Thoughts on Hurricane Matthew

Posted in Storm Track, Commentary, Storm History, Storm Facts, Storm Preparation, Storm Safety, Hurricane Intensity, Tracking the Tropics, Model Forecasts at 4:51 pm by gmachos

Another Powerful October Storm to Worry About

Over the last week, I have been watching developments in the Tropical Atlantic with interest as Matthew grew into a threat for the East Coast of the United States although I hadn’t blogged about it until now.

For the second year in a row, and for the third time in five years, we have a hurricane that is menacing the Caribbean, Bahamas, and the East Coast of the United States. Once again, a hurricane spins up amidst a fall like circulation pattern in the Western Atlantic.

Four years ago, it was Hurricane Sandy, which many in New Jersey are still trying to recover from today. Last year, it was Hurricane Joaquin, which combined with another area of low pressure to produce gusty winds and heavy rains as far north as New Jersey.

This year, it is Hurricane Matthew. At one time, Matthew was a Category Five Hurricane with winds near 160 mph. Matthew was the first Category Five Hurricane in the Atlantic in 9 years. The last one was Hurricane Dean, which made landfall in the Mayan Riviera section of Mexico in August 2007. Dean was ranked as a Top Ten Atlantic storm in terms of intensity at the time.

Matthew’s path has so far been a bit eerily similar to Hurricane Sandy. However, Matthew has been much stronger with Sandy only being a Category Three storm with 125 mph winds at peak strength. The hurricane developed much earlier in the season than Sandy did. Matthew also was the first hurricane to make landfall in Haiti since 1963. Nevertheless, both storms impacted portions of Cuba.

Ok. Enough of the history and comparisons. Matthew had been interacting with the rugged mountains of Cuba and Hispaniola, which go as high as 7,000 to 10,000 feet above sea level. The interaction tore up Matthew significantly despite the fact that it also produced torrential rains on those islands. Wind speeds dropped from 145 to 115 miles per hour in about 24 hours. Now, the storm is back over water near the Bahamas, where sea surface temperatures run about 86 degrees, and Matthew has already responded to that with some strengthening.

As of 11:00 AM on Wednesday morning, sustained winds with Matthew increased to 120 miles per hour, and it may not be done yet. Dr. Jeff Masters of Weather Underground indicated earlier that the storm is getting better organized. The NHC’s official intensity forecast indicates that Matthew could become a Category Four Hurricane again with 130 mph winds. So, the storm is likely skirt the East Coast of Florida on Friday at major hurricane strength.

The storm will then continue to hug the coast along Georgia and South Carolina, and weaken to a Category Two storm with between 100 and 110 mph winds due to a hostile upper level wind environment. Then, things get crazy. The major forecast models: GFS, European, and UKMET are all indicating that Matthew will turn to the east into the Atlantic, and then turn south and towards the Bahamas and Florida again early next week.

Why is that you ask? First, the trough that was much hyped earlier this week, didn’t pan out since it wasn’t as strong or digged as deep as expected. So, there is nothing to pick up the storm. Hence, Matthew is in a situation much like the cutoff low that affected New Jersey and the Mid-Atlantic over the past week. It has nothing to kick it out. There is also a new player in this game: Tropical Storm Nicole.

Nicole is a newly formed tropical system that became a tropical cyclone over the past 24 to 36 hours. The storm is close by in the Western Atlantic, and its circulation is also influencing Matthew’s movement. The combination with the trough that wasn’t and Nicole’s development now brings a bizarre scenario that shows Matthew possibly entering the Florida Straits next week.

This is all good news for now in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, which are now looking at great weather through this weekend. Tropical storms and hurricanes are very fickle though, and things can change so all New Jersey and Mid-Atlantic residents reading this should continue to monitor the progress of this storm.


A Look at the Response to Flooding in Louisiana

Posted in Commentary, Tracking the Tropics at 10:54 am by gmachos

Cajun Country No Stranger to Storms and Controversy

With the Atlantic Hurricane season moving into its peak stage, and the 11th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina ravaging the Gulf Coast, the recent flooding in Louisiana couldn’t have come at a worse time. Recently, a storm system stalled over the Central Gulf and brought torrential rains to Louisiana. The storm was referred to as a 1,000 year event.

Some of these same portions of Louisiana experienced similar flooding in March of this year. With the tremendous heat and humidity that has been in place over much of the country, there was a lot of moisture to work with when a modest frontal system provided the spark that resulted in over two days of thunderstorms that produced up to two feet of rainfall in some locations according to Time Magazine.

Rivers such as the Amite, Comite, Tickfaw, and the Tangipahoa were overwhelmed. The levee systems were ill-equipped to handle such a flooding event, and were overrun. Nearly half of Louisiana’s parishes are expected to be declared disaster areas, which leads us to the response from the federal government, and the controversy surrounding it.

