Friday, November 24, 2017

Calm hurricane season foreseen

Atlantic hurricane outlook for 2015 - credit NOAAThe latest forecast for this year’s hurricane season issued yesterday by the Tropical Meteorology Project highlights that a strong El Niño that is now firmly entrenched in the tropical Pacific. Primarily due to this warm phase of this global cyclical climate phenomenon,  and based on information obtained through previous months the authors predict that “the remainder of the 2015 Atlantic hurricane season will be much less active than the average 1981-2010 season”.

Typical hurricane season in the Caribbean
Image of Tropical Storm Isaac 2012 - credit NASAOfficially the Caribbean hurricane season runs from June 1st to November 30th, peaking out between August and October. In general it is said that for those who want to visit the Caribbean in summer, July is the best month to travel. The reason for this is that hurricanes gain intensity above warm water. During July, strong easterly winds are dominant, forcing colder sea water underneath to rise to the surface.

On average, twelve tropical cyclones form during the Caribbean hurricane season each year that are strong enough to be named. A storm is named once it reaches wind speeds of 63km/h or 39 mph (which is the equivalent of 8 Beaufort or 34 knots), and becomes a hurricane or typhoon when its wind speed reaches 119 km/h or 74 mph (12 Beaufort or 64 knots).

El Niño’s influence
A number of pre requisites are necessary for a tropical storm to form, including most importantly warm ocean temperatures and moist warm air above the ocean.  At the moment, African dust storms and other weather continue to keep the ocean air dry enough to stunt hurricane formation.
Also, one of El Niño’s influences on the general weather pattern is the manifestation of strong shear winds, which refers to any change in wind speed or direction along a straight line.  The Tropical Meteorology Project highlights that in July 2015 the vertical wind shear was at record high levels in the Caribbean, effectively breaking up any potential storm formations.

Atlantic hurricane outlook for 2015 - credit NOAALack of waves and rain
The reduced outlook for storms gives an explanation as to why we have seen little wave activity or rain despite being two months into the hurricane season. As a matter of fact the El Niño effect is correlated with dry air and less rain than normal. In several parts of the country the lack of rain has started to wreak havoc on farmers, especially on rice farmers close to Monte Cristi, who have been reporting losses of up to 80% of their crops.

El Niño doesn’t mean there will be no hurricanes
Despite El Niño, hurricanes can still form. Last year when there was a weak El Niño, Hurricane Cristobal still doused the island of Hispaniola in late August with torrential rains, leading to at least four drowning deaths in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Floodwaters damaged or destroyed over 800 houses and temporarily isolated 23 communities in the Dominican Republic, while about 640 families were displaced in Haiti. In the Cabarete Sosua region, the passing of the hurricane only led to extended heavy rainfall.

Hurricane Irene heading for the Dominican Republic in August 2011 - credit NOAALocation, location, location
Hurricanes are not evenly distributed across the Caribbean. Some islands are much more hit than others. The region around the Bahamas is said to have the most frequent occurrence of hurricanes, whereas over the last 120 years only two July hurricanes have affected the area around Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao.  Around the Dominican Republic, most hurricanes either go to Cuba or to Haiti. The second last hurricane to hit Hispaniola was Hurricane Hanna in 2008, which left one dead in the Dominican Republic and nearly 600 dead in Haiti. 2011 Hurricane Irene, which is shown in the image on the right, didn't hit Hispaniola in the end, passing its shores and eventually making landfall with the Bahamas.

Further resources
To find out if any tropical storms are forming nearby check out the US National Hurricane Center.

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