Archive by Author | cch001

Spawns of El Nino? Hurricanes Iselle and Julio Aim For Hawaii

Cyclone Center is tracking two storms as we classify this afternoon.

It has been quite a remarkable week in the eastern and central Pacific that has culminated in two hurricanes taking aim at the Hawaiian Islands today.  Hurricane Iselle has shown herself to be quite resilient as she has maintained her hurricane strength despite moving over cooler ocean waters.  Hurricane warnings are out for the big island as residents prepare for a significant event.  Meanwhile, Hurricane Julio is following close behind, continuing to intensify despite his movement over cooler waters.  The graphic below from the Central Pacific Hurricane Center shows the likelihood of significant winds over the next few days in the islands: Read More…

Kulab says “Please Classify Me!”

Not much has been happening in recent weeks in the tropics (with the notable exception of the extreme western Pacific), so allow me to try generate some fake excitement by highlighting one of our four featured storms – KULAB.  Why Kulab?   Read More…

A Quiet Hurricane Season in the Atlantic?

The official start of the hurricane season in the North Atlantic was June 1 and most experts are predicting a relatively quiet season, pointing to relatively cool water temperatures in place and a developing El Nino in the Pacific.   El Nino can be thought of as a substantial warming of ocean water in the central and/or eastern Pacific which in turn alters global weather patterns.  Atlantic hurricanes typically encounter more hostile atmospheric conditions during El Nino events, limiting their potential to develop and strengthen.  Most of the inactive seasons in the Atlantic over the past 20 years have occurred during El Nino events. Read More…

Super Typhoon Haiyan Threatens Philippines

Today we urge our Cyclone Center users to pause and send positive thoughts to our friends in the Philippines.

Evacuations are underway as Super Typhoon Haiyan (known as Yolanda in the Philippines) makes its way directly towards the country. Intensifying without restraint since Sunday, Haiyan is now a Super typhoon, which is equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Scale.  Haiyan currently has winds near 170 kt (195 mph).

Super Typhoon Haiyan approaches the Philippines Friday morning with Category-5 winds

Super Typhoon Haiyan approaches the Philippines Friday morning with Category-5 winds

Moving west northwestward, Haiyan is expected to make landfall in the Philippines early Friday morning.  Because of the very warm water temperatures along her path, Haiyan is expected to maintain her status as a super typhoon through landfall.

With this super typhoon comes potentially severe damage.  Haiyan is likely to bring heavy rainfall, severe flooding, damaging strong winds, and mudslides into very heavily populated areas of the Philippines.  The forecasters at the Joint Typhoon Warning Center are encouraging evacuations across the country, especially in the central Philippines, in preparation for the biggest storm of the 2013 season thus far.  She is the fifth super typhoon to form this year in the western Pacific.

– Kelly Dobeck is an undergraduate student in Atmospheric Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Asheville.  She recently joined the Cyclone Center team as a classifier and contributor to our social media.  

Featured Storm – Hurricane Rita (2005)

Hurricane Rita is now the featured storm from the 2005 record-breaking Atlantic season.  She was the third Category 5 hurricane of the season, producing an estimated $10 billion in damage across the southern United States.

Hurricane Rita at peak intensity in the Gulf of Mexico

Hurricane Rita at peak intensity in the Gulf of Mexico

Less than a month after Katrina had hit the central Gulf region, Rita was in the works.  On September 16th, 2005 a tropical wave interacted with the remains of a trough from a dissipating stationary front. This was her beginning.  The next day, near the Turks and Caicos Islands, this interaction turned into a tropical depression.

The depression started moving westward and Tropical Storm Rita was named that afternoon.  Rita began a rapid intensification phase when she moved through the Florida Straits on September 20th, with a wind speed of over 60 knots. That day she reached hurricane status and peaked at Category 2 intensity on the Saffir-Simpson scale. When Rita entered the Gulf she went from a Category 2 to Category 5 intensity in just 24 hours. This was only the third time in history that two Category 5 storms had been recorded forming in the Atlantic during the same year, and it was the first time that two hurricanes reached Category 5 intensity in the Gulf of Mexico in the same year.  Rita reached her peak intensity on September 24th when her sustained winds exceeded 155 knots.

Track of Hurricane Rita (2005)

Track of Hurricane Rita (2005)

Rita began weakening as she made landfall just east of the Texas/Louisiana border on September 24th.  She was still at tropical storm intensity when she reached northwestern Louisiana later that day,  turning northeastern and merging with a frontal system.  She produced torrential rainfall of as much as 5 to 9 inches in many areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, and eastern Texas. Storm surge flooding and wind damage were some of the major causes of the devastating damage Rita left behind, along with  an estimated 90 tornadoes across the southern US.

Rita was definitely a memorable one.  Luckily, with forecasters being on alert, they evacuated an estimated 3 million people from their homes in preparation for the storm.  Of course, with Katrina only being in the recent past, no one was prepared for the damage Rita would cause.  She was directly responsible for seven deaths, and indirectly responsible for 113.

