Tropical Disturbance Approaches the Windward Islands: Coin Flip Chance of Development In The Long Term

Good morning!

A small and disorganized area of low pressure has caused quite a ruckus in the meteorological community over the last day. Why does such an average and ordinary tropical wave catch so much attention? This invest (denoted 96L by the NHC) has models pointing toward the very warm waters of the Caribbean. This would be the first wave of the season to enter those waters with thunderstorm activity if it makes it there. Right now the NHC give this invest a 50% chance – a coin flip chance – of development through the next 5 days. Chances are in the medium category – 30% – through Friday morning…the window where we should be watching rather than the long term.


There is meager model agreement with this one. The GFS ensembles (a group of sub-models with small changes to the GFS) have this system ending up in Bermuda, or in Cuba, or in North Carolina, or in Louisiana. There a majority of models along the northern Caribbean, however the fact that some of the ensembles are very much outliers shows there is not a firm agreement in track. The intensity forecast isn’t any better. Remember there is still a chance that this thing dissipates.

Ensemble members of the GFS

Ensemble members of the GFS

These models really cannot be trusted at this point with anything more than telling us that shower activity, moisture, and gusts will be on the increase in the Caribbean over the next few days.

Unfortunately there are a select few (Kevin Martin, I’m looking at you) that will say that this will be much stronger and it will approach on Labor Day weekend. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves and take the weather for what it is. This is a cluster of thunderstorms east of the Caribbean, which is an area so far that has not been overly ripe with thunderstorm or tropical activity thus far. This system only has a 30% chance of development into a tropical cyclone within the next 48 hours. That means that there is a 70% chance that this will be a tropical cluster of thunderstorms as it moves through the Windward Islands. Most development will be over the weekend into next week. Plenty of time to watch this system.

082014 96L TWO
Note: Graphics may occasionally be used from FSU Weather now that I am back in Tallahassee. Graphic created by Jonathan Belles. 

This will be a gradually developing system, at least in the first few days. We’ll still be dealing with shear and dry air just like the other systems earlier this year. We’ll talk more impacts over the next few days. Don’t change your plans unless you’ve got a picnic on the beach planned in the windward islands Thursday or Friday (and even then I probably wouldn’t change too much).

For now, let’s just look at the more timid – but hazy – sun and moon from this morning in Tallahassee. Thanks to NWS Tallahassee and the local winds for the opportunity to shoot the 12Z weather balloon launch and the moon.

082014 _070214

Weather balloon floating “above” the moon with radiosonde drifting below. What is a radiosonde? Check out this week’s Meteorology Mumbo! 

082014 _072336

Have a great day! If you’ve got weather photos, send them to me!

— Jonathan, @JonathanBelles with more images to come on twitter throughout today

10 Years Later – Charley Starts the 2004 Atlantic Hurricane Season: My Memories

On this day a decade ago, Florida’s history changed one more time for the second time in less than 24 hours. Just the day before Tropical Storm Bonnie – the forgotten storm of the very busy 2004 Atlantic Hurricane Season – made landfall just south of Apalachicola bringing with it rainfall and a tornado in Jacksonville. For the most part Bonnie was known better in the Carolinas and mid-Atlantic states for its tornado outbreak and three deaths.

Created by Sandy Delgado

Created by Sandy Delgado

This system went unknown to me as a high school freshman that had just started high school a week or two before. I had just moved to Florida at the end of the 2003 Hurricane Season, and I had no idea what hurricanes or tropical storms were, and I had not began studying tropical systems until the next day. I was used to the blizzards and snow squalls that were normal in the Finger Lakes of New York and some strong storms each summer. Nothing really prepared me or my family for what the 2004 season had coming. This Friday the 13th was going to be different.

Tracks of Tropical Storm Bonnie and Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne.

Tracks of Tropical Storm Bonnie and Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne.

To this day, my memories of that day consisted of ABC news coverage in Tampa Bay, holding my house together with tape (don’t do this!), and hours of wind and waiting. In my consciousness, this storm came with warning from a few days back as people around me began to prepare for something I had not ever heard of. Luckily this storm arrived with daylight and a name: Charley. I knew that a “4” was a high number for hurricanes, and this could be the worst hurricane for the area. The worst storms in the Empire State that I had gone through gave us feet of snow and days off from school…both good things in my mind. School was called off for Charley that day.

