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Powerful Norbert takes aim at Mexico's Baja

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 12:45 PM GMT on October 09, 2008

The tropical Atlantic is quiet, and no reliable computer models forecast tropical cyclone development over the next four days. The UKMET model continues to predict a tropical depression could spin up in the middle Atlantic between Africa and the Lesser Antilles Islands about five days from now. Climatology does not favor development in this region in October. A better chance for development will be over the Caribbean a week from now, and most of the models indicate the possibility of a Caribbean storm developing 5-7 days from now. The preferred genesis locations in the models are near the coast of Nicaragua, and near Puerto Rico.

Figure 1. Latest satellite image of Norbert.

Hurricane Norbert takes aim at Baja
Hurricane Norbert has weakened since yesterday's impressive Category 4 showing, but still remains a dangerous major hurricane over the Eastern Pacific Ocean. Infrared satellite loops show a well-formed eye with a large area of heavy thunderstorms, but the cloud tops have warmed today, indicating that they are not as vigorous and do not extend as high into the atmosphere. There is excellent upper-level outflow in all quadrants, and wind shear remains low, near 5 knots. The satellite appearance has not changed significantly in the past eight hours. Norbert may go through an eyewall replacement cycle today, where the main inner eyewall collapses, and a new outer eyewall forms. This process could cause a temporary weakening of the storm. The first Hurricane Hunter mission into Norbert is scheduled for this afternoon.

With the exception of the GFS, the computer models continue to be tightly clustered around a landfall in southwestern Baja near San Carlos, 150 miles north of the southern tip of Baja, on Saturday afternoon. The GFS solution of Norbert stalling off the coast and dissipating is unrealistic. Wind shear is about 5 knots over Norbert, and the waters are a warm 28.5°C. The waters along Norbert's path are unusually warm for this time of year, about 1-3° C above average (Figure 2). However, these warm waters do not extend very deep, and the total oceanic heat content is low. Once Norbert crosses Baja and enters the Gulf of California, total heat content increases, but Norbert will not be over these warm waters long enough to take advantage of the extra heat. As Norbert approaches Baja on Friday, wind shear is expected to increase to 15 knots and sea surface temperatures will cool to 27°C. These conditions will still support a major hurricane, and it is possible that Norbert will make landfall as a major hurricane. The latest 2 am EDT run of the GFDL model predicts landfall Saturday afternoon as a strong Category 2 hurricane with 110 mph winds. The latest HWRF model predicts a Category 3 hurricane with 120 mph winds. The SHIPS models is weaker, putting Norbert at Category 1 strength with 95 mph winds. The official NHC forecast of a Category 2 hurricane at landfall looks like a reasonable compromise. Tropical storm force winds should extend outwards about 130 miles at landfall, so the southern tip of Baja (San Lucas) will probably see sustained winds of 30-35 mph, should Norbert hit near San Carlos. One can look at the forecast radius of tropical storm force winds by clicking on the wundermap for Norbert, then selecting "wind radius" in the check boxes at the bottom of the page.

Crossing rugged Baja will probably knock Norbert down a full Category, by about 20-25 mph. The storm will still pack a solid punch when it makes it second landfall on mainland Mexico north of Los Mochis. Rainfall amounts in mainland Mexico will be 4-8 inches, and 6-10 inches over Baja. Norbert's remains should bring 1-2 inches of rain to portions of western Texas and southeastern New Mexico.

Figure 2. Departure of Sea Surface Temperature (SST) from average for October 6, 2008. Note the region being traversed by Norbert is 1-3 °C above average. Image credit: NOAA.

Baja hurricane history
Major hurricanes are rare on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, particularly as far north as Baja. Since record keeping began in 1949, only two Category 3 or stronger hurricanes have hit Baja (Figure 3). Hurricane Kiko of 1989 hit the east coast of Baja near Buenavista, as a Category 3 hurricane with 115 mph winds. Kiko produced destructive winds of up to 110 mph (180 km/h) in Cabo San Lucas, and caused severe damage throughout the southern tip of Baja California. Hurricane Oliva of 1967 made landfall as a Category 3 hurricane with 125 mph winds farther north on the east coast of Baja, in a sparsely populated area. No major hurricanes have hit the west coast of Baja since 1949, so Norbert would be the first on record if it maintains Category 3 strength at landfall.

Figure 3. Tracks of major hurricanes affecting Mexico's Baja Peninsula between 1949-2007. Image credit: NOAA Coastal Services Center.

Thursday update on Hurricane Ike relief efforts
Today's update from Paul Timmons (Presslord) on the Hurricane Ike relief effort started by wunderground members Patrap, Presslord, and Stormjunkie:

While the devastating aftermath of hurricane Ike seems no longer to capture the interest of mainstream media, we all know that the needs continue. Chief Dickie Uzzle of the Bridge City, TX, fire department has informed us that only 14 homes in that community (population: 8700) did not sustain ruinous water damage. Many families continue to live in tents in front of their homes, with ALL of their personal belongings piled in the yard awaiting removal.

Laura Cremans, Manager of the Churches of Christ distribution center in Bridge City tells us " Only one truck of supplies has come here since Ike made landfall. We are desperate here."

This is the list of specific needs that we are currently attaining and working to attain for the rural populations and the disabilities community along the Texas Gulf Coast. We have worked closely with several local relief efforts as well as municipalities to identify these needs.

Men's & Women's Clothing (we already have a commitment for a substantial number of men's and women's pants)

Air Mattresses
Blankets/Sleeping bags
Insect repellent
All baby items
Formula (We have a commitment from Meade-Johnson to provide some of this)
Rash cream

Our strategy is to focus on attaining as many of these items as possible through donations from manufacturers and distributors. In the last three and a half days, we have made several dozen contacts to this end and are beginning to get positive results; but we need your help.

If you have any contacts or influence which might facilitate us procuring the items listed above please contact us at presslord@aol.com or admin@stormjunkie.com. All your thoughts and ideas are good. The more input we have, the more impact we can have.This will help us successfully implement our strategy of expending donated funds primarily on transportation and logistics of moving donated goods. In this way, we can most effectively steward the donated funds in the most cost effective manner.

Moving forward...

Moving through October we are committed to adjusting our fund raising effort to leverage the grassroots enthusiasm and generosity generated by our Hurricane Ike relief work.  A more proactive approach will enhance our future effectiveness. We are asking you to consider committing to a monthly pledge amount.  The amount you pledge is less important then the consistency.  A dependable monthly donor base will allow us to strategically plan and prepare for the future and help us successfully execute those plans over the long term. 

Please give thoughtful, prayerful consideration to committing to a monthly pledge amount beginning November 1 and email your intentions to presslord@aol.com.

There is much work yet to be done in helping the victims of Ike. And there will certainly be other victims of other storms we can all serve. By continuing to work together as we have the last 3 1/2 weeks, we can have a profound positive impact on thousands of unserved, underserved, and forgotten people...

Also, please remember: we should all forward this information far and
wide...and frequently..


Figure 3. Bridge City, Texas, after Hurricane Ike. Image credit: Stormjunkie.

Contributions to this highly worthy portlight.org charity fund are fully tax-deductible, and will go to provide relief supplies for those smaller communities typically bypassed by the traditional relief efforts. More details can be found at StormJunkie's blog.

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.