Sunday, September 17, 2017

Hurricane Maria (2017)

Storm Active: September 16-30

Maria formed from a tropical wave that first left Africa around September 10 or 11. At first, conditions did not support development of the broad system, but they steadily improved over the next several days. On September 15, the disturbance appeared much more organized on satellite imagery, and some rotation became evident. By the morning of the 16th, only a well-defined center of circulation separated it from tropical cyclone status. It cleared this hurdle during the afternoon, becoming Tropical Depression Fifteen. From this point, its maximum winds increased almost immediately, and the depression was upgraded to Tropical Storm Maria shortly thereafter.

The tropical storm was already quite large, though gaps remained in the satellite presentation of the cyclone in between rain bands. Despite this, the inner core strengthened fairly swiftly, and Maria became a strong tropical storm by the morning of September 17. That afternoon, a large burst of convective activity ignited near the center of circulation, overcoming the dry slot that had been hampering intensification. Soon, Maria had a well-formed eyewall and was upgraded to a hurricane. The outer bands were starting to affect the Lesser Antilles and the system continued west-northwestward toward the islands. September 18 saw incredibly rapid strengthening of Maria. In the morning, it strengthened into a major hurricane, and while an eye was apparent on radar, it had not yet cleared out on satellite imagery. The clearing came that afternoon; a very small "pinhole" eye developed, indicating a small core but extremely intense winds. Its intensity shot up through category 4, and Maria achieved category 5 intensity with 160 mph winds and a pressure of 924 mb during that evening. The eye then made landfall small island of Dominica in the Lesser Antilles.

Though small, the island was mountainous, and briefly disrupted Maria's core, bringing the intensity down slightly to category 4. However, as moved west-northwest into the Caribbean, its central pressure began to drop again, and the hurricane regained category 5 status early in the morning of September 19. Remarkably, the cyclone was not done intensifying: it became more symmetric on satellite imagery that day, and thunderstorm activity around the centered grew even further. That evening, Maria reached a peak intensity of 175 mph winds and a central pressure of 908 mb, one of the top ten lowest pressures ever recorded in an Atlantic hurricane at the time, even though its maximum winds were slightly weaker than those of Hurricane Irma a few weeks earlier.

By this time, the center was approaching Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. As is typical with powerful hurricanes, a secondary eyewall then formed and the inner one weakened somewhat, causing a decrease in maximum winds. When Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico early on September 20, it was a high-end category 4 hurricane with maximum winds of 155 mph, but the area of maximum winds had expanded in the wake of the eyewall replacement. Regardless, it was the strongest cyclone to make landfall in Puerto Rico since 1928. The hurricane brought extremely strong winds and damaging flooding rains to the island, causing several rivers to exceed their previous record stages. Nevertheless, land interaction took a significant toll on Maria and it quickly weakened over the next several hours. After traversing much of Puerto Rico from east-southeast to west-northwest, the center emerged over water early in the afternoon. The system had dropped to high-end category 2 strength, but reorganization began as it moved further northwest. A ragged eye developed by the evening and the circulation recovered some overnight, bringing Maria back up to major hurricane strength early on September 21. The southern portion of the circulation brought widespread tropical storm conditions and occasional hurricane conditions to the Dominican Republic that day.

The cyclone then veered northwest, moving away from Hispaniola. Some modest strengthening ensued, though the eye of the hurricane was quite unstable and actually clouded over that night. Wind shear out of the southwest was disrupting the system. Early on September 22, the center passed just east of the Turks and Caicos islands. Following the weakness in the ridge to its north left by Jose before it, Maria moved north-northwest that day. No significant changes in strength occurred through September 23, although the pressure and winds fluctuated. In fact, the central pressure decreased, but the maximum winds found in the eyewall were not as strong as before. As a result, Maria was downgraded to a category 2 on September 24. Later that day, Maria's structure took a more significant hit as the center moved over the cold wake left by Jose and the northwestern eyewall collapsed. As a result, the hurricane weakened to a category 1 overnight as it continued slowly northward. The center was nearly exposed late on the 25th, but the storm maintained minimal hurricane strength.

Maria finally weakened to a tropical storm on September 26, as the outer edge of its tropical storm wind field brushed the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Since almost all thunderstorm activity was displaced to the north and east of the center, there were few land impacts. Winds actually increased for a brief period on September 27, and the storm regained hurricane strength. This was short-lived though; it was a tropical storm again the next morning. After moving north at a crawl for several days, Maria finally began to turn eastward and accelerate as a cold front approached the U.S. east coast. The next day, the heading shifted back east-northeast. Shear also increased significantly as the circulation encountered colder waters, beginning extratropical transition. On September 30, Maria became post-tropical.

The above image shows Maria as a category 5 hurricane in the Caribbean sea.

