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Hurricane Paul pounding Baja; Hurricane Rafael brushing Bermuda

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 3:06 PM GMT on October 16, 2012

Hurricane Paul put on an impressive burst of rapid intensification on Monday, topping out as a Category 3 hurricane with 120 mph winds at 2 pm PDT on Monday. Paul has weakened some this morning, due to high wind shear of 30 knots, but remains a potent Category 2 hurricane with 105 mph winds as it heads towards landfall this afternoon on the Baja Mexico coast. The 3006-passenger cruise ship Carnival Splendor made a daring run southeastwards along the Baja coast in front of Hurricane Paul, and encountered some very heavy weather this morning. At 2 am PDT, the vessel reported sustained winds of 54 mph and hail in a heavy squall located about 160 miles northeast of Paul's eye. Four hours later, at 6 am PDT, the ship was still measuring 54 mph winds, at point about 140 miles east of the eye and 40 miles northwest of the Cabo San Lucas on the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula. The winds were measured on top of the ship, at an altitude more than 100 feet above the standard 10 meter (32.8') altitude used to report winds. If you know of a passenger who was on the ship, tell them to upload a wunderphoto and a report of what is was like! The view from the deck webcam shows that not too many passengers were out taking wunderphotos this morning, though.

Since the region of coast where Paul will hit is very sparsely populated, heavy rains will be the main threat from the storm. Cabo San Lucas has picked up 2.23" of rain from Paul as of 7 am PDT this morning, and San Jose Del Cabo picked up 2.00". Neither city is expected to get tropical storm-force winds from Paul, according to the latest wind probability forecast from NHC. Paul's formation brings this year's tally in the Eastern Pacific to 16 named storms, 10 hurricanes, and 5 major hurricanes. An average Eastern Pacific season has 15 named storms, 8 hurricanes, and 3 major hurricanes.

Figure 1. MODIS satellite image of Hurricane Paul taken at 2:15 pm EDT Monday, October 15, 2012. At the time, Paul was peaking in intensity--a Category 3 hurricane with 120 mph winds. Image credit: NASA.

Rafael becomes a hurricane
Hurricane Rafael became the ninth hurricane of this busy 2012 Atlantic hurricane season on Monday afternoon. Data from the Hurricane Hunters and satellite loops show that Rafael is holding its own against high wind shear near 30 knots. Rafael has even managed to intensify slightly this morning, to a Category 1 storm with 90 mph winds, as it heads north-northeast on a path that is expected to take the center about 140 miles east of Bermuda near 8 pm EDT this Tuesday night. Images from the Bermuda radar show that the outer spiral bands of Rafael have reached the island, and very heavy rains lie just to Bermuda's south. Wind shear is expected to increase to an extremely high 40 knots on Wednesday, which should be able to weaken Rafael to a tropical storm. The 11 am EDT wind probability forecast from NHC gave Bermuda a 44% chance of experiencing tropical storm-force winds from Rafael. The models are pretty tightly clustered showing a track for Rafael to the east of Bermuda, putting the island on the weaker (left front) side of the storm.

Figure 2. MODIS satellite image of Tropical Storm Rafael taken at 11:55 am EDT Monday, October 15, 2012. At the time, Rafael was intensifying, with top winds of 70 mph. Image credit: NASA.

Possible Caribbean development next week
Most of the models are predicting that an area of disturbed weather capable of becoming a tropical depression will form in the Southwest Caribbean Sea off the coast of Nicaragua by the middle of next week. It's too early speculate on where such a storm might go, but residents of Central America, Jamaica, Cuba, and the Cayman Islands should anticipate the possibility of a multi-day period of very heavy rains affecting them late next week, even if a tropical depression does not form.

Figure 3. I couldn't resist reposting this image: a coronal mass ejection (CME) hit Earth's magnetic field on Oct. 8, 2012, sparking a dramatic display of Northern Lights that lasted for several days. The aurora combined with clouds to create this remarkable scene over Lekangsund, Norway, on Oct. 10, 2012, as captured by Hugo Løhre. Larger versions of the image are available at nasa.gov.

Jeff Masters


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