, and effective leadership has caused the U.S. to fall behind the Europeans in numerical weather prediction.
With government agencies such as NOAA and the NWS receiving less and less money from a U.S. government that continues to have problems managing its money by putting more and more resources into such things as defense, there is less than adequate computer power, which is necessary for providing higher resolution models with a vast amount of data points. NOAA is gradually becoming more like NASA, where instead of it leading the way in its field, it is fighting with the Weather Channel and Accu-Weather among others for the attention of viewers.
Despite the increasing success of the Euro model in recent years, there are still some media outlets that give models such as the GFS the benefit of the doubt in recent storms such as Sandy and Karen. The bias brings up comparisons to the time of the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 when the U.S. Weather Bureau discounted the forecasts by its Cuban counterparts, which did a better job forecasting the monster Ctaegory Four storm.
Bottom line is that it is time that we all gave the European model its due. The United States should use this as an opportunity to learn from the Euro, but also challenge itself to reclaim its leadership role in weather forecasting.
Karen Fizzles Before Even Coming Ashore in Gulf
Perhaps history will show that Tropical Storm Karen was the epitome of the 2013 Atlantic Hurricane Season. As a storm typical of the season, Karen had a a lot of potential, but ultimately was done in by hostile environmental factors. Dry air and wind shear did this storm in much like it had killed Chantal, Dorian, Erin, and Gabrielle earlier in the season. Karen began falling apart as the week ended last week, and by mid-morning on Sunday, it had been downgraded to a remnant low.
The storm did its best to hang on for a good 24 to 36 hours starting on Friday evening, but the odds against it were too great. A strong westerly shear over the Western and Central Gulf blew at about 25 miles per hour, and totally separated the brunt of the convection associated with Karen away from its center of circulation. With that separation occurring, there was no room for growth and development. Being a weaker storm, Karen took a more westerly track towards Louisiana before running out of gas some 85 miles to the southwest of the mouth of the Mississippi River.
At its peak, Karen closed in on becoming the season’s third hurricane with 65 mile per hour winds. By the time it was reclassified as a remnant low on Sunday, the winds had decreased to 30 miles per hour. Pressures with the storm had risen some 10 millibars. The European model was right on with Karen. It had indicated that the tropical system would take a more westerly track towards Louisiana as a weaker storm. Many forecasts had followed the GFS thinking of a more easterly track into Alabama and the Florida Panhandle as a more powerful storm. Another result from Karen fizzling was less significant rainfall from the powerful storm system that moved into the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic on Monday afternoon and evening.
Towards the end of last week, GWC had posted about the possibility of significant rains from the combination of the powerful storm system that brought historic snowfall to the Black Hills section of South Dakota and EF4 tornadoes to Nebraska and Iowa, and what was left of Karen. Projections at that time had indicated that the one-two punch would bring anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 inches with isolated areas seeing as much as 4 inches. However, Karen’s remnants stayed more to the west, weakened, and were easily absorbed by the large frontal system. Instead of tracking northward into the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, Karen’s remains ended up pushing across Florida, and sparking thunderstorms there.
Consequently, there was very little rain on Monday in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. Here at GWC in South Plainfield, New Jersey, there was only 0.40 inches of rain. The rainfall came in several rounds of brief downpours as the leading edge of the front pushed through. There were some gusty winds as high as 50 miles per hour. Other towns in New Jersey had more significant weather. Paramus, New Jersey in Bergen County had an EF1 tornado. with winds as high as 100 miles per hour. Places in West Jersey such as Hunterdon County had severe thunderstorms with winds up to 60 miles per hour.
With Karen fizzling out, the 2013 season remains below average in terms of the number of hurricanes and major hurricanes. While there have been 11 depressions and 11 named storms, there have only been two hurricanes, and no major hurricanes. Most importantly though, there have been minimal impacts on the United States coastline. There is still another 53 days left in the season so there’s still time for something to flare up. As a matter of fact, a new disturbance is in the Eastern Atlantic, but it is currently not in an area favorable for development this time of year.
