Why Ophelia Worries Me

Tonight, Tropical Storm Ophelia became Hurricane Ophelia. What, no graduation party? Mazel tov anyway.

This has been an interesting storm to watch, even if it seems to be working in slow motion.

If you looked at it yesterday, closed your eyes for 24 hours, and then looked again today, you haven’t missed anything. Though marginally stronger, Ophelia hasn’t really moved. That, to me, is where the fear is.

Hurricanes are steered by upper level winds. Any small puff will push them along. But there’s barely any upper wind at all in the vicinity of Ophelia. She is spinning like a top on a table… including the wobble.

The more well defined the upper winds, the easier it is to predict where the storm will go. Even if those winds waver, inertia is at work. An object in motion wants to stay in motion.

Conversely, light winds make forecasting ridiculously difficult. Yesterday, one of the official Hurricane Center forecasts had this storm dead in its track for three consecutive days. It’s not that they really felt that way… it’s that they didn’t have anything better to put.

It was as close as you’ll ever get to a non-forecast!

This would all be academic if Ophelia was out in the Atlantic. She’s not. She’s under 100 miles off the Florida Coast.

If I were living in Daytona Beach or Jacksonville or Charleston, I’d try not to be far from the radar until Ophelia moves out, if she ever does.

More on Charley

After spending much of the day studying Charley, I continued through the evening. The amount of data is astounding. No one person could ever absorb it all in real time.

I have a few friends who email or IM me through these periods. I reciprocate, though I’m afraid I import more than I export.

There’s recon and imagery and models. Information is always conflicting. Nothing is simple or straightforward. It sometimes seems as if similar storms act differently under the same conditions.

They’re just too complex, and then planted in any equally complex and variable environment.

Watching a hurricane is like watching a car accident, in slow motion. Looking at my charts and maps, I have a pretty good idea what’s going on in relatively real time. Punta Gorda and the Fort Myers area were getting pounded.

Even in shelters, it had to be a once in a lifetime afternoon of terror for anyone there.

By 10:00 PM we were starting to see enough video from Florida’s West Coast to know it had been awful. A roof being blown off a post office. Homes shattered. Trees snapped. We haven’t seen anything from the barrier islands. It must have been awful.

The storm maintained enormous strength, even as it moved across Florida. The wind gusted to 92 mph at Orlando International. That’s impressive.

By the time Charley reached Daytona Beach the radar was starting to show an eye that was more implied than seen. Now Charley’s in the Atlantic, warm, though not anywhere near as warm as the Gulf.