Hurricane Karl: first major hurricane ever in the Bay of Campeche; Bermuda eyes Igor

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:47 PM GMT on September 17, 2010

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Hurricane Karl explosively deepened into a dangerous Category 3 hurricane this morning, becoming the fifth major hurricane of this remarkably active 2010 Atlantic hurricane season. Karl is the first major hurricane on record in the Gulf of Mexico's Bay of Campeche--the region bounded by the Yucatan Peninsula on the east. There were two other major hurricanes that grazed the northern edge of the Bay of Campeche, Hurricane Hilda of 1955 and Hurricane Charley of 1951, but Karl is by far the farthest south a major hurricane has been in the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane records go back to 1851, but Karl is a small storm and could have gotten missed as being a major hurricane before the age of aircraft reconnaissance (1945).


Figure 1. Tracks of all major hurricanes since 1851 near Mexico's Bay of Campeche. Karl is most southerly major hurricane on record in the Gulf of Mexico. Image credit: NOAA Coastal Services Center.

With Karl's ascension to major hurricane status, we are now ahead of the pace of the terrible hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005 for number of major hurricanes so early in the year. In 2005, the fifth major hurricane (Rita) did not occur until September 21, and in 2004, the fifth major hurricane (Karl) arrived on September 19. Wunderblogger Cotillion has put together a nice page showing all the seasons with five or more major hurricanes. The last time we had five major hurricanes earlier in the season was in 1961, when the fifth major hurricane (Esther) arrived on September 13. This morning we continue to have three simultaneous hurricanes, Hurricanes Igor, Julia, and Karl. This is a rare phenomena, having occurred only eight previous years since 1851. The last time we had three simultaneous hurricanes in the Atlantic was in 1998. That year also had four simultaneous hurricanes--Georges, Ivan, Jeanne and Karl--for a brief time on September 25. There has been just one other case of four simultaneous Atlantic hurricanes, on August 22, 1893. The year 2005 came within six hours of having three hurricanes at the same time, but the official data base constructed after the season was over indicates that the three hurricanes did not exist simultaneously.

Also remarkable this year is that are seeing major hurricanes in rare or unprecedented locations. Julia was the easternmost major hurricane on record, Karl is the most southerly major hurricane on record in the Gulf of Mexico, and Earl was the 4th strongest hurricane so far north. This unusual major hurricane activity is likely due, in part, to the record Atlantic sea surface temperatures this year.


Figure 2. Triple trouble, day two: From left to right, Hurricanes Karl, Igor, and Julia roil the Atlantic at 9:45 am EDT, September 17, 2010. Image credit: NASA/GSFC.

Karl
Hurricane Karl put on a burst of intensification this morning unprecedented in this part of the Atlantic, bottoming out as a Category 3 hurricane with a 957 mb pressure and winds of 120 mph. Karl's pressure dropped 10 mb between 1am EDT and 7 am EDT, but the pressure during the Hurricane Hunters' latest pass through the eye, at 10:12 am, had risen 12 mb, likely indicating that Karl's winds may weaken quickly in the next few hours. Karl is getting very close to land, and interaction with land will probably limit further intensification. Mexican radar out of Alvarado shows the eye is very close to the coast.


Figure 3. Radar image of Karl approaching landfall in Mexico. Image credit: Mexican Weather Service.

Impact of Karl on Mexico
Given that the Bay of Campeche coast has never experienced a hurricane as strong as Karl, its impact is likely to cause unprecedented damage to a 50-mile wide coastal area between Veracruz and Poza Rica. The strongest hurricanes in history to affect the region were Item in 1950, with 110 mph winds, Janet in 1955, with 100 mph winds, and Diana of 1990, with 100 mph winds. Flooding from Janet killed over 800 people in Mexico. and flooding from Diana killed at least 139 people. Fortunately, the Mexicans have one of the best disaster preparedness programs in the world, and it is likely that evacuations from the storm surge zone of Karl will greatly limit the loss of life from storm surge. The section of coast expected to receive Karl's maximum 12 - 16 foot storm surge is moderately populated, but is low-lying only in limited regions. Of greatest concern are Karl's torrential rains, since the region has high mountains near the coast that will experience extreme rainfall and flooding. Karl's high winds are also a major concern, and these winds are likely to damage thousands of buildings near the coast.