Storm Loses Some Punch As It Becomes Ragged and Disheveled in Gulf
Tropical Storm Karen has been fighting a valiant fight since it formed on Thursday morning, but the odds may be just too much for the storm to overcome. While a Hurricane Watch remains in effect for the Gulf Coast from Grand Isle, Louisiana to Destin, Florida, Karen weakened slightly to just have maximum sustained winds of 60 miles per hour with gusts to 70 mph. Minimum central pressure has risen slightly to 1003 millibars, or 29.62 inches of Hg.
With tropical storm force winds extending some 140 miles from the center of circulation as of the 8:00 AM EDT Advisory from the National Hurricane Center, a Tropical Storm Warning is in effect from Grand Isle, Louisiana to the Mouth of the Pearl River, and a Tropical Storm Watch is in effect from west of Grand Isle, Louisiana to Morgan City, Louisiana including the City of New Orleans, Lake Maurepas, and Lake Pontchartrain. A Tropical Storm Watch is also in effect for portions of the Florida Panhandle from east of Destin, Florida to Indian Pass, Florida.
As it pushes ahead to the North-Northwest at 10 miles per hour some 275 miles to the South-Southwest of the Mouth of the Mississippi River, Karen’s appearance looks much more ragged and disorganized than it did yesterday, and it was a lopsided storm at best before then with the bulk of its convection to the east of its center of circulation. The storm has also slowed down a bit from its forward speed of 13 miles per hour on Thursday. A turn to the right is expected to begin on Friday.
Karen is still over very warm water in the Gulf, but it continues to battle dry air and shear to the north and west of it. The wind shear affecting Karen is as high as 20 to 25 knots, or about 25 to 30 miles per hour. The intensity forecast is problematic at best due to the interaction between Karen, dry air, westerly shear, and a small upper level trough. The strengthening of this system is also dependent on whether or not it begins to make its more easterly turn over water. Some models such as the Canadian model indicate that the turn to the east will not occur until after landfall in Louisiana while the GFS has a much more dramatic turn to the right.
Right now, the European model calls for a 10 millibar drop in pressure with Karen after the turn to the right while the GFS, HWRF, and GFDL indicate much more significant deepening. Regardless of how much it strengthens, the biggest concern with this system will be the rain with rainfall amounts anticipated to be anywhere between 4 to 8 inches with isolated areas receiving as much as a foot. This much rain is the last thing that areas in the Southeast need after a very wet summer with a rainfall surplus of over a foot. Storm surges along the Gulf Coast could be as high as 3 to 5 feet.
All residents along the Gulf Coast from Morgan City to Tampa should continue to monitor the situation with Karen, and make necessary preparations.
Post-Tropical Cyclone Is Expected To Dissipate In A Couple Days
With all concerns focused on Tropical Storm Karen in the Gulf over the past couple days, what was left of Tropical Storm Jerry faded away in the Central Atlantic. After becoming a depression on Wednesday night, Jerry continued its downward spiral on Thursday as it became a remnant low by late afternoon.
Forming as a depression in the Central Atlantic late last Saturday night, Jerry became the tenth named storm of the season on Monday, but didn’t really strengthen much during its life. The storm peaked with 50 mile per hour winds on Monday night, but began to weaken in the face of hostile atmospheric conditions in its vicinity. Winds dropped to minimal storm strength on Tuesday night as it meandered some 1,300 miles to the east of Bermuda.
Jerry capped a modest month of September by Tropical Atlantic activity standards. Five depressions, four named storms, and two hurricanes formed during the statistical peak month of the season. However, there were no major hurricanes, and none of the systems made landfall in the United States. With the development of Karen in the past 24 hours, there have been 11 depressions, 11 named storms, 2 hurricanes, and no major hurricanes.
The bulk of the season is behind us now, but there still remains a secondary statistical peak in October, and another 58 days left in the season.
Remnants of Newly Formed Tropical Storm Could Bring Much Needed Soaking Rains
Within the past hour on Thursday morning, Tropical Storm Karen emerged in the Gulf of Mexico after Hurricane Hunter aircraft detected a closed circulation with the system as well as strong thunderstorms with winds up to 60 miles per hour. While there is disagreement among the forecast models on how strong it will be and where it will go, there is a likelihood that what is left from Karen will bring some significant rains into the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic next week.