Go to Cyclone Center today to start classifying Rita.  She was a historic, one-of-a-kind storm. To learn more about her, you can go to US National Hurricane Center tropical cyclone report for Rita.

– Kelly Dobeck is an undergraduate student in Atmospheric Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Asheville.  She recently joined the Cyclone Center team as a classifier and contributor to our social media.  

Hurricane Katrina and the Intensifying Coastal Threat

This week Cyclone Center introduces Hurricane Katrina (2005) as one of our featured storms.  This is the 8th anniversary of Katrina’s assault on the northern Gulf of Mexico coast.  The city of New Orleans, despite a massive system of protective levees and pumps, lost over 1500 souls, almost all from drowning when water flooded about 80% of the city.  Since then,  millions of dollars have been spent on the repair and upgrade of the levee system in and around metro New Orleans.  Are they ready for the next one?

“We’ll be absolutely ready for it,” said U.S. Army Corps communications officer Wade Habshey in a recent Discovery News article. “What we have in place now can withstand a Katrina-level storm.”

New Orleans flooding caused by 60 kt. winds, 10-14 ft. storm surge.  Category-5 values: 150 kt winds, 30-35 ft. storm surge.

New Orleans flooding caused by 60 kt. winds, 10-14 ft. storm surge. Category-5 values: 140 kt winds, 25-35 ft. storm surge.

But what exactly is a “Katrina-level” storm?  Winds in downtown New Orleans rarely exceeded minimal hurricane force at the peak of the event.  Storm surge and the strongest winds from the weakening Katrina were focused well to the east in coastal Mississippi.  And yet levees failed, water flooded significant portions of the city, and over 1,500 perished.

An even bigger concern in the long-term are geological changes occurring in the area; coastal portions of Louisiana are sinking into the ocean as climate-forced sea levels continue to rise and land areas sink.  This exacerbates the threat of  hurricanes for a region that experiences one on average every couple of years.  Many climate scientists now believe that hurricanes will be stronger on average in the future as the ocean, which provides the fuel for the storms, continues to warm.

What more should be done?  Government officials exude confidence that the improvements to the levy system will hold up, but we’ve heard that story before.  Claims were made soon after Katrina that the levee system was designed to withstand a Category-3 storm , not something like “Katrina’s strength”.  We’ve already seen that Katrina wasn’t even a hurricane in New Orleans – what happens when a real Category-4 or 5 storm hits the area?  We can only hope that residents will have left, because it’s a very good bet that there will be little dry land to stand on.

– Chris Hennon is part of the Cyclone Center Science Team and Associate Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Asheville

Featured Storm – Hurricane Emily (2005)

By the time Emily made her appearance in the second week of July, the 2005 Atlantic season had already produced four named storms (tropical storm strength or better) and was on its way to a record breaking performance.  So it was hard to stand out from the crowd that year, but Emily sure did.

Emily formed the way many of the strongest tropical cyclones do in the Atlantic – as a tropical “wave” or disturbance that left the coastline of Africa on July 6.  She struggled at first to get her act together, as dry air penetrated her core and the upper level winds in the area kept trying to rip her apart.  But Emily kept it together long enough to obtain tropical storm status on July 11.  But the fun was just beginning.

Hurricane Emily (2005)

Hurricane Emily readies herself for the final plunge into Mexico

The next day, the “steering winds”, or the upper level winds in the atmosphere that push the system along, increased in intensity.  Emily’s forward speed increased from a sluggish 10 kt. to a quite respectable 17 kt.  Although this initially made Emily’s environment less favorable,  recon planes noticed her winds at the surface unexpectedly began to increase.  Everything seemed to fall into place and just 2 days later Emily was a major Category-4 hurricane with maximum winds near 115 kt.

As Emily passed south of Jamaica, the records began to fall.  She became the earliest (since records began in the 19th century)  tropical cyclone to reach Category-5 status.  Furthermore, Emily to this day is the only known storm to ever achieve Cat-5 intensity in the month of July in the Atlantic.

Fortunately, Emily spent most of her time over the ocean when she was strongest.   But she did pass directly over Grenada, Cozumel Mexico, and northeastern Mexico near San Fernando.  Damage was unexpectedly light in the Yucatan, with mostly minor wind damage and flooding reported.  Northern Mexico appeared to receive the worst of the storm, with 90,000 people driven from their homes and thousands of buildings destroyed.  Miraculously only 6 deaths were reported from the storm, 4 in Jamaica when a car was pushed over a cliff from flood waters.

Go to Cyclone Center today and start classifying Hurricane Emily.  She was truly a memorable one.  Much of the information given here and more can be found in the U.S. National Hurricane Center tropical cyclone report for Emily.

