By Joe Zelenak
Hi everybody. The 2012 hurricane season is almost a month in the making and we have already seen four named storms, the most recent being Debby. The irony of it is that two of the storms, Alberto and Beryl, formed before the season officially started.
Does this mean we are going to see a severe season? The answer to that question is a definite no. For a tropical system to form, there are many complex factors that must come into place. Things such as the Bermuda High, sea-surface temperatures and upper-level winds all have to be just so in order for one of these mighty weather engines to get started.
In all cases, a tropical system forms from a simple cluster of thunderstorms. Once the above conditions come together in perfect harmony, the earth's rotation begins to "spin" the system and soon a new tropical cyclone is born. Once the rotation of the clouds form a closed circle, the storm will be named and advisories will be issued.
Once a storm is named and advisories are issued computer models will start to generate forecast models and wind intensity forecasts. The National Hurricane Center has really done an excellent job at making landfall predictions but intensity forecasts are another story. There have been numerous times where locations have been caught off guard because a storm intensified more then expected. Here is one instance that sticks clearly in my mind.
Tropical storm Irene hit the East Coast of Florida in October 1999. The system was forecast to be a minor tropical storm and most people did not prepare for anything more than what was forecast. When the storm struck, it brought blinding rain and high winds that far exceeded what I would have expected. It was the one time I did not put up my shutters and boy was that a mistake. Irene hit the East Coast that night with a vengeance and it taught many of us a valuable lesson. Most people were not prepared for hurricane- force winds and in light of the forecast; the winds exceeded hurricane force in many coastal locations. Irene is just one example of why we need to be fully prepared for the worst-case scenario regardless of the forecast.
Another good example is Hurricane Charley in August 2004. For days, Charley was forecast to hit Tampa Bay. Most people were focusing on the exact track but few were looking at the cone of error. The right side of the cone put southwest Florida at some risk. On August 14, 2004, the unthinkable happened. Charley made a sudden right turn and began rapid intensification. Since many ignored the cone, many were left directly in the path with no time to leave. Charley hit the southwest coast of Florida as a devastating Category 4 hurricane. The system became an inland hurricane event and traveled up the spine of Florida exiting near Jacksonville. Many were caught off guard. Charley was another instance where we learned that if you are in the cone, you must be prepared for the worst even if the official track takes the system away from your exact location.
Most recently, Tropical Storm Debby formed from an upper level low off the Yucatan Peninsula on June 23. Since the steering currents in the gulf were very weak, forecasting the track of Debby was far from perfect.
The first forecast models had Debby going almost due west into Texas. That was far from the case. Debby made up her own mind and went north hitting the Florida Panhandle with flooding rains and gusty winds. This is yet another example of how unpredictable a storm can be, especially in the Gulf of Mexico.
As you can see by some of the above stories, we must be prepared and be prepared early in the season. Get your supplies, generators and canned foods now when there is no storm threatening. These supplies will never go to waste and even if we have the forecasted "quiet" season, your supplies will not go to waste. If a storm threatens and you are in the cone of error, prepare as if the storm was heading to your doorstep.
For more information, go to http://hometownweather.net.