Three Atlantic threat areas may develop; a record fire season for the U.S.

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:43 PM GMT on August 20, 2012

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A large tropical wave (Invest 94L) located about 1100 miles east of the Lesser Antilles Islands is headed west at 20 - 25 mph, and is showing increasing organization today. The storm is under light wind shear of 5 - 10 knots, and is over waters of 27°C. A large area of dry air lies just to the north of 94L, as seen on the latest Saharan Air Layer (SAL) analysis and water vapor satellite loops. This dry air is interfering with development, and this morning's visible satellite loop shows that 94L's heavy thunderstorm activity is sparse. However, the satellite loops do show that 94L has now separated from the clumps of heavy thunderstorms to its south, and a pretty well-defined surface circulation has developed. Heavy thunderstorms are now attempting to fire up around this circulation center, but are being hampered by dry air. The center of 94L was about 80 miles to the north of buoy 41041 at 10 am Monday morning, and the buoy recorded SW winds of 10 mph, confirming that 94L probably does have a closed surface circulation. The disturbance will have to build and maintain more heavy thunderstorms than it has now to be considered a tropical depression, though. The first hurricane hunter mission into 94L is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.


Figure 1. Morning satellite image of Invest 94L.

Forecast for 94L
The latest 8 am EDT run of the SHIPS model predicts that wind shear will be low, 5 - 10 knots, for the next five days. Ocean temperatures will warm from 27°C this morning to 28.5°C by Wednesday morning, and the total heat content of the ocean will increase sharply during that period, as well. The main impediment to development will be dry air to the north, and the SHIPS model predicts the amount of dry air will change little over the next five days. I expect that 94L will continue to struggle with dry air through Wednesday, when it will probably have had enough time to moisten the surrounding atmosphere and protect itself against the dry air. The models have shown increasing unity in taking 94L through the Lesser Antilles on Wednesday, and I expect the storm will be a tropical depression or weak tropical storm with 40 - 50 mph winds at that time. In their 8 am EDT Tropical Weather Outlook, NHC gave 94L a 80% chance of developing into a tropical depression by Wednesday morning. None of the reliable models predict that 94L will reach hurricane strength over the next five days, and it is unlikely that 94L will be able to organize quickly enough to become anything stronger than a 60 mph tropical storm before reaching the Lesser Antilles, given the storm's current struggles with dry air, and the lack of model support for intensification. However, once 94L enters the Eastern Caribbean, wind shear will be low, oceanic heat content high, and the storm should have had enough time to moisten the atmosphere to allow steady strengthening to occur. The main factor that might prevent intensification into a hurricane late this week would be a close pass by the island of Hispaniola. Our top models for long-range 4 - 5 days forecasts all show a path for 94L very close to the island.

Will 94L hit the U.S. mainland?
This storm is a long-range threat to the U.S., as historically, 16% of storms in 94L's location have gone on to hit the U.S., with North Carolina the preferred target (10% chance.) A trough of low pressure capable of pulling 94L to the north enters Western Canada Thursday night, and the exact timing and amplitude of this trough will determine the ultimate landfall location of 94L. The long range 7 - 14 day runs of the GFS model over the past three day have all predicted an eventual landfall for 94L in the U.S., though these long-range runs are notoriously unreliable. The predicted landfall locations have ranged from New England to Texas--which isn't much help. The past three runs beginning on Sunday afternoon have all taken 94L over Florida during the August 27 - 29 time frame, which I'm sure is making organizers of the Republican National Convention uncomfortable, since the convention is in Tampa August 27 - 30. However, 94L could miss Florida completely, as the average error in model forecasts going out 7 days is in excess of 500 miles. We can't rule out a North Carolina landfall, but the pattern we've seen so far this year is for landfalls in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, so a more southwards path for 94L into the Yucatan is definitely a possibility. Also, we have that huge drought region in the Midwest, which tends to create its own high pressure bubble, which reduces the odds of storms making the turn and hitting the Central or Western Gulf Coast. If 94L makes it to the Western Caribbean, I see the two most likely options as a landfall in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula (and then westwards into Mexico south of the Texas border), or recurvature into the Florida Gulf Coast.


