Trouble in Paradise: Could Tropical Storm Sandy be in the Works?


by Sarah Dillingham
CNN Meteorologist

“I’m not dead yet!”  No, this isn’t a Monty Python spoof, but the Tropics are certainly not dead yet as Tropical Depression 18 developed earlier today, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC).  At 1:00 pm EDT winds in TD-18 were sustained at 30 mph, and movement was very slow off to the southwest at 5 mph.  If this depression reaches tropical storm status it will be Sandy, the 18th named storm of the Atlantic Hurricane Season.

Forecast models show this storm heading off to the north and east over the next several days, and most of them seem to develop this system into a tropical storm over the next 24-36 hours.  Typically, storms that originate in this region during the month of October will travel over the Caribbean before heading out into the Atlantic Ocean, towards Bermuda.  To obtain better data on this tropical disturbance, hurricane hunters are heading to the area to investigate it further.

So how busy has the season been?  Recall the NHC’s early August forecast was updated to 12-17 named storms in the Atlantic Basin, with 5-8 becoming hurricanes, and 2-3 being major hurricanes.  So far this season, there have been 17 named storms, 9 of which became hurricanes, and only 1 becoming a major hurricane, Hurricane Michael, with winds sustained at or above 111 mph.  This has obviously been an above normal season thus far, and will go down in the record books as one of the busier seasons in recent years.  Although we are fairly late in the Atlantic Hurricane Season, which lasts from June 1 – November 30, it is not uncommon to see tropical cyclones develop during the month of October.  According to the NHC, we typically see a secondary peak in tropical cyclone development around mid-October, which is evident in the recent development of Tropical Storm Patty and Hurricane Rafael.

From 1992-2011, there have been 49 named tropical cyclones develop within the month of October, and notable storms have made landfall on the U.S. coastlines during the month.  One storm in particular was Hurricane Opal on October 4, 1995 which attained Category 4 Hurricane status in the Gulf of Mexico and ultimately made landfall near Pensacola Beach, FL as a Category 3 hurricane.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNWeather for the link to our CNN Hurricane Tracker and to receive the latest #Tropical updates.

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NOAA says winter forecast is a tough one

Forecasting what the weather is going to be a few days from now is hard enough, but forecasting out for the next three months is even more of a daunting task.  This year is really a challenge according to NOAA, who just issued their winter outlook for the U.S.

“It’s quiet challenging this year with no strong climate signal” according to Mike Halpert the Deputy Director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center”.

The best guess forecast is more bad news for the precipitation starved Plains and West.   Nearly 75% of U.S. is either in drought or abnormally dry, and the forecast only calls for a better than normal chance of rain across the Gulf Coast.   Parts of the upper Midwest and much of the Pacific Northwest are expected to see less than normal precipitation.

“The drought will likely persist at least through the winter”, according to Deke Arndt who is the Chief of Climate Monitoring at NOAA’s National Climate Prediction Center.  Temperatures are forecast to remain above normal through the winter months over the Plains and Rockies, with only Florida expecting below normal temperatures.  According to Arndt, “2012 will likely end up the warmest year on record out of the 118 on record.”

So why is it a difficult forecast this year?  Forecasters were banking on phenomenon known as El Nino to develop.  Translated as “The Child” by Peruvian sailors in the late 1800s, because they would see it’s effects around Christmas time, El Nino is a warming of the water in the eastern and central Pacific Ocean that has global weather consequences.  It has likely been occurring for centuries, along with its cousin La Nina, which is a cooling of the Pacific.

A strong El Nino can mean big time rains and mudslides for California, and heavy rains for Texas and much of the Gulf Coast, and Florida.   Temperature wise it usually means a break for the usually frigid upper Plains and northern Rockies, as well as Alaska, which could really use a break after record cold and snow last winter.

Forecasters are betting the El Nino this year will be weak or non-existing,  so we will see only minor effects.  Halpert added that other tools like the computer models which are aids in forecasting” are not giving us any consistency on what to expect”.

With the mixed signals from the models and the question marks surrounding the forecasts you may better off this year flipping a coin for your forecast.   Maybe our old friend Punxsutawney Phil can shed some light when he pops his head out of the ground in early February.

NOAA Outlook for Precipitation for December, January, and February

NOAA Temperature Outlook for December, January and February

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NOAA: Another month spent above average

by Sarah Dillingham
CNN Meteorologist

It’s that time again!  Every month the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) released their climate summary for the globe, and in recent months, the story has been the same: more heat and drought for the U.S.  This month seems to have yielded more of the same as September 2012 was warmer than average for the Contiguous U.S., making it the 16th consecutive month of above average temperatures for the Lower 48!  The image above illustrates a few of the climate highlights for the month, several of which focus on extreme heat and drought.

The heat was definitely noticeable across the West for most of September as California, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming saw the month rank amongst their 10 warmest on record.  Over the past several months, the U.S. has seen its warmest start to any year on record, and sadly, September only added to this tally.  January-September was officially the warmest first nine months to any year on record for the Lower 48, topping the previous warmest such period in 2006.

