Storm at Sea Worth a Close Look

“Andrea” to be Named on Wednesday?

“June too Soon
July Stand-by
August be on Guard
September you will Remember
October, All Over”

This rhyme has been around since the days when Columbus sailed the 7 seas and refers to the hurricane season. While it may seem nonsensical, I can tell you it is good as gold when it comes to tropical storms and hurricanes in our part of the world. But chances are strong, my colleagues from the National Hurricane Center will deviate from this poem and name the first storm of the season “Andrea” on Wednesday. Here’s why.

Since late last week, our supercomputers have been predicting a strong ocean storm would form midway between Bermuda and Myrtle Beach. The rationale for this train of thought dealt with a complicated blocking pattern that was to “gum up the works” so to speak for the normal westerly wind pattern across North America.

Instead of the usual “steady as she goes” flow of weather systems from the Pacific to the Atlantic, the jet stream (the river of air that circumnavigates the globe some 5-10 miles overhead) has diverted in a southwest to northeast fashion from the Arizona desert to the Great Lakes. Then in a game of turn-about fair play, that same jet dives southeastward toward Bermuda.

Caught in the middle of this contortion of the jet stream, is a large whirlpool of air that is spinning off the Georgia coast by 200 miles this Tuesday night. Gale force winds have lashed the zone just offshore from Myrtle to Hilton Head and Savannah today. At the Grand Strand, winds have gusted to 30 miles all day long “with sand blowing in the face of tourists who walked up the shoreline”, said Dave Patrick from the Garden City Pier. “The water is frothy with whitecaps and rip currents are keeping folks out of the 68 degree surf”, Dave added.

Early season tourists are reminded of the peril in swimming before the lifeguards arrive for the Memorial Day weekend at the Grand Strand. Dave tells me the fishing has slowed considerably since the storm force winds arrived yesterday afternoon. Spanish mackerel, Whiting and Blues were running before the high tides arrived.

Fortunately, as meteorologist Todd Borek told us on First at Five, the storm will be heading onshore on Wednesday which means it will lose its intensity. So why do I think the storm will be named a Sub-Tropical storm? Well, reasons are part politics and part meteorology. On its own merit, the storm, in weakening mode is no worse than a moderate winter Nor’easter. Sure winds will blow and squally rains will back onshore. But the north-northeast wind fetch is producing less beach erosion than a gale center normally does. That’s thanks to the fact the storm is backing in from the east rather than plowing up from the south.

But perhaps more subliminally, and this is just my opinion, the forecasters at the National Hurricane Center are under more pressure than ever this summer. Last year’s forecast of a big hurricane season did not pan out. That had a huge impact on the price of energy, especially gasoline.

Much of the early summer, prices stood at very high levels partly in anticipation of a bad summer-fall storm season. The theory went that a few big hurricanes would sneak into the Gulf of Mexico and impact the drilling of, the refining of and the transport of oil and natural gas. Any slowdown in production would team with international oil problems (strikes in Nigeria, terrorism in Russia and unrest in the Middle East) to cause jittery world energy markets. Remember, the Wall Street adage is buy the rumor, sell the fact. The rumor of a bad hurricane season and increasing geopolitical events around the world forced the price of oil up.

But by August, when it became apparent the hurricane season would be tame (faster winds in the upper atmosphere were sheering the tops off would be storms, an unfavorable setting for hurricanes to form and grow strong), gas prices spiked down. Prices have stayed low all winter and early spring.

Now comes word that this year’s forecast is for an active season. This is again based on the premise that the Atlantic basin oceans are warmer than normal (Global warming related?) and the wind sheer aloft will be light to moderate at worst (La Nina or Cool Pacific Ocean related). These are similar conditions to those of the blockbuster seasons of 2004 and 2005.

But if that forecast doesn’t pan out this summer, then we in the weather biz run the risk of being branded “alarmists” for crying wolf 2 straight years after the great triumvirate of Katrina-Rita-Wilma in 2005. Nobody will recall the accurate forecasts of 2004 and 2005. I think that’s part of the “what have you done for me lately syndrome” that our society is famous for!.

My theory is that by giving an early season storm a name, we are already on the road to an active storm summer, psychologically! If we don’t get any big land-falling hurricanes, the gang at the NHC may try to juice up the storm count to make up for this. It’s a form of protecting your butt.

For my money, I believe the Hurricane Center does a marvelous job and tactics to increase the storm count, which I believe were used in the record year of 2005, are not needed. But the reality of modern day meteorology is funding for research can only be achieved by showing abnormal statistics which will justify such spending. That means bigger storms like K-R-W and higher numbers of storms.

That’s why I believe, right or wrong, anyone who is named Andrea will find out that a storm is named for them on Wednesday.

Tony


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