Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.
By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:51 PM GMT on October 02, 2008
Climatologically, the first half of October is part of the peak portion of hurricane season. Activity does not begin to drop off significantly until mid-October (Figure 1). During the 13-year active Atlantic hurricane period that began in 1995, we've averaged 2.7 named storms, 1.1 hurricanes, and 0.5 intense hurricanes during the month of October. The busiest October on record was 2005, when seven named storms, three hurricanes, and one intense hurricane occurred (including Wilma, the strongest hurricane on record).
Figure 1. Climatology of Atlantic hurricanes and tropical storms.
Far fewer Cape Verdes-type hurricanes form between Africa and the Lesser Antilles Islands during October, compared to September (Figure 2). Many of those that do form recurve out to sea, and the odds are that hurricane season is over for the Lesser Antilles Islands. Only four October hurricanes have affected these islands since 1851. Hurricane season is also probably over for Texas, which which has only seen three October hurricanes since 1851. Hurricane season is definitely not over for Central America, Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, the U.S. coast from Louisiana to New England, plus Bermuda, the Bahamas, and the islands of the central and western Caribbean.
Figure 2. Tracks of all hurricane and tropical storms forming in the first half of October.
Sea Surface Temperatures
Sea Surface Temperatures (SSTs) and oceanic heat content are declining now, but are still plenty warm enough to support a major hurricane in some regions. In particular, the entire Caribbean is 0.5-1.0°C above average in temperature, as are the waters off the U.S. East Coast (Figure 3). The waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Bahamas are quite cool, due to the lingering effects of the passage of Hurricanes Ike and Gustav. Due to these SST patterns, a major hurricane would be most likely to affect the Western Caribbean.
Figure 3. Departure of Sea Surface Temperature (SST) from average for October 2, 2008. Image credit: NOAA.
The latest 15-day wind shear forecast from the GFS model predicts that wind shear across the tropical Atlantic will remain in the average to below average range. In the longer term, wind shear is predicted by NOAA's CFS model to remain below average over the Caribbean for October through December.
When will activity pick up again?
There is an oscillation in the atmosphere I've talked a little about, called the Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO). The MJO is a pattern of enhanced rainfall that travels along the Equator, and can act to boost hurricane activity when it propagates into the Atlantic. The MJO has a period of about 30-60 days, and is currently in its active phase over the Atlantic. According to the latest 15-day GFS model forecast and the MJO discussion from the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center, we are expected to remain in an active phase for the MJO over the Atlantic for at least the next two weeks. This year, the active phase of the MJO has been strongly correlated with formation of named storms in the Atlantic. According to the latest analysis by Phil Klotzbach of Colorado State University (Table 4, below), ten of the last eleven named storms in the Atlantic this year formed during an active phase of the MJO. We can anticipate an above average chance of tropical storm formation in the Atlantic this October as a result.
Due to above average SSTs in the Caribbean, an active phase of the MJO, and average to below average wind shear over the tropical Atlantic this month, we can expect levels of tropical storm activity similar to what has been seen in past Octobers, since the current active hurricane phase began in 1995. However, the models are showing nothing forming over the next week, and the tropics look pretty quiet right now. In consequence, I am expecting two named storms and one hurricane this month. There is a 50/50 chance this hurricane will be an intense hurricane. The October forecast from Colorado State University is more aggressive, and calls for 3 named storms, 2 hurricanes, and one major hurricane.
Now that it is October, the jet stream is more active and farther south, resulting in increased chances of recurvature for tropical cyclones. However, the latest 15-day GFS model forecast predicts more high pressure than usual over the Eastern U.S., which will result in longer recurvature delays than is usual for October storms. Thus, the risk of an October hurricane hitting the U.S. East Coast is higher than average this year.
Summary of Hurricane Ike relief efforts
When a major hurricane hits, relief efforts are always confused and don't reach many areas with great needs. Thus, a group of wunderground bloggers mobilized the day after Ike hit to help out. Their goal was to provide immediate help where traditional aid efforts were coming short, with a focus on providing equipment for people with disabilities and a full spectrum of relief supplies to smaller communities often neglected. Traditional, professional relief efforts are weighed down by bureaucracy and cannot respond as nimbly as smaller, grass-roots relief efforts can. I believe our dollars have been well-spent by the relief effort organized by our own Patrap, Presslord, and Stormjunkie, under the banner of Portlight Strategies, Inc. They have responded quickly and delivered much-needed aid to communities hard-hit by Ike that were being under-served. The people involved in the relief effort were very passionate about serving, and they have sacrificed their time, sleep, health, and money to support this cause. I support their efforts to continue spending the money that was donated to the cause in the way intended. The passion they put into this effort led to conflicts when disagreements arose over how to operate this effort, though. In the haste to go from zero to 100 mph in a few days, and without a supporting bureaucracy or strategic plan to guide their efforts, it should be no surprise that there was confusion and mis-communication. I do not fault any of the people involved for the problems that have arisen. Rather, blame Hurricane Ike! Hurricanes cause chaos, and there was certainly plenty of that on the blogs last weekend. It's good to have these kinds of problems, which are, in part, due to the extraordinary and unexpected generosity of all of you who have contributed.