Located in the Southeastern Gulf just off the coast of the Northern Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, Karen already has winds of 60 miles per hour, and is forecast to make landfall anywhere between Morgan City, Louisiana and Indian Pass, Florida sometime this weekend. Beyond that though, the storm will be a rainmaker as it combines with a winter storm coming out of the Rockies. Winter Storm Atlas as it is called by the Weather Channel is bringing a dual threat of heavy snows in the higher elevations of the Rockies and severe storms and possible tornadoes in the upper Midwest states of Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin.
The official five day track from the National Hurricane Center has Karen coming ashore in the area of Mobile, Alabama early Sunday afternoon, and then pushing to the Northeast across Georgia and the Southern Appalachians on Monday before moving into the Mid-Atlantic early Tuesday morning. The combination of the two storms will bring a good deal of moisture to New Jersey as well as the rest of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. It will be welcome rain though. Over the last 45 days here at GWC in South Plainfield, there have been 35 days of no measurable rainfall. Twenty-six of those days have come in the past month. Only 2.99 inches of rain has fallen here in the last month and a half.
The GFS indicates that rain will start falling on Monday morning, and become very heavy during the evening hours into early Tuesday morning. Rainfall amounts could be as high as two inches by the time the remnants of Karen and the leftovers from the winter storm out west move out of the area. The European model has the remnants combining with the winter storm out west, and moving into our region by Monday night.
Watches Issued for Portions of Gulf Coast; Storm Already Has 60 MPH Winds
Almost 18 years to the day, a storm has formed in the Gulf of Mexico, and could deliver a blow to the Northeastern Gulf Coast. Within the past few minutes, the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida has classified the disturbance in the Southeastern Gulf as Tropical Storm Karen. The storm already has maximum sustained winds of 60 miles per hour with gusts up to 70 mph, and a minimum central pressure of 1004 millibars, or 29.65 inches of Hg.
Currently, Karen is located some 500 miles south of the Mouth of the Mississippi River, and the storm is moving to the North-Northwest at 13 miles per hour. Hurricane Hunter aircraft has been flying in and around the storm since yesterday, and finally detected a closed circulation just to the north of the Northern Yucatan coast. The storm is a lopsided or asymmetrical system with the bulk, if not all of its convection, to the east of the center of circulation. However, high pressure aloft has developed over the storm, and sea surface temperatures in this region are always very warm. So, further strengthening is not out of the question. There is some discrepancy though on how strong Karen will become and where it will go.
The reason for the disagreement between the various forecast models such as the European and the GFS is because there is dry air pushing into the Western Gulf to the west of the storm. The models are in general agreement that Karen will move around the periphery of a mid-level ridge ahead of a mid-level trough. But they differ on the exact track into the Gulf Coast. The European has Karen going further west into Louisiana and Southern Mississippi while the GFS has the storm taking a more easterly track into Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. The discrepancy in these tracks has an impact on how strong Karen will be at landfall.
With the European model’s more western track, Karen moves into the drier air moving into the Western Gulf, and comes ashore on Saturday as a minimal tropical storm or depression. On the other hand, the GFS’ more eastern track has the storm over more moist air in place in the Eastern Gulf, and as a result, Karen is a much stronger storm. As a result of this discrepancy in the models, the GFS has put Karen as a minimal hurricane within 36 hours, and has posted both hurricane and tropical storm watches for the Gulf coast. This could be a dangerous situation developing in the Gulf. We could have a scenario very similar to Hurricane Opal in 1995.
Opal formed further west in the Bay of Campeche before rapidly developing into a high end Category Four Hurricane, and picking up forward speed before crashing into the Florida Panhandle on October 5th. Another similarity between Opal in 1995 and this storm is that the country is distracted with other news headlines. Back in 1995, the country was gripped with the suspense of the verdict in the O.J. Simpson trial while this time, the nation is dealing with a federal government shutdown that has even closed down some NOAA web sites. The NHC and NWS are not affected by the shutdown since they both help protect life and property.
Karen is aiming at a portion of the Gulf Coast that has finally recovered from the impacts of Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and Hurricane Dennis in 2005. So, a significantly stronger storm for this region later in the weekend would not be ideal. Up to this point in the season, there have been 11 depressions and 11 named storms, but only two hurricanes and no major hurricanes. Could that change with Karen. It is very possible that this storm could become the season’s third hurricane, but can it become the first major hurricane of 2013. Too early to tell.