Hurricane Maria brought devastating damage to Dominica, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and other parts of the Lesser Antilles.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Hurricane Lee (2017)

Storm Active: September 14-18, 22-30

As is typical during mid-September, a strong tropical wave moved off of Africa and showed signs of organization by the morning of September 14. It was a fairly low-latitude system, passing well south of the Cape Verde Islands. The disturbance developed rather quickly, becoming Tropical Depression Fourteen that same night. After this, however, the system became a bit less organized, with the center becoming exposed to the north of the cloud canopy on September 15. However, as the system moved toward the west, it stayed south of the worst shear, and was able to slowly consolidate. Much more deep convection appeared during the morning of September 16, and the depression was upgraded to Tropical Storm Lee.

The system could not progress much further in its development, however, as upper-level winds renewed their assault from the north and west. The center once again became exposed later in the day, and the circulation was nearly devoid of thunderstorm activity by early on September 17. This caused Lee to weaken to a tropical depression. Pulses of convection intermittently covered the center over the next day but each was sheared away in turn. Thus,the storm maintained tropical depression status as it turned west-northwestward. Even this did not last, however. Late on September 18, Lee lost even more organization and degenerated into a remnant low, far away from land.

The circulation persisted over the next several days and turned northward, where atmospheric conditions eventually improved and there were still marginally warm waters. As a result, the remnants of Lee were able to regenerate into a tiny tropical depression in the middle of the subtropical Atlantic on September 22. Deemed the same system as before, Lee kept its name. Overnight, it once again became a tropical storm. At the time, the system was still drifting north. On September 23, however, a high pressure ridge was building north of the storm, and it quickly turned west and then began drifting south that night. Meanwhile, cool upper-atmospheric temperatures were helping Lee to strengthen (since they provided a large temperature differential with the marginally warm ocean waters). The small cyclone began a burst of rapid intensification and became a hurricane early on September 24 as an eye appeared on satellite imagery.

Although the satellite presentation was quite impressive for the small cyclone, the convection in the eyewall was not especially deep, and Lee leveled out as a strong category 1 later that day. The system also turned southeast before switching course yet again toward the southwest on the morning of September 25. Encountering cooler waters left it its own wake a few days previously, the storm weakened a bit that afternoon, but this trend was short-lived. The eye became quite well-defined that night and some deeper convection appeared. Turning westward and moving a bit faster, Lee became a category 2 hurricane on September 26. An eyewall replacement cycle then took place that evening, but the cyclone remained on the verge of major hurricane strength. By the morning of September 27, the eye had broadened and become more well-defined. As a result, Lee was upgraded to a major hurricane, the fifth of the season, and reached its peak intensity as a category 3 hurricane with 115 mph winds and a pressure of 962 mb that afternoon.

Shortly after, as Lee turned toward the north, the outflow from Maria to its west increased shear over the system, and a weakening trend began. Shortly after, the same trough that was pushing Maria out to sea picked up Lee as well, and it began to accelerate toward the northeast. The center became exposed to the northwest of the deep convection late on the 28th, and the system weakened to a tropical storm. As Lee rocketed into much colder waters on September 29, it quickly lost its remaining convection and tropical characteristics. The storm became post-tropical over the north Atlantic early the next morning as its forward speed exceeded 50 mph. It was absorbed by an extratropical low over the north Atlantic soon after. The combined system then brought rainy and windy conditions to the UK and Ireland a few days later.

This image shows Hurricane Lee at peak intensity over the open central Atlantic.

After a brief stint as a weak tropical storm, Lee redeveloped into a major hurricane.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Hurricane Katia (2017)

Storm Active: September 5-9

An area of low pressure formed in the Bay of Campeche on September 1. At first, strong shear prevented the system from doing more than generating shower activity over the region as it moved little. Conditions gradually improved for development, however, and by September 4, the disturbance was producing a large and concentrated area of thunderstorms over water. The next day, Tropical Depression Thirteen formed. There was very little steering the system, so it initially drifted toward the east and then east-southeast overnight. The system strengthened into Tropical Storm Katia early in the morning of September 5.

Later that day, the system developed a very compact inner core, and maximum winds increased rapidly. Just 12 hours after becoming a tropical storm, Katia was already a hurricane. When Katia became a hurricane, Irma and Jose were also hurricanes, making 2017 the first Atlantic season to feature 3 simultaneous hurricanes since 2010. Meanwhile, the system became nearly stationary during the morning of September 7. During the day, hints of an eye were seen, and Katia's winds increased gradually. A developing ridge to the hurricane's north finally set it on a definite heading overnight, this time toward the southwest. The next day, as it approached the coastline, the system reached its peak intensity as a category 2 hurricane with 105 mph winds and a minimum pressure of 972 mb. During the afternoon and evening, however, dry air invaded the circulation, and Katia collapsed weakening rapidly before even hitting land. By the time it made landfall in Mexico, it was down to minimal hurricane strength. The storm's swift demise continued, and it dissipated on September 9. The main impacts of Katia were heavy rain over the mountainous terrain of central Mexico.

