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Fay strengthening south of Cuba; and, the sea turtle forecast for Fay

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 12:51 AM GMT on August 17, 2008

Tropical Storm Fay is strengthening again, taking advantage of the deep, warm waters between Cuba and Jamaica. Though Fay's top winds are rated at just 45 mph, the storm has an increasingly impressive appearance on visible satellite loops. The circulation is expanding and intensifying, the upper-level outflow is expanding to the north and southeast, and low-level spiral bands are beginning to develop. Assuming Fay can dodge the southeast tip of Cuba without weakening, which appears likely to me, this should be a Category 1 hurricane by Sunday evening.

Figure 1. Satellite image of Fay at 7:40 pm EDT Saturday, 8/16/08. Image credit: NASA.

Where Fay might go then is still a matter of considerable disagreement among the models, with the GFDL eying Miami, the NOGAPS and UKMET the Florida Panhandle, and the HWRF, ECMWF, and GFS the west coast of Florida. One interesting forecast, relayed to me by a gentleman who lives by the coast in Magnolia, Alabama, concerns sea turtle nesting behavior along the Alabama coast. Here's the email I got before last year's hurricane season:

Dear Dr. Masters,

I live in Magnolia Springs, Alabama, just 15 miles from the direct path of Hurricane Ivan. I have a friend of mine who has been an in-shore charter boat captain in this area for 30 years. He has the answer to all the failed hurricane predictions we keep making. He told me that Sea Turtles have the answer. Every year sea turtles start nesting around the first of June, unless a hurricane comes that year. Well, storms usually come after June, right? So how could they know? Well he stated last year that I had nothing to worry about because the turtles were on point, even though hundreds of scientists had predicted the worst season in history. Well he made a believer out of me. 2006 nesting, 2005 no nesting, 2004 no nesting and so on. My memory is not that good. He said that when nesting, a hurricane will not hit within 200 miles of the area. Now, I'm no betting man, but I will put $1000 on this year that we won't get hit. How about it?

Thank you,

Trammell Henry

Well, Mr. Henry's sea captain friend was right last year, and I'm glad I didn't bet the $1000! I contacted Mr. Henry again this June to ask him what the sea turtles were forecasting for the 2008 hurricane season. The forecast: the sea turtles are nesting, so no hurricanes on the Alabama, Mississippi, or nearby Florida Panhandle coasts this year. Thus, the sea turtles think the most westerly path over the Florida Panhandle favored by the NOGAPS model will not happen. We shall see! It would be nice to have another reliable forecast method to use.

Links to follow
Wundermap for Cuba/Haiti
Gran Piedra, Cuba radar
Jamaica radar
Key West, FL weather

I'll have a full update Sunday by 12:30 pm EDT. I plan on comparing Fay to Hurricane Charley, the 2004 storm that rapidly intensified to a Category 4 hurricane just before hitting the west coast of Florida near Punta Gorda. Could a repeat of Charley happen with Fay?

Jeff Masters
Sea Turtle release
Sea Turtle release
Amazing to see these tiny creatures up close.
Turtle Nest Sunrise
Turtle Nest Sunrise
Melbourne Beach Fl. One of the major sea turtle nesting areas in the world. This is fresh this morning!

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

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