Weather Nerd

Ike and proto-Kyle

First of all, I apologize for the lack of updates over the past week. There is, of course, tons and tons of news to report on the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, which I won’t even be able to scratch the surface of here. I hope interested readers have been visiting the Houston Chronicle website, which continues to have lots of good information. Also, for some great photos, check out The Big Picture from the Boston Globe. And John Little, Melissa Clouthier (also here), Ubu Roi, and the Houston Press have been blogging form the affected areas.

For my part, aftermath-blogging has never been my forté, but I certainly would have liked to post more than I have. However, I’ve been very busy, among other things, planning my upcoming move. It’s been kind of a crazy week, and blogging has been necessarily placed on the back burner (after being on the front burner for quite a while there). In addition, I have to admit, I feel a bit like I’ve “overdosed” on hurricane season after the ridiculous string of six consecutive storms hitting the United States: Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike.

In any event… almost a million customers remain without electricity in the Houston/Galveston area — though significant progress is being made, and most are expected to have power restored by Thursday — and the death toll is at least 60, including 26 in Texas. (Many others died well inland as the storm’s soggy, blustery remnants swept north.) And in Galveston, after some false starts and some cutting in line, all residents will be allowed back onto the island on Wednesday, though city officials warn that conditions remain very difficult, and a curfew is still in effect.

Speaking of Galveston: anyone who doubts the additional devastation that Ike could have caused there, if the storm had come ashore only a few miles to the west, need only look at the incredible photos from the Bolivar Peninsula, where the devastation was utterly complete. The Bolivar Peninsula took the blow from Ike’s right-front quadrant that Galveston Island almost took. This was no “false alarm,” folks, and anybody who says otherwise is criminally stupid. “Hype,” my eye. As hard hit as Galveston was, that city was very, very lucky Ike made a last-minute northward wobble. And the same goes for vulnerable areas along Galveston Bay. Something very closely approximating a “worst-case scenario” was averted by a mere 10 to 20 miles. Such wobbles are literally impossible to predict more than a few hours before landfall. Thank God this one happened when it did, or the death toll could have  been perhaps two orders of magnitude higher.

The worst devastation of all occurred in Gilchrist, Texas, a town of about 1,000 permanent residents that was wiped off the face of the earth by Ike’s storm surge: “[O]f the approximately 1000 structures existing in the town before Hurricane Ike, only about five survived the hurricane. … Rescuers who have reached Gilchrist have not been able to find any victims in the debris because there is no debris. Ike’s storm surge knocked 99.5% of the 1,000 buildings in Gilchrist off their foundations and either demolished them or washed them miles inland into the swamplands behind Gilchrist.” Why did this happen? “Gilchrist was built in an unusually vulnerable place,” and Ike made landfall in just about the worst possible spot. Read the whole thing.

Anyway… I mentioned earlier that Ike was the sixth consecutive named storm to hit the U.S. (seven if you count Cristobal, which grazed North Carolina but never actually made landfall). Josephine broke the streak, and now we’ve had a week since Ike’s overland demise without any named systems in the tropics. I’m sure the National Hurricane Center has greatly appreciated the breather, and though I’m a mere weatherblogger, I must say that I have appreciated it, too.

But it looks like the break may be about to end. “Invest 93L,” currently causing torrential rain, flooding and mudslides in Puerto Rico, has inspired a pair of “Special Tropical Disturbance Statements” today, and it appears likely to develop into Tropical Depression Eleven, and then perhaps Tropical (or maybe Subtropical) Storm Kyle.

Thankfully, proto-Kyle appears unlikely to threaten the battered Gulf Coast, and indeed unlikely to be a major threat to anyone in the U.S. mainland, at least in terms of wind. Here’s what Dr. Jeff Masters has to say, as of this evening, about the proto-storm’s prospects:

The intensity forecast
Wind shear is forecast to remain 10-20 knots over the next five days, and most of the reliable forecast models predict that 93L will develop into a tropical storm by Tuesday. The GFDL and HWRF models predict 93L will strengthen into a Category 1 or 2 hurricane by Friday. However, there will be high wind shear very close to 93L for the next five days, and the storm may struggle at times with this high shear. Water temperatures are a warm 29.5°C and ocean heat content will be moderate to high over the next five days. The NHC is giving 93L a high (>50% chance) of developing into a tropical depression by Tuesday. A Hurricane Hunter aircraft will investigate 93L Monday afternoon.

The track forecast
The models agree on a slow north-northwesterly motion for 93L over the next 3-4 days, which would bring the storm to a point between Bermuda and South Carolina. A major complicating factor in the long-range track forecast is the expected development of an extratropical Nor’easter storm off the coast of South Carolina on Wednesday or Thursday. The Nor’easter could bring hostile wind shear over 93L, weakening it, and potentially converting it into a subtropical storm. The two storms may rotate cyclonically around a common center (the Fujiwhara effect), sending the Nor’easter west-southwestward into the Southeast U.S., and 93L northwestwards towards North Carolina. This is the solution of the 18Z (2 pm EDT) GFDL and HWRF model. The NOGAPS model predicts that the Nor’easter will not develop at all, and instead 93L will absorb the energy that would have gone into creating the Nor’easter. This might convert 93L into a hybrid subtropical storm that would affect the coast of North and South Carolina late this week with sustained winds in the 50-60 mph range. I don’t have a good feel for what will happen in this complicated situation, but it currently appears that coastal North Carolina may get tropical storm force winds from the extratropical storm beginning as early as Wednesday night. It is possible that 93L may impact the mid-Atlantic or New England regions early next week as a strong tropical storm.

Dr. Masters also notes an unusual competitor for the name “Kyle” — an extratropical system approaching the coast of Portugal: “This storm has developed some heavy thunderstorm activity near the center, and has winds of 40 mph, according to this evening’s QuikSCAT pass. However, in NHC’s subjective judgment, it does not yet have enough tropical characteristics to be named subtropical storm Kyle. This system should make landfall in southern Portugal Monday afternoon, bringing heavy rain and tropical storm force winds of 40 mph to the coast.”