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September 8, 2011 / Dave Gorham

THE Story of 2011? The Weather

  • Tropical Update…3 Named Storms
  • It’s the Peak of Hurricane Season
  • Today is the 111th Anniversary of the 1900 Hurricane
  • This weekend marks the 50th Anniversary of Hurricane Carla
  • The Texas Drought Continues…Wildfires Rage

2011 has been and continues to be The Year of Weather in the U.S.  This is reflected in a piece we’re posting tomorrow about National Preparedness Month: “Record ice and snow, flooding and runaway rivers, drought-induced wildfires, truly horrific tornadoes, more flooding in the Midwest and Northeast, unusual and deadly tropical weather, genuinely historic drought and now the return of even costlier, deadlier wildfires.”  And we still have the upcoming fall weather season with its capricious personality and then the onset of the severe winter weather season.

At the moment, however, we’ll look to the tropics. The peak of hurricane season is here and the tropics are very active with Hurricane Katia, Tropical Storm Maria and Tropical Storm Nate. It doesn’t look like the tropics will settle down anytime soon as one storm after another continues to be named with the most recent, Nate.

Image: ImpactWeather TropicsWatch

Nate remains nearly stationary about 140 miles west of Campeche, Mexico. Maximum sustained winds are near 50 mph. Little movement is indicated by satellite loops, and we do not expect Nate to move much over the next 24 hours. Beyond 24 hours, we think Nate will begin moving slowly northwest and westward toward Mexico, but there is considerable uncertainty in the track. There has been a significant shift northward in the model guidance overnight, with several models now indicating a northward movement toward the central Gulf Coast. We are going to wait for at least one more model run before making any significant track adjustments. However, if the model trend does continue, then we may make a significant adjustment in the track farther north later today.

Some models indicate Nate could be steered more northward, and if this happens, squalls could reach the deepwater areas off the mid Louisiana coast as early as Saturday evening. There is low confidence in the forecast track at the moment. Image: ImpactWeather TropicsWatch

Tropical Storm Maria is currently located 660 miles east-southeast of the Leeward Islands and is moving westward at 22 mph. Maximum sustained winds are at 45 mph with higher gusts. Morning visible satellite imagery indicates that Maria’s circulation center may be in the process of dissipating. Even though Maria may be weakening to a tropical wave, satellite wind estimates still indicate winds of 40 mph to 50 mph in squalls in its northern hemisphere. As a weaker system, Maria may track more to the west than west-northwest. This would take Maria into the Caribbean possibly south of Guadeloupe Island then toward Puerto Rico or even the Dominican Republic. For now, we are indicating that Maria may encounter conditions favorable for redevelopment in the eastern Caribbean. This would result in a turn to the northwest near Puerto Rico. However, if Maria does degenerate into a tropical wave and does not regain its circulation, then it may continue tracking westward to the south of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The main threat from Maria across the northeast Caribbean will be from heavy rainfall along with some gusty tropical storm force winds.

Hurricane Katia is located about 320 miles west-northwest of Bermuda and it’s moving to the north at 16 mph. Maximum sustained winds are near 90 mph. Katia remains a hurricane this morning with winds near 90 mph. Only very gradual weakening is expected as Katia undergoes extratropical transition during the next 72 hours. Winds are expected to remain at hurricane force during this process. An acceleration to the northeast is forecast to begin within the next 24 hours. On Saturday, Katia is expected to pass south of Newfoundland. Large waves will move into the southeastern/Mid-Atlantic U.S. coast today and into the northeastern coast late today and tomorrow. Dangerous rip currents will be likely.

The peak of the hurricane season is around September 10th. Image: NOAA (with snarky mod by blog.chron.com/sciguy)

We are at the peak of hurricane season and it’s this time every year I always think about Hurricane Ike as we near the third anniversary of its landfall in Galveston on September 13, 2008 at 2:10 a.m. as a strong Category 2. When Hurricane Ike was bearing down on us, I couldn’t help but think about the Hurricane of 1900 and how those people must have felt, especially without the technology or defenses we have today. The Hurricane of 1900 just so happened to make landfall in Galveston 111 years ago today as a Category 4. It remains the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history and the second costliest hurricane in U.S. history. Hurricane Ike is right behind it as the third-costliest hurricane.

Here’s Hurricane Ike over the Gulf of Mexico approaching the Texas Coast. I remember this day all too well! Image: NASA

Speaking of land-falling Texas hurricanes, the 50th anniversary of Carla is coming up, too. It was the second most intense storm to ever strike the Texas coast. Carla formed in the western Caribbean Sea on September 3, 1961, became a tropical storm on the 5th and a hurricane on the 6th. It eventually moved into the Gulf of Mexico and strengthened to a Category 5 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 175 mph on September 11. Carla weakened just before landfall but was still a very strong and unusually large Category 4 hurricane as it moved onshore between Port O’Connor and Port Lavaca, Texas.

1961 track of Hurricane Carla. Image: NHC

Hurricane warnings were posted along the entire Texas coast due to Carla’s large size and damage was reported as far inland as Dallas. Sustained winds were 115 mph in Matagorda and 88 mph in Galveston with wind gusts as high as 170 mph at Port Lavaca. The storm surge was measured at 22 feet near the heads of the bays. Hurricane Carla was also responsible for one of the largest hurricane-related tornado outbreaks ever with 26 tornadoes touching down within its circulation. Several people in Galveston were killed when an F4 tornado ripped across the island.

Satellite image of Hurricane Carla. Image: NOAA

Carla caused one of the largest peacetime evacuations in U.S. history in which a half a million residents headed inland, but the evacuation is also credited as to why the death toll was so low. Hurricane Carla killed 43 people in all, 31 of them in Texas. The name Carla has been retired due to the amount of destruction it caused and its intensity. (Note: Ike has also been retired from the list of Atlantic hurricane names. For the complete list: Retired Atlantic Hurricane Names.)

According to our Hurricane Severity Index, Hurricane Carla is ranked #1 historically in terms of size and intensity for a total HSI of 42.

Rank Hurricane Year Intensity Size Total
1 Carla 1961 17 25 42
2 Hugo 1989 16 24 40
Betsy 1965 15 25 40
4 Camille 1969 22 14 36
Katrina 2005 13 23 36
Opal 1995 11 25 36
7 Miami 1926 15 19 34
8 Audrey 1957 17 16 33
Fran 1996 11 22 33
Wilma 2005 12 21 33
Source: Hurricane Severity Index

 

In no way, shape or form am I wishing for a hurricane to make landfall along the Texas coast, but I’m hoping for some tropical moisture to head our way soon. Wildfires continue to break out across Texas, some of which are pretty close to home. Yesterday on my way home on a bright sunny day I noticed smoke plumes to the north of Houston. StormWatch Manager Fred Schmude was able to take a few snapshots of the smoke near Magnolia. We desperately need the rain, so where is it? Mother Nature can be cruel. Could the drought really be sticking around until next spring? It’s possible.

Huge fire near Magnolia with the main smoke plume rising about 3-5 thousand feet. Image: Fred Schmude

Houston: Not that unusual a sunset until you realize that what appears to be a layer of clouds just above the sun is actually smoke from forest fires NW of Houston.  Photo: Rob Cromie

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