Disaster response from the federal government is a sensitive issue for residents of Louisiana. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, President George W. Bush didn’t visit the New Orleans area and the Mississippi Gulf Coast until nearly a week after the storm made landfall. FEMA’s response at the time was less than adequate while Condolezza RIce was seeing a Broadway show while people in the Gulf were suffering. Bush’s memorable line, “You’re doing a heckuva job Brownie,” to then FEMA director, Mike Brown, was viewed by many as an insult.

The federal government has had better moments in Louisiana. During Hurricane Betsy in 1965, President Johnson responded quickly. Five hours after talking Louisiana Senator, Russell Long, Johnson arrived in Louisiana to survey the damage left behind by the storm. Stunned by the damage wrought by Hurricane Betsy, Johnson made every effort to get every resource available to the residents there, and eliminate any red tape according to an article by the Miller Center. Johnson even went to the extreme of getting on a bullhorn and speaking directly to flood victims himself.

All of this leads us to this past week when President Obama was seen on a golf course in Martha’s Vineyard while Republican Presidential candidate, Donald Trump was down in Louisiana speaking to people affected by the disaster. Louisiana’s Governor, John Bel Edwards had originally discouraged Trump from coming, but after Trump’s visit, he indicated that it was helpful in getting the country’s attention on the issue. According to an article from CNN, the White House asked about coming down, but the governor’s office “asked them to wait until the immediate response phase was over.”

President Obama is expected to visit Louisiana in the coming week. Obama has had his fair share of natural and man-made disasters to deal with. Not only the mass shootings that have been occurring with regularity, but also police shootings in Dallas and Baton Rouge, which was also impacted by this recent flooding. Thankfully for President Obama, there hasn’t been a major hurricane that has made landfall in the United States since Hurricane Wilma came ashore in Florida in October 2005. There have been moments where Obama has, with the help of FEMA director, Craig Fugate, gone into action in response to storms.

A couple of examples come quickly to mind since I live in New Jersey. Back in 2011 and 2012, the Garden State was impacted by two significant storms: Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Sandy. Both of these storms had weakened enough by the time that they came through New Jersey, that they were no longer hurricanes. Irene had weakened to a strong tropical storm while Sandy had lost its tropical characteristics. Nevertheless, both storms had a tremendous impact on the Garden State. Irene with flooding and Sandy with surge and wind.

There was a lot of rain in many parts of New Jersey during the month of August leading up to Irene so it didn’t take much for the toll of devastating flooding. My neighborhood itself experienced the worst flooding ever in the 45 years that I have lived there. Some houses had six feet of water in their basements. Our cellar was hit hard too, but not as bad as others. Nevertheless, my family was able to regroup and get back to business in relatively short order thanks to some help from FEMA. There was the moment of bromance between Obama and New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie in the wake of Sandy, but there are still many in South Jersey, especially Monmouth and Ocean Counties struggling to rebuild after Sandy.

There has been a good deal of controversy when it comes to the federal government’s response to storms and hurricanes over the years, especially in recent decades. During Hurricane Hugo in 1989, FEMA was blamed for being slow to act. Many in South Carolina grew even more upset with the help that the San Francisco and Oakland metropolitan areas got in the wake of the memorable earthquake that occurred during the World Series. Then, there was the fiasco in the wake of Hurricane Andrew in South Florida, which helped contribute to President Bush losing to Bill Clinton in the 1992 presidential election.

With the climate changing and storms becoming more numerous and worse, and people looking to live in places such as coastal areas that are more susceptible to weather, the federal government response to events such as the flooding in Louisiana are going to become more commonplace and scrutinized by certain elements of the media. People are looking for someone who cares for them in times of disaster, and the next person to become president in the next few months will need to provide a human face and a human touch to a government that already looks distant and out of touch. LBJ’s handling of Hurricane Betsy in 1965 was a perfect example of that needed human touch.


Things Getting More Serious with Joaquin

Posted in Storm Track, Commentary, Storm History, Storm Preparation, GWC News, Storm Safety, Hurricane Intensity, Tracking the Tropics, Model Forecasts at 7:11 am by gmachos

A New Month Begins with Joaquin Strengthening to Category Three While Forecast Uncertainty Remains

Since the last post to the GWC and Hurricaneville blog last night on Hurricane Joaquin in the Western Atlantic.  Things have become more serious.  As I had indicated last night, Joaquin appeared to be rapidly deepening.  If you recall, Hurricane Hunter aircraft detected a much stronger storm with 105 mile per hour winds, and a minimum central pressure of 954 millibars, or 28.17 inches of Hg.  Over a three hour span, the pressure dropped some 13 millibars.

Well, after the last report was posted to the blog, Joaquin further intensified.  As of the 5:00 AM Advisory on Thursday morning from the National Hurricane Center, Joaquin’s winds have increased to 120 miles per hour, and the minimum central pressure in its eye has dropped another 6 millibars to 948 millibars, or 27.99 inches of Hg.  So, in the last 12 hours (from 5:00 PM on Wednesday to 5:00 AM on Thursday), Joaquin’s pressure has dropped some 21 millibars, or about 0.63 inches of Hg (Mercury).  Another concern is the uncertainty of the forecast.

