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Rina rapidly intensifies into a hurricane

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 7:59 PM GMT on October 24, 2011

Rina is now a hurricane, just 21 hours after becoming a tropical depression. An Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter aircraft found winds of 75 mph--Category 1 hurricane strength--at 1:40 pm EDT in the north eyewall of Rina, using their SFMR surface wind instrument. Winds at flight level of 5,000 feet peaked at 78 mph, which typically translates to surface winds of 62 mph. On their second pass through the eye at 3:30 pm EDT, the winds were about 5 mph less, but the central pressure had fallen by two millibars, to 989 mb. Visible satellite loops show that Rina now has an eye, and the storm is steadily expanding in size and developing an impressive upper-level outflow channel to the north. Wind shear is a moderate 15 - 20 knots due to strong upper-level winds out of the southeast, and these winds are injecting dry air into Rina's southeast side, inhibiting heavy thunderstorm development there. Water temperatures are very warm, 29 - 30°C, and these warm waters extend to great depth.

Figure 1. Afternoon satellite image of Rina. An intense thunderstorm with a top that reaches into the stratosphere is visible on the southwest side of the eye. These "hot towers" are commonly seen in hurricanes undergoing rapid intensification.

Rina in historical context
Rina intensified into a hurricane just 21 hours after the first advisory was issued for it as a tropical depression. This is the second fastest such intensification since record keeping began in 1851. Hurricane Humberto of 2007 holds the Atlantic record for fastest intensification from first advisory issued to hurricane strength--18 hours. (Actually, Humberto did the feat in 14 1/4 hours, but this was rounded off to 18 hours in the final data base, which stores points every six hours). There have been six storms that accomplished the feat in 24 hours. Rina's formation brings this year's tally of hurricanes to six, which is average for an Atlantic hurricane season. The number of named storms this season is now seventeen, making it the 7th busiest Atlantic hurricane season since record keeping began in 1851. Only 2005, 1933, 1995, 1887, 2010, and 1969 had more named storms. However, 2011 has had an unusually low percentage of its named storms reach hurricane strength. Only 35% of this year's named storms have made it to hurricane strength, and normally 55 - 60% of all named storms intensify to hurricane strength in the Atlantic. The rare combination of near-record ocean temperatures but unusually dry, stable air over the Atlantic is no doubt at least partially responsible for this very unusual occurrence.

Figure 2. Microwave satellite image from 11:39 am EDT October 24, 2011, showing that Rina had a partially complete eyewall, which was open on the east side. Image credit: Navy Research Lab, Monterey.

Forecast for Rina
The hurricane hunters found an elliptical eyewall that had a gap in it during their 3:30 pm eye penetration. The aircraft measured a temperature difference of 6°C between the eye and the region outside the eye, which is difficult to get unless an eyewall is on its way to completion. Rina will need to complete its eyewall if it is to intensify into a major hurricane. Given the fact wind shear is not expected to increase until Wednesday, Rina has a 2-day period to close off an eyewall and intensify, and it will probably reach Category 3 or Category 4 strength by Wednesday. On Wednesday, Rina will encounter a dry airmass with high wind shear that lies over the extreme northwestern Caribbean. These conditions should weaken the hurricane, but Rina could still be a major hurricane if it makes landfall in the Yucatan Peninsula on Wednesday or Thursday.

A trough of low pressure is predicted to pass to the north of Rina late this week, and now that the hurricane is expected to be a Category 2 or stronger storm, the chances for Rina to make it farther north and affect the Florida Keys and Southwest Florida have increased. The latest 8 am EDT runs of the GFDL and HWRF models both predict that Rina will pass through the Yucatan Channel on Thursday and make landfall on Friday in the Florida Keys or extreme Southwest Florida, south of Naples. The NOGAPS and GFS models predict a weaker storm, and keep Rina trapped in the Caribbean. I think it is more likely that Rina will pass through the Keys. If Rina does make it to the Keys, it would likely be as a tropical storm, since wind shear, dry air, and possible land interaction with Western Cuba and Mexico would potentially knock down the storm's strength. Heavy rains from Rina should begin affecting Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, northern Belize, and extreme Western Cuba on Wednesday. Rina's intensification into a hurricane over the Western Caribbean during the last half of October bring to mind Hurricane Wilma, which also performed such a feat in 2005. Wilma went on to become a Category 5 monster, the strongest Atlantic hurricane of all-time. I don't think Rina will be another Wilma, even though the ocean temperatures and total heat content are similar to what Wilma experienced. Wilma had nearly ideal upper-level atmospheric conditions with an anticyclone aloft and light wind shear, under 5 knots. Rina is experiencing 15 - 20 knots of wind shear and is also a smaller storm, and is thus more vulnerable to the effects of wind shear and dry air.

97L approaching ABC islands
A broad region of low pressure approaching the ABC islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao (Invest 97L), is moving west-northwest at 10 mph. Heavy thunderstorm activity has increased today, but the activity is not organized into spiral bands, as is apparent from Curacao radar. 97L is surrounded by a large region of dry air, and this dry air will retard development. 97L is under low wind shear less than 10 knots, and this shear is expected to remain low through Thursday. By the time 97L reaches the region between Jamaica and Nicaragua in the Central Caribbean on Thursday or Friday, the storm should find a moister environment, and could develop into a tropical depression. However, none of the reliable models are predicting that 97L will develop. NHC is giving 97L just a 10% chance of developing into a tropical depression by Wednesday. I put the odds higher, at 20%.

Jeff Masters


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