Igor
Hurricane Igor has slowly weakened over the past day, but remains a large and dangerous Category 3 hurricane with 120 mph winds. Igor passed just north of buoy 41044 last night, and the buoy recorded a lowest pressure of 942 mb. Top winds during Igor's passage were sustained at 74 mph, but this reading was on the weak left front side of the hurricane. The buoy recorded a significant wave height of 38 feet (the significant wave height is the average of the highest 1/3 of the waves.)


Figure 4. Morning satellite image of Igor.

Intensity forecast for Igor
Wind shear is low to moderate, 5 - 15 knots, and is expected to remain in this range through Saturday afternoon. Waters are warm, 29°C, and will remain 29°C through Saturday morning, then slowly decline. Igor is well armored against any intrusions of dry air for at least the next two days. These conditions should allow Igor to remain at major hurricane status through Saturday afternoon. It is possible the hurricane will undergo another eyewall replacement cycle, where the eyewall collapses and a new eyewall forms from an outer spiral band. This will weaken the hurricane by 10 - 20 mph if it occurs, but Igor may regain its lost intensity once the cycle is over, as it has done after its previous two eyewall replacement cycles. By Saturday afternoon, the trough of low pressure steering Igor northwestwards should bring moderate wind shear of 10 - 20 knots to the storm, potentially weakening it. The SHIPS models predicts shear will not rise to the high range, 20 - 30 knots, until the hurricane reaches the island, which may be soon enough to induce substantial weakening by perhaps 20 - 30 mph before Igor arrives at Bermuda. Igor will still probably be at least a Category 2 hurricane on its closest pass by Bermuda on Sunday night, and perhaps a Category 3. NHC is giving Bermuda a 29% chance of experiencing hurricane force winds from Igor, but this probability is likely too low. The Bermuda Weather Service is calling for Category 2 hurricane conditions for the island on Sunday, with 20 - 40 foot waves in the offshore waters, and 6 - 12 foot seas in the inland waters.

Igor's impact on Bermuda
The track forecast for Igor remains unchanged. Igor is moving northwest, in response to the steering influence of a broad trough of low pressure moving across the Western Atlantic. This trough will steer Igor to the northwest and north over the next three days, bringing the core of the storm very close to Bermuda late Sunday night. Igor is a huge storm, and tropical storm force winds extend out 290 miles to the north of its center. As the hurricane moves north, it will expand in size, as it takes advantage of the extra spin available at higher latitudes due to Earth's rotation. By Saturday night, Igor's tropical storm force winds are expected to extend outwards 320 miles from the center. Igor will be moving at about 11 - 13 mph during the final 24 hours of its approach to Bermuda, so the island can expect a period of 39+ mph tropical storm force winds to begin near midnight Saturday night--a full 24 hours before the core of Igor arrives. Igor will speed up to about 15 mph as it passes the island near midnight Sunday night, and Bermuda's battering by tropical storm force winds will not be as long as Igor moves away, perhaps 10 hours long. Hurricane force winds will probably extend out about 60 miles from the center when the core of Igor reaches Bermuda, and the island can expect to be pounded by hurricane force winds for up to 6 - 8 hours. In all, Bermuda is likely to suffer a remarkably long 36-hour period of tropical storm force winds, with the potential for many hours of hurricane force winds. Long duration poundings like this are very stressful for buildings, and there is the potential for significant damage on Bermuda. However, buildings in Bermuda are some of the best-constructed in the world, and damage on the island will be much lower than might otherwise be expected.

Bermuda's hurricane history
Igor is similar in strength and projected track to Hurricane Fabian of 2003. Fabian hit Bermuda as a Category 3 hurricane with 120 mph winds. It was the most damaging hurricane ever to hit the island, with $355 million in damage. Fabian's storm surge killed four people crossing a causeway on the island. These were the first hurricane deaths on Bermuda since 1926. The most powerful hurricane on record to strike Bermuda was the Category 4 Havana-Bermuda Hurricane, which hit on October 22, 1926, with 135 mph winds. The hurricane sank two British warships, claiming 88 lives, but no one was killed on the island. The deadliest hurricane to affect the island occurred on September 12, 1839, when a Category 3 hurricane with 125 mph winds and an 11-foot storm surge hit, tearing off the roofs of hundreds of buildings and wrecking several ships. An estimated 100 people were killed (source: Encyclopedia of Hurricanes, Typhoons, and Cyclones, by David Longshore.)

