Hurricane Gordon was the seventh named storm, third hurricane, and first major hurricane of the 2006 Atlantic Hurricane Season. Forming to the Northeast of the Lesser Antilles, the storm curved northwestward, and then to the north and northeast into the Central Atlantic, where it later accelerated, and threatened the Azores. Gordon along with Hurricane Helene represented the peak of a rather tranquil and merciful 2006 season.
For a period of about six weeks from the next to last week of August until the first week of October, the 2006 Atlantic Hurricane season behaved as actively as it has had in recent years. Starting with the season's first hurricane, Ernesto, until its most recent, Isaac, the Atlantic bristled with activity. However, many were still waiting for that monster storm, and that finally came when Hurricane Gordon came along in September, 2006. Originating in the Tropical Atlantic, Gordon was a storm that followed a similar path traveled by Hurricane Florence a week or so earlier.
One difference in the two trajectories was that Gordon trekked a bit more to the east, and consequently spared Bermuda a much worse outcome than it had with Florence, which was the first hurricane to strike the island since Hurricane Fabian did back in September, 2003. Another disparity between Gordon and Florence was the fact that the former took advantage of more favorable weather report much better organized, and became a much stronger storm. After becoming a hurricane late in the evening on September 12, 2006, Gordon strengthened to become the season's first major hurricane, and ultimately peaked with sustained winds of 120 mph and a minimum central pressure of 28.20 inches of Hg (Mercury), or 955 millibars.
While it didn't impact Bermuda or the United States, Gordon, which traversed the Atlantic for ten days, threatened a good portion of the Azores, an island chain in the Northeastern Atlantic to the west of Europe and the northwest of Africa and the Canary Islands. A Category Three Hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Scale, Gordon was one of two major hurricanes in 2006, but it wasn't the strongest storm. Of the nine named storms, five hurricanes, and two major hurricanes in 2006, that honor belonged to the storm that followed Gordon, Hurricane Helene, which grew to have peak winds of 125 mph, and a minimum central pressure of 28.17 inches, or 954 millibars.
Hurricane Gordon first formed as a depression in the Central Atlantic on September 10, 2006 approximately 525 miles to the East-Northeast of the Northern Leeward Islands. Like Florence before, and Helene and Isaac after, Gordon moved to the Northwest in the direction of Bermuda. A day later, on September 11, 2006, Gordon, which was now centered some 875 miles to the Southeast of Bermuda, became the seventh named storm of the season. Within thirty-six to forty-eight hours after that, Gordon, now located some six hundred miles to the Southeast of Bermuda, had become the season's third hurricane.
At this point, the storm began to give indications of not only further strengthening, but that it was going to miss Bermuda. Gordon was now projected on a path that would take it to the east of the resort island paradise nestled several hundred miles east of the Carolinas in the United States. Early on, it appeared that Gordon had a better chance to become a major hurricane than all of its predecessors. Despite the fact that it traveled along the same path as Florence, and had the chance to encounter cooler waters due to upwelling created by the season's sixth storm, Gordon held together quite well.
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The most striking quality about Hurricane Gordon was how well the storm stayed intact as it moved into the cooler or more temperate waters of the North Central and Northeastern Atlantic. Gordon was still a hurricane as it approached the Azores on September 19th. Winds were still a strong Category Two intensity at 105 mph, and even more troubling was the fact that like most tropical systems that get caught up in the Westerlies, the hurricane was picking up forward speed. The Government of the Azores issued Watches and Warnings for western and central portions of the island chain as the system moved on a track just to the south.
Due to the combination of its rapid forward motion, its declining intensity, and gradual loss of tropical characteristics, Gordon only caused minor damage to the area. In the late afternoon on September 20th, Gordon became extratropical, but was still a significant storm for portions of Western Europe including England, Scotland, and France. Following the demise of Gordon, and the two hurricanes Helene and Isaac, the busiest period of the 2006 season came to an abrupt halt in early October with no storms since. The quiet way in which the 2006 Atlantic Hurricane Season started and finished left many to wonder what happened.
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The answer to that question is fairly simple. The onset of a new El Nino episode began during the course of the season, and squelched earlier storms such as Debby. Ernesto ran into other obstacles such a mountainous terrain over the islands of Hispaniola and Cuba, and then never really got itself back on track with several more landfalls in the United States. Florence, Gordon, Helene, and Isaac were storms that recurved away from the East Coast of the United States as successive troughs kept the storms out to sea. Only three tropical systems made landfall in the United States in 2006: Alberto (June, 2006), Beryl (July, 2006), and Ernesto, the season's first hurricane.
El Nino is a climate phenomenon that occurs when the sea surface temperatures in the Pacific become warmer than normal. With respect to tropical activity, El Ninos are usually responsible for increased activity in the Eastern and Western Pacific while creating hostile upper level conditions in the Atlantic, which prevent tropical formation. Other factors contributing to the lower number of storms were sea surface temperatures that were not as warm as in 2005, and pressures throughout the basin were higher than usual. Originally, pre-season prognostications by forecasters at Colorado State University indicated that there would be somewhere in the area of 17 storms in the Atlantic while NOAA predicted 13 to 16 named storms.
After the deluge of activity in the Atlantic in 2005 with 28 named storms, 15 hurricanes, 7 major hurricanes, and four Category Five Hurricanes, the 2006 season brought the fewest storms and major hurricanes since 1997. It marked only the second time since this latest active cycle began in the 1995 season, that there have been fewer than ten named storms. The 1997 season, which coincided with one of the strongest El Ninos on record, had only seven named storms, three hurricanes, and one major hurricane (Erika). Over the past twelve seasons, there have been 176 named storms, 98 hurricanes, 47 major hurricanes, and seven Category Five Hurricanes. Those numbers boil down to an average of 14.7 named storms, 8.2 hurricanes, 3.9 major hurricanes, and 0.6 Category Five Hurricanes per season from the start of the 1995 season to the end of the 2006 season.
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