When I woke up this morning, I checked my Facebook feed, and found a post by The Weather Channel’s Bryan Norcross, which was posted late last night.  It basically points out that the situation with Joaquin is becoming more dire:  A strengthening storm with no real consensus on where it will go.  Yesterday, the models had a fairly wide range of solutions with the GFS and several other models pointing to a U.S. landfall from North Carolina’s Outer Banks to the Tidewater region of Virginia while the European, or ECMWF model, had the storm heading to the east toward Bermuda, and eventually out to sea.  There are many players coming into this game right now, and that is what is creating the forecasting challenge.

The bottom line here is that although the National Hurricane Center has a cone of uncertainty pointing in general direction of the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast, there is still a great deal of uncertainty in the forecast that the cone should be wider.  In other words, all residents along the East Coast from Florida to Maine should pay close attention to this storm, and be prepared to act quickly if and when Joaquin makes a definitive move.  Another concern with Joaquin is that if the storm does decide to head toward the Eastern Seaboard, it could pick up in forward speed like many East Coast Hurricanes in the past do.  Two strong examples of that scenario off the top of my head would be the Long Island Express of 1938 and Hurricane Gloria, which struck Long Island and New England almost 30 years ago to the day (September 27, 1985).

When you have a strong hurricane moving up the East Coast in a mostly south to north trajectory, the forward motion adds to or subtracts from the speed of the sustained winds rotating around the storm’s center.  For example, if you have a hurricane with say 120 mph winds like Joaquin, and it is moving up the coast at a rate of 45 to 50 mph, locations on the eastern side, particularly in the dreaded northeast quadrant of the storm, where you have the highest winds and surge, sustained winds could easily be 165 to 170 mph.  Meanwhile, to the west, winds will slacken to only about 70 to 75 mph.  Those were the types of situations that happened with the Long Island Express of 1938, where the storm was moving up to 70 miles per hour up the East Coast.  To put a real fix on that type of motion, the Long Island Express was near Cape Hatteras at about 7:00 AM on September 21, 1938, and by 2:00 PM, it was crossing Long Island.

Now, while I have gone into a good deal of detail about this scenario, it may not happen at all.  Instead, we could see a scenario similar to Hurricane Floyd, or Hurricane Irene, where the storm slowly creeps up the coast.  A slow moving storm would be great news in terms of the wind and surge, but it would be a big problem in terms of rain.  With hurricanes and tropical storms, rainfall is proportional to how fast the storm is moving.  With both Floyd and Irene, the storms were slow movers, and as a result, there was a good deal of rain.  On the other hand, Sandy was a bit more of a fast mover, and as a result, there was less rain.  Getting back to the storm, here are the most recent particulars on Joaquin as of 5:00 AM on Thursday.  The storm is located some 65 miles to the Southeast of San Salvador in the Bahamas, or 20 miles to the North of Samana Cays in the Bahamas.

Maximum sustained winds with Joaquin are up to 120 miles per hour with gusts in upwards of 150 miles per hour.  Minimum central pressure is now down to 948 millibars, or 28.17 inches of Hg.  The storm is moving to the West-Southwest at a slow pace of 7 miles per hour.  A Hurricane Warning is in effect for the Central Bahamas and the Northwestern Bahamas including:  the Abacos, Berry Islands, Eleuthera, Grand Bahama Island, and New Providence.  A Hurricane Watch is in effect for Bimini and Andros Island in the Bahamas. A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for Southeastern Bahamas excluding the Turks and Caicos Islands, and Andros Island.  To repeat, there is still a great deal of uncertainty in the forecast with Joaquin.  Not only in the projected path of the storm, but also with the intensity.  It is imperative that residents along the East Coast of the United States pay very close attention to this storm.


Looking Back on Hurricane Katrina and the Monster 2005 Season

Posted in Storm Track, Commentary, Storm History, Storm Facts, Storm Aftermath, Hurricane Intensity, Hurricane Records, Tracking the Tropics at 6:44 pm by gmachos

Tropics Have Been Relatively Quiet Since Record Breaking Season in Atlantic

Last week marked the 10th Anniversary of the most deadly and devastating storm in the modern era in the United States.  Despite mercifully weakening just before landfall near Buras, Louisiana with Category Three strength 125 mile per hour winds after being as strong as a record making Category Five Hurricane with 175 mile per hour winds and a minimum central pressure of 902 millibars or 26.64 inches of Hg.  Katrina then made a second landfall near the Louisiana/Mississippi border with 120 mph winds. The combination of the weakening with a track that took the storm’s strongest side east of New Orleans appeared to put the Big Easy in the clear.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.

A near natural disaster had become a major man-made disaster as the levee system around New Orleans failed, and waters began pouring into the surrounding parishes such as St. Bernard’s, and the section of the city known as the Lower Ninth Ward.  Meanwhile, further to the east, Katrina was still powerful and large enough to generate a storm surge even greater than the monster storm of August 1969 known as Hurricane Camille.  The storm struck many, if not all of the same towns along the Mississippi Gulf Coast such as Gulfport, Biloxi, Pass Christian, Bay St. Louis, and Pascagoula, and brought a storm surge that ended up being the highest ever in North America.