Figure 2. MODIS satellite image of Hurricane Gordon taken on Sunday August 19, 2012, at 11:55 am EDT. At the time, Gordon was a Category 2 hurricane with 100 mph winds. Image credit: NASA.

Gordon hits the Azores
The eye of Hurricane Gordon passed over Santa Maria Island in the eastern Azores Islands near 1:30 am EDT this morning. Gordon was a Category 1 hurricane with 75 - 80 mph winds at landfall. Winds at the Santa Maria airport reached a sustained 49 mph at 3 am EDT, but the airport did not report winds during passage of the eyewall at 1:30 am. Reuters reported that Gordon caused only minor flooding and power outages. The hurricane is being sheared apart by strong upper-level winds, and the extratropical remnants of Gordon will not bring any strong winds or significant rain to Europe.

Disturbance 95L in the Gulf near the Texas/Mexico border
A region of disturbed weather (Invest 95L) has developed in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast, just northeast of Tampico, Mexico. The disturbance is due to a trough of low pressure and its associated cold front which moved off the coast over the weekend, but has been fortified via moisture from Tropical Storm Helene, which made landfall Saturday near Tampico. If 95L were to develop into a tropical storm, it would receive a new name. In their 8 am EDT Tropical Weather Outlook, NHC gave 95L a 30% chance of developing into a tropical cyclone by Wednesday morning. An Air Force hurricane hunter aircraft is scheduled to investigate 95L this afternoon. Winds at Tampico this morning were light out of the northeast, which implies that no surface circulation is forming at this time. Radar out of Altamira, Mexico does show some banding to the precipitation echoes, though, which may be indicative of something trying to spin up. The computer models show that 95L should move little over the next few days.


Figure 3. Radar out of Altamira, Mexico at 9:45 am EDT August 20, 2012, shows some banding to the precipitation echoes in association with 95L.

Disturbance 96L off the coast of Africa
The tropical Atlantic is very busy this third week of August, and this is the week of the year that we typically see a major ramp-up of tropical storm activity in the Atlantic. A new tropical wave that emerged from the coast of Africa Sunday (Invest 96L) is headed west at 15 - 20 mph. This disturbance has a modest amount of spin and heavy thunderstorm activity, and is under a moderate 10 - 20 knots of wind shear. In their 8 am EDT Tropical Weather Outlook, NHC gave 96L a 20% chance of developing into a tropical cyclone by Wednesday morning. This disturbance does not have much model support for development.


Figure 4. The new Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite (S-NPP) carries an instrument so sensitive to low light levels that it can detect wildfires in the middle of the night. On August 17, 2012, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on Suomi-NPP acquired this image of the wildfires blazing in Idaho. The images were created with data from the instrument’s "day-night band," which sensed the fire in the visible portion of the spectrum. The Halstead Fire, centered about 18 miles northwest of Stanley, was sparked by lightning on July 27, and is burning in an area with large numbers of trees killed by the mountain pine beetle. As of Sunday afternoon, the fire had burned 92,000 acres was only 5% contained, according to InciWeb. The fire prompted the evacuation of the town of Featherville on Saturday night. Red flag warnings for adverse fire weather were posted in the region yesterday, and temperatures reached the low 90s with 16% humidity and winds of 10 mph. Image credit: NASA.

A record fire season in the U.S.
Massive fires continue to burn in Nevada, Idaho and California, and fires that are currently active in the Western U.S. have consumed over 1.3 million acres of land--an area approximately the size of Delaware. Thanks to widespread drought and unusually high temperatures over the past month, 3 million acres have gone up in flames since mid-July, and the fire season of 2012 now ranks in first place for the most acreage burned at this point in the year. According to the Interagency Fire Center, 6.8 million acres have burned as of August 19 this year, beating the previous record set just last year (6.5 million acres for the year-to-date period.) The Interagency Fire Center shows year-to-date records just for the past ten years. The 2012 fire season is well ahead of the pace of 2006, which was the worst fire year in the U.S. for total acreage burned in a year (records began in 1960). In 2006, 9.9 million acres burned, and 6.4 million acres had burned by August 19. With drought conditions far more widespread this year compared to 2006, and the latest forecasts calling for little drought relief over the coming two months, 2012 is likely to surpass 2006 as the worst fire year in U.S. history before the end of the year.