Drought and increased wildfire activity also continued across much of the country, and the latest release of the U.S. Drought Monitor on October 2, showed over 64% of the Lower 48 states to be experiencing some form of drought.  The areas of the country seeing exceptional drought, the worst classification of drought, remained confined to around 6% which is at least some good news.  The dry conditions experienced across the Northern Plains and the Northwest last month were at or near record levels, priming those regions for the development of additional wildfires.  Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota experienced record dryness during September, and between those 4 states, there have been more than 1.3 million acres burned so far this year!  Across the country, nearly 1.1 million acres were consumed by wildfires in September alone, making it the 3rd most on record for the month.  As of Tuesday, October 9, 2012, there were 15 active wildfires consuming a combined 644,000 acres, bringing the total number of acres burned this year to a staggering 8.84 million acres. Year-to-date, this total tops the 10-year average by more than 2.1 million acres.

So what can we expect the next few months?  The Climate Prediction Center (CPC) issues a three-month outlook each month, and the latest release shows a chance of above average temperatures across the Southwest, Midwest, and extending into the Northeast, with the Great Lakes and Midwest having a greater chance of seeing above average temperatures.  Precipitation amounts could be above average for a large portion of the Southeast, which is great news for residents in Georgia who are still experiencing extreme and exceptional drought.  Below average precipitation is expected to continue across the Pacific Northwest, despite a fairly stormy period setting up later this week.

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Staring down the eye of a monster hurricane

by Dave Hennen
CNN Senior Meteorologist

We have all seen the amazing close up tornado pictures, as storm chasers, in crazy looking cars that look like urban assault vehicles snap those close up pictures that we all love to look at, and marvel at nature’s fury.  This is an equally amazing picture of the most violent storm on earth at the moment.   The big difference is this was taken from a safe distance of 440 miles away in space.

NASA Terra Satellite

The picture taken yesterday from NASA’s Terra Satellite shows a close up of Super Typhoon Jelawat.   The storm is one of the strongest seen on earth this year.  At the time of the picture the storm had max winds of over 160 mph, with gusts to nearly 200 mph, and was a Category 5 storm.  That’s the highest a hurricane or typhoon can reach.  It’s only the 2nd Category 5 observed anywhere on earth this year.  The storm was located in the western Pacific east of the Philippine Islands.

Jelawat has a classic text-book eye.  This is the center of the storm where the winds are relatively calm and clear.  If you look closely you can even see the ocean at the bottom of the eye on the satellite picture.   Surrounding the 20-30 mile wide eye is the violent eye wall.  It’s here where the dense thunderstorms make up the most damaging part of the hurricane as 200 mph gusts spiral in to the calm center.  There is literally a wall surrounding the eye where hurricanes generally have their strongest winds.

NASA Terra Satellite

Inside the eye of the storm is likely an amazing picture.   While hurricane hunter planes routinely fly right into the center of storms in the Atlantic, this is not the case in the Pacific.  We can safely say though that this storm has what other large Category 5 storms have.  Something called the “Stadium Effect”.

This picture captured by NOAA in August of 2005 from a Hurricane Hunter plane flying into to then Category 5, Hurricane Katrina shows what it likely looks like inside of Jelawat.

NOAA Image from August 5, 2005

It’s like being in a big circular coliseum taking in your favorite college or NFL football teams, surrounded by seats and wall on every side.    This however is a stadium that you don’t want to step out of.

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Drought and Wildfires Plague the Northwest



CNN iReporter Lara Matthews captured this shot of the Pole Creek Fire near Sisters, Oregon on September 10, 2012.  This fire began on the morning of September 9 and is still blazing today after having consumed nearly 26,000 acres, but the good news is that containment has now reached 65%.

by Sarah Dillingham
CNN Meteorologist

In recent months, extreme heat and drought have dominated weather discussions for much of the Contiguous U.S., and residents of the Northwest have seen similar conditions in place over the past several weeks.  Many have been dealing with above normal high temperatures and below normal precipitation, and this has has contributed to “very high/extreme fire danger” across parts of the region according to the Department of Natural Resources.

28 wildfires are burning across 4 states: five in Washington; 11 in Idaho; eight in Montana; and four in Oregon.   These fires have already consumed over 1 million acres and have strongly impacted air quality across eastern Washington, northeastern Oregon, and northern and eastern Idaho, prompting the local National Weather Service offices to issue Air Quality Alerts for areas highlighted in gray.  These alerts mainly affect people in sensitive groups, such as those suffering from heart and lung disease, older adults, and children, and encourages them to limit outdoor exposure.

To illustrate how dry conditions have been for areas west of the Cascade Mountains, neither the Seattle Weather Forecast Office, nor Seattle-Tacoma Airport recorded any measurable precipitation for 48 days!  This incredible dry streak ended on September 10 in Seattle and September 9 for Seattle-Tacoma after light showers pushed through the area.  This was almost a record dry period for Seattle-Tacoma, falling short a stretch of 51 days with no rainfall which ended on August 26, 1951.  In the September release of the Washington Climate Office newsletter, State Climatologist Nick Bond commented on the unusually dry conditions seen across the state during the month of August.  “August is typically dry throughout the state, and while zero recorded precipitation is not unprecedented, it is rather unusual for the locations west of the Cascade Mountains.  It is worth noting how dry Augusts are more common east of the Cascades.  The “trace” recorded for Yakima last month was recorded during 10 other years, for example.”

