Cyclone Gita in the South Pacific is a powerful Category 4-equivalent tropical cyclone on the Saffir-Simpson Scale (as of the time of this post). Maximum sustained winds analyzed by the US Joint Typhoon Warning Center are up to 130 mph with gusts to 155 mph. Gita is moving westward and is expected to pass near or over Tonga around 12 UTC Monday (6 am CST or 1 am Tuesday local time). The storm is expected to be at least a powerful Category 4 storm. There is moderate wind shear (increasing winds with height effecting the cyclone and limiting more rapid intensification. However, with water temperatures along the path of 28-29 degrees C (82-84 degrees F) and well-organized structure, Gita will be a potentially catastrophic storm if its eye wall moves over the main island. Gita will also produce very heavy rain (perhaps 6-12 inches) which will lead to flooding. A state of emergency has been declared in the island nation.
After 24 hours, Gita is expected to gradually weaken as sea surface temperatures cool and vertical wind shear increases as the system begins to turn to the southwest into higher latitudes. However, Gita is expected to remain a hurricane-force storm through the end of the week.
New Zealand will need to keep an eye on the remnants of Gita as the dying circulation an moisture plume may curve back southeastward in the mid-latitude westerlies. While, the forecast will certainly change somewhat…such as the position of the upper-level trough of low pressure southwest of New Zealand which will cause the system to curve back towards the country beginning Sunday…any remnant system may lead to locally heavy rainfall for both the North and South Islands early to mid-week next week.
The 2017 North Atlantic Hurricane season was a devastating one in terms of loss of life as well as property damage for the United States and the Caribbean. The National Hurricane Center released its post-season report on Harvey which caused great destruction to parts of Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana. What follows is a brief summary and discussion of Harvey based on info from that report as well as other sources related to Harvey’s impacts. The full report is linked at the end of this post in the references.
What became Harvey was originally a tropical disturbance which came off the West Coast of Africa on August 12th. It is common during August and September for land-based thunderstorm complexes known as mesoscale convective systems to move westward off the African coast near or south of the Cape Verde (also known as the Cabo Verde) Islands and later develop into long-lived tropical cyclones. Harvey was a classic “cape-verde” type storm as it would later develop into a tropical depression with a well-defined center on August 16th.
The depression intensified into a storm and given its name 12 hrs after initial development. It peaked over the open Atlantic at 40 knots (~45 mph), moving over the islands of Barbados and St. Vincent on August 18th. However, increasing vertical wind shear (increasing winds with height tilting and blowing the thunderstorms away from the low pressure center) over the central Caribbean Sea lead to Harvey’s dissipation to a remnant low later that day.
The remnant circulation moved over the Yucatan Peninsula on Aug 22nd and redeveloped into a tropical depression over Bay of Campeche on August 23rd, 150 n mi west of Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico.
The initially poor organization of the reformed Harvey transitioned to a period of rapid intensification late on the 23rd as deep convection began to concentrate near the center. This was aided by an environment of light shear, very warm sea surface temperatures and high mid-level moisture. Intensification would continue until landfall on the 26th. Harvey reached Category 3 midday on the 25th and intensified into a Category 4 as it made its landfalls on the Texas coast early August 26th (the evening of the 25th local time). The initial landfall was on San Jose Island, TX as a Category 4 with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph (115 knots) with a second landfall on mainland Texas in northeast Copano Bay as a Category 3 with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph (105 knots). Wind damage was extreme and devastating in Aransas, Nueces, Refugio and the eastern part of San Patricio Counties. 15,000 homes were destroyed and 25,000 homes damaged. The City of Rockport was hit the hardest as the Category 3+ wind field moved into that area causing both extensive wind and surge impacts. The highest surge observed in Harvey was generally in the range of 9-11 ft.
Harvey meandered in light steering currents, “stuck” between a mid-tropospheric high pressure system over the Four Corners states and another mid-troposphere high over the Gulf of Mexico. Torrential rains fell over Houston Metro and the Golden Triangle near a stationary front which formed on the north and east side of Harvey.