Hurricane Katrina ended up killing some 1,800 people, which seemed unfathomable in this day and age.  On top of that, the storm left at least $80 billion dollars in damage, which is three times more than the previous high mark from a natural disaster set by Hurricane Andrew when it impacted Homestead and South Florida back in August 1992.  The storm also brought out the worst in a country that is supposed to be the leader of the “free world.”  Katrina exposed problems with federal government agencies such as FEMA, and even more glaring, the lack of coordination between local, state, and federal agencies so that the necessary resources could efficiently be distributed to those directly impacted by the storm.

Two examples of that failure were deploying resources such as National Guard Troops, buses, and other kinds of essentials to those affected in shelters of last resort such as the Superdome and the New Orleans Convention Center.  Numerous horror stories from these two sites were brought into viewers homes by all the cable news and regular broadcast news networks.  The storm’s aftermath provided an image of the United States that wasn’t one of superpower, but instead one of a third world country.  It demonstrated how out of touch politicians in Washington and Louisiana had grown so far out of touch with its constituents in New Orleans.  In addition, Katrina’s aftermath also showed the wide chasm between rich and poor in the United States.

The 2005 Atlantic Hurricane Season didn’t stop with Katrina though.  As a matter of fact, the year produced an astounding five Category Five Hurricanes on the Saffir-Simpson Scale.  Those kind of numbers are usually only seen with typhoons in the Western Pacific.  However, the combination of several factors such as abundant moisture around the Atlantic Basin, above normal sea surface temperatures, La Nina conditions in the Pacific that brought about favorable upper level wind conditions, and the positioning of the subtropical ridge in the Atlantic, which helped drive these powerful storms into the Gulf of Mexico, and over the Loop Current there, where conditions were optimal for explosive tropical development. Katrina, Rita, and Wilma were prime examples of the effect of the Loop Current.

During the historic 2005 Atlantic Hurricane Season, there were a total of 31 depressions, 28 named storms, 15 hurricanes, and 7 major hurricanes.  Of those 7 major storms, 71 percent of them reached the highest level possible for a tropical cyclone, which is extremely rare.  It is very rare to have one Category Five storm in the Atlantic during the course of the season.  So, when you have five:  Dennis, Emily, Katrina, Rita, and Wilma, that is record book material.  Recently, I put together an article on the busy season in the WESTPAC where there have been 6 Super Typhoons of Category Five strength on the Saffir-Simpson Scale.  This has been largely due to the emergence of the strongest El Nino at least since 1998.  Remember, ENSO produces above normal sea surface temperatures and favorable upper level wind conditions in the Pacific. Rita appeared on its way to give another blow to the Big Easy.

Like Katrina a little less than a month earlier, Hurricane Rita tracked over South Florida and the Florida Keys and then grew into a monster as it traversed the Loop Current.  The storm grew to be an even more powerful Category Five Hurricane than Katrina was in terms of wind (180 mph) and pressure (895 mb or 26.43 inches of Hg).  Like Katrina though, Rita eventually weakened before making landfall, and spared the major population centers of New Orleans and Baton Rouge in Louisiana as it made landfall over to Louisiana Bayou.  About a month after that, Hurricane Wilma spun up in the Northwestern Caribbean, and approached the Yucatan Penninsula.  The storm grew to be even a notch better than Katrina and Rita with winds of 185 mph and the lowest pressure ever recorded in the Atlantic Basin at 882 millibars or 26.05 inches of Hg surpassing the marks set by Hurricane Gilbert and the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935.  After reaching its peak intensity, Wilma began feeling the effects of shear from a dipping jet stream over the United States, but it did re-energize before clobbing South Florida from west to east and causing significant damage along the Sunshine State’s Gold Coast.

Apparently, the 2005 Atlantic Season squeezed more than enough out of the earth’s atmosphere.  Since that time, there hasn’t been a landfalling major hurricane in the United States.  True, there has been active seasons such as 2008, 2010, 2011, and 2012 with deadly and devastating storms such as Gustav, Ike, Irene, and Sandy, but none of them approached the pure power that the 2005 storms had.  In addition, there have been quite a few below normal hurricane seasons since then including 2006, 2007, 2009, 2013, and 2014.  The change in behavior pattern in the Atlantic since the 2005 season may be an indication that the active cycle that dominated the basin since 1995 may be coming to an end.


Evening for Erika; Fred Forms in Far-Eastern Atlantic

Posted in Storm Track, Commentary, Storm Facts, Storm Warning, Hurricane Records, Tracking the Tropics at 10:01 am by gmachos

Mountains of Hispaniola Put the Final Nail in Erika’s Coffin; Fred Forms in Rare Spot

The Atlantic Basin is making up for some lost time.  After being mostly dormant for the first 60 percent of August 2015, the region has perked up with three named systems in the last 12 days.  One of those storms, Erika, which had been erratic, and struggling to get its act together, finally fell apart on Saturday after being torn up into a trough of low pressure by the rugged terrain of Hispaniola.  Meanwhile, a new storm has emerged in the Far Eastern Atlantic.