Then Denis said the radar was showing that Charley had turned and my area was going to be better off. I was being told to hunker down by Don Germaise…a phrase I repeat to  this day. The first of four hurricanes to make landfall or bring devastating impacts to Florida was about to bear down on Punta Gorda and all the way to Orlando. Even the happiest place on Earth was closed on that day.

Radar images near landfall of Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne

Radar images near landfall of Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne

This was the storm that created my passion for meteorology…or the weather as I know it. It took hours of holding out plastic windows in what we called our Florida room to realize what these storms were made of. To this day I continue to correct people on the way to spell Charley as if he was a great friend for really no reason at all. Less than a month later, Frances was knocking on Florida’s door once again. It wasn’t until years later than I got a cell phone or internet like we have today. My interest in this storm was more intense, but still I watched through The Weather Channel and local news.

My Memories: 

Each hurricane had its own personality and I have learned through the years to key in on those “personalities” as storms approach to see how the impact will be. Again, this was the age of news coming from stations rather than phones, far away radio stations, and internet from everywhere. Most of what I remember is from the news, newspapers, personal interaction, and what I have learned since.



Charley ended up being a very lucky day out of school for me. We had gusty winds and some rain, but I realize now that it could have been MUCH worse had it not turned. It was a very small bundle of energy that knew where it wanted to go. In the Hurricane bunch, this was the little brother with big might that hadn’t quite figured out all of its tricks. Thankfully surge was one of those tricks it had not well figured out. Charley could have been the one that replaced the 1921 Hurricane for Tampa Bay.

Wind Swaths

Frances and Jeanne: 

Frances and Jeanne were like those two sisters that are so alike that it is hard to tell them apart. In my recollection of them, I cannot tell them apart either. Jeanne was the extra dizzying or drunkard energy that swirled in the Atlantic and where it stopped we only found out at the end. Frances was more introspective and reserved, but it knew where it wanted to go. Their paths nearly coincided from the east coast all the way to the nature coast. By this point, I am sure that Polk County and the communities of Fort Meade, Homeland, Alturas, and Lake Baffum were thinking enough is enough. Charley, Frances, and Jeanne all passed through those areas in less than 45 days. Jeanne brought numerous impacts that Charley did not including moderate to heavy rain and stronger winds on the west coast of Florida.

Tropical Twins


Ivan was known for his full tool belt, but especially his waves and surge. Scientists at NRL have estimated that waves in Hurricane Ivan could have gotten up to 131 feet, and were observed above 50 feet off the shores of numerous countries. Ivan brought hurricane force winds to Alabama and NW Florida as it made landfall as a category 3. Ivan was the strongest/deepest storm in terms of pressure as well. Ivan took on the name of Ivan The Great or Ivan the Terrible, and it fit. …And then it came back. Ivan was a rare case that moved up the east coast, and then came back to Florida and then moved toward Texas the long way.

Storm Surge from Hurricane Ivan

Storm Surge from Hurricane Ivan

What Has Changed Since 2004: 

Radar technology and technology in general has changed considerably in the last decade. We now have Dual Pol radar across the country that gives us entirely new variables to see graupel – which is somewhat common in intense hurricanes and rapidly intensifying hurricanes – and the birds that circulate in the eyes of hurricanes some times. We saw birds in the eye of Arthur just this year with this technology. Rapidly updating radar and better scan techniques such as SAILS and AVSET have been adopted. Rapid Scan Operations and Super Rapid Scan Operations allow us to see hurricanes in near real-time on satellite. As we saw this week with the supermoon, hurricanes that used to be invisible to visible imagery over night can now be seen with the right lunar conditions with nighttime visible imagery. Phased array radar is being developed and could be common place in the next 10 years, which may allow us to focus in on hurricanes as they move ashore.

We continue to get new space images from the ISS and from new satellites. New “space radar” technology has allowed us to see what ground based radar would look like in 3D. The TRMM has allowed us to do that most recently with Precipitation Radar from NASA. We unfortunately lost a good chunk of data from QuikScat in 2009, which has limited our wind information in the open waters. ASCAT has helped cover what has been lost when QuikScat stopped reporting accurate information. New wind and ocean scatterometers are planned by 2020. Launch of the ISS-RapidScat is planned for this year, but data may take years to appear publicly. Microwave imagery continues to evolve with new satellites every few years.