At the time this newsletter was published earlier this month, other locations  west of the Cascades were on pace to set new “consecutive dry day” records, so it will be interesting to see how many of those records fell during the month.

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Tropical Update: Mid-Season Review

by Sarah Dillingham
CNN Meteorologist

One week after the peak of the Atlantic Hurricane Season, September 10, the tropics remain fairly active in both the Atlantic and Pacific Basins.  After a record number of eight named storms formed in the Atlantic Basin during the month of August, only 3 tropical cyclones developed in the Pacific Basin, with two of them becoming hurricanes, none major.  This activity was slightly below average for the Pacific as three to four named storms typically develop during the month with two becoming hurricanes and one becoming a major hurricane.  14 named storms have already developed in the Atlantic Basin thus far, placing activity around 50% above normal for this point in the season which is in line with NOAA’s above-average forecast numbers for the 2012 Hurricane Season.

September is nearly half way complete and two tropical cyclones have developed in the Atlantic this month: Hurricane Michael and Hurricane Nadine, both of which remained in open waters.  The Pacific Basin has remained active as well with three named storms developing: Tropical Storm John, Tropical Storm Kristy, and Hurricane Lane.  The Pacific activity has remained near normal throughout the season with the exception of its early start on May 14 when Tropical Storm Aletta developed, just one day prior to the official start of the Pacific Hurricane Season which is May 15.  The Atlantic Season lasts from June 1 to November 30, so there is still some time for additional storms to develop.

During September, tropical cyclones typically originate in the Western Atlantic near the Leeward Islands, as well as in the western Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico.  With water temperatures in those areas remaining above 80°F, a threat for more storms does exist for the next few months, assuming upper-level conditions remain favorable.  There are currently two tropical waves identified in the Atlantic Basin, but the National Hurricane Center has given them both a 0% chance of development in the next 48 hours.

The most notable storms of the 2012 Atlantic Hurricane Season were Tropical Storm Debby and Hurricane Isaac, and their impacts remain fresh on the minds of many Gulf Coast residents.  For this reason, it is important that everyone remembers to have a safety kit prepared, as well as an evacuation plan in the event you and your family are in the path of a storm. For more information on how to plan for these events, go to Ready.gov, and for the latest advisories on existing tropical systems in the Atlantic and Pacific Basins, visit the National Hurricane Center website.

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El Nino Still Expected to Develop in Fall 2012

by Sarah Dillingham
CNN Meteorologist

The Climate Prediction Center released its latest El Nino/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) forecast last week stating that an El Nino Watch remains in place as conditions are favorable for El Nino development within the next 6 months.  The presence of an El Nino or La Nina episode is determined by analyzing the water temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean and comparing those to water temperatures typically seen in that region.  Warmer than average water temperatures indicate El Nino conditions, and cooler than average water temperatures indicate La Nina conditions.  Right now, the Climate Prediction Center says neutral conditions have persisted through the month of August, but El Nino is still forecast to began as early as late September to early October. 

El Nino and La Nina events can have a variety of impacts on local climates, and the U.S. is certainly no stranger to that after having 2 consecutive La Nina episodes that have brought severe drought conditions to the South and Midwest.  The first of these episodes began when the Pacific waters cooled during the summer of 2010, resulting in a moderate to strong La Nina which lasted through late May 2011. Resulting weather patterns from this La Nina led to the onset of the first round of severe drought in the Southern Plains.  Over the summer of 2011, conditions became near-neutral before again returning to La Nina conditions in early fall of 2011.  The more recent La Nina continued through spring of 2012, and allowed drought conditions to persist across portions of the Southern Plains and the West, while aiding in the development of severe drought now in place across the Midwest.

As we prepare to shift into El Nino conditions, areas of western Canada, Alaska, and northern areas of the contiguous U.S. can expect to see warmer than normal conditions as warm air is allowed to push farther north.  Residents of the Southeast can expect to see a cooler and wetter pattern develop as more intense storm systems move through the Gulf of Mexico.

Another important impact of ENSO events is that the development of El Nino typically suppresses tropical cyclone development.  You may recall that early forecasts for the 2012 Atlantic Hurricane Season reflected a slightly below normal to near normal season, due to the possibility of a developing El Nino.  However, this year’s belabored arrival of El Nino combined with very warm Atlantic Ocean temperatures, caused NOAA and the National Hurricane Center to increase their tropical cyclone numbers for the 2012 season in their August 9 update.  While El Nino is typically bad for tropical cyclone development, it will not always mean we see a slow season as the summer and fall of 2004 experienced a weak El Nino event, when 15 named storms formed in the Atlantic.

The Climate Prediction Center will release another update in early October, and if El Nino conditions develop in the coming months, the current El Nino Watch will be upgraded to an El Nino Advisory which could last through early spring.

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