Erika finally gave way to the mountains of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.  Odds were already stacked against the storm, which still managed to get further along in the Atlantic than Danny did despite being erratic, and unable to get its act together.  Prior to its demise, the air was already going out of the balloon for Erika.  Early Saturday morning, the government of the Dominican Republic had discontinued its Tropical Storm Warning.  Less than 3 hours later, the storm showed signs of dissipating at Hurricane Hunter aircraft went in to investigate.  By 9:30 AM EDT Saturday morning, Erika had officially dissipated.

Despite falling apart, Erika could still pack a punch for Florida.  The storm’s remnants are still expected to bring significant rainfall along with winds up to tropical storm force to much of the Sunshine State.  Much of South Florida has been fairly dry recently, but West Florida including the Tampa Bay area has had too much rain.  Rainfall amounts between 3 to 5 inches with locally higher amounts are expected across Central and South Florida starting on Sunday.  The Atlantic isn’t done yet though.  A new storm has emerged in Erika’s wake.

Just hours after the demise of Erika, and not too long after departing the West Coast of Africa, the tropical disturbance that had been labeled as Invest 99L by the National Hurricane Center, was reclassified as Tropical Storm Fred, the sixth named storm of the 2015 Atlantic Hurricane Season.  Fred has already made quite a name for himself.   NHC Hurricane Specialist, Eric Blake noted on late Saturday morning that what had been Invest 99L was unique in that was already quite organized right on the African coast.  Forming in the wee hours of Sunday morning as a depression, Fred then became only the fourth named storm on record to form east of 19W longitude.

As of the most recent advisory by the National Hurricane Center at 8:00 AM AST, or EDT, Tropical Storm Fred was located some 315 miles to the East-Southeasts of Praia in the Cape Verde Islands, which is already under a Tropical Storm Warning and a Hurricane Watch.  Seeing those watches and warnings that far east in a season that has been mostly quiet, is quite remarkable.  Fred is only a minimal tropical storm with maximum sustained winds of 40 miles per hour with estimated gusts up to 50 miles per hour.  Wind speeds and gusts are estimates based upon satellite imagery interpretation.  Minimum central pressure is estimated to be 1005 millibars, or 29.68 inches of Hg.

Fred is currently moving at a nice and easy pace to the West-Northwest at 12 miles per hour.  The forecast track shows the storm continuing on this pace through Tuesday.  Tropical Storm Fred is expected to move through the Cape Verde Islands sometime late Monday night, and into Tuesday.   The two impacts from Fred will be wind and rainfall.  Tropical storm force winds are expected to begin arriving in the Cape Verde Islands by early Monday.  Hurricane force winds are also possible through Tuesday.  Rainfall amounts are forecast to be anywhere between 3 to 5 inches with isolated areas receiving as much as 8 inches.

Looking at the most recent Tropical Weather Discussion on Fred from the NHC, the storm is expected to gradually strengthen over the next 36 hours to be a very strong tropical storm, and on the cusp of being a minimal hurricane with 70 mph winds.  This is due to the favorable environment including light upper level winds, an abundance of tropical moisture, and sea surface temperatures between 81.5 and 82.5 degrees Fahrenheit that will be in the area of Fred.  The storm is expected to level off at that point for the next 36 hours before weakening slightly.  Within five days, the NHC believes Fred will still have 60 mile per hour winds.  

Still plenty of time to watch Tropical Storm Fred unless you are in the Cape Verde Islands, which should begin making the necessary preparations.


Atlantic Tropics Trying to Stir

Posted in Commentary, Storm History, Storm Facts, Eastern Pacific, Tracking the Tropics at 6:34 pm by gmachos

Danny’s Development and Erika’s Emergence Sparks Atlantic Basin out of August Doldrums

Up until about a week ago, the 2015 Atlantic Hurricane Season had many similarities to the 1997 season.  Back then, the world’s climate was in the midst of the strongest El Nino on record, and the Atlantic Basin was feeling the impact.  After a decent start to the 1997 season that had four named storms by the end of July including hurricanes Bill and Danny, the season had an unexpected calm during a time when the season was supposed to be peaking.

In a rare occurrence, the Atlantic Basin had no named storms or hurricanes for the entire month of August 1997.  By contrast, the Eastern Pacific was pumping out storms left and right, and many of them including hurricanes Guillermo, Ignacio, Jimena, Linda, Nora, and Rick.  Guillermo and Linda grew to be very powerful and even threatened to impact Southern California, a region that has not been affected by a tropical cyclone since 1939.  In the end, the Eastern Pacific ended up with 19 depressions, 17 named storms, and 9 hurricanes.