Could Impact the Central Gulf This Weekend; Jerry Meanders In Central Atlantic
The Tropical Atlantic has been relatively quiet for much of this season. Yes, there has been 10 named storms already, which is still ahead of the average pace, but there has been only two hurricanes, and most importantly, no major hurricanes, and no landfalling systems.
Normally, September is an active month, and this year, it was more active than August was. There were five depressions, four named storms, and the season’s only two hurricanes this past month. Nevertheless, the activity by September standards were still rather tepid. There is still two months officially remaining in the 2013 season, and there is usually a second peak in tropical activity during the month of October.
Looking around the tropics on this late Wednesday afternoon, there are a couple of trouble spots. Tropical Storm Jerry is still churning in the Central Atlantic. As of the 5:00 PM EDT advisory from the National Hurricane Center, Jerry is located some 1080 to the West-Southwest of the Azores. Maximum sustained winds remain at 40 miles per hour with gusts up to 50 miles per hour while minimum central pressure is still high at 1009 millibars, or 29.80 inches of Hg.
The storm is moving to the Northeast at 7 miles per hour, and that general motion is expected over the next few days with an increase in forward speed. Little change in strength is expected over the next 72 hours, and the storm is expected to become post-tropical within four days. A larger concern lurks in the Northwestern Caribbean as an area of disturbed weather that has been monitored over the past several days, is becoming better organized, and could be the next storm in the Atlantic.
Located some several hundred miles from the Yucatan Peninsula, the disturbance has looked more impressive over the past several hours as showers and thunderstorms have become better organized. Chances of this disturbance becoming a tropical cyclone in the next 48 hours have increased from 40 percent on Wednesday morning to 70 percent on Wednesday afternoon, and up to 80 percent in the next five days. A depression could form at any time according to the latest tropical outlook from the NHC. Currently, the disturbance is in a favorable environment for development. Sea surface temperatures in the Western Caribbean are always very warm, and there is very little in the way of shear.
Taking a look at the long range forecast for this disturbance, the storm is expected to impact somewhere along the Central Gulf Coast over this coming weekend. However, the cyclone is not expected to intensify into a major storm by the time it reaches the Gulf because of strong upper level winds developing over the region by the time the storm comes ashore. Regardless, residents along the Gulf should closely monitor the progress of this system as it heads into the region later in the week.
Protecting Life and Property Help NOAA Weather Sites Stay Online During Government Impasse
A little less than 24 hours ago, the government officially shutdown as a result of the impasse that has developed between the House of Representatives, Senate, and White House. While many government functions have been stopped including several NOAA web sites, the National Weather Service web site and National Hurricane Center web site are still online since they are crucial to protecting life and property. So, we will still be able to get the latest weather information and warnings as well as the latest information on Tropical Storm Jerry and a disturbance in the Western Caribbean.
Gabrielle and Humberto Dissipate, but Humberto Could Regenerate in a Couple Days
The Atlantic Tropics continue to get interesting as we now have our second hurricane of the season. The other day, I had mentioned in the blog that Ingrid could be in the making. Well, the storm not only came to fruition, and rapidly intensified into a minimal hurricane in the very warm waters of the Bay of Campeche region in the Gulf of Mexico.
Ingrid first became a depression on Thursday afternoon, and began its onslaught on Mexico with torrential rainfall. Gaining more and more energy from the bath water of the Gulf, Ingrid strengthened more and became the ninth named storm of the season on Friday morning. The intensification didn’t stop there either. Thirty hours later, the storm grew into a hurricane. Located some 195 miles to the East of Tuxpan Mexico and 275 miles to the Southeast of La Pesca, Mexico, Ingrid still continues off slowly to the north at 7 miles per hour.
As of the 4:00 PM CDT Advisory from the National Hurricane Center, maximum sustained winds with Ingrid are at 75 miles per hour with gusts in excess of 90 miles per hour. Minimum central pressure has dropped to 987 millibars, or 29.15 inches of Hg (Mercury). The Government of Mexico has issued a Hurricane Warning for the Mexican East Coast from Cabo Rojo to La Pesca, and a Tropical Storm Warning from north of La Pesca to Bahia Algodones and south of Cabo Rojo to Tuxpan. All warnings issued south of Tuxpan to Cotzacoalos have been discontinued.