Hurricane Ivan as seen by QuikScat in September 2004 from NASA.

Hurricane Ivan as seen by QuikScat in September 2004 from NASA.

The way that we warn of hurricanes and receive information about hurricane approaches has changed. Many of us have exchanged the tracking maps that I used to track the 2005 hurricane season for mobile applications and fantastic networks and websites. We get warnings instantly through Weather Emergency Alerts and our other apps. The way that warnings are issued has changed. They are no longer coastal only warnings used for evacuation. They are also issued for post-tropical systems following Sandy. The amount of area included in coastal warnings has been reduced as track and intensity forecasting has improved. Storm surge warnings are coming in the next few years.

The backup agency for the National Hurricane Center has changed names to the Weather Prediction Center even though I continue to type HPC into my browser.

The scales that rates tornadoes and hurricanes in the United States and Atlantic basin have changed. In 2007, the Fujita damage estimator scale that rates tornadoes got an enhancement with better research information. The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale got reduced to a wind scale in 2009, and got another update in 2012 to better reflect units used on the waters, in the air, and in most parts of the world. the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale no longer reflects pressure or surge estimates since the public was misreading the scale and basin their evacuations on surge. Charley showed us that a category 4 can come with very little surge, but Ike showed us that a category 2 can arrive with very large surge.


Continual research is being done at research universities around the world. Continual research continues from the Hurricane Hunters from both NOAA and the Air Force. This research has driven down model error rates in both track and intensity. All of the models have been upgraded in the last decade, and new models are being developed. HRRR will go operational next month for near shore and on land cyclones. Unfortunately, intensity models have not improved nearly as much as track models.

NOAA's Hurricane Hunters. Image courtesy NOAA.

NOAA’s Hurricane Hunters. Image courtesy NOAA.

Economic downturn as of late has left many hurricane hit homes around the world in either foreclosure or in abandonment. This may leave future communities at risk of further damage from hurricanes. Building codes and preparedness activities have increased the safety of our homes and personal well-being, but more needs to be done by all of us.

Coastlines have changed since 2004 with numerous hurricanes and tropical storms since then. Charley caused a split in North Captiva Island and that passageway between the two islands has gained the name Charley Pass. That was due to Charley’s surge, which was minimal. Other more tremendous surge events have changed other coastlines for sure. Rebeaching continues on the west coast of Florida after each tropical cyclone that passes through.

I believe the multi-decadal active phase of tropical activity in the Atlantic has ended somewhere in the last 4 years.

Preparedness activities have changed. We no longer tape windows like we did back then. We now board windows up and add hurricane netting. Hurricane poles are being put up in some communities to show how high surge can go, and evacuation techniques continue to be improved. “The First 72 Is Up To You” is a campaign that still needs to be spread, but it has made good headway to get people prepared. In my opinion, we are still waiting too long to prepare.

Damage and Final Death Tolls: 

All four hurricanes remain in the top 15 costliest hurricanes list from the National Hurricane Center. These storms totaled up to $55.91 Billion USD in damage. Hurricane Ivan caused a billion USD in three separate countries. The four hurricanes amassed 3,248 deaths in the basin with Jeanne topping the deadliest hurricane list at the #3 spot since the 70s. Most of these deaths from Jeanne came from Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

What’s Next?

We all have to take a part in preparing for storms of any intensity. Technology will evolve around us, but it is our job to keep up with it. Soon there will be an improved cheap version of plywood and cheaper ways of keeping ourselves safe, but we will still have to invest in our future. We still have to ask the dumb questions when storms threaten so that everyone will get answers.

Continuing into my second decade of hurricane experiences, I hope you’ll join me in learning everything there is to learn about tropical cyclones and the social science needed in preparing for these beasts. This journey cannot be done alone. The next decade will be both interesting and frustrating, and I hope all of you will be with me if/when I write the 20 year anniversary post. I encourage you to open up each graphic above if you haven’t already to learn something new.