By contrast, the Atlantic in 1997 was very tranquil with only 9 depressions, 8 named storms including an unnamed subtropical storm, 3 hurricanes, and one major hurricane, which ironically was named Erika.  A similar thing has happened this year.  The Atlantic got off to a pretty fast start with a rare mid-May named storm, and three named systems over the first two months of the season.  Once again though, the basin grew quiet as we moved into and through the month of August.  For the first 18 days of the month, there were no depressions or named storms let alone hurricanes.

Then came Danny, which became the strongest storm to date in the Atlantic.  Forming on August 18th, Danny, which is the only hurricane in the Atlantic so far in 2015, grew to become the first major hurricane of the season in the Central Atlantic with sustained winds estimated to be up to 115 miles per hour. The storm peaked in intensity within 72 hours of first becoming a tropical system.  Fortunately, for not only residents of the coastal United States, but also the Lesser Antilles, Danny, a classic Cape Verde system, began to feel the affects of dry air in the Atlantic, and dissipated into a trough of low pressure west of Guadeloupe.

In Danny’s wake came another system from the Eastern and Central Atlantic.  Erika, which has still caused quite a bit of damage in the Leeward Islands with heavy rains, especially on the island of Dominica, first developed within 12 hours of Danny’s demise.  While the Atlantic’s fifth named storm of the year has been erratic and difficult to forecast, it has managed to survive to this point thanks to more moisture in the tropics.  The problems that Erika has been dealing with include wind shear, a rapidly moving circulation, and now, the mountainous terrain of Hispaniola.  The storm is a fledgling system with only 50 miles per hour, and the odds of it becoming a hurricane or a major hurricane are falling.

Regardless of the struggles of these two storms, their development reminds us all that we are entering the peak season in the Atlantic.  The statistical peak is still two weeks off on Thursday, September 10th.  Activity in Africa as well as the Eastern and Central Atlantic have started to fire up as demonstrated by the development of these two storms.  With Erika lurking in the Caribbean, residents in Florida are under a State of Emergency, and others in nearby coastal states such as Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina have to closely monitor the progress of this storm.  The 2015 season may end up being below average, but things have begun to heat up, and most importantly, all it takes is one storm, and people must be always prepared for that.

Erratic Erika Heading Toward Hispaniola

Posted in Storm Track, Commentary, Storm Facts, Tracking the Tropics at 5:53 pm by gmachos

Storm Still Packing A Punch With Heavy Rains

On the eve of the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina landfall along the Gulf Coast, portions of the United States coastline is on alert for another tropical troublemaker.  Tropical Storm Erika, which formed earlier this week is moving through the Eastern Caribbean, and is headed for the rugged terrain of the island of Hispaniola.

According to the 5:00 PM EDT Advisory on Friday, August 28th from the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida, Erika continues to be erratic.  After weakening a bit on Thursday night, Erika rejuvenated a bit today, and now has winds of 50 miles per hour again.  Wind gusts are up to 60 miles per hour.  Minimum central pressure is still quite high at 1009 millibars, or 29.80 inches of Hg.  

The storm is moving quite briskly to the West at 21 miles per hour.  The strong westward motion is not the only problem with Erika.  Now, the storm is moving into a very mountainous region as it lies just to the south of the island of Hispaniola, which contains the Dominican Republic and Haiti.  Erika is presently located some 95 miles to the West-Southwest of the capital of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.

Mountains in the Dominican Republic and Haiti can get as high as 8,000 feet in places.  This rugged terrain is very likely to tear the fledgling circulation of Erika apart.  A struggling storm like this interacting with land is usually difficult, but when you factor in mountains, the environment and obstacles are too much to handle.  The forecast is calling for Erika to weaken to a depression before re-emerging over water again to the north of Hispaniola.  The track of the storm after that is expected to push northward toward Florida.

Within the past 24 hours, the Sunshine State was put under a State of Emergency.  The forecast with Erika has been very difficult.  The NHC has had a tough time getting a good fix on this storm, and that is probably because of the fact that it is still a weak system.  The cone of uncertainty has the storm ether ending up slightly west of Florida, or slightly east over the next 5 days.  So, people along the Gulf Coast and even further up the Southeast coast in Georgia and South Carolina must pay close attention to this storm.  Either scenario could lead to strengthening since Erika would have access to sufficiently warm water.

However, Erika’s expected weakening over the mountains of Hispaniola could significantly change the game for its track, and could cause it to move further to the west.  A scenario that could have it end up further along in the Gulf, where waters are extremely warm this time of year.  Despite the late start to the 2015 Atlantic Hurricane Season, and the emergence of El Nino, which has contributed to the slow start, and dearth of hurricanes, things are showing signs of picking up just in time for the peak season.


