Thursday, June 29, 2017
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Early Hurricane Season May Be Brewing Something In The Gulf of Mexico

tropicalcyclonefrontIt is that time of year.

It is hurricane season, and nature seems to know that as well. As a meteorology professor and scientist, I have been watching weather models over the past several days, and some have hinted, as far back as last week, at the possibility of "something developing" in the Gulf of Mexico. I tend to err on the side of caution with long-range solutions and let the information evolve. Too often, models spin up "fantasy" storms at long range so it is important to be cautious in what is shared. This current threat is now within a time window that warrants a little more attention. Here are 4 things that you need to know right now.

The National Hurricane Center is watching it. National Hurricane Center (NHC) forecaster Dr. Jack Beven (a former classmate of mine at Florida State University Department of Meteorology as it was called then) wrote in the June 16th 8:00 am NHC tropical outlook discussion

A broad area of low pressure is expected to form over the northwestern Caribbean Sea and the Yucatan peninsula during the next day or two. Conditions appear to be favorable for gradual development of this system while it moves slowly northwestward into the southern Gulf of Mexico early next week. * Formation chance through 48 hours...low...near 0 percent. * Formation chance through 5 days...medium...60 percent.

The "medium" chance of formation is what prompted me to write this perspective. Chances of development actually went up from 50% to 60% within 24 hours. The NOAA ensemble tropical cyclone genesis probabilities are very high according to University of Miami tropical meteorologist Brian McNoldy. He told me,

If I had to bet, I'd go with a borderline tropical depression/storm

It is not a slam dunk case. This is by no means a slam dunk case (they rarely are). Models will certainly differ at this stage. In the past day or so, some models had more eastward tracks while others tended to be more westward in track. McNoldy messaged me

Nothing too specific at this point. Just models coming into agreement. Huge difference between the current GFS (American) and parallel GFS (experimental new American) though. ECMWF (European) agrees more with the current GFS. The new/parallel GFS also develops the African wave. Seems to be vorticity-happy. The Canadian model looks a whole lot like the parallel GFS...

IBM/WSI tropical meteorologist Dr. Michael Ventrice is also cautious. He tweeted his company's tropical risk product (below) derived from the European model. Ventrice also messaged me

I've been hesitant on the formation of a Gulf Tropical Cyclone due to the current set up, which features something called a tropical gyre, forecast to slowly drift Northwestward across the Yucatan into the Gulf of Mexico later this weekend In the past, these gyres have resulted in storm development, but can also cause false alarms in the weather forecast models. The anatomy of the gyre is often composed of multiple vorticity maximas (counterclockwise spinning air over a particular location). The models will struggle with prediction which vorticity max will develop over another, or may miss land interactions.....

Legendary meteorology professor Dr. Lance Bosart knows more than a thing or two about tropical meteorology. In fact, I suspect that Dr. Ventrice probably learned a few things from Professor Bosart at the University at Albany, one of the nation's highly-respected atmospheric science departments. Bosart even weighed in to me by email with his thoughts (and provides a nice bit of meteorology "101" on the role of low and high pressure)

The jury is still out on what is going to happen. We have a battle of the ridges (of high pressure) over western North America and over the western Atlantic. If the western ridge “wins” by expanding eastward there is much less of a chance (but not zero) that anything tropical in the Gulf will reach the Gulf coast. In this scenario, tropical development is likely in the Gulf because the shear would be reduced as the upper-level ridge from the west builds eastward. If the western Atlantic ridge “wins” by holding its position and forcing a weak upstream trough (of low pressure) to deepen southward through the Gulf of Mexico then there could be an opening for a weak tropical disturbance to organize and possibly move northward through the eastern Gulf of Mexico. In this scenario, there would be more shear which would hinder TC development and the biggest risk would likely be a tropical rainstorm in parts of Florida and nearby areas (but TC development would not be zero).

Though also cautious, Ventrice believes it will produce some heavy rains and unsettled seas in the Gulf of Mexico. He also left often the possibility of further drift westward into the Bay of Campeche, which could be a bit more favorable for tropical cyclogenesis (low development). Under such a scenario, rainfall could be a serious threat to Mexico. National Hurricane Center scientist Eric Blake echoed a similar concern when I contacted him

One potential hazard is the likelihood torrential rain in Central America from the strong southwest winds hitting the mountains.

Climatologically, this is where formation is expected. If something does form (and "if" is the operative word), this part of the Gulf of Mexico is where storms tend to form in June. An analysis of formation points in the June 11-20 window (from 1851 to 2015) confirms this statement.

Additionally, sea surface temperatures (SSTs) tend to be more favorable in this geographic region to support tropical cyclone development. An examination of sea surface temperature anomalies (differences from "normal") illustrates that for the period March to June 2017, SSTs have been positive or above normal.

There is still no confirmed FEMA or NOAA Director. As hurricane season ramps up, it is utterly shameful that there are still no confirmed Administrators at FEMA or NOAA, respectively. These two agencies are directly responsible for hurricane forecasting and federal emergency response in the United States. I should also mention that there is currently an interim NHC director as well. In each of these cases, experienced, capable civil servants are in place, and I am confident that the agencies are functioning well. However, in a worse case scenario storm situation that required important decisions or access to the highest levels, I worry about confusion and an authority vacuum at critical times. Yes, interim people are there, but we cannot be naive to how Washington works. Lt. General Russel Honore helped the United States dig out of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. He told CNN

These operations will not function as they should with temporary people doing the jobs....Just look back to Hurricane Katrina to see how important leadership was. If someone is slow in making decisions it can be costly -- imagine having no one at all.....

And oh by the way, there is another tropical area that NHC is watching in the Atlantic. Such activity is quite unusual for June so buckle up.

Dr. Marshall Shepherd, Dir., Atmospheric Sciences Program/GA Athletic Assoc. Distinguished Professor (Univ of Georgia), Host, Weather Channel's Sunday Talk Show, Weather (Wx) Geeks, 2013 AMS President

 Source: Forbes

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