Special thanks to the NWS Miami, NWS Tampa Bay, NWS Melbourne, NWS Mobile, David Roth, NASA, the NHC, and FL Department of Environmental Protection for their information, graphics and websites.

A cartoon from XKCD shows the most memorable hurricanes near the coast. All four of the Florida Hurricanes from 2004 are shown, and Ivan goes well inland:


Share your experiences with me on twitter @JonathanBelles or in the comments below.

Thank you for reading!!! Have a good day (Vietnam – RIP Robin)!


A Trip to the Dentist’s Chair: The Seasonal Forecast

With 94L just a few clouds away from being taken over by our friend SAL and Julio spinning away as a minimal hurricane well north of Hawaii, I thought I would take a look at the rest of the hurricane season and the hurricane season outlook from NOAA a couple of days ago. Most of the below are my opinions only.

Remember, it only takes one.

080714 Hurricane Season Outlook

Again, it only takes one. I want to repeat myself as I will probably do over the next few months to emphasize that these forecasts are really only an idea of the number of tropical cyclones we may see this year in the waters between Portugal and Mexico. They do not tell us where or when they will hit. They also do not tell us the quality of the storms we will get.

If one were to forecast the number of dentists we will see in our lives for non-clean up visits, one might say there is a good chance of 7-12 of these visits. That does not tell us how bad those visits will be, nor will they tell how much those visits will cost or how many teeth we will lose in the end.

We’ve already had two visits to the dentist already this year, and we still do not know how much those trips will cost. We also had a call from the receptionist trying to schedule an appointment. We’ve had two hurricanes and a tropical depression in the first two months of the season or so. Both hurricanes were impactful in multiple countries around the basin. Those two hurricanes do not have much impact on the rest of the season.

I am not a huge fan of these seasonal forecasts since they trend people toward those numbers. I am much more favorable of the right side of the graphic above since it tends people toward possibilities without locking down a number. A similar system is used by the CPC in their climate prediction for 6 days-3 months.

Observations Thus Far: 

As we have noted with TD2, Bertha, and now AL94, dry air in the Mean Development Region is high. Dry air in the MDR limits a great chunk of seasonal activity. Throughout the months on August and September – the peak of the season – much of the activity and the reason for the peak comes from Africa in the form of tropical waves. We usually see waves that glide out into Atlantic in July and August to clear this Saharan Dust and drier air, but so far systems have struggled in that area. This drier air is due to a drier than normal Saharan wet season.

We have also seen cooler than normal waters in the northern MDR and off the coast of Africa, which also limits development there. Water temperatures are generally warmer in the homebrew regions of the Gulf of Mexico and the east coast of the US. Although the graphic below shows cooler waters off the SE coast, waters there are supportive for tropical systems.

081114 SSTA


Pending the development of El Niño this fall, wind shear and atmospheric stability are expected to increase. Both of these things limit tropical cyclogenesis. Atmospheric instability is generally below normal in the tropical Atlantic, and has been all year. The east coast and subtropical Atlantic have been most supportive in terms of instability. Shear is the least as of late in the Gulf of Mexico and western Caribbean.

081114 Tropical Instability


The overall pattern has been for east coast troughing. This scares me a bit for this fall since troughs tend to kick systems from the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico northeastward. That spells a bad pattern for Florida, Cuba, and possibly the Yucatan if storms can form west of there. If you like cooler weather, you may like this winter if this pattern holds. Again, when and where isn’t part of the NOAA forecast but this has been a persistent pattern that has to be noted. It has limited Arthur to the sounds of North Carolina and kept Bertha off shore.

The Bottom Line: 

Prepare for that one system that may come your way. According to NOAA, we’ve got another 5-10 systems coming into the Atlantic by the end of the season and as always the time is now to prepare. It’s as easy as spending 5 minutes and 5 dollars once every week or two to get yourself prepared. Get an extra gallon of water at your next trip to the supermarket or think about your evacuation plan. As we saw in Hawaii, that one storm arrived this week and people were not prepared until a week out…and cases of water shot up $20 or more. Don’t let that happen to you! Don’t make the dentist call you in for a visit. It may cost you a tooth or some dough.

Thanks for reading!

–Jonathan, @JonathanBelles


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