Figure 5. Comparison of drought conditions between the previous record fire year in the contiguous U.S. (2006) with 2012. Drought is much more widespread in 2012 compared to 2006, and 2012 will likely finish ahead of 2006 for the most acreage burned since record keeping began in 1960. Image credit: U.S. Drought Monitor.

Global warming expected to increase fire activity in the Western U.S.
As I blogged about in June, the severe fire seasons of 2012 and 2011 fit the pattern of what we expect to see more of with global warming. Hotter heat waves dry out vegetation more readily, resulting in increased probability of more acreage burned. A study published in the Journal Ecosphere in June 2012 used fire models driven by the output from sixteen climate models used in the 2007 IPCC report and found that while 8% of the planet should see decreases in fire activity over the next 30 years, 38% should see increases. By the end of the century, 20% of the globe should see decreased fire activity, and 62% increased fire activity. In the U.S., the regions most at risk of increased fires are the tundra regions of northern Alaska, and the West, with Arizona and Colorado at particularly high risk.

Jeff Masters

hugh blanket of smoke (got2dogs)
blew in about an hr after my last upload here - I thought I was done for the nite, but this smoke was incredible! made for some awesome light - sooooo eerie!
hugh blanket of smoke
Smoke! What smoke ?? (saltydawgg)
12th Ave road South looking north. Nampa Idaho full of smoke from 7 fires at last count with more dry lightning on the way.
Smoke! What smoke ??
Temecula Fire (photoandy)
This is just two hours after ignition! It quickly became a PYROCUMULUS...
Temecula Fire

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Quoting odinslightning:
all day at work I kept getting these feelings that came from outside of me (i.e.--holy spirit, guardian angel, or wtf ever....) that this thing is gonna make a Eastern Seaboard Florida landfall, pull off of the mainland, hit water, gain strength as it heads for the Outer Banks (due to the SST's being so high along the east. seaboard) and make a run for NYC.......


settle down jodi foster!
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Quoting AllStar17:
Ernesto: 8/1 - 8/10
Florence: 8/3 - 8/6
Helene: 8/9 - 8/11 and 8/17 - 8/18
Gordon: 8/15 - 8/20
94L (likely Isaac): 8/21 - ?

Yeah, I'd say busy. In fact, there has been a tropical cyclone pretty much every single day of the month so far.


You know... I don't think we ever went through a single TWO this month without having at least one circle.
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Man the TVCN, HWRF and GFDL are bundled up tight.

Member Since: August 19, 2005 Posts: 5 Comments: 5395
Seems 50W is the sweet spot this year. Ernesto, TD7, and now 94L/Isaac. Makes me think we won't see much of a CV season, but the potential exists for more US landfalls due to the more westward formation.
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all day at work I kept getting these feelings that came from outside of me (i.e.--holy spirit, guardian angel, or wtf ever....) that this thing is gonna make a Eastern Seaboard Florida landfall, pull off of the mainland, hit water, gain strength as it heads for the Outer Banks (due to the SST's being so high along the east. seaboard) and make a run for NYC.......
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Quoting stormchaser19:
Hmmmmmmmmm!!!not good


That has a, "I wanna become a monster" look.
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Quoting stormchaser19:
Hmmmmmmmmm!!!not good
Wow great image of a deadly storm. I hope the island people are well prepared for round 1
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94L hit 50 west and magically started to fire heavy convection right over the center.
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Quoting stormchaser19:
Hmmmmmmmmm!!!not good


Looks menacing for an invest.
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Quoting reedzone:
Hey everyone, looks like we will have Tropical Depression 9 in the morn.. Floridians may want to review their Hurricane preparation lists this week.


East coast can't be ruled out now.... lol
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Why do we have to wait three hours for our cone...
we want it now!

: )
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come on ride that train! Now ride it choo-choo!!
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look at the broad low pressure associated w/ 94L....this could pull together and be a f*cking monster!
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Quoting bigwes6844:
no code red yet on 96L


I think we will more than likely see code red on 96L come 8 am TWO.
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Quoting Grothar:


Some models are responding to a deepening high that is moving in. There is an upper level low to its North that is retreating and being filled with some high pressure.