The rainfall of Harvey was truly incredible. A storm total of 60.58 inches was confirmed Nederland, TX; 60.54 inches in Groves, TX. Much of the heaviest precipitation fell in the first 72 hrs of the event. Previous continental US record for a tropical cyclone is 48 inches in Medina, TX (1978). The extreme nature of Harvey was displayed in that 18 values over that continental record of 48 inches reported across southeastern TX, with 36-48 inches recorded across the Houston metro area. However, Multi-Sensor Precipitation Estimates (MPE), which includes radar-derived rainfall intensity estimates suggests 65-70 inches where few observations were available or observations failed early in the event. Maximum rainfall measured in Louisiana was 23.71 inches in Vinton, LA, with MPE suggesting a more representative 40 inches as Southeast Southwest LA obs were sparse.
The large-scale or synoptic set up for the Harvey exceptional rainfall event is not particularly unique. Heavy rain bands formed along a modest frontal boundary situated initially near Houston, then the Golden Triangle region in Southeast TX (Beaumont, Port Arthur, Orange, TX area). Enhanced convergence and convective lift with warm cloud droplet precipitation processes allowed for enhanced rainfall rates in abundant thunderstorms. The combination of extremely high rainfall rates of up to 5-7 inches per hour and the stationary nature of the near coastal frontal boundary and Harvey itself contributed to the extreme total accumulation and massive flooding.
NOAA analysis determined that areas of Southeast TX experience a flood with an annual probability of <0.1% (equivalent to a >1000 year flood event). I believe this is one of the most important parts of the National Hurricane Center report, so I’ll quote it:
While established records of this nature are not kept, given the exceptional exceedance probabilities, it is unlikely the United States has ever seen such a sizable area of excessive tropical cyclone rainfall totals as it did from Harvey.
In addition to storm surge, wind and flooding rains, Harvey produced 57 tornadoes (many in the Houston Metro area) and killed 68 people directly with an additional 35 indirect deaths. All direct deaths were in Texas and it was the deadliest tropical cyclone for Texas since 1919. All but three direct deaths were caused by freshwater flooding.
According to NOAA, preliminary damage analysis suggests estimated damages of $125 billion, making Harvey the second-costliest hurricane on record in the North Atlantic basin, only behind Hurricane Katrina, when adjusted for inflation.
Connection to Anthropogenic (human-caused) Climate Change
During and immediately following the events of Hurricane Harvey, there was intense controversy over even discussing climate change as it related to the extreme events related to Hurricane Harvey. Even mentioning climate change in reference to an individual extreme weather event. A lot of opinions were thrown about, but the science of climate change has evolved dramatically in the past 10 years and climate researchers have a much better understanding of many of the connections between climate variables and the statistics of weather which make up the recent past and current climate. From this, attribution studies can be conducted to determine a likelihood of connection to the changing climate regime. A attribution study was done by World Weather Attribution (#2 below) and the probabilistic statistical analysis determined that the record rainfall from Harvey was approximately a) 3 times more likely and b) 15% more intense in terms of rainfall rate because of climate change. One location witnessed a return period for extreme rainfall of 9000 years with a high degree of statistical confidence. The impacts were consistent with what would be expected with 1 degree C+ of global warming since the late 19th century (the world has thought to have begun warming because of humanity since the mid 18th century). I did an extensive post previously during this most recent hurricane season on the climate change connection with includes references to numerous recent peer reviewed papers HERE.
Five years ago today (October 29, 2012), the post-tropical remnants of what was Hurricane Sandy made landfall on the New Jersey coastline as a hurricane-force windstorm, causing destructive straight-line winds and historic, damaging surge from the North Atlantic extending from the Jersey coast north into the New York City Metro Area, with historic flooding of lower Manhattan.
Sandy produced widespread wind gusts of 75-90 mph across portions of New York and New Jersey with heavy rainfall totals of 7-10 inches across parts of New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland. Storm surge was Sandy’s main cause of significant damage, with wind damage and flooding rainfall additional impacts. The post-tropical “superstorm” caused a 10-13 ft storm surge which damaged and destroyed homes and businesses along the Jersey Shore and Hudson Waterfront, with a record 13.88 ft water rise reported at Battery Park in Lower Manhattan.