The above image shows Katia at peak intensity as a category 2 hurricane. Fortunately, rapid weakening just before landfall reduced impacts in Mexico.

Weak steering currents prevailed during Katia's lifetime in the Bay of Campeche, and the system moved very slowly throughout its existence.

Hurricane Jose (2017)

Storm Active: September 5-21

A new tropical wave entered the Atlantic basin right at the end of August and produced disorganized shower activity as it moved westward. Not much organization occurred until September 4, when conditions became more favorable and thunderstorm activity much more concentrated. By early on September 5, the disturbance was producing winds near tropical storm force. Hours later, the center of circulation was organized enough to name the system Tropical Storm Jose. The newly-formed storm was located about halfway between Africa and the Lesser Antilles and was moving west-northwest.

Moist air and low shear allowed Jose to begin strengthening immediately. A predecessor to an eye was already becoming evident during the afternoon of September 6, and the cyclone was a minimal hurricane by the evening. Simultaneously, Irma and Katia were also hurricanes, making 2017 the first Atlantic season to have three hurricanes at once since 2010. Jose's intensification continued well beyond category 1 strength. During the afternoon of September 7, it became another major hurricane as the eye became well-defined on satellite imagery. The next morning, it exploded into strong category 4 intensity. Jose's heading shifted northwest during the day, bringing on a track to just miss the northern Leeward Islands to the northeast. As it approached the islands during the evening, the storm reached its peak intensity of 155 mph winds and a central pressure of 938 mb, just below category 5 strength.

Partially due to the outflow of Irma, upper-level winds became less favorable for Jose overnight, and a weakening trend had begun by the morning of September 9. The hurricane made its closest approach to the northern Leeward Islands before noon. Fortunately for the islands, which had been devastated less than four days prior by Hurricane Irma, the center passed to the northeast, and wind radii were low on the southwest side. Nevertheless, tropical storm conditions did affect some areas for the better part of the day. The system moved northwest away from the Caribbean that evening, and Jose maintained category 4 strength through the morning of September 10. The eye disappeared that day, however, and the system steadily fell through category 3 strength into category 2 overnight. Very deep convection was still present around the center, however. Atmospheric steering currents were also weakening, causing Jose to lose forward speed and veer toward the north into September 11. During the day a developing mid-level ridge began turning the system toward the east, and its heading was due east by early the next morning. Although the hurricane maintained impressive thunderstorm activity during this time, little to no banding could form in the face of strong wind shear. As a result, Jose decayed into a minimal category 1 hurricane by September 12.

At this point, the system stabilized in intensity, and continued its slow clockwise loop over the western Atlantic by moving southeast overnight and into September 13. Warm waters allowed large pulses of deep convection to continue, offsetting the unfavorable upper-level winds and causing some upward fluctuations in intensity. Later that day, Jose turned sharply south and then west as the nearby ridge continued to evolve. The system lost some organization overnight, and weakened a bit on September 14 to a tropical storm. Another factor that inhibited strengthening later that day and early the next is that Jose was completing its loop and crossing over cooler ocean waters left in its wake when it traveled across the region a few days previously. Nevertheless, the storm remained at the brink of hurricane strength into September 15. That day, it recovered some deep convection as it turned northwest, and restrengthened into a hurricane. The storm still struggled some with dry air over the next day, but gradual strengthening occurred. Having reached the western periphery of the steering ridge, Jose also took an overall turn toward the north, although the center wobbled some to the east and west as it did so. On September 17, Jose reached its secondary peak strength of 90 mph winds and a pressure of 967 mb.

By that evening, Jose was beginning to display some characteristics of an extratropical cyclone. As it passed the latitude of North Carolina well offshore, its inner core weakened but its wind field expanded. Nevertheless, it hung on to minimal hurricane strength over the next day as it continued generally northward. Early on September 19, the cyclone's outermost rain bands swept across the mid-Atlantic coast and southern New England. Later in the day, the system turned toward the northeast, away from the coast, though the system was so large that some coastal rains continued. By this time, the center of circulation had moved north of the warm Gulf Stream waters, resulting in weakening. Jose finally lost hurricane status and became a tropical storm. Gradual decay continued into September 20. Meanwhile, the storm turned toward the east and slowed down, coming nearly to a standstill that night southeast of Cape Cod. Rain continued for portions of southern New England through the 21st. Late that evening, however, Jose no longer had enough convection to remain a tropical cyclone, and was classified post-tropical. The circulation continued to spin down offshore as it moved little over the next few days. It finally dissipated on September 25.

The above image shows Jose at peak intensity approaching the Lesser Antilles.

Jose's long track held it offshore of the U.S. east coast for many days, causing prolonged high surf and rip current risks.