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 , 2:49 AM GMT on June 04, 2006
For the next week, I'll be posting excerpts from an interview I did with the Northwest Florida Daily News of Fort Walton Beach, Florida, that was published on Sunday, May 28. The questions were posed to me by Del Stone Jr., Deputy Managing Editor and self-admitted weather nut. I'll be back to live blogging on June 14.
Q. Is The Weather Underground your full-time job?
A. The Weather Underground is my full-time job, but I do a few guest lectures for the University of Michigan introductory meteorology classes.
Q. The $64,000 question, at least for people along the Emerald Coast here in Northwest Florida, is: What can we expect of the hurricane season in 2006? Specifically, do you have any feel for the number of named storms in 2006? I assume some of these storms reach the intensity of 2005's notorious Katrina, Rita and Wilma. Do you have a feel for how many?
A. The active hurricane period that began in 1995 should continue this year, since there is no strong El Nino event present, sea surface temperatures (SSTs) are .5 - 1.5 degrees C above normal across the tropical Atlantic, and the other four indicators we look at to predict seasonal hurricane activity are all positive. However, SSTs are nearly 1 degree cooler than last year's record levels, so I am not expecting another 2005. That was a once-in-a-lifetime year. My worst-case scenario calls for another year like 2004, with 15 to 20 named storms, and two to four major hurricanes hitting the U.S. My best-case scenario is still for an active year with 15 or so named storms, but with most of the storms recurving harmlessly out to sea. This happened in 1995, when the Bermuda High set up shop further east than usual, allowing the storms to recurve before hitting the coast. There will probably be at least three Category 4 or 5 hurricanes this year, and I expect one of these will make it into the top ten list for most intense Atlantic hurricanes on record. I don't look for anything like 2005, when three of the six most intense hurricanes on record occurred.
Q. At least one weather forecasting service has suggested the East Coast of the United States will face the brunt of this year's hurricane season. Do you agree or disagree with that prediction? If not, which part of the United States, in your estimation, should keep a closer eye on the tropics?
A. The jet stream pattern controls where hurricanes recurve. Our ability to forecast the jet stream pattern is limited; the best we can do is about a one week forecast. At times, we can get a general idea out to two weeks. Thus, it is difficult to make a skilled forecast at this time about which parts of the U.S. are likely to face the brunt of this year's hurricane season. Dr. Gray and some other researchers have shown that one can use statistical methods to make a slightly skillful prediction several months in advance about what parts of the U.S. might get hit most. Dr. Gray is predicting that the U.S. East Coast is more likely to get hit by a major hurricane then the Gulf Coast this year, but forecasts of this nature are only a little better than chance. Note that between 1000 and 3400 years ago, sediment records along the Gulf Coast show that Category 4/5 hurricane landfalls were about three to five times more common that we've seen during the past 1000 years. It's possible, but unlikely, that the intense hurricanes we've seen in the Gulf the past few years mark a return to this hyperactive pattern. It is not yet known if the Eastern U.S. coast also experienced this same hyperactive pattern 1000 to 3400 years ago; the researchers haven't done a full study of the sediment records there yet. I speculate that the East Coast saw a drop in intense hurricane during the same 1000 to 3400 year period, since a shift in the Bermuda High position steered most of the hurricanes into the Gulf of Mexico, and relatively few into the East Coast.
Q. I was asked to ask you: Is the Bermuda High, the system that sometimes steers hurricanes toward Northwest Florida, in a position to do the same again this year?
A. The position of the Bermuda High is controlled by the jet stream, and we won't know until about 1-2 weeks in advance what the Bermuda High might do.
To be continued...
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