Words on Weather & Climate — June 10, 2010

The 2010 Hurricane Season


Most of the forecasts I have seen for this hurricane season are indicating a very active season may be on tap. In fact, if the final numbers reach the upper end of many forecasts, this will be one of the most active seasons on record.

Meteorologist Craig James, new Squire columnist

The Atlantic hurricane season officially begins June 1 and ends November 30. There have certainly been named storms before and after those dates, but this is when the majority occur, with the greatest concentration August through October. All of the forecasts I have seen except one are calling for an above-normal season this year.

The National Hurricane Center has just recently released its outlook, which calls for “an 85% chance of an above-normal season. The outlook indicates only a 10% chance of a near-normal season and a 5% chance of a below-normal season.” With the majority of the forecasts indicating an active year, I’d be little nervous if I lived in Florida.

There are three main reasons for this year’s forecast:

1. an expected la niña condition, which favors little wind shear in the Tropical Atlantic;

2. the current warm phase of the Tropical Atlantic, which has contributed to the high-activity era in the Atlantic basin since 1995;

3. exceptionally warm sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.

You can see on the map here all the warm colors indicating above average sea surface temperatures around Central America, the Gulf of Mexico and the Tropical Atlantic. You can also see the cooler-than-average sea surface temperatures in the Eastern Pacific and the Central Atlantic. The band of cool water along the Equator in the Pacific is the developing la niña.

This season’s setup is quite the opposite of last year’s season and I am very glad to see that the Hurricane Center did not mention global warming once in their forecast discussion, which can be found at www.cpc.noaa.gov/products/outlooks/hurricane.shtml.

The Hurricane Center home page at www.nhc.noaa.gov/ contains a great “frequent questions” section. One of the more interesting answers deals with how tropical storms, or tropical cyclones, are named. Here is a sample:

The first use of a proper name for a tropical cyclone was by an Australian forecaster early in the 20th century. He gave tropical cyclone names “after political figures whom he disliked. By properly naming a hurricane, the weatherman could publicly describe a politician (who perhaps was not too generous with weather-bureau appropriations) as ‘causing great distress’ or ‘wandering aimlessly about the Pacific’.”

During World War II, tropical cyclones were informally given women’s names by U.S. Army Air Corps and Navy meteorologists (after their girlfriends or wives) who were monitoring and forecasting tropical cyclones over the Pacific. From 1950 to 1952, tropical cyclones of the North Atlantic Ocean were identified by the phonetic alphabet (Able, Baker, Charlie, etc.), but in 1953 the U.S. Weather Bureau switched to women’s names. In 1979, the WMO and the U.S. National Weather Service (NWS) switched to a list of names that also included men’s names.

Tropical storms in most ocean basins are now given men’s and women’s names. However, since the year 2000, storms in the Northwest Pacific Basin (near Indonesia and Asia) have been given names of flowers, animals, birds, trees, or even foods, etc., while some are descriptive adjectives. And just to confuse things, the names are not allotted in alphabetical order, but are arranged by contributing nation with the countries being alphabetized.

And finally, tropical storms or tropical cyclones are called hurricanes in the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific east of the International Dateline. Storms west of the dateline are called typhoons. Occasionally a storm will cross the dateline west of Hawaii. When that happens, the hurricane is given a new name and called a typhoon, even though it is the same storm. Whatever they are called, I’m glad they don’t occur in Michigan.

Craig James has been retired since July 1, 2008, after 40 years of broadcasting television weather. He was chief meteorologist at WZZM-TV for 12 years and chief meteorologist at WOOD-TV for 24 years. He is a graduate of Penn State University, where he received a Centennial Fellowship Award. He was also honored as a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society.

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