Will This Be A Hurricane Season To Remember?

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Bermuda high
The Bermuda High | Image by svs.gsfc.nasa,.gov

We are well into the hurricane season and so far it has been a pretty busy season. As of publication time of this column 8.23.21 at 8:30 am there have been 8 Atlantic/Caribbean named storms and 13 Eastern North Pacific named storms. More are sure to be named before the season officially concludes at the end of the month of November. This is a good time to remind us all how and where these dangerous storms form.

How Hurricanes Form | Image by scijks.gov

They start out as tropical waves and once they move over the ocean they can continue to grow as long as the water temperature is 85 degrees F. or warmer. Also, there must be high pressure aloft to keep a cap over the tropical cyclone to force air back down into it. Without the high pressure above the warm moist air would keep rising and eventually the storm would fall apart because it would run out of that tropical moisture.They then can move through the islands and swing more to the north into the Gulf of Mexico or along the US east coast. Occasionally one will cross Central America and end up in the Pacific Ocean where, if it has gained tropical storm status, it will be given a new name.

Tropical Cyclone Paths From Development To Full-Blown Storm | Image by sites.google.com

There is a basic pattern to the major ocean currents that effect the North American Continent. A map of the world shows how first the tropical depression (sustained winds up to 38 mph), then the tropical storm (sustained winds 39-73 mph), and finally the hurricane (sustained winds 74 mph or higher),if it gets strong enough, follow the path of the sea surface currents.  In the Atlantic they move from the African continent through the Caribbean Sea and along the eastern seaboard of the United States. In the Pacific the sea surface currents push down from the north and flow to the south parallel to the Pacific coastline. That makes it nearly impossible for a hurricane to move from off the coast of Mexico northward to the Pacific Northwest. There are times when we will get clouds and moisture moving up from a disturbance off the Mexican coast, but the disturbances turn to the west or northwest away from us.

The Bermuda High Circulation | Image by svs.gsfc.nasa.gov

The upper air wind patterns also help to determine the path these tropical disturbances can take. The “Bermuda High” sits over the North Atlantic Ocean and with its clockwise rotation spins the airflow around to the east and then swings it to the southwest over Northeast South America, northwest into the Gulf of Mexico, then northeastward toward the US East Coast hugging the coast and continuing along the Southeast Coast of Canada.

The Northern Pacific High Circulation | Image by slideserve.com

Another High Pressure Center sits over the North Pacific Ocean and is called the “Pacific High.” Its clockwise circulation moves the airflow from the Northwest to the South and Southeast parallel to the West Coast of the US. If you take a look at these two Summer-time High Pressure centers you will see that the airflow would send hurricanes on the Atlantic side into the Gulf of Mexico and up the East Coast predominately.

Polar Jet Stream/ Subtropical Jet Stream | Image by courseware.e-education.psu.edu

The Jet Stream has two branches that can cross the US. The Polar Jet Stream to the North brings down colder air from the North and pushes it across the US and the Subtropical Jet Stream to the South which brings in warmer moist air and pushes it across the US. They help steer the surface storms across the North American continent. Their positions determine whether we have surface storms moving through the Pacific Northwest. The Jet Stream also can steer tropical storms and hurricanes if they are under the swift moving river of air.

As we’ve seen there are many forces that deflect tropical storms and hurricanes away from the Pacific Northwest. Since that has been shown why should we want to keep up with tropical disturbances. One good reason is that many of us have relatives and friends who do live where hurricanes can strike and we are interested in seeing that they will survive the potential hit from one of these destructive killing machines. Another reason is that though the odds are against it happening, a hurricane could potentially find a way to sneak up on us.

Damage in Corvallis due to Columbus Day storm | OSU Archives
Damage in Corvallis due to Columbus Day storm |
OSU Archives

A good example is “the Columbus Day storm.” There was a remnant of a former Typhoon (Western and Central Pacific hurricane) that did hit Oregon with devastating effects and that was the Columbus Day storm of 1962. It was a dead Typhoon that came all the way across the Pacific Ocean and combined with a Gulf of Alaska storm and smashed through the Pacific Northwest. As many as 46 deaths and hundreds of injuries were attributed to the storm which produced wind gusts measured to 145 mph. It was the second deadliest storm in Oregon history according to Kathie Dello, director of the Oregon Climate Service at Oregon State University.

Infrared Global Satellite View Showing Atlantic And Pacific Tropical Cyclones 8.23.21| Photo by NOAA

When a disturbance gets strong enough to be called a tropical storm it is given a name. Since 1953 Atlantic tropical storms had been named from lists originated by the National Hurricane Center. That job is now performed by an international committee of the World Meteorological Organization. Here are the tropical storm names for the 2021 Atlantic/Caribbean tropical cyclone season:

Ana, Bill, Claudette, Danny, Elsa, Fred, Grace, Henri, Ida, Julian, Kate, Larry, Mindy, Nicholas, Odette, Peter, Rose, Sam, Teresa, Victor, and Wanda.

Here are the tropical storm names for the 2021 Eastern Pacific tropical cyclone season:

Andres, Blanca, Carlos, Dolores, Enrique, Felicia, Guillermo, Hilda, Ignacio, Jimena, Kevin, Linda, Marty, Nora, Olaf, Pamela, Rick, Sandra, Terry, Vivian, Waldo, Xina, York, and Zelda.

A name is discarded when the storm turns out to be a killer and/or very destructive to property.

If you want to follow the tropical storms more closely there is a website that it just what you need. Go to the National Weather Service National Hurricane Center at: https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/ They also have grid charts you can print out so you can plot their movements yourself.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].

Tim Chuey is a Member of the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association and has been Awarded Seals of Approval for television weathercasting from both organizations.

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