The Eastern Pacific Hurricane Season is Underway

Hurricane season in the eastern Pacific begins today.

Tropical cyclones, known as hurricanes in the United States, develop around the globe at different times of the year. In the northeastern Pacific, they tend to form between May 15 and November 30. This early start is related to the basin’s warm sea surface temperatures and relatively low wind shear.

While powerful, these Pacific storms are generally not as familiar to Americans as those that form in the Atlantic. This is because they rarely make landfall in this country. In fact, it has only happened twice. A hurricane slammed San Diego, CA in 1858 and a tropical storm battered Long Beach, CA in 1939. This low rate of occurrence is attributed to the cold water of the California Current that flows south along the west coast. Nonetheless, Pacific hurricanes can still impact the US.

Developing in the tropics, Pacific storms deteriorate as they travel north to cooler waters and in some cases over the mountains of Mexico. However, their remnants are still laden with moisture when they reach the southwestern US, where they often unleash flooding rains.

East Pacific storms can also cross into the Central Pacific and affect Hawaii. (The dividing line between the two basins is 140°W longitude.) One such storm was Hurricane Iniki in 1992, the worst hurricane in the state’s history. With wind speeds measured up to 145mph, it was rated category-4 on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

This year, the eastern Pacific hurricane season got off to a record early start, with the development of Tropical Storm Adrian on May 9. No other storm in the basin has formed earlier during the satellite era.

Source: WMO

Subtropical Storm Ana: First Named Storm of 2015 Atlantic Season

Subtropical storm Ana, the first named storm of the 2015 Atlantic Hurricane Season has officially formed. With winds measured at 45mph earlier today, the center of this pre-season storm is located about 180 miles southeast of Myrtle Beach, SC.

According to the National Hurricane Center (NHC), Ana is expected to bring heavy rain and gusty winds to parts of both North and South Carolina over the next few days. It will also produce rough surf and dangerous rip currents along the coast.

A subtropical storm is a hybrid of a regular storm, fueled by the clash of warm and cold air, and a tropical storm, powered by the heat and moisture of warm ocean waters. Ana’s hybrid nature means that it has the potential to transition into a fully tropical system, especially as it sits over the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. This is why the NHC assigned it a name.  In May 2012, this type of transition happened with Tropical Storm Beryl, which was the strongest pre-season tropical cyclone to make landfall in the US.

While pre-season storms tend to occur every five years of so, Ana is the earliest named storm to form in the Atlantic since April 2003 when a tropical storm also named Ana developed. The Atlantic hurricane season officially begins on June 1.

Satellite view of Subtropical Storm Ana off the Carolina coast.  Image Credit: NASA

Satellite view of Subtropical Storm Ana off the Carolina coast. Image Credit: NASA

Super-Storm Sandy: Two Years Later

Two years ago today, Super-storm Sandy slammed the New York City tri-state area.  Despite being downgraded from hurricane to post-tropical status just prior to landfall, Sandy was the second costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The question is, can it happen again?

Coming ashore with tropical storm-force winds at high tide during a full moon, Sandy was an unprecedented storm. It formed late in the season, grew as it moved north, and instead of turning out to sea like most tropical systems, it made that now famous left hook toward the coast. Statistically, Sandy’s unusual trajectory was a 1-in-700-year event, according to a recent study by researchers at NASA and Columbia University. That said, as sea levels continue to rise, future storm surges will have a higher starting point and be able to reach further inland. So, a lesser storm could produce similar, if not worse, flooding in the future. A different study in the journal, Nature Climate Change, predicts that a current “500 year” storm surge event in NYC could happen every 50 to 240 years by the end of the century.

Sandy caused a record 13.88-foot storm surge at the Battery in lower Manhattan.  It flooded many low-lying areas, including parts of the NYC subway system.  The massive storm, according to the CDC, directly claimed the lives of 117 people in the U.S – mostly by drowning. Damaging or destroying more than 650,000 homes, Sandy displaced thousands of people and caused approximately $70 billion in property damage in addition to knocking out power to 8.5 million people for multiple days.

In reaction, many government agencies – at all levels – have been re-evaluating their strategies for dealing with future storm surge flood disasters.  The National Hurricane Center changed its policy for issuing warnings on post-tropical storms and has developed an experimental Potential Storm Surge Flooding Map that depicts the risk associated with a storm surge during a tropical cyclone. In NYC, the Office of Emergency Management   re-drew its hurricane evacuation zones to reflect the threat of higher sea levels.

As these types of important improvements are being made, the arduous process of rebuilding homes and installing physical defenses against future storms is still ongoing, especially in  the region’s hardest hit areas.

Hurricane Gonzalo Blasts Bermuda

Gonzalo, the 7th named storm of the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season, made landfall in Bermuda on Friday night. Despite being downgraded from a category-3 to a category-2 hurricane just prior to coming ashore, the storm still caused extensive damage.

Producing a top wind gust of 140-mph and generating waves over 40 feet high, the storm toppled trees and downed power lines. Approximately 90% of the island chain lost power. Crediting advanced preparations, local officials say no fatalities or serious injuries have been reported.

Gonzalo was the second tropical system to hit Bermuda is less than a week. Tropical Storm Fay slammed the popular vacation spot just last Sunday with strong winds and heavy rain. The last time Bermuda was hit twice in one week was when Tropical Storm Emily and Hurricane Floyd both moved over the archipelago in early September 1981.

Hurricane Gonzalo makes landfall in Bermuda.  Credit:

Hurricane Gonzalo makes landfall in Bermuda. Credit: PTZ_TV

Two Tropical Storms Cause Flood Disaster in Mexico

The hurricane season in the U.S. has been fairly slow this year – at least so far.  Mexico, our neighbor to the south, however, has not been so lucky.

Hit from both sides, Mexico was slammed by two separate tropical storms this week.   Manuel moved in from the Pacific and Ingrid came ashore from the Gulf.  Both storms brought torrential rain that caused widespread flooding, landslides, and power outages.  Impacting millions of people across the country, this one-two punch of extreme weather claimed the lives of at least one hundred people and displaced thousands more. 

One of the hardest hit areas was Acapulco on the west coast, where 7.43 inches of rain is reported to have fallen in one twenty-four hour period.  The flooding was so severe in this popular resort town that it turned roads into raging muddy rivers and carried crocodiles into the city.  With the only highway out of town destroyed in a landslide and the airport submerged in waist deep water,  locals along with nearly forty-thousand tourists have been stranded there for days.  

According to the Mexican National Weather Service, the last time Mexico was hit by two tropical storms within a span of twenty-four hours was back in 1958.

Sandy Wallops New York City

Barreling through New York City late last night, post-tropical storm Sandy caused widespread damage and power outages.  Eighteen storm-related deaths – so far – have also been reported across the city’s five boroughs.

Powerful winds – with gusts reaching 79 mph – toppled countless trees and helped create a record storm surge of 13.88 feet in lower Manhattan.  As a result, streets flooded and the subway tunnels were inundated with water.  In addition, the encroaching seawater shorted out power substations, leaving a large part of southern Manhattan in the dark.

The city’s outer boroughs were also seriously battered in this storm.  Many homes and businesses in the low lying coastal areas of Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx were damaged or destroyed by unprecedented flooding.

The extensive damage from Sandy is still being assessed, but officials say this storm may be the worst in New York City’s history.