Another Fast Start to Eastern Pacific Hurricane Season

Posted in Storm Track, Commentary, Eastern Pacific, Storm Warning, Tracking the Tropics at 11:59 pm by gmachos

Not Even a Month into the Season and There Have Been Two Storms Already

Although the Atlantic gets the honor for having the earliest start to the season in 2015, the Eastern Pacific is already off to a solid start. Just three weeks into the season, and there have been not only two named storms, but also two major hurricanes. Taking advantage of the very warm waters off the Mexican and Central American coastlines, which may be heated up even more thanks to the emergence of El Nino, both Andres and Blanca rapidly intensified to major hurricanes with Category Four strength winds. The Eastern Pacific season usually starts before the Atlantic since the EPAC officially starts on May 15th while the Atlantic begins on June 1st.

This year, however, the tables have been turned. Despite less than enthusiastic forecasts for activity in the Atlantic Basin, it got the jump on the Eastern Pacific when Tropical Storm Ana formed off the Southeastern United States near the Bahamas on May 7th. Since then, the Atlantic has gone dormant, which is the usual pattern at the beginning of the season since water temperatures are still quite cool. It took almost two weeks for the first system to form in the Eastern Pacific, but the basin sure made up for lost time when Andres rapidly strengthened to have 145 mph winds during the early morning of June 1st. Andres soon moved into cooler waters and eventually dissipated three days later without impacting land.

Blanca followed suit as it began churning as a tropical low while Andres was taking center stage. Since Andres’ demise though, Blanca has made a name for herself. On the evening of Wednesday, June 3rd, Blanca had rapidly intensified to have 140 mph winds, and an estimated minimum central pressure of 943 millibars or 27.85 inches of Hg. Since then Blanca has gone through some ups and downs in intensity. The storm had weakened to have only 90 mph winds as of 6:00 PM MDT on Friday evening. However, by Saturday afternoon, Blanca had re-energized to have winds of 130 miles per hour, and a minimum central pressure of 943 millibars or 27.85 inches of Hg again. The storm is now taking aim at Baja California.

Within the past few hours, Blanca’s winds have slackened off as it has moved into cooler waters and its overall cloud signature has become asymmetrical. As of the 9:00 PM MDT Advisory from the National Hurricane Center, Blanca is still a major hurricane with 120 miles per hour and a minimum central pressure of 952 millibars, or 28.12 inches of Hg. The storm is moving to the North-Northwest at 10 miles per hour. A Hurricane Watch is currently in effect for the coast of Baja California from Cabo San Lucas to Santa Fe. A Tropical Storm Warning is also in effect from Loreto to Puerto San Andresito, including Cabo San Lucas. A Tropical Storm Watch is in effect from North of Puerto San Andresito to Punta Abreojos and from North of Loreto to Mulege.

Hurricane force winds are possible within the watch area by Sunday evening, and rainfall amounts expect to be between 6 to 10 inches with isolated areas receiving as much as 15 inches. Swells from Blanca are already affecting the Southwestern Mexico, Baja California, and Gulf of California, and could produce life threatening surf and rip currents. This is the fourth straight season that there has been two storms in the Eastern Pacific by the end of the first week of June. However, the previous three seasons (2012, 2013, and 2014), the EPAC has started off with a hurricane and a tropical storm. Nothing like the two Category Four Hurricanes we have seen so far here.

The 2014 season in the EPAC was quite active with 21 depressions, 20 named storms, 14 hurricanes, and 9 major hurricanes. Two years ago in 2013, there were 18 named storms, 8 hurricanes, and one major hurricane. Three seasons ago in 2012, there were 17 named storms, 10 hurricanes, and 5 major hurricanes. Keep in mind, these seasons were not El Nino years, and the start in the Eastern Pacific this year is a strong indication that the El Nino is emerging. So, this is only the beginning.


South Amboy Making Strides After Sandy

Posted in Commentary, Storm Aftermath, GWC News, Tracking the Tropics at 8:56 pm by gmachos

Middlesex County’s Gateway to the Jersey Shore Rebuilds and Reinforces Beachfront Property Nearly Three Years After Hurricane Sandy

During the course of this Spring, Hurricaneville has made a number of journeys over to South Amboy, New Jersey and its Waterfront Park, which faces Raritan Bay.  Nearly three years after Hurricane Sandy slammed ashore to the south near Atlantic City, the small town known as the Gateway to the Jersey Shore has rebuilt and refortified its precious beachfront property.  

It took some time, but the plan went into action during the summer and fall of 2014, and by the spring, South Amboy’s crown jewel, Waterfront Park, and adjoining beachfront looks even better than it did before October 29, 2012. I travel over to South Amboy a lot, and for several different reasons.  I drove over to Waterfront Park and the South Amboy beachfront on the night that Hurricane Irene grinded her way up the Jersey coast.  I was also there during the early afternoon on the day that Sandy made landfall in the Garden State.  

Two weeks after Sandy blew through, I headed over there again.  It was night and day as far as what I saw the day the storm hit, and this chilly late fall day in Mid-November 2012.  The beachfront was tattered and torn to say the least, and I didn’t capture the full story.   During the spring and summer of 2013, I got an even better picture of what Hurricane Sandy did to this small coastal community in Middlesex County, New Jersey.