Thanks Grothar. :)
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que pasa de Invest 94L?
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Hey everyone, looks like we will have Tropical Depression 9 in the morn.. Floridians may want to review their Hurricane preparation lists this week.
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2813. Grothar
Quoting HurricaneHunterJoe:


Ja,sehr schlecht auch wenn es folgt die prognostizierte Anschluss.Aufgrund der nahezu keine Bäume oder Bäume gibt es,Hochwasser kommt sehr leicht. Ich denke das ist hart werden. Fünfzig Meilen könnte einen erheblichen Unterschied machen, wenn es sich auf das Meer oder den Osten oder wenn sie sich in den Golf.


I am actually impressed. That is almost perfect. Google usually isn't that good. LOL Did you get your mail
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 71 Comments: 26117
Quoting bigwes6844:
no code red yet on 96L


...not yet...probably soon though.
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IM of the opine that things are going to get hopping around here rather quickly.
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Quoting AllStar17:


96L may impact them, too.


Well that would be round 4 for them if that occurs.

At least they aren't too bad when they pass through. They are just big rainmakers and do produce some gusty winds but nothing intense.
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Hmmmmmmmmm!!!not good
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no code red yet on 96L
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2807. Grothar
Quoting ProgressivePulse:


100% does leave room for error. It's all about covering your butt man...


But never on this blog!!! eh?
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 71 Comments: 26117
Ernesto: 8/1 - 8/10
Florence: 8/3 - 8/6
Helene: 8/9 - 8/11 and 8/17 - 8/18
Gordon: 8/15 - 8/20
94L (likely Isaac): 8/21 - ?

Yeah, I'd say busy. In fact, there has been a tropical cyclone pretty much every single day of the month so far.
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Quoting bigwes6844:
u know that wil change kori lol


I know. Still funny to see.
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2804. bappit
Okay, it is dmin just about and still not declared a TD. Woo hoo!
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Quoting zoomiami:
Sort of surprised they didn't call it -- must figure they have enough time to post warnings in the morning
Prolly gonna start with the 5 a.m., which makes sense, since they still gotta do watches and warnings, and notifications to 1/2 dozen island nations... I know the French more or less do their own thing, but you are talking pretty much the entire Lesser Antillean chain at least potentially.
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22081
2802. Grothar
Quoting AtHomeInTX:


Wonder what's with dive south on those models?


Some models are responding to a deepening high that is moving in. There is an upper level low to its North that is retreating and being filled with some high pressure.
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 71 Comments: 26117
Quoting KoritheMan:


lol @ the southwestward dive shown by the GFS.
u know that wil change kori lol
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2800. Grothar
Mark it down guys. I called a blob at 1:42. I guess they do listen to us at the NHC.
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 71 Comments: 26117
Quoting Grothar:
100%? Maybe they are still not positive.


100% does leave room for error. It's all about covering your butt man...
Member Since: August 19, 2005 Posts: 5 Comments: 5395
Quoting allancalderini:
Isaac and Joyce before September that is quite amazing 6 name storms for August imagine if September give us the same amount we will have 16 name storms.


It's like on August 1st someone flipped the switch and lit up the Atlantic after a literally, dead July.
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Quoting AllStar17:


Correct.

Methinks the recon mission tomorrow will be very interesting.
it looks healthy! from when i last left at 3
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near 100%...must be naming time come next update.

TROPICAL WEATHER OUTLOOK
NWS NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
200 AM EDT TUE AUG 21 2012

FOR THE NORTH ATLANTIC...CARIBBEAN SEA AND THE GULF OF MEXICO...

