Friday, September 23, 2011

Hurricane Ophelia (2011)

Storm Active: September 20-October 3

On September 17, a broad area of showers and thunderstorms formed in association with a large low pressure system in the eastern Atlantic. Three low pressure centers existed in close proximity near the area during the day of September 18, oriented west to east near the 10ºN parallel. Over time, the central low became stronger and dissipated the others, and convection increased. The circulation also increased in definition over the following days, but numerous reformations of the center kept the circulation open. However, late on September 20, thunderstorms became concentrated near a single circulation center, and the low was upgraded directly to Tropical Storm Ophelia.

As the tropical storm moved west over the central Atlantic, shear steadily increased, but despite unfavorable conditions, winds in Ophelia's rain bands increased significantly, and strengthening ensued. On September 21, convection was displaced to the east of the center, but notwithstanding any satellite data to the contrary, winds were reported that suggested a strong tropical storm intensity. By the morning of September 22, Ophelia had reached an intensity of 65 mph winds and a pressure of 994 mb.

Wind shear began to finally take its toll on the system later that day, and the cyclone weakened. By the morning of September 23, Ophelia, had weakened to a minimal tropical storm, and all remaining convection was pushed northeast into a rain band that extended several hundred miles. Meanwhile, Ophelia took a turn to the west-northwest. Later on September 23, shear temporarily relaxed, and shower activity re-ignited near the center of the cyclone, causing it to unexpectedly strengthen that evening.

However, this increase in intensity did not persist, as strong upper-level winds resumed early on September 24. Ophelia weakened once again during that day, and, as a result, turned back to the west. As the system's circulation continued to become shallower, a due west motion was assumed, and by the morning of September 25, Ophelia was a minimal tropical storm. A large area of convection was over 150 miles east of the center during the day, with the center itself bare but for a few showers to the northeast. The Lesser Antilles, to Ophelia's southwest, experienced some gusty winds during the afternoon, as the center of the circulation became more elongated. Subsequently, the system was observed to lack tropical characteristics, and was downgraded to a remnant low.

The exposed center quickly dissipated, but a new swirl quickly became evident in the thunderstorm activity to the east. During the day of September 26, upper-level winds relaxed, and the circulation of the newly formed low became much better defined that evening. As the system continued to organize overnight, it drifted eastward and southward, stalling close to the Leeward Islands. On September 27, moderate rainfall occurred over these islands, as convection increased further during the afternoon, and the low became organized enough to be redesignated as Tropical Depression Ophelia.

Shear still abounded over the region overnight, and strengthening was gradual, bringing Ophelia to tropical storm strength during the morning of September 28. By this time, the cyclone had assumed a definite north-northwestward motion, and it moved away from the Caribbean. Outflow improved throughout the same day, allowing the cyclone to hold its own despite marginally favorable conditions. Further strengthening followed that night, and the system was a powerful tropical storm by September 29. An impressive banding feature formed to the east of the circulation later that afternoon, causing Ophelia to be upgraded to Category 1 hurricane status.

During the same evening, Ophelia's eyewall solidified, and the eye itself became more consistent in its appearance on satellite imagery. Following these structural changes, the cyclone rapidly strengthened. By the morning of September 30, Ophelia was a Category 2 hurricane! However, the strengthening was by no means over, as the hurricane assumed a more rounded appearance, the outflow improving and the eye broadening further. By that afternoon, Ophelia was a Category 3 hurricane. Meanwhile, the storm turned north and started to accelerate, as a large trough exited the U.S. east coast and pushed it farther poleward. Late that night, the system finally stabilized in intensity at 120 mph winds and a pressure of 956 mb.

Early on October 1, the pressure dropped slightly to 952 mb, and the outer bands of Ophelia began to impact Bermuda. During the day, gusty winds and scattered heavy squalls affected the island, but the hurricane passed well to the east, making its closest approach late that afternoon. Just after passing Bermuda, Ophelia unexpectedly underwent rapid intensification, bringing it to its peak intensity as a Category 4 hurricane with 140 mph winds and a pressure of 940 mb. During the morning of October 2, Opheila finally began to weaken as it turned to the north-northeast, reaching a forward speed of 30 mph north of 35ºN latitude. The circulation slowly lost definition as it raced towards Newfoundland ahead of a cold front to its west.

That night, Ophelia lost most of its remaining tropical characteristics, weakening to a tropical storm during the morning of October 3. Any central convection still associated with the system vanished as Ophelia made landfall in the Avalon Peninsula, and the system became extratropical. The cyclone continued northeastward until dissipating on October 5. Minimal damage was the only effect of Ophelia, with no fatalities occurring.

Hurricane Ophelia nearing peak intensity as a Category 4 hurricane.

Track of Ophelia, including time spent as an non-tropical system before reforming.

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