It has been an interesting period of weather across the Ohio Valley over the past few months, but we were hardly alone in these interesting times. While we have been very warm and humid, the western United States has been cooler and drier than normal since the start of summer, parts of Russia have been much warmer, wildfires have been widespread in Russia and western Canada and extreme cold has killed more than one thousand people and millions of animals in South America. We have all been in a stubborn global weather pattern that is only now breaking down.
For the Ohio Valley it has meant a change to cooler and less humid weather and some needed rainfall in the past 5 days. Hopefully we’ll see the cold ease up in South America and the flooding end in Asia as well. There has been one other weather anomaly that has been noteworthy over the past 3 months, and that’s the lack of tropical activity, both in the Atlantic Ocean and globally. We’re currently at 30-year lows for tropical activity around the planet and as I type this there is not a single tropical cyclone anywhere in any of the oceans! That’s amazing as we head to the peak of the tropical season in the northern hemisphere.
It appears as if the forecasts for a busier and potentially more destructive season may fall well short of expectations and I am already hearing the backpedaling from some trying to justify those heavily hyped forecasts. Most are sticking with their outlooks but are positioning themselves for a way to explain what went wrong if the storms don’t develop, whether it’s because of low solar activity, too much shear over the oceans, too much dust from the Sahara, the cooling ocean waters, etc.
The main reasoning behind the forecasts was the record warmth in the Atlantic Ocean, followed by the transition to La Nina (less wind shear) and some smaller factors that were supposed to produce a busy year. I should point out that the forecasts called for above normal activity every year since 2005 (the year of Katrina) and aside from 2008, we have yet to see those forecasts realized. Each year has failed to be quite as active as expected and it makes me wonder if the forecasters are either not as good as we assumed or we simply expect too much from them…or maybe they are not seeing something that plays an important role in hurricane formation and that element has been lacking in the past 3 or 4 years.
No matter what the cause, the reality is that we will need to see a record pace of tropical storm and hurricane development to get to the forecast levels predicted by the National Hurricane Center or Colorado State University (the two main forecast groups referenced by the media and meteorologists each year). I don’t see that happening…
The Atlantic Ocean is now slowly cooling and no longer at the record warm levels reported earlier this year. In fact, parts of it have cooled dramatically in the past two weeks, especially near New England and in the main development region in the central Atlantic Ocean. Without the unusually warm waters, the forecasters have lost a big player in the seasonal forecasts. Secondly, the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season is September 10th, only 3 weeks from now and models show no new tropical development for at least the next 5 to 7 days. If that holds, we’ll need to have at least two new named storms every week from September through mid October to get to get above the lower threshold of the forecasts (14 named storms). That’s two new storms every week! Does anyone think that’s possible? I suppose that anything is possible, but it’s highly unlikely.
In addition, there are signs of a much more active jet stream as we end August and head into September and that will add shear to large areas of the tropics. The weaker sun might be having an impact with less energy to heat the water this year and if not for the quiet winter of 2009 – 2010 in the tropical regions, the water wouldn’t be nearly as warm anyway…and now the water is cooling.
Yes, there is plenty of time left, but we’re about halfway through the season and we have had only two anemic tropical storms and one weak hurricane (Alex) which briefly made category two status before landfall (not verified by surface wind reports). It’s arguable that Bonnie and Colin were never tropical storms in the first place, though that’s a moot point until someone does further research and post analysis to overturn those claims. Either way, they were two of the weakest and shortest-lived tropical storms on record…so the systems we have seen have been less than notable. If I were to make a forecast right now, I would base it on current observations and persistence, and persistence indicates a near to below normal season ahead, continuing the trend of recent years.
Lots of hype, but little to show for it. Does that sound familiar? The BP Oil non-disaster? The H1N1 non-pandemic?
Let me be clear. It only takes one big tropical cyclone to do significant damage and to take lives, so we should always be vigilant during the hurricane season. However this story is about the media and forecaster exaggeration and misrepresentation of the 2010 season and not about the clear dangers of hurricanes…and if the season turns out to be what forecasters expected, I’ll be the first to submit an article claiming that they got one right (no one expected the crazy 2005 season either).
Then again, I think that some damage is already being done to the reputation of national forecasters and if the public gets even more apathetic because of so many quiet years and bad forecasts, the real danger may well be the lack of confidence in the messenger when a serious storm threatens our coastlines.
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