1. A WELL-DEFINED LOW PRESSURE PRESSURE IS LOCATED ABOUT 725 MILES
EAST OF THE LESSER ANTILLES. THUNDERSTORM ACTIVITY HAS INCREASED
AND BECOME BETTER ORGANIZED NEAR THE CENTER DURING THE PAST SEVERAL
HOURS. IF THIS RECENT DEVELOPMENT TREND CONTINUES...THEN A TROPICAL
DEPRESSION COULD FORM LATER THIS MORNING. THIS SYSTEM HAS A HIGH
CHANCE...NEAR 100 PERCENT...OF BECOMING A TROPICAL CYCLONE DURING
THE NEXT 48 HOURS AS IT MOVES WESTWARD AT 20 TO 25 MPH. THIS LARGE
DISTURBANCE COULD REACH THE LESSER ANTILLES BY WEDNESDAY...AND
INTERESTS IN THAT AREA SHOULD CLOSELY MONITOR THE PROGRESS OF THIS
SYSTEM SINCE TROPICAL STORM WATCHES COULD SOON BE REQUIRED FOR
PORTIONS OF THOSE ISLANDS.

2. A WELL-DEFINED LOW PRESSURE SYSTEM ASSOCIATED WITH A TROPICAL WAVE
IS LOCATED ABOUT 380 MILES SOUTHWEST OF THE CAPE VERDE ISLANDS.
SHOWERS AND THUNDERSTORMS CONTINUE TO SHOW SIGNS OF ORGANIZATION...
AND FURTHER DEVELOPMENT OF THIS DISTURBANCE IS POSSIBLE OVER THE
NEXT FEW DAYS. THIS SYSTEM HAS A MEDIUM CHANCE...50 PERCENT...OF
BECOMING A TROPICAL CYCLONE DURING THE NEXT 48 HOURS AS IT MOVES
WESTWARD AT ABOUT 15 MPH.

3. SHOWER ACTIVITY NEAR AN ELONGATED AREA OF LOW PRESSURE LOCATED OVER
THE FAR WESTERN GULF OF MEXICO HAS CHANGED LITTLE DURING THE PAST
SEVERAL HOURS. SOME GRADUAL DEVELOPMENT OF THIS SYSTEM IS STILL
POSSIBLE IF IT REMAINS OVER WATER DURING THE NEXT DAY OR TWO. THIS
SYSTEM HAS A MEDIUM CHANCE...30 PERCENT...OF BECOMING A TROPICAL
CYCLONE DURING THE NEXT 48 HOURS AS IT DRIFTS WESTWARD.

ELSEWHERE...TROPICAL CYCLONE FORMATION IS NOT EXPECTED DURING THE
NEXT 48 HOURS.
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Quoting allancalderini:
Isaac and Joyce before September that is quite amazing 6 name storms for August imagine if September give us the same amount we will have 16 name storms.


And on this list, to boot. It has never been a particularly impressive one, barring 1988.

Come on list, I know you have it in you. You can squeeze out some fame and fortune!
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I guess the next thing we have to do is await the renumber. I think I'll let y'all do that though. Sleep is a valuable thing for me. :P
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Quoting AllStar17:


lol @ the southwestward dive shown by the GFS.
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2792. Grothar
100%? Maybe they are still not positive.
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 71 Comments: 26117
Quoting AllStar17:


Wonder what's with dive south on those models?
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Quoting bigwes6844:
so im guessing 5am should be a TD?


Correct.

Methinks the recon mission tomorrow will be very interesting.
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Isaac and Joyce before September that is quite amazing 6 name storms for August imagine if September give us the same amount we will have 16 name storms.
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Quoting bigwes6844:
so im guessing 5am should be a TD?


I would think so.
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Well, there you go folks. It doesn't get much more official than that.
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2785. will40
would love to have seen that cone
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Quoting Grothar:


Wenn ich raten müsste, würde es natürlich sein, Florida. Aber die Modelle sind noch bedenkt das Land Interaktion. Es sieht sehr schlecht für Haiti.



Ja,sehr schlecht auch wenn es folgt die prognostizierte Anschluss.Aufgrund der nahezu keine Bäume oder Bäume gibt es,Hochwasser kommt sehr leicht. Ich denke das ist hart werden. Fünfzig Meilen könnte einen erheblichen Unterschied machen, wenn es sich auf das Meer oder den Osten oder wenn sie sich in den Golf.
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so im guessing 5am should be a TD?
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Sort of surprised they didn't call it -- must figure they have enough time to post warnings in the morning
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If the models are correct, the situation with 94L is extremely precarious. If the storm misses any of the big islands or just grazes along the coast the storm could become significantly stronger than it would otherwise.
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About

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.