When the container ship El Faro left Jacksonville, Florida early on the morning of September 30, 2015, Tropical Storm Joaquin, with top winds of 70 mph, was located a few hundred miles northeast of the Central Bahama Islands. Joaquin was forecast to move west-southwest at 6 mph towards the islands and intensify into a Category 1 hurricane by the next morning. The Captain knew he was charting a course that would take him within 200 miles of what was expected to be a hurricane, in a region where he could reasonably expect to see sustained winds near 35 mph and seas of ten feet--and even worse conditions if the storm put on an unanticipated bout of rapid intensification. Joaquin did just that, growing into a Category 3 hurricane with 120 mph winds by 8 am EDT October 1. According to information shared with me by David Adams of Reuters, a marine positioning database showed the last position of the El Faro, at 7:56 am EDT on October 1, was 23.52°N, 74.02°W--right in the northwest eyewall of Joaquin. Somehow, the ship lost power while approaching Joaquin--perhaps a rogue wave hit the ship, disabling it--and without propulsion, the counter-clockwise flow of winds that spiraled into the center of the hurricane drew the ill-fated ship into Joaquin's eyewall. A ship without engine power is little match for a major hurricane, and survival in the water with 120 mph winds and 30+ foot waves is a formidable task. CNN reports
that the Coast Guard will call off the search for the 33 missing people from the El Faro at 7 pm EDT Wednesday.Figure 1.
Surface wind speed of Hurricane Joaquin (in knots) at 8 am EDT October 1, 2015,
as estimated by NOAA/RAMMB
using data from the Hurricane Hunters. The last known position of the ship "El Faro" is plotted. This position was from 7:56 am EDT, just four minutes prior to the wind analysis shown. The ship was in the eyewall, just 40 miles to the northwest of the center, in a region where the winds were in excess of 80 knots (92 mph.) At this time, Joaquin was a Category 3 hurricane with peak sustained winds of 120 mph, and was moving west-southwest at 5 mph. Joaquin's radius of maximum winds (RMW) at this time was about 19 miles in a ring surrounding the center, with the peak winds observed in the southwest quadrant of the storm. Significant wave heights at the El Faro's location at this time were likely 20 - 30 feet, but would have grown higher as the hurricane pulled the ship into the radius of maximum winds.Figure 2.
Hurricane Joaquin as seen by the GOES-13 satellite at 8:15 am EDT October 1, 2015, 19 minutes after the El Faro's last known position in the northwest eyewall of the Category 3 hurricane. Image credit: NASA/GSFC.Joaquin now a tropical stormJoaquin
has weakened to a tropical storm with 70 mph winds as it speeds northeastwards at 35 mph out to sea. By Wednesday night, Joaquin will evolve into a powerful extratropical storm, and will steadily weaken as it heads towards Europe. By the time Joaquin reaches Portugal on Saturday, the ex-hurricane should have top winds of about 40 mph.Figure 3.
Hurricane Joaquin as seen by the MODIS instrument on NASA'a Terra satellite at 11:05 am EDT October 6, 2015. At the time, Joaquin was a Category 1 storm with 80 mph winds. Image credit: NASA.Nothing else cooking in the Atlantic
NHC is no longer generating forecast model output or giving any odds of development for the area of low pressure (Invest 91L)
that was about 400 miles east of the Lesser Antilles Islands on Wednesday morning. Satellite loops
show that 91L is very unimpressive, with no spin and some disorganized heavy thunderstorms. This disturbance will bring some heavy rain showers and gusty winds to the northern Lesser Antilles Islands on Thursday, but none of our reliable models for forecasting tropical cyclone development are predicting development of this system, or anything else in the Atlantic, over the next five days.Figure 4.
MODIS image of Hurricane Oho as seen from NASA's Terra satellite on Tuesday, October 6, 2015. At the time, Oho was a Category 1 storm with 85 mph winds. Image credit: NASA.Hurricane Oho misses Hawaii
Category 2 Hurricane Oho
was speeding north-northeast at 34 mph in the waters 645 miles east-northeast of Hilo, Hawaii at 11 am EDT Wednesday. Oho was over waters of 27°C (81°F) on Wednesday morning, which is about 2°C above average
--the warmest temperatures ever observed in these waters. On Thursday afternoon, Oho is expected to cross 140°W longitude, leaving the Central Pacific Hurricane Center's area of responsibility and entering the National Hurricane Center's area of responsibility. Only one other tropical cyclone that formed in the Eastern or Central Pacific has done that since record keeping began in 1949--an unnamed 1975 storm
that maintained hurricane strength to 46.8°N (the latitude of the Oregon/Washington border.) That storm was the only hurricane on record to make it farther to the northeast of Hawaii than 2014's Hurricane Ana, which maintained hurricane strength to a latitude of 36.3°N--approximately the latitude of Monterey, California. Ana died about 1,300 miles west of the California/Oregon border. Figure 5.
Typhoon Choi-wan as seen by the MODIS instrument on NASA'a Aqua satellite at 03:25 UTC October 6, 2015. At the time, Choi-wan was a Category 1 storm with 75 mph winds. Image credit: NASA.Typhoon Choi-wan headed towards Russia and Northern Japan
In the Western Pacific, massive Tropical Storm Choi-wan
has weakened to 70 mph winds after encountering cold water and high wind shear, and the storm is expected to die on Thursday over Russia's Kuril Islands near Northern Japan.