Weather Nerd

The great flood of Fay

I apologize for the lack of updates over the last several days. As I mentioned previously, I was computerless for a couple of days, and then things have been rather chaotic and busy since the arrival of my new MacBook Pro.

Unfortunately for folks in Florida, the story has been much the same during my absence: Fay has continued to absolutely soak the area with ridiculous amounts of rain. The 7-day rainfall map from the Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service shows the extent of the deluge:


The 11am EDT advisory from the Hydrometeorological Prediction Center lists some of the storm-total rainfall amounts. The tallies from Florida are just absurd:

MELBOURNE BEACH 3.9 SSE              25.28
COCOA BEACH                          24.38
CAPE CANAVERAL                       22.83
DELTONA                              22.69
SATELLITE BEACH                      22.40
PALM SHORES 1.4 W                    21.44
DELTONA 2.9 SE                       20.94
MELBOURNE 7.0 NW                     20.57
ORANGE CITY                          19.81
HILLIARD 5.4 NW                      19.70
TALLAHASSEE 5.7 SE                   19.17
MALABAR 2.9 NNW                      19.00
WACISSA 1.1 SW                       18.09
SANFORD 0.4 ENE                      18.03
LAKEWOOD PARK 0.5 SW                 17.90
DE LAND 4.5 NW                       17.20
COCOA 5.8 NW                         16.77
MICCO 4.5 NW                         16.26
LONGWOOD 2.3 WNW                     15.70
EUSTIS 1.2 SE                        15.56
HOBE SOUND 3.9 NW                    15.01
SANFORD                              14.97
PALM BAY                             14.89
NORTH MAPLES 7.3 E                   14.42
JACKSONVILLE 7.3 SW                  14.40
DE LEON SPRINGS 0.4 SE               14.23
FORT PIERCE                          11.58
JACKSONVILLE                         11.58

Incidentally, if you’re wondering why I’m citing the Hydrometeorological Prediction Center instead of the National Hurricane Center, it’s because the NHC issued its final advisory on Fay as of 10pm EDT last night, after downgrading the system to a tropical depression. Fay lasted just over 8 days, putting it a distant second to Bertha’s 17 1/2 days for the longest-lived storm of the season thus far.

Fay is being blamed for 11 deaths in Florida: two from drownings, one from carbon monoxide poisoning, seven from traffic accidents — including one man whose car was crushed by a falling tree — and one from electrocution by a downed power line. (Thankfully, the kite surfer who was dramatically blown away by Fay’s winds, once in critical condition, is now recovering from his injuries.)

It’s not just Florida that’s been hit hard, though it’s certainly taken the brunt of Fay’s deluge in the U.S. The highest rainfall totals in each surrounding state, according to the HPC as of 11am EDT, are: Georgia, 8.54 inches; Alabama, 7.12 inches; South Carolina, 5.34 inches; Mississippi, 3.92 inches; and Louisiana, 1.31 inches.

Those last two states, in particular, can expect to see their totals increase, as Fay’s remnant center is now located over eastern Mississippi and is slowly moving west-southwest, but may stall on Monday, as the final NHC forecast track shows. Again quoting from the HPC advisory:


Parts of Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia could actually use the rain. But in most places, the additional precipitation is quite unwelcome — and too much rain, all at once, is always bad, even in drought-stricken areas. As the Associated Press notes, “Flood warnings and flash flood watches are in effect across much of the region, including New Orleans, where officials were monitoring the city’s canals for rising water levels.”

The flooding threat to New Orleans appears somewhat less serious than it did a day or two ago, but as the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches, officials are taking no chances, as the Times-Picayune reports:

Rain bands around the storm were expected to hang over New Orleans, Slidell and McComb, Miss., for the next three days, raising the prospect of between 4 and 6 inches of rain over much of the area, with some spots getting even more, Manning said. …

The forecasts of Fay’s movements early Saturday prompted the Army Corps of Engineers to “activate” all canal teams, said Amanda Jones, a corps spokeswoman.

Teams will report to the London Avenue, Orleans Avenue, 17th Street and Harvey canals today to check conditions while staying in close contact with the corps’ emergency operations center and the Sewerage & Water Board, Jones said.

Although it did not appear the corps would need to operate special pumps at the canals, “we have activated our teams as a precautionary measure for the safety of the public,” said Col. Alvin Lee, the New Orleans district commander. “We are prepared to close the gates and run the pumps should the need arise.”

There’s much more to be said about Fay’s rainfall and the devastation it has caused, but I’ll defer to news sources and the blogs at right on that, rather than trying futilely to play catch-up with a mega-post here. Instead, I’ll conclude with one final nitpicky note on the media coverage of Fay, courtesy of Alan Sullivan:

Contrary to media reports, it is absurd to say tropical storm Fay has made “four landfalls” in Florida. The confusion arises from a fixation on the “center” of a storm that has no center, in any meaningful sense.

A strong hurricane has an eye and an eyewall — a ring of intense convection at the core of the storm. Some squall-bands may have hurricane force winds at a distance from the core, but the eyewall is the really dangerous part of any hurricane. However a tropical storm rarely develops an eye, and often tropical storms are designated when they have no core at all, merely an arc of strong wind far from the circulation center.

As it approached the Florida Keys, Fay was very asymmetrical, with heaviest weather well away from the center. The system was moving NNW and whacking Fort Lauderdale surfers with squall bands, while its surface circulation was lifting past Key West. This is a “landfall”?

By the time its circulation center crossed the shallow waters of Florida Bay and came ashore over the mainland near Everglades City, Fay’s extensive squall bands had covered two thirds of peninsular Florida. Meanwhile the forward course of the storm had slowly shifted from NNW to NNE, and Fay drifted diagonally onto the peninsula. There was one landfall, in any meaningful sense.

He’s right. What’s memorable and historic about Fay is 1) the rainfall amounts, and 2) the fact that it strengthened over land. The coincidental technicality that it “made landfall” four times — which is the oft-repeated lede in many stories about the storm — is an almost irrelevant footnote. It would be like leading off an article about Barry Bonds’s career by saying that he hit more home runs during Tuesday-evening games than any other player in history. It might be true (I have no idea; I just made that up), but there are far more significant things to say than that silly nugget.

Speaking of Sullivan, just scroll through his blog for much more on Fay. Also, Dr. Jeff Masters has continued to blog a good deal about the storm.

I’ll post another update tomorrow with the latest on two disturbances over the ocean that the NHC is monitoring for possible development.