Sandy’s expansive storm surge was more intense by multiple factors. As it came poleward, it grew significantly in size, a typical phenomenon for tropical cyclones moving into the mid-latitudes. However, Sandy’s weakening and mid-latitude interactions caused it become the largest North Atlantic tropical cyclone on record, producing a huge fetch (extensive wind over long stretch of open water). This fetch allowed for the building of significant ocean waves and piling up of water toward the shallow continental shelf of the Atlantic coast of the US. And although Sandy weakened somewhat and became “non-tropical”, this did not matter as the very large wind field remained and forward momentum of the very heavy ocean could not settle down in time before pounding the coastline with destructive surge.
In addition, Sandy made landfall at high tide, enhancing the storm’s ability to flood dry land areas and cause direct damage with battering waves. I will also note that this “flood reach” was even greater because of climate change-induced sea level rise. Global sea levels have risen 9 inches since 1880 and while the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UN) continues to indicate a likely sea level rise of up to 3.2 ft by 2100, many other reputable scientists have suggested the possibility of multi-foot sea level rise occurring this century as the result of exponential glacial melt feedbacks in Greenland and Antarctica. Perhaps as high as 6.5-16.5 feet by 2100 (see references #1-2 below). This, of course would be catastrophic for vulnerable coastal cities for both livability but initially for any places already exposed to storm surges. New York City is one most at risk.
Sea level rise has also been locally enhanced along the Northeast US Coast because of abnormally warm waters building offshore for years, leading to increased thermal expansion of the water surface upward. This may also be a result of climate change-induced weakening (#3) of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). While Superstorm Sandy wasn’t “caused” by climate change, it was part of an increasing regime of more extreme weather events (and events with with more extreme hazard variables) and a prelude to what will be far more frequent in the coming decades.
Sandy was retired after the 2012 Hurricane Season, causing 233 deaths from the Caribbean to the United States and producing an incredible $75 billion in damages (only 2nd to Hurricane Katrina). An incredible and devastating meteorological event which we can hope we continue to recover from and our country will be better prepared to mitigate against next time.
Ophelia appears to have nearly completed the process to Post-Tropical based on satellite imagery, with the whole arrangement of frontal boundaries and more asymmetric wind field and lack of any significant tropical characteristics outside of some convection (thunderstorm activity) northeast of the center. Ophelia is still a hurricane-force cyclone (likely top sustained winds 75-85 mph) and impacts still expected to quickly increase over Ireland Monday morning with rain, damaging winds and dangerous surf and coastal flooding.
Hurricane Ophelia…at least it was still considered one at 11 am AST…is quickly transitioning to a hybrid post-tropical cyclone. I made up a schematic using current infrared satellite imagery. You can clearly see the transitioning hurricane becoming surrounded by cold, dry air on its’ back side, with its own warm, moist tropical air mass contributing to warm air advection ahead of it. And you can the developing frontal structure…cold front developing offshore Portugal and warm frontal cloud structure fanning out far to the north of the low center and offshore Ireland. The cyclone itself should be fully post-tropical in the next few hours, if it can’t be considered so already. Impacts (moderate to heavy rain and damaging winds) begin their arrival Monday morning. My forecast for Ireland (written last night) can be found HERE.
Hurricane Ophelia has strengthened into a Category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 115 mph as it moves south of the Azores. It is moving over prime atmospheric conditions, even as it overcomes waters of only 25 degrees C/77 degrees F. In normal tropical environments, tropical cyclones need water temperatures of 26 degrees C/79 degrees F to maintain themselves and warmer to significantly strengthen. However, the colder temperatures in the upper-atmosphere associated with the mid-latitude troposphere is providing Ophelia with ample atmospheric instability (warm, moist air rising into cold air aloft intensifying thunderstorm activity). In addition, mid-latitude dynamics are playing a role…the approaching frontal system and associated upper-level trough of low pressure approaching Ophelia is giving the system a “poleward outflow jet” to pull air away from the system and allow the surface low to strengthen.
See my previous post from late last night for my wind forecast for Ireland. Strong winds should begin to impact the island midday Monday (local time), with stormy conditions lasting into Monday night. The southeastern Azores will see some gusty winds and 1-3 inches of rain as it passes by this evening and night.
Hurricane Ophelia is a high-latitude hurricane by tropical standards…a Category 2 storm with maximum sustained winds of 100 mph as of 11 pm AST…moving south of Azores at 20 mph.