– Chris Hennon is part of the Cyclone Center Science Team and Associate Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Asheville

New Developments on Tropical Cyclones and Climate Change

One of the goals of the Cyclone Center project is provide a more definitive answer on how tropical cyclones (TCs) have been responding to the dramatic changes that our climate is undergoing.  It is difficult for meteorologists to determine how strong tropical cyclones are getting because we rarely observe them directly, relying primarily on satellite data to give us a decent estimate of the wind speeds.  But as you can imagine, it is very hard to determine the maximum winds in a hurricane when you are in the hurricane itself, let alone flying more than 22,000 miles above it!  Our record of tropical cyclones is by no means nailed down. Read More…

Featured Storm – Cyclone Alibera (1989)

Very Intense Cyclone Alibera

Citizen scientists working at Cyclone Center now have four storms to choose from when they sign in to classify.  Our first set of storms includes Cyclone Alibera, a long-lasting Southern Indian Ocean storm that thrashed coastal Madagascar on New Years Day 1990.

The path the Cyclone Alibera followed

The path the Cyclone Alibera followed during the first 3 weeks of its life.  The storm formed in the upper right portion of the map and moved toward the lower left.

Alibera formed in the Indian Ocean on December 14, 1989 and did not dissipate until January 7, 1990 – a whopping 25 days!  During that time, the storm traveled several thousand kilometers, which included a big loop.  Cyclones like Alibera are steered by the large-scale winds in the atmosphere.  Sometimes when these winds are weak and/or changing, storms can move in strange ways.  The first image shows the long and interesting track of Alibera.

During the second week of Alibera’s life, the atmospheric and ocean conditions became very favorable for intensification.  The storm rapidly strengthened from a subdued tropical storm into a minor or very intense tropical cyclone, depending on who you believe.

Two forecast centers tracked Alibera during this time.  The Joint Typhoon Warning Center, or JTWC, is a U.S. Navy and Air Force office in Hawaii that monitors the western Pacific and Indian Oceans.  Based on imagery like those that citizen scientists are analyzing in Cyclone Center, analysts determined that Alibera was a “Very Intense Cyclone”, with wind speeds on the threshold of Category 5 intensity in the Saffir-Simpson scale.   However, analysts at a French forecast centre on La Reunion, an island off the east coast of Madagascar, determined that Alibera was only a minimal Category 1 tropical cyclone at the same time.  The figure below shows that these differences in opinion were not limited to the time of Alibera’s strongest intensity.

Alibera best track intensities

Alibera intensities as determined by JTWC and Reunion forecast centers.

This is why Alibera is one of the first storms that we would like citizen scientists to analyze.  We want to know what YOU think Alibera’s intensity was – we will use this information to reconcile these big differences.

Alibera eventually would make landfall in coastal Madagascar on New Year’s day, killing 46 people.  Though not widely known outside of the southern Indian Ocean region, Alibera is certainly a storm worthy of our attention – and a good example of how tropical cyclone forecasters can wildly disagree on a storm’s intensity when observations are not available.

Log on to Cyclone Center today and classify Alibera.

– Chris Hennon is part of the Cyclone Center Science Team and Associate Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Asheville

A Better Cyclone Center

Cyclone Center has recorded over 210,000 classifications from citizen scientists around the world since its launch in September 2012.  But we’re not resting on our laurels; the site has undergone significant changes that we think will make your experience classifying storms even  more rewarding. Highlights of the new site include:

1. Targeted storm choices.  Choose your favorite storm to classify from a list of four storms that we’d like you to focus on.  These storms will change frequently as you help us complete each one.  Featured in the early sets of storms will be at least one storm from the historic 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, including Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma.  Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, click the “Classify a random storm” button and get a mystery storm!

New selection menu for Cyclone Center

New selection menu for Cyclone Center

2. Inline classification guidance.  Gone are the days of clicking on question marks to get help.  For each step in the process, you will be shown information on how to best answer the question.  Even though you have been doing great, we think this will give you more confidence in what you are doing and hopefully inspire you to do more!

3. Improved tutorial.  Haven’t classified in a few weeks?  Now you can access our improved tutorial at any time for a refresher.

4. More questions to answer.  For each storm, go beyond the “choose the closest picture” to answer a couple of more questions like where the center of the storm is or how cold the clouds are around the eye.  This used to be called “Detailed Classification”; your responses help us to better pinpoint how strong the storms are.

5. Real time feedback on your classification.  Now instead of waiting for 6 images to see the “Storm Stats” page, you will immediately go there after your first image.  Now available on this much improved page is the storm track, the location of the storm you just classified, and our estimate of the wind speed of the storm based on your answers.  

Real time feedback

Real time feedback on your work is now given after each image

6. Upgraded Talk forum.  “Talk” is how you can discuss interesting storms with others or us.  The upgraded version allows for better searching and highlights more of the interesting discussions going on between other citizen scientists.

7. Better connections to social media.  Direct links to Facebook and Twitter are now available on every storm on the home page.  Click and discuss storms with your social communities or invite others to participate!

Log in to Cyclone Center today and give the new version a try – we think you’ll like the changes.  As always, please let us know what you think by commenting on this blog entry or through Talk!

– Chris Hennon is part of the Cyclone Center Science Team and Associate Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Asheville