'Hurricane' Schwartz: We're Off to a Record Start to Hurricane Season - NBC 10 Philadelphia
NBC10 First Alert Severe Weather Central

NBC10 First Alert Severe Weather Central

'Hurricane' Schwartz: We're Off to a Record Start to Hurricane Season

We've seen three named storms in the Atlantic already this year. That's a record.



    Tropical Storm Colin was the third named storm in the Atlantic so far in 2016. That’s a record. We haven’t seen the “C” storm so early in the season since records began. In case you forgot about the first two, Alex actually formed in January in the far Eastern Atlantic. Bonnie formed off the Florida coast in late May.

    Here’s a list of the names for Atlantic storms this season:

    • Alex
    • Bonnie
    • Colin
    • Danielle
    • Earl
    • Fiona
    • Gaston
    • Hermine
    • Ian
    • Julia
    • Karl
    • Lisa
    • Matthew
    • Nicole
    • Otto
    • Paula
    • Richard
    • Shary
    • Tobias
    • Virginie
    • Walter                    

    How far we get down the list depends, in part, on what happens in the tropical Pacific Ocean. Is the record El Nino being replaced by its opposite, La Nina?

    The latest animation of ocean temperatures (top) and "anomalies" (compared to normal) shows the red colors of El Nino along the equator being replaced by the blue colors of La Nina.

    The top animation from this site shows colder than normal water under the surface ("depth"). The image goes from west to east, showing cold water far below the surface in the western Pacific moving close to the surface in the Eastern Pacific. This is a classic sign of strengthening La Nina.

    In general, El Nino favors inactive hurricane seasons in the Atlantic, while La Nina favors active ones. So, that’s why so many forecasts for this hurricane season have predicted higher numbers than in recent years. But other questions remain:
    1.    Just how strong will La Nina get?
    2.    Where will the hurricanes tend to track?
    3.    Will the U.S. "hurricane drought" continue for another year?

    Strong El Ninos are usually followed by strong La Ninas. It’s a bit like sloshing water in a bathtub. If you push it hard to one side, it will slosh back hard to the other. The stronger the La Nina gets, the more of an influence it will have. Perhaps it is already having an influence, seeing the early storm development this season.

    There are big questions about how strong this La Nina will get. Below are forecasts from many different computer models (similar to the "spaghetti plots" for hurricane track forecasts). That’s a lot of spread between models. Some drop the "index" to near 0, meaning neutral conditions. But some take the number down to -1 or even lower by the middle of summer. That would be considered a "strong" La Nina.

    The last time a major hurricane hit the U.S. was in 2005. That’s the official story, but not the "real" one. So, what was Sandy, a moderate breeze? It was only the second costliest hurricane to ever hit the U.S! And what was Hurricane Ike in 2008 that killed more than 80 people in Texas (direct and indirect deaths)? It had sustained winds of 109 mph at landfall. Nope, doesn’t count, either.

    So, if you heard that we’re in a record hurricane drought in the Atlantic, it’s bogus. "Major hurricane" is defined as a purely tropical system with at least 111 mph winds. It doesn’t matter how many people died, how high the water got, or how much damage occurred. Is this the way to define major hurricane?

    It’s not really a "drought," but there have not been a lot of hurricanes that hit the U.S. in recent years. That is merely a matter of chance, combined with some El Nino years, and other unusual ocean temperature patterns. Most of the storms that have formed in the Atlantic have curved out to sea.

    As they say (whoever "they" are), all it takes is one hurricane to make for a bad season. But the more storms that form, the greater the odds that at least one of them will hit the U.S. And the more storms that form, the greater the odds that the "hurricane drought" will end.