Sometimes, we react too weakly to the prospects of a hurricane. But, since the damage wrought by Wilma, Charlie, Ivan, Gustav, Ike and Katrina over the past few years it seems that the pendulum has swung the other way. I believe that it is better to be very prepared so an over reaction would be preferable to lack of preparation. However, I am concerned that we may end up with a chicken little syndrome. The memories of Katrina and Ike and all the rest are so fresh that it’s not likely that people will become complacent soon, but recently I saw evidence that the pump may be getting primed for the public to perhaps get back into the “boy who cried wolf” state of mind.
At the end of last week, Alex came meandering off of the Yucatan and was intact sufficiently for it to regain its Tropical Storm status pretty quickly. Now, it was well over 1000 miles from Houston yet the message signs on the freeways of Houston read, “Hurricane forming in Gulf. Fill your tanks.” Now, I understand the need to alert motorists so that the city could avoid the last minute gasoline shortages that occured when Hurricane Ike was approaching the area. But, all indications were that the storm that was so far away was going to move into Northern Mexico with the far reaching possibility being South Texas, which is still hundreds of miles away from the Houston-Galveston area. When I first encountered those signs on Sunday, I thought “I wonder if the forecast data has changed?” It had not. In fact by then the modeling data had become more concentrated for a Northern Mexico landfall.
I read in the newspapers of how Alex could enter the oil spill zone. That was not in the official forecast. By the end of last week it was apparent that a ridge in the Gulf would not break down sufficiently or soon enough to allow the storm to turn North and if it did turn North it would be most likely to do after it made landfall in Northern Mexico as it went around the ridge. Now, Alex is a pretty broad storm so its wind field is a bit larger than a conventional tropical storm or hurricane of its intensity so the winds did shift in the Northern Gulf region and start pushing the oil in a different direction. And with a cold front approaching, the winds picked up resulting in some containment operations to be suspended. But all over the radio the news was saying that Alex was the cause and that is not entirely accurate. The approaching cold front was the real catalyst. Then, all day long the radio news reports were saying that it was going to be a hurricane at any moment. The word “hurricane” raises the old blood pressure a little more than “tropical storm.” Alex did not gain hurricane status until early Wednesday morning.
It’s good to be cautious and prepared. It’s necessary in fact. However, there is a danger of over hyping potentialities to the point that, when its really warranted, no one will listen. Someone asked me where Alex was going about 4 days ago and I had said that I thought that Tampico Mexico seemed like a good bet. Then I added the caveats and the person says “so ‘they” don’t know.” Well, “I” am not “they” and there was a fairly good probability that Mexico would be the target. Its just that when a storm is that far out and there is so much time that variabilities in the longer term solution tend to become greater and so certainty is diminished to some degree. But, the Gulf Ridge was so strong anything dramatically different would be really tough to have come about. All I am saying is that it would be wise to read beyond the headlines this hurricane season. Often, the headline does not match reality.
The cold front that came through the Ohio Valley and knocked about 10-15 degrees off the temperatures and lowered humidity greatly is not expected to make its way all the way to the Gulf Coast. That is tough to do this time of year and the Gulf ridge of high pressure will not break down enough for that. The trof extends into East Texas but it really gets weak. By early Wednesday morning, Hurricane Alex was nearly stationary as a result of it being stuck between two ridges. It was on the western edge of the Gulf ridge with a ridge in Nebraska coming down behind the front to replace it. That little weakness between the ridges allowed Alex to edge a bit farther Northwest as it began to gain some forward speed after sunrise. What will happen is that the Nebraska ridge will nose further to the South, more or less wash out the boundary over East Texas and steer Alex with a more westward trajectory. Its not going to get to Tampico but I doubt that it gets to Brownsville. I would think about 100 miles south of the Rio Grande River seems about right.
As mentioned before, its a very broad storm so, even though it has a central pressure in the neighborhood of 960 mb, the models really don’t intensify it that much or to the level that such a pressure has the capability to support. Is it possible that it has a rapid intensification before landfall if it consolodates? Yes, which is why its good to be cautious. But its running out of time. Hurricane Ike had a pressure that would support a much stronger hurricane but it remained a very broad storm so its maximum winds were relativley weak but the strong wind field was very large. I suspect that will be the case with Alex. It’s winds might get to a maximum of say, 90 mph in isolated areas but the 45-50 mph winds may be several hundred miles away.
