Monday, May 31, 2010

Atlantic Hurricane Season begins Tuesday

The start of Atlantic Hurricane season is tomorrow, June 1, and there seems to be much fear and trepidation as this season begins. There are a few reasons for general increase in trepidation, but most of it is simply grounded in the unknown - from dire forecasts of doom and gloom, to a lingering environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico known as "Deepwater Horizon", to a ravished Haiti following the recent earthquakes. Hopefully, some of this nervous energy will be translated to adequate preparation, especially for those along the coastal regions of our country and in the Caribbean.

Here is what is known about this hurricane season:

1. Forecasts from many trusted sources, including NOAA, Colorado State University's Drs. Gray and Klotzbach, and AccuWeather's Dr. Joe Bastardi, all point to an active (some like NOAA label it "hyperactive") 2010 season, based on many variables that are either known or at least well-education guesses. These include the cessation of El Nino conditions that affected our recent winter season, and a possible swing back towards La Nina conditions; above average sea surface temperatures (in some locations, record warmth) in the main development regions for hurricanes from the Caribbean to eastern Atlantic off the coast of Africa; and the fact that we continue to be in the midst of a decades-long cycle of general increased activity called the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO). All of these factors lead to forecasts of increased activity. I'll refer you back to my previous post from early April, "Looking Ahead: Hurricane Season 2010" for more information.

2. The devastation caused by earthquakes in Haiti has left that country highly vulnerable to major storms. A direct strike (or worse, perhaps multiple impacts) would create chaotic and desperate conditions for this island nation that has seen it's share of suffering. Many Caribbean nations are third world countries and are not prepared to deal with serious blows from Mother Nature.

3. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is perhaps the biggest unknown as far as its effects on an approaching tropical system, or even the effects of a storm on the oil slick. Never before has a hurricane churned through an oil spill anywhere close to this magnitude, so the impacts are not well known. However, I will refer you to a well-written article by oft-cited Dr. Jeff Masters of Weather Underground for potential impacts. The most problematic issue appears to be the transport of oil to the coastline, and inland, on storm surge (which could potentially be devastating) and, to a lesser extent, transport of oil and other toxic substances miles inland due to the sheer force of the wind. Less probable are oil falling with the rain from the storm (oil and water don't mix) and lightning strikes on an oil slick causing a massive fire.

4. Just last week, the Loop Current, a warm ocean current that loops through the Gulf of Mexico and then leads into the Florida straits and eventually into the Gulf Stream, cut itself off and became an eddy over the Gulf (which is a common occurrence happening no less than once a year). This has created a 250-mile diameter circle of warm waters over the northeastern Gulf of Mexico that could easily serve to intensify storms traversing the region due to increased warmth of the life-giving ocean waters beneath the storm. A similar eddy fueled Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. For more on this development, I'll again point you to a Dr. Masters article.

As far as actual hurricane forecasts, I don't make those and don't intend to start as it is not my area of expertise, but here is what the "trusted sources" are saying regarding this season:

NOAA/National Weather Service:
14-23 named storms, 8-14 hurricanes, 3-7 major hurricanes, 85% chance of an above normal season and an "increased threat of landfall"

Colorado State University (Drs. Gray, Klotzbach):
15 named storms, 8 hurricanes, 4 major hurricanes, 69% chance of a U.S. landfall
(Note: an updated forecast from CSU is due out on Wednesday)

AccuWeather/Dr. Joe Bastardi:
16-18 named storms, 10-11 hurricanes, 5 major hurricanes, 7 U.S. hurricane landfalls - 2-3 of which would be major hurricanes

So, as hurricane season begins, it is wise for those that could potentially be in the path of one of these storms to make all necessary preparations and pay close attention to forecasts and watches/warnings as they are issued by the National Hurricane Center. For those living in the Mid-South,'s tropical page will have the latest storm tracks and bulletins. Be mindful that, while the threat is not nearly as great here, remnants of tropical systems can bring widespread flooding rains, tropical storm force wind, and/or severe weather to this region of the country.

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