Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Northeast Hurricane 'Overdue'

"Everybody wants to get inna de act," the old comedian Jimmy Durante used to grumble.

In April the Colorado State people formerly under Dr. William Gray predicted 17 named storms and 9 hurricanes for 2006. In May, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration followed by predicting "13 to 16 named storms" and eight to 10" hurricanes.

Now the chief meteorologist for AccuWeather, Joe Bastardi (has there ever been a more suitable name for a hurricane forecaster?) claims he's seeing "indications that the Northeast will experience a hurricane larger and more powerful than anything that region has seen in a long time," possibly as soon as this summer.

Apparently, his team's prediction is grounded in perceived "weather cycles that indicate which U.S. coastal areas are most susceptible to landfalls."
"The Northeast is staring down the barrel of a gun," said Joe Bastardi, Chief Forecaster of the AccuWeather.com Hurricane Center. "The Northeast coast is long overdue for a powerful hurricane, and with the weather patterns and hydrology we're seeing in the oceans, the likelihood of a major hurricane making landfall in the Northeast is not a question of if but when."
Others disagree. As USA Today observed last week, "Most forecasters put the odds of a major northeastern hurricane somewhat lower than Bastardi, but still well worth considering. There is a 7% chance of a hurricane making landfall somewhere between New York City and the southern suburbs of Boston this year, according to meteorologists at Colorado State University."

Modestly good news also comes from the Pacific, where scientists see La Niña not becoming a factor this year. In contrast to the past two years, "[T]he equatorial Pacific will be neutral to warm in August, when it really matters for hurricanes."

Locally, we've noticed there is considerable confusion over the La Niña issue. Some misinterpret the latest news from the Pacific to mean hurricane activity will diminish this year. Nothing could be further from fact.

Perhaps the clearest explanation is to be found at Spacemart.com, which quotes Goddard Space Flight Center's La Niña expert, David Adamec, as saying, "
The current [Pacific Ocean] temperature signal at the end of April is near normal and the ocean surface temperature has not yet caused the atmosphere to respond in a La Niña-like way."

This means at best La Niña will be a neutral factor. Still
, as the Boston Globe reports:
"The North Atlantic is in the midst of a 'multi-decadal signal,' a climate pattern favorable to hurricane formation and which is likely to last another 10 or 20 years, said Max Mayfield, hurricane center chief.

That climate pattern involves a confluence of conditions in the ocean and atmosphere, with warmer sea surface temperatures fueling storms and weaker than usual wind shear allowing them to gather force rather than get broken up as they travel westward, said Gerry Bell, hurricane outlook lead meteorologist."
Water temperatures in the North Atlantic are said to be nearly twice as warm as normal for this time of year. According to the Danbury New Times, "A buoy 200 miles off the New Jersey coast recorded a water temperature of 70 degrees in mid-April. It's typically 42 degrees at that time."

This has some pushing the panic button. "Something of a perfect storm is developing," says the New Times. As far north as Nova Scotia, residents are taking hurricane preparedness seriously.

The truth is no one can predict so far ahead whether, where, or when any particular Atlantic Ocean basin storm will make landfall. All the predictions we've seen so far are based strictly on statistical probabilities from complex data. But individual storms don't necessarily follow the statistical mean. As Florida's own experience in 2004-05 shows, wild variations -- for good or ill -- can occur in any year within a broader 'multi-decadel' cycle, or for that matter, within a multi-century global warming pattern.

All we can do is prepare for the mean and hope for better.

Dept. of Amplification

Speaking of water temperatures, the coastal waters off Pensacola are right around the average for this time of year, as you can see on this NOAA weather chart.

1 comment:

Bryan said...

The good news is that the Gulf is cooler than last year and [good for us, bad for the Atlantic coast] the Bermuda High is weaker than normal allowing the earlier turns to the north. That's the reason for the increased threat to the Atlantic coast.

The La Niña affects the jet stream, which should move further north than last year.

The problem I see for us is the early heating in the Bay of Campeche. If something gets stuck there, like Opal did in 1995, our life gets nasty.