Igor's impact on the rest of the Atlantic
The models have been in substantial agreement over multiple runs that Igor will miss the U.S. and Canadian coasts--with the possible exception of southeast Newfoundland, which the ECMWF model predicts could see a close pass by Igor. The chief danger to the U.S. and Canada will come in the form of high waves. Large swells from Igor are pounding the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and the Northern Lesser Antilles Islands, and will spread westwards to the U.S. East Coast today. By Saturday, much of the East Coast from northern Florida to Cape Cod Massachusetts can expect waves of 3 - 4 meters (10 - 13 feet), causing dangerous rip currents and significant beach erosion. These waves will continue through Sunday then gradually die down. The latest NOAA marine forecast for Cape Hatteras, North Carolina calls for 6 - 11 foot waves on Saturday night, and 9 - 13 foot waves on Sunday.

Julia
Strong upper level winds from big brother Igor are creating a high 20 - 30 knots of shear over Hurricane Julia this morning, and the hurricane is destined to weaken to a tropical storm soon. The high shear has eroded away the northwestern portion of Julia's heavy thunderstorms, and should be strong enough to destroy Julia by early next week. Julia is not expected to threaten any land areas.

Unusually quiet in the Pacific
The unusually quiet Western Pacific typhoon season has its 11th named storm of the season, Typhoon Fanapi. Fanapi, a Category 1 storm, is located 400 miles east of Taiwan, and is expected to intensify into a Category 2 storm before making landfall on the island Sunday. Ordinarily, the Western Pacific should be up to seventeen named storms by now. It has also been unusually quiet in the Eastern Pacific. On average, that ocean basin should have had 11 named storms, 6 hurricanes, and 2 intense hurricanes by now. This season, we've had about half the normal activity--just 6 named storms, 3 hurricanes, and 1 intense hurricane.

Elsewhere in the tropics
The ECMWF model develops a new tropical depression a few hundred miles off the coast of Africa 4 - 5 days from now. The GFS and NOGAPS models have backed off on their predictions of a Caribbean development late next week.

I'll have an update this afternoon.

Jeff Masters

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DJ, great to see you. Dewey was under the impression your humor had been run off. Hopefully that ridge weakens more so Igor can pass farther west, eh?
Member Since: August 18, 2010 Posts: 14 Comments: 1605
176. HCW
Quoting Jeff9641:


YIKES! Bermuda brace youself for this big bad wolf.

Bermuda is 100% safe from Igor cause the storm shield Jim Cantorie is on the way :)
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Quoting Cat5Hurricane250:

Product: Air Force Vortex Message (URNT12 KNHC)
Transmitted: 17th day of the month at 15:42Z
Aircraft: Air Force Aircraft (Last 3 digits of the tail number are 301)
Storm Number & Year: 13L in 2010
Storm Name: Karl (flight in the North Atlantic basin)
Mission Number: 5
Observation Number: 19
A. Time of Center Fix: 17th day of the month at 15:27:30Z
B. Center Fix Coordinates: 19%uFFFD23'N 96%uFFFD00'W (19.3833N 96.W)
B. Center Fix Location: 204 miles (329 km) to the E (91%uFFFD) from M%uFFFDco City, Distrito Federal, M%uFFFDco.
C. Minimum Height at Standard Level: 2,858m (9,377ft) at 700mb
D. Estimated (by SFMR or visually) Maximum Surface Wind: 107kts (~ 123.1mph)
E. Location of the Estimated Maximum Surface Wind: 2 nautical miles (2 statute miles) to the E (100%uFFFD) of center fix
F. Maximum Flight Level Wind Inbound: From 201%uFFFD at 109kts (From the SSW at ~ 125.4mph)
G. Location of Maximum Flight Level Wind Inbound: 7 nautical miles (8 statute miles) to the E (96%uFFFD) of center fix
H. Minimum Sea Level Pressure: 972mb (28.70 inHg)
I. Maximum Flight Level Temp & Pressure Altitude Outside Eye: 5%uFFFDC (41%uFFFDF) at a pressure alt. of 3,074m (10,085ft)
J. Maximum Flight Level Temp & Pressure Altitude Inside Eye: 15%uFFFDC (59%uFFFDF) at a pressure alt. of 3,072m (10,079ft)
K. Dewpoint Temp (collected at same location as temp inside eye): 12%uFFFDC (54%uFFFDF)
K. Sea Surface Temp (collected at same location as temp inside eye): Not Available
L. Eye Character: Closed
M. Eye Shape & Diameter: Circular with a diameter of 8 nautical miles
N. Fix Determined By: Penetration, Radar, Wind, Pressure and Temperature
N. Fix Level: 700mb
O. Navigation Fix Accuracy: 0.02 nautical miles
O. Meteorological Accuracy: 2 nautical miles
Remarks Section:
Maximum Flight Level Wind: 118kts (~ 135.8mph) in the southeast quadrant at 14:14:40Z


