Sunday, October 12, 2014

Hurricane Gonzalo (2014)

Storm Active: October 12-19

During the first week of October, a tropical wave entered the eastern Atlantic and tracked generally westward. It did not show signs of organization until October 10, when shower activity began to increase in concentration. Despite a large mass of dry air to its north, the disturbance developed rapidly. On October 12, curved bands became evident around a well-defined center of circulation. Since aircraft data indicated that gale-force winds were occurring in the vicinity of the center, the system was designated Tropical Storm Gonzalo early that afternoon.

Situated over an environment of warm water, unstable air, and low wind shear, only dry air slightly slowed development. Convective bands wrapped around a primitive eye feature that evening and steady strengthening began. Meanwhile, a trough to the north of the system steered it westward toward the Leeward Islands. During the morning of October 13, Gonzalo's center passed among these islands, bringing tropical storm conditions to much of the region as it continued to intensify and deepen. Later that day, the system turned to the northwest and gained enough organization to be upgraded to a hurricane as it passed near the Virgin Islands. Though the center passed to the east, the large area of deep convection associated with Gonzalo stretched as far as Puerto Rico.

As the hurricane exited the Caribbean overnight, an eye began to consistently appear on satellite imagery. Pressures continued to decline, and the system underwent rapid intensification through the morning of October 14. Though the convection remained somewhat lopsided (with most of the deep convection south of the eye), Gonzalo became the second major hurricane of the 2014 season later that day. Meanwhile, the cyclone continued to round the edge of a ridge to its north, and its motion gradually turned poleward. The eye contracted during the morning of October 15, indicating that an eyewall replacement cycle had begun and stabilizing Gonzalo's intensity as a low-end Category 4 hurricane. Gonzalo was the first category 4 hurricane to form in the Atlantic since 2011's Ophelia.

As is usual in such cycles, the cyclone's eye clouded over late that morning as an outer eyewall formed, and internal dynamics caused Gonzalo to weaken slightly over the following 12 hours. Overnight, the system completed its northward turn and its eyewall replacement, with a large, symmetrical eye forming by the morning of October 16. Meanwhile, the banding structure and outflow had also improved, and Gonzalo restrengthened into a category 4. Later that day, the system reached its peak intensity of 145 mph winds and a minimum pressure of 940 mb before the inner core was once again disrupted that evening, leading to gradual weakening. Caught in a south-southwesterly flow, the cyclone also began to accelerate to the north-northeast toward Bermuda that evening.

By the morning of October 17, conditions were deteriorating in Bermuda, as outer bands began to sweep across the island. During the afternoon, the Gonzalo's eye reappeared, and weakening temporarily ceased, with the cyclone at category 3 hurricane strength. Around 8:30 pm EDT that evening, the center of the hurricane passed directly over Bermuda bringing significant storm surge to the coastline as well as sustained winds to hurricane force. During that evening, upper-level winds increased somewhat, putting Gonzalo on a steady weakening trend as it accelerated away from Bermuda.

The cyclone moved north of the Gulf stream during the morning of October 18, and convection began to disappear from the southern half of the circulation. As a result, the system weakened to a category 1 hurricane. Despite plummeting ocean temperatures however, Gonzalo maintained a well-defined eyewall through that evening. Overnight, the system sped past offshore of Newfoundland, causing gusty winds with its broadening windfield. By the morning of October 19, Gonzalo was racing northeast across the northern Atlantic at forward speed of over 50 mph. The cyclone finally became extratropical above 50°N that afternoon. The system subsequently passed near the United Kingdom on October 21 before being absorbed near the Arctic Circle.

Gonzalo experienced several fluctuations in intensity as a major hurricane due to internal dynamics. Even in the above image, a concentric set of eyeballs seems to be forming.

Remarkably, both Tropical Storm Fay and Hurricane Gonzalo passed very near or directly over Bermuda over the course within a period of less than one week!


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