During a one hour conference call I participated in yesterday, Paul Timmons, Jr. (AKA Presslord), one of the founding Board members of portlight.org, pulled together a new advisory board for portlight.org. The board members are myself, Patrick Pearson (Patrap), John Wilbanks (Storm Junkie), Rob Ingham (Rainman32), Deb Nowinski (EmmyRose), and Kelly Timmons (Paul's wife, and accountant for Portlight.org). It was agreed at the meeting that Paul would been given the final authority to write all checks, but that the board would advise him on how the money should be spent. When a check is written, all members of the board will receive a notification via email. The current plan is to spend the available funds to deliver donated goods (mostly medical equipment for people with disabilities) to the Hurricane Ike devastation areas. The goods will be delivered by ground freight shipments, and by rented trucks driven by some of the advisory board members. About $9000 of the donated money will not be spent at this time, because it has been put in escrow at the advice of Portlight's lawyer. This money is being held in escrow because of the threat of legal action made against Portlight in the chaos last weekend. The money will remain in escrow until Portlight's lawyer advises them otherwise.
Now that the chaos has subsided and everyone on the advisory board has agreed we should move ahead, I am ready to once again endorse contributions. The WUBA Hurricane Ike relief fund, initially founded by Patrap, is controlled by Portlight Strategies, Inc., a 501c3 charity run by Paul Timmons, Jr. (Presslord) and three other board members. All donations are 100% tax deductible. The mission statement of Portlight is co-opting with individuals as well as other organizations to cut through red tape in order to directly meet the specific needs of unserved, under served, and forgotten people.
Donations can be sent via check and via PayPal. The funds are then transferred to the portlight.org checking account, and Presslord has been writing checks from this account to fund the relief efforts. As of this writing, there is about $1000 "stuck" in a defunct PayPal account because of a dispute over protocol. An agreement has been reached that this money will be released to the portlight.org checking account and used to fund relief efforts, though. Here's a breakdown of how much money has been donated, and how much spent. Figures are rounded to the nearest $100. More details can be found on StormJunkie's blog:
Total money donated: $31,200 (about 400 donors)
Total money spent so far: $10,350
Total money in the portlight.org checking account: $21,000
--$9,000 in escrow for legal defense
--$12,000 available for immediate relief operations
Total money in the original Paypal account set up by Patrap: $1000
Total money in the new Paypal account set up by Presslord: $250
Here's how the $10350 has been spent:
WalMart - $2000 - supplies
Costco - $1000 - supplies
Patrick Pearson (Patrap) - $1000 (fuel, rental costs for a truck)
Truck from Charleston - $1500 - fuel
Florida supply truck - $2100 - escort, credentialing, fuel, vehicle repair, lodging
Crew food,lodging, transport home - $1000
Truck rental, gas for truck from Atlanta - $1750
The biggest coup for the effort came when Paul arranged to get about $150,000 worth of medical equipment donated to the cause. Rob Ingham (AKA Rainman32) and Roger Knight (AKA NLimbo) received took a rented truck to Atlanta, grabbed the gear, and delivered it to Houston. In the shipment:
Four Gaylord boxes medical supplies
-various catheter kits
-oxygen tubing kits
-other misc. medical supplies
13 hospital bed mattresses and pressure pads
2 Gaylord boxes of sanitized walkers (20 per box)
4 Gaylord boxes of unsanitized walkers (20 per box)
2 pallets with two electric wheelchairs each (4)
100 pairs of crutches
30 bedside commodes sanitized
6 gerry chairs
I've been impressed by the dedication and effort put into this work by all the people involved. This is a much-needed humanitarian effort that has sprung up from the remarkable community we have here. I thank each one of you for participating. I do ask that all comments about the relief efforts on this blog be positive ones. There is no need to point out the mistakes of the past, which are painfully obvious. Portlight has plans to extend this effort into the future, and I plan to become a regular donor in coming years for the future hurricane disasters that will inevitably visit our shores.
If there's no activity or forecast activity in the tropics, I may leave this blog up for a few days.
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