To those who think that Karl may not be weakening slightly and/or may even actually be intensifying:

It is important to recognize that the previous center fix showed a SFMR reading of only 86 knots (99 mph) and a minimum central pressure of 969 mb. Those SFMR readings can't be trusted based on the wide disparity between the two respective center fixes. What you can trust is the fact that the central pressure continues to rise (969 mb to 972 mb) and analyses of the satellite imagery of the storm-which continues to show noticeable weakening as well.

That being said, it will very likely remain a category three through landfall.
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Quoting texascoastres:
Getting rain from Karl here in Galveston
Yeah and so is the Mexico City metro area- not necessarily rain from Karl but T-storms nonetheless, so that the area is already saturated with wet ground before Karl gets there, and even though it is 175 miles from the coast, Mexico City probably will be subject to severe flooding as some are beginning to predict here. I suspect some serious security problems there post hurricane.
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seems like the GFS is putting this thing a bit more west around TX or so.

few days back, Florida was at risk. maybe a high pressure steering it or not as strong a trough?

who knows... too early to say. so many things can change this far out
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Where are Stormw and Levi
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Quoting RecordSeason:
136:

So much for the weakening theory. It's actually slightly stronger than the previous official advisory...


Could you post some data or a link please! Thanks! I did notice on the radar out of Alvarado that his southern and eastern Eye wall looked much healthier.
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outer eyewall should be hitting land about now
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same thing I was wondering
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The GFS and NOGAPS models have backed off on their predictions of a Caribbean development late next week.

???

I am seeing development still on the GFS, no run I have seen has dropped it
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Looks like karl is going to make landfall just south of the laguna verde nuclear plant, putting it in the worst part of the storm. Hope that plant was built strong.
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Late next week should get exciting around here if the GFS long range models pan out. The GFS has been very consistent on a Gulf coast (from Mexico to Florida) storm late September. While the track will be all over the place, the GFS has been the best model so far this year when it comes to predicting cyclogenesis of Hurricanes.
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Getting rain from Karl here in Galveston
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eventhough it is useless to look at this information so early, just curious, can someone show me where the west coast of florida gets on September 29-30?

I wonder how accurate that is.
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144. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
Japan Meteorological Agency
Tropical Cyclone Advisory #24
TYPHOON FANAPI (T1011)
0:00 AM JST September 18 2010
================================

SUBJECT: Category Three Typhoon In Sea South Of Okinawa

At 15:00 PM UTC, Typhoon Fanapi (955 hPa) located at 23.2N 127.4E has 10 minute sustained winds of 75 knots with gusts of 105 knots. The cyclone is reported as moving northwest at 6 knots

Dvorak Intensity:

Storm Force Winds
=================
70 NM from the center

Gale Force Winds
================
170 NM from the center

Forecast and Intensity
=======================
24 HRS: 23.8N 123.8E - 85 knots (CAT 4/Very Strong Typhoon)
45 HRS: 24.0N 119.5E - 55 knots (CAT 2/Severe Tropical Storm)
69 HRS: 24.4N 115.0E - Tropical Depression
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I came across some footage of the Tornado in Athens Ohio that ripped apart the area yesterday..

I wonder if the above average water temperatures in the Gulf and Atlantic are contibuting to the severe storms in the Mid-Atlantic region.. New York got hit, as did OH, PA and WV. Usually these types of storms hit in May or June.. Not Mid-September.
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That wave that just came of africa sure is low
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Post 129. Why do you want a conus hit? Do you enjoy people suffering loosing their home or perhaps dying i dont get it? Been thru Andrew, Wilma and Katrina when it was just a cat 1 and believe me Andrew changed my family's life forever when your home blows apart it is not fun. Hope you never have to go thru something like that!Or maybe if you did you wouldnt want anyone at all to be hit.
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I've been watching Dr. Masters' blog very closely ever since Hurricane Katrina hit in late August of 2005. In this more than 5 year period I've learned a lot about the weather and especially about hurricanes. 2005 was a life changing year for me - it was the the year I became convinced of the truth of global warming. This year's arctic ice extent, the fact the Northwest Passage and Northeast Passage in the arctic opened up for th 4th consecutive year, the searing and deadly Russian heat wave of the summer of 2010 as well as the terrible flooding in Afghanistan and now the very intense 2010 hurricane season add all the more weight to my belief in GW.

