Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Forget the Numbers, Brace for Impact

Nearly a month and a half into what is expected to be an epic hurricane season, and all we have seen so far is one named storm, Hurricane Alex, and a poorly organized tropical depression. There is barely a thunderstorm to be had in the Atlantic basin this week and a vast layer on dry Saharan dust has limited the hope for activity in the very near term. Despite the slow start and bleak outlook for a storm right now, expectations remain for an active hurricane season.

On average in July, we typically do not see all that many storms. What I think is making this hurricane season seem to fall short of expectations is the need for comparison to 2005, where the month of July was record-breaking – in numbers of storms and storm intensity.

One thing we must note this season is not only the numbers and intensity, which may or may not meet expectations, but impact! The pattern that is set up now very much favors tropical cyclone activity to reach U.S. coastlines from the Gulf to the northeast. In fact, the probability of a storm getting into the Gulf is about 44 percent this year, and normally it's about 30 percent. Additionally, yet another month of record warm sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic Basin was recorded in June – a trend that is likely to continue as we press on towards the peak part of hurricane season, which runs from mid-August through mid-October. Combine these factors with an expected decrease in Saharan dust and low wind shears, trouble could be brewing on the horizon.

Regarding impact as the bigger threat as opposed to high numbers of storms expected this season, check out this perspective from past seasons where the numbers of storms were quite low, but impact was quite high: In 1965, there were only seven named storms, one of which was Betsy, the first billion-dollar hurricane. Another example is Hurricane Andrew in 1992. There were only seven named storms that year as well, but Andrew was the costliest in history until Katrina came along in 2005.

Again, there are no imminent threat areas to discuss in the tropical Atlantic today, and none of the reliable computer models is calling for tropical cyclone development over the next seven days. Beyond that, things could get more interesting! Remember, according to NOAA there is still a 70 percent chance of 14 to 23 named storms to develop this season, of which 8 to 14 could be hurricanes, and 3 to 7 becoming majors. With a month and a half behind us and only one named storm, that prediction could allow for a busy few months ahead where we’ll be tracking several storms at the same time!

For now, please stay tuned and be hurricane ready – I think August and September (maybe October too) will have some tricks up its sleeves!

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