Big Buzz In The South Atlantic

I hadn’t been on the computer more than a few seconds when I got an instant message from Bob in Florida. Had I seen what was going on in the South Atlantic?

For tropical weather systems, the South Atlantic is like Death Valley. There are a variety of reasons they just don’t form or exist there. That is, until today.

With no reconnaissance flights and little advance study, it’s tough to say 100% whether this is a tropical storm or hurricane (I guess it would be a cyclone there). But, the photo makes a very convincing case.

Based on some visible satellite image loops I’ve seen, it’s intensifying and heading toward the Brazilian coast. This storm, if it continues, will bring a type of weather unheard of to a place ill prepared to deal with it.

I have looked in all the usual places to find more information on the storm. The Hurricane Center has nothing. Same thing goes for the Navy’s FNMOC. I would doubt the Brazilians have a hurricane forecasting branch of their own.

Stay tuned. This will be interesting. And, I’m not sure it would even get a name as there’s no list for that area.

Hurricane Isabel

Unfortunately, when this website crashed and took over a week’s worth of entries, much of the back story on Hurricane Isabel disappeared too. It has been squarely in my sights for over a week now, and as I type it is about 200 miles from the North Carolina Coast.

A little hurricane background might be helpful here. Though hurricane season begins in June, the ‘real’ season doesn’t get going until the end of August and September. Take a look how long it takes to get to the third named system, and how little time it takes to get three more.

Table 1. Progress of the average Atlantic season

(1944-1996). Date upon which the following number of events

would normally have occurred.

Number Named systems Hurricanes Category 3 or greater
1 July 11 Aug 14 Sep 4
2 Aug 8 Aug 30 Sep 28
3 Aug 21 Sep 10
4 Aug 30 Sep 24
5 Sep 7 Oct 15
6 Sep 14
7 Sep 23
8 Oct 5
9 Oct 21

Throughout the season, as conditions change, the favored locations for storms changes. So, it’s no surprise that Hurricane Isabel is going to hit the coast 2/3 of the way through September, or that The Hurricane of ’38 did too. It’s climatology.

With climatology in mind, and with this system in the far Atlantic about a week ago, I started talking it up on the air. There is a fine balance you must walk with these storms. There are two possible outcomes of a busted forecast and neither are pretty.

If you say a storm is coming, and make a big deal of it, people take their time forgetting. On the other hand, if you don’t predict a storm and it comes, someone will get hurt… maybe killed.

Then, Isabel blossomed. All of a sudden, the storm was classically shaped and drawing in winds of 160 mph with gusts to 195, a true Category 5 hurricane.

People come up to me all the time and say, “You must love hurricanes (or tornadoes, or snowstorms, or anything strong weatherwise).” No! I don’t. First, I always see the potential for damage and injury. Then, I see the potential for a blown forecast. I don’t want to be wrong.

As late as last weekend, the forecast models, and climatology, said Connecticut could be a target. By early this week, it looked less likely. I started lessening the potential on the air. Still, it stayed in the back of my mind that it could be tragic to have the wrong forecast.

Now the national media started to kick in. Isabel was the big story on the cable and broadcast networks. And, some others in Connecticut continued to hang with the ‘what if’ scenario. My forecast became more confident, but not without qualms. I began to reinforce my belief that it would be windy and rainy… dreadful… but not a hurricane.

It was something we could handle with little inconvenience. There might be power outages and minor coastal flooding and little else.

Now, we wait. Within the next 24 hours I’ll know how I did. There’s no doubt, the satellite images show Isabel a shadow of her former self. The Hurricane Center is officially saying 105 mph, but their technical discussions say they think it’s less.

I’m sure at some point someone will accuse me of hyping the storm, though I’ve done everything possible to keep it in perspective. That comes with the territory.

Last thing before I go. In the past, I have been critical of The National Hurricane Center. Not so with this storm. As far as I can tell, I give them an “A” on forecast track and a “B” on intensity forecast.