Tropics primed for big development as season races toward the peak of the season

Real hurricane season begins today


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – "Real hurricane season begins today,'' says Chief meteorologist John Gaughan. 

It's mid August. It's hot, the air is hazy and stale and the Atlantic offers a convenient reprieve from the late summer sun; the same Atlantic waters that harbor a clandestine, sinister secret: it's primed for explosive development over the next six to eight weeks.

Here's a number to remember: 3,948. That's the number of days since Florida last saw a hurricane of any size. It's also the last time the United States got a direct hit from a major hurricane. Both records are unprecedented; never before witnessed or recorded. Not to be outdone, the Gulf of Mexico hasn't seen a hurricane within its boundaries in nearly three years, the longest on record according to The Weather Channel. Yet the clock ticks.

Gaughan says that between August 15th and October 1st many of the most notorious storms on record have formed. Just name one: Andrew, Ivan, Katrina, Rita, Camille, Floyd and Ike. That's just some of many. 

Even over the last several seasons, when the amount of storms was below normal, we still saw development of major hurricanes within this window including Hurricane Joaquin, a category 4 hurricane that formed on September 28th and sank the cargo ship El Faro.

As I stand around the water cooler so-to-speak, I've heard people say, ''oh man, I'm from Florida. We get hurricanes all the time. We're used to 'em.'' Some even go on to say, ''they're not that bad.'' 

Let me be clear: if you've ever experienced a true hurricane, it is unlike anything you've ever seen and or won't soon forget. Tropical storms and flooding rains aren't a hurricane. Yes, that is part of a hurricane but the state has not seen unprecedented destruction for miles inland in many years and nobody has witnessed the roar of a 100+ mph whipping past their house as they're hunkered down in the bathroom. 

Tropical Storm's Fay, Beryl and Colin, the latest in a series of tropical storms to hit the Jacksonville area, are a poor representation of what lies underneath the picturesque satellite pics of swirling, pinwheel-like clouds of a bona fide hurricane. 

How ''busy'' a hurricane season is depends on the number of named storms but also the amount of Accumulated Cyclone Energy or ''ACE'' is accumulated over the course of the season.

It uses an approximation of the energy used by a tropical system over its lifetime and is calculated every six-hour period. The ACE of a season is the sum of the ACE's for each storm and takes into account the number, strength, and duration of all the tropical storms in the season.

According to Dr. Phil Klotzbach, hurricane researcher at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, over 80% of the ACE for a season is still yet to come. 

Now let's get to the meat and potatoes.

Models, right on time, are beginning to indicate tropical development in the main development region (MDR) heading into the end of August, climatologically right on time. The National Hurricane Center this morning has designated a vigorous tropical wave Invest 98L. While development into a tropical storm is possible (50% chance over the next 5 days), this one is likely to move into the open Atlantic and not affect anybody except shipping lanes.

Now let's take a look at this morning's model runs, compliments of tropicaltidbits.com, that show other areas of interest:

As you can see, there is some model agreement between the GFS (American) model and the ECMWF (European) models. Consistency between the models is important! However, a couple of things should be noted here. First, the models you're looking at are well beyond the reliable window for forecasting. This is effectively called ''La-la land.'' Second, the newest GFS model now indicates that no development will occur at all, despite the previous run showing a very intense hurricane just off the South Carolina coast. 

The new 12z Euro model run still shows some development near the Leeward Islands in about 10 days but the depiction isn't nearly as impressive as in previous runs.

The European model is also showing other storms developing in the open Atlantic and of course they'll bear watching as well.

The good news here is that the Saharan dust has been thick over the MDR this year and the wind shear is slightly higher than normal across the Caribbean and cooler water over the north Atlantic both serve to stifle development of any easterly wave that moves off Africa. 

That said, it's that time of year to pay attention as to what's going on off the coast of Africa. Anything that forms out there is just a 10 to 12 day journey to the east coast of the United States and conditions won't remain unfavorable the rest of the season.

This story is being published on the home page of News4Jax.com. We'd implore you to keep checking back to this article as we'll continuously keep it updated with the latest computer models and latest thinking of potential tropical trouble in the Atlantic.