During each visit to the South Amboy beachfront in the late fall of 2012, and the following spring and summer of 2013, I marveled at what I seen.  I saw large boats run aground by the record storm surge that was generated by Sandy.  Beach grasses and other vegetation was wiped out.  Walkways were rendered unsafe by the power of the water undermining it.  The fence along the walkway by the bench was twisted and battered.

To comprehend the shear power of that surge that came in from Raritan Bay, all you would have to do is look at the small bridge that connects Waterfront Park to the beachfront homes nearby.  Bricks in the bridge’s walls were ripped off.  You could see the metal cabling used to hold the bricks in place.  In other words, you could see the actual internal skeleton of the bridge.  Down the part of the walkway that is adjacent to the beachfront homes, places where there were park benches were swept away.

Fast forward to today, over two and a half years after Hurricane Sandy, and the beachfront looks as if the storm never even happened.  The only scars you may see is the refortification of the beachfront properties with berms.  The bridge connecting the park to the beachfront homes has been completely repaired, and looks as good as new.  An improved sea wall protects much of the beachfront properties and the adjacent Waterfront Park.  New vegetation has been planted while others have returned.  

The walkway itself has been completely rebuilt down to the lights that light up the way.  The stairway that allows you to get on the beach, which was badly damaged by the storm, has also been replaced as well as the fencing along Waterfront Park.  It’s hard to imagine how all of this was either heavily damaged, or completely destroyed.  The rebuilt beachfront has taken some lessons from Irene and Sandy with the enhanced sea wall and berms to better protect homes near the water.  Views of the water are obscured, but it is all for the best.  I don’t know exactly how all of this came together, but the final result is a job well done.

South Amboy has been a resilient community in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.  Less than two months after the storm.  Residents of the town got together to have a benefit for other residents of the town hit hard by the storm.  It became known as the Friends of South Amboy Benefit Games, which were basketball games between both the boys and girls teams from South Amboy High School, and crosstown rival, Cardinal McCarrick.  It was the first time that these two schools played each other since 2008, and it was a thrilling boys hoops game that went to overtime to cap the evening.

Two years later, they are still playing the benefit games, but now for different causes.  Nevertheless, these contests have brought out the best of the town, and it all began in the hours and days after Hurricane Sandy made landfall.  This rebuilding project shows South Amboy and Middlesex County’s can-do spirit.


First Atlantic Storm of 2015 Becoming More Likely

Posted in Storm Track, Commentary, Storm Preparation, GWC News, Tracking the Tropics at 6:53 pm by gmachos

Rare Early May Storm Possible Within Next 48 Hrs to 5 Days

The 2015 Atlantic Hurricane Season is scheduled to start on June 1st, but Mother Nature has had other ideas over the past several days.  Since late last week and this past weekend, models had been suggesting that some sort of low pressure system whether it be subtropical, hybrid, or even tropical was going to form off the Southeastern United States coastline by this time.   

Living up to the computer model guidance expectations, the low has formed, and while it doesn’t have a closed circulation yet, it is very close to becoming the first named storm of 2015 in the Atlantic Basin.  On Thursday afternoon, Hurricane Hunter aircraft flew into the disturbance, which is now stationary off the coast of the Carolinas, and found 40 to 45 mile per hour winds mostly to the north and west of the center of circulation.

Odds of formation with this low have been gradually on the increase since Tuesday, and now are at a very high probability of 80 percent within the next 48 hours, and 80 percent within the next 5 days.  The National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida has been keeping a constant eye on it, and issuing Special Tropical Disturbance Statements periodically.  The NHC doesn’t issue advisories regularly yet until the start of the season on June 1st.   Interests along the Southeastern U.S. coast from North Carolina to about Northern Florida should monitor this situation.

Right now, environmental conditions are quite favorable for development.  The low is in the vicinity if not in the Gulf Stream so sea surface temperatures are warm enough and upper level winds have been light.  The winds have been so light that the storm has been barely moving.  A north to northwest drift is forecast over the next several days.  

This is not the first time that there has been a storm of some kind forming in the Atlantic prior to the official start of the season.  Recent examples include Tropical Storm Ana, which formed in April 2003.   In May 2007, Subtropical Storm Andrea developed in the Atlantic.  Finally, in Mid to late May 2012, Tropical Storm Alberto formed off  the coast of South Carolina.

Ironically, 2012 was the last very active season in the Atlantic Basin, and was capped off of course by Hurricane Sandy, which became the second hurricane ever to make landfall in New Jersey.  There has been a wide range of forecasts on how the 2015 Atlantic Hurricane Season will go, but if what is stirring up right now is any indication, we could be in for a long season.  

Let’s keep this in mind, it only takes one storm to make a season regardless of how much activity stirs up in the Atlantic.  Hurricane Andrew proved that in 1992.  Nevertheless, the entire coast of the United States from Maine to Texas, especially the hurricane belt of the Southeastern coastline is long overdue for a major hurricane.  The last Category 3 strength or higher storm to impact the U.S. coast was in 2005.

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