This hurricane, is on track to take its already unusual path northward toward a collision course with Ireland and the United Kingdom Monday and Tuesday!
Not to worry, however. Ophelia will NOT be a tropical cyclone when it arrives in the British Isles Monday. Sunday, the hurricane will begin to pass over much cooler waters between the Azores and Portugal (and note, the hurricane is currently over waters 2-3 degrees C/~3.5-5.5 degrees F above normal). At the same time, if you look at the previous satellite analysis, the hurricane will begin to interact with the existing frontal zone and ingest air from an approaching cold air mass moving in from the North Atlantic. This will begin the process of extratropcial transition where Ophelia becomes a mid-latitude frontal system. However, because of its old, warm tropical air mass, it will continue to retain some of its internal energy, enabling it to be a powerful hurricane-force windstorm.
I have moderate confidence in my forecast…some uncertainty deals with the track of the low pressure system. A track farther offshore to the west would limit significant winds to the south and west shores and coastal communities. A track very close or even onshore the south coast would send very high winds deeper inland into Ireland. Regardless, those in the country should expect widespread downed trees, power outages, and difficult driving conditions for high-profile vehicles during the afternoon into late evening Monday.
Here is the climatological history of all known tropical cyclones in the North Atlantic just to show the rarity of systems such as Ophelia. Although some cyclones may have been missed prior to the satellite area, it is possible that such cyclones were less likely to survive in the distant past because of cooler waters where Ophelia is located now. Sea surface temperatures have warmed on Earth because of climate change.
Hurricane Nate is likely to be a Cat 1 or 2 at landfall (thinking NHC forecast of 2 as high-end). It is leveling off based on current satellite presentation as well as air force reconnaissance observations. STORM SURGE REMAINS THE GREATEST HAZARD. The asymmetric structure…a product of Nate’s forward motion, may intensify/focus surge/battering waves from Mouth of Mississippi River to the MS/AL border. 9-11 ft surge with battering waves expected Mouth of Miss. River to MS/AL border as center passes nearby. 6-9 ft east to AL/FL border. Dangerous. High tide along Gulf Coast of MS around midnight, passage of center may be 8-10 pm CDT…partial enhancement could exacerbate flooding.
Probability of Cat 1 at initial landfall: 90%
Probability of Cat 2 at initial landfall: 10%
Landfall should be between 5-7 pm in far Southwest Louisiana.
Hurricane Nate is headed for a likely landfall with the northern Gulf Coast of the US this evening. The hurricane is blasting north-northwestward very fast for a tropical cyclone…26 mph at the moment. This is under the influence of an approaching upper-level trough of low pressure which will eventually turn it northeastward after landfall. The system has continued to organize as expected over the warm waters (83-84 degrees F) and favorable low wind shear. The storm (at 10 CDT) is a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 90 mph with gusts to 110 mph.
The waters atmospheric and oceanic conditions should remain favorable for intensification up until landfall. Landfall is likely between 6-8 pm in far southwest Louisiana. My assessment based on this on trends, is that Nate is likely (65%) to make landfall as Category 2 (100-110 mph sustained) with a moderate chance (10%) to make landfall as a Category 3 (115 mph+), if more rapid intensification occurs during the next 7-8 hrs. There is also a 25% chance of a landfall as a Category 1.
Heavy rainfall (lessened by the storm’s forward speed) is most likely over southern Mississippi into Alabama. Much of Louisiana will miss the worst of the storm, including New Orleans, however points east will face potentially significant surge. Surge may reach 7-11 ft along the mouth of the Mississippi River to the Mississippi/Alabama border; 6-9 ft from the MS/AL border to the AL/FL border, including Mobile Bay.
If you know anyone in these areas, please tell them to evacuate NOW!! This storm is moving FAST and storm surge will, BY FAR be the greatest danger from Nate. Far more than the wind or even inland flooding. I do have some concern that the combination of the relatively recent development of this system, its fast forward movement, and resulting shorter lead time, in addition to the system being relatively weaker in terms of maximum sustained winds that people may not leave or leave fast enough. People need to leave and be safe.
I will have updates when possible this afternoon and evening.