The big story with Ingrid is the forward motion. The reason I say that is because of two things. First and foremost, slow moving tropical systems means lots and lots of rainfall. When there is torrential rainfall that goes on for long periods of time over this part of the world, you have to worry about life threatening floods and mudslides. Right now, Ingrid is expected to produce around 15 inches of rain for portions of Eastern Mexico with some isolated areas getting over two feet of rain. The other reason that the slow movement is critical is simply because of where Ingrid is located.
As mentioned earlier, Ingrid is still over very warm water in the Bay of Campeche region of the Gulf of Mexico. With sea surface temperatures as high as 85 degrees coupled in with the fact that upper levels winds in this area are usually light, the ingredients are there for some significant, if not explosive development. The latest discussion from the National Hurricane Center in Miami indicates that a mid-level ridge is expected to establish itself over the Southern U.S., and the clockwise flow around that ridge will help turn Ingrid into eastern Mexico. However, forecast models diverge on the timing of all of this.
The NHC discussion points out that the GFS solution has Ingrid moving to shore the slowest, and making landfall in about 60 hours time. The official NHC guidance indicates a landfall within 48 hours. The 48 to 60 hour window is still a lot of time when you are talking about a tropical cyclone in a very conducive environment. Remember, a little more than 48 hours ago, Ingrid wasn’t even on the map, and now it is a Category One Hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Scale. Another 48 to 60 hours in this very supportive environment could bring about even more strenghtening. Right now, the NHC has Ingrid strengthening to an 85 mile per hour hurricane, but it is quite possible that the storm could reach Category Two or even Cat Three levels.
We’ll have to see how everything shakes out with Ingrid. For now, residents along the East Mexican coast should complete the necessary preparations, take cover and evacuate if possible. Residents in South Texas should monitor the progress of this storm.
Disturbance in Gulf Getting Better Organized; Has 60 Percent Chance of Becoming Depression or Storm in next 48 Hours
Things continue to pick up in the Atlantic Tropics on this early Thursday afternoon. We still have Gabrielle in the Western Atlantic and Humberto in the Eastern Atlantic. Both of those systems haven’t changed much in strength over the past 18 to 24 hours with Humberto still having maximum sustained winds estimated at 85 miles per hour while Gabrielle still is hanging on as a minimal tropical storm. Humberto is picking up a bit more speed to the north while Gabrielle is moving more slowly to the north.
However, there is activity in the Bay of Campeche region of the Gulf that is drawing some interest right now. The area of disturbed weather that had moved across the Yucatan Peninsula on Wednesday has now re-entered the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and is getting better organized. According to the latest outlook from the National Hurricane Center in Miami, shower and thunderstorm activity has increased and upper level winds and sea surface temperatures are becoming more favorable for development. The NHC is now giving this disturbance a 60 percent chance of forming within the next 48 hours, and an 80 percent chance of developing into a depression or storm over the next five days.
The real concern with this disturbed area is the slow forward movement of it. With the slow motion, the disturbance has not only a better chance to strengthen in the warm waters of the Bay of Campeche, but it also has a very good chance of dumping torrential rainfall over portions of southern and eastern Mexico, which could in turn produce dangerous flash floods and mudslides. If the disturbance were to become a named storm, it would be called Ingrid, the ninth named storm of the 2013 season. There has been a lot of tropical activity in this region this year. Recently, TD #8 had formed, and quickly came ashore before becoming a named storm.
Back on August 25th, Tropical Storm Fernand formed in the Southwestern portion of the Bay of Campeche before making landfall to the North-Northwest of Veracruz, Mexico just after midnight on the 26th. Earlier in the season in mid-June, Tropical Storm Barry formed a bit further south in the Northwestern Caribbean near the country of Belize. So, we could be seeing our fourth tropical cyclone in this general area develop this season, which would have almost half of all the storms that would have developed to date.
Elsewhere in the tropics, there is an area of disturbed weather associated with a broad area of low pressure some 500 miles to the east of the Lesser Antilles. While pressures are falling quite dramatically in this area, shower and thunderstorm activity with this low is limited, and more importantly, environment conditions such as upper level winds are not favorable for development at this time. The NHC is giving this disturbance about a 10 percent chance of developing into a tropical cyclone over the next 48 hours, and a 20 percent chance over the next five days.
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