Below is the official Alex discussion from the National Hurricane Center for 10AM on Wednesday June 30 2010. Port Isabel is a lovely place on South Padre Island near Brownsville but the region is certainly not a major metropolitan area. The counties north of Brownsville are sparsely populated with the single highway servicing places like Encino, Armstrong and Raymondville well away from the coast. The Padre Island National Seashore is off limits to any development so once you get north of Port Isabel on Padre Island, no one lives there. About half way between Corpus Christi and Brownsville is Kleberg County which probably has more cows than people as that county is almost entirely made up of the King Ranch. There is a sign on the one highway that warns of no gas for many miles because it passes through the ranch. Bottom line is that, barring some unforseen weird alteration, Alex will cause beach erosion, disruption of lives for the July 4th weekend and probably bring some damage. I would think that the biggest threat will be inland flooding and also tornadoes, which are always a concern with a landfalling hurricane. Its not good, its not a great thing and will be an issue for those in its path and the storm surge may cause some problems for coastal beaches and coastal marine interests…but this is no Katrina.
HURRICANE ALEX DISCUSSION NUMBER 20
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL AL012010
1000 AM CDT WED JUN 30 2010
SATELLITE PRESENTATION HAS IMPROVED THIS MORNING WITH T-NUMBERS FROM
TAFB AND SAB REACHING 5.0 AND 5.5 ON THE DVORAK SCALE AND THE
MINIMUM PRESSURE HAS BEEN OSCILLATING BETWEEN 958 MB AND 961 MB.
HOWEVER…BOTH FLIGHT LEVEL WINDS AND SFMR DATA SUPPORT AN
INITIAL INTENSITY OF ONLY 70 KNOTS AT THIS TIME. LATEST
RECONNAISSANCE DATA SHOW THAT THERE ARE TWO WIND MAXIMA ON THE
NORTHEAST QUADRANT OF THE HURRICANE AND WINDS ARE SPREAD OUT IN
OTHER QUADRANTS. GIVEN SUCH A LOW MINIMUM PRESSURE…THE CURRENT
SATELLITE PRESENTATION AND A FAVORABLE ENVIRONMENT FOR
INTENSIFICATION…THE WINDS SHOULD INCREASE TODAY AND ALEX COULD
REACH CATEGORY TWO BEFORE LANDFALL.
FIXES FROM THE AIRCRAFT INDICATE THAT ALEX IS MOVING TOWARD THE
NORTHWEST OR 320 DEGREES AT 6 KNOTS. THE CURRENT WEAKNESS IN
THE SUBTROPICAL RIDGE TO THE NORTH OF THE CYCLONE SHOULD BE
REPLACED BY A RIDGE SOON. THIS FLOW PATTERN SHOULD FORCE ALEX
ON A MORE WESTWARD TRACK LATER TODAY AS INDICATED IN THE OFFICIAL
FORECAST. IN FACT…MOST OF THE DYNAMICAL GUIDANCE FORECAST A SHARP
TURN TO THE WEST OR EVEN SOUTH OF DUE WEST DEPENDING UPON THE
FORECAST STRENGTH OF THE RIDGE IN EACH MODEL. THIS TRACK SHOULD
BRING THE CORE OF THE HURRICANE TO THE COAST WITHIN THE WARNING
AREA LATE TONIGHT OR EARLY THURSDAY. HOWEVER…ALEX IS A LARGE
HURRICANE WITH TROPICAL STORM FORCE WINDS EXTENDING A GREAT
DISTANCE FROM THE CENTER. RADAR DATA SHOW THAT STRONG SQUALLS AND
GUSTY WINDS ARE ALREADY NEARING THE SOUTH TEXAS AND NORTHERN MEXICO
FORECAST POSITIONS AND MAX WINDS
INITIAL 30/1500Z 23.8N 95.5W 70 KT
12HR VT 01/0000Z 24.1N 96.7W 85 KT
24HR VT 01/1200Z 24.5N 98.5W 45 KT…INLAND
36HR VT 02/0000Z 24.5N 101.0W 25 KT…INLAND
48HR VT 02/1200Z…DISSIPATED