Right now only weather aficionados are the sole persons who really care about this year's hurricane season's significance. Most of the people I know, should I mention it to them, either give a kind uninterested "Oh, really?" response; or else, like a friend of mine who has a doctorate in physics and believes the Sun is causing GW, are in intense denial. The sad thing is that most Americans only care about whether hurricanes strike the nation's soft underbelly - that section of the gulf coast stretching from the panhandle of Florida to the Louisiana/Texas border - because that's where the offshore oil wells are and if those are hit and badly damaged - the price of gasoline could sky rocket, nationally, to $4 to $5 gallon. Other than some concern for the effect a Cat. 3- 5 hurricane striking the eastern seaboard would have (a concern that grows less as one gets more distant from that coast), they could really careless about how many named storms and how many major hurricanes the 2010 season produces and the significance of that.

Like the warnings issued by Noah, that ancient and venerable biblical weatherman, to the people of his time, the general populace of the current age continues to plug their ears and close their hearts to the warnings issued by Noah's modern successors. Rather they prefer to continue to live in a daze - many content to believe that we can "Drill, baby, drill!" our way back to prosperity and 'happy motoring' - until the effects of GW visit each of us personally which of course will be far too late for us as a nation to do anything to prepare to survive what is coming.
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So, have we hit the season peak yet? I am wondering if maybe it will be a little late this season due to conditions. Sure seems like activity has become explosive.
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Karl is about 25 miles of the coast and closing
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Product: Air Force Vortex Message (URNT12 KNHC)
Transmitted: 17th day of the month at 15:42Z
Aircraft: Air Force Aircraft (Last 3 digits of the tail number are 301)
Storm Number & Year: 13L in 2010
Storm Name: Karl (flight in the North Atlantic basin)
Mission Number: 5
Observation Number: 19
A. Time of Center Fix: 17th day of the month at 15:27:30Z
B. Center Fix Coordinates: 19°23'N 96°00'W (19.3833N 96.W)
B. Center Fix Location: 204 miles (329 km) to the E (91°) from México City, Distrito Federal, México.
C. Minimum Height at Standard Level: 2,858m (9,377ft) at 700mb
D. Estimated (by SFMR or visually) Maximum Surface Wind: 107kts (~ 123.1mph)
E. Location of the Estimated Maximum Surface Wind: 2 nautical miles (2 statute miles) to the E (100°) of center fix
F. Maximum Flight Level Wind Inbound: From 201° at 109kts (From the SSW at ~ 125.4mph)
G. Location of Maximum Flight Level Wind Inbound: 7 nautical miles (8 statute miles) to the E (96°) of center fix
H. Minimum Sea Level Pressure: 972mb (28.70 inHg)
I. Maximum Flight Level Temp & Pressure Altitude Outside Eye: 5°C (41°F) at a pressure alt. of 3,074m (10,085ft)
J. Maximum Flight Level Temp & Pressure Altitude Inside Eye: 15°C (59°F) at a pressure alt. of 3,072m (10,079ft)
K. Dewpoint Temp (collected at same location as temp inside eye): 12°C (54°F)
K. Sea Surface Temp (collected at same location as temp inside eye): Not Available
L. Eye Character: Closed
M. Eye Shape & Diameter: Circular with a diameter of 8 nautical miles
N. Fix Determined By: Penetration, Radar, Wind, Pressure and Temperature
N. Fix Level: 700mb
O. Navigation Fix Accuracy: 0.02 nautical miles
O. Meteorological Accuracy: 2 nautical miles
Remarks Section:
Maximum Flight Level Wind: 118kts (~ 135.8mph) in the southeast quadrant at 14:14:40Z
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135. HCW
Quoting CybrTeddy:
Can anyone give a accurate estimate of when Karl will make landfall?


1139 45 seconds Central time
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Thanks Dr. Masters. LOTS of information to digest in that post.

36 hours of TS storm force winds in Bermuda. Yowzuz!!!!!! I would go crazy. That sound for 24 hours is PLENTY enough chalkboard scratching on the brain for me. I don't think i could take it for 36 : 0

Do we have in bloggers from Bermuda on here?
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I think the flooding will be the greatest problem with karl.I know they have a good rescue plan in mexico but this is something they are not use to in that area.
Hopefully they all evacuated 50 miles inland.
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northern california
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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