La Nina chances increase; that could be bad news for 2016 hurricane season

Global weather patterns are about to take a dramatic shift as the mighty El Nino finally shows signs of weakening, making way for an atmospheric slingshot that could bring on La Nina.

While El Nino acted as Florida’s bodyguard during last year’s hurricane season, knocking the heads off storms with powerful westerly winds aloft, La Nina is more reserved and just as likely to allow a cyclone to pass as not.

The chances that La Nina will appear by September were increased to 50 percent last week by the Climate Prediction Center. Hurricane season runs June through November.

“The higher the chances of La Nina, the higher the chances for a bigger than usual hurricane season,” said Bob Henson, a meteorologist and blogger for Weather Underground. “You have less wind shear and more favorable conditions for showers and thunderstorms to develop into hurricanes.”

During El Nino, water across the eastern path of the Pacific Ocean warms, making radical shifts to rainfall patterns. Showers are suppressed over Indonesia and moved to the eastern part of the Pacific. There strong thunderstorms form, which influence wind patterns in the upper atmosphere, reducing wind shear in the Pacific and increasing it in the Atlantic.

With La Nina, waters in the Pacific cool, rainfall retreats to the west, and the westerly winds wane.

“If 2016 transitions to La Nina, it will be a dramatic shift for the Atlantic hurricane season,” said Bill Patzert, a climatologist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in a December interview about El Nino. “It’s like a pendulum, a flip-flop, between El Nino and La Nina.”

In winter, La Nina means a drier weather pattern for Florida. During neutral years — between La Niña and El Niño — ocean temperatures, tropical rainfall patterns and wind patterns are closer to long term averages.

In an early discussion of how the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season will play out, Colorado State University researchers looked at storm seasons that followed the 10 strongest El Niño years since 1871.

Seven of the years were marked by more and stronger storms, including three — 1878, 1906, 1998 — that were very active.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 1998 was the deadliest hurricane season in more than 200 years with thousands of deaths reported in Central America.

“In a remarkable span of 35 days, starting on Aug. 19 and ending Sept. 23, 10 named tropical cyclones formed,” the National Hurricane Center notes in its archives about the 1998 storm season. “That’s about a whole season’s worth of activity crammed into a month.”

Six of the 1998 storms made a U.S. landfall, including Hurricane Earl, which hit near Panama City as a Category 1, and Mitch, a formidable Category 5 at one point, which made landfall near Naples as a tropical storm.

But Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, said the atmosphere may take some time to react to the temperature changes in the Pacific Ocean. While 1982 was an El Nino year, Halpert said La Nina didn’t come on strong until 1984.

The 1983 hurricane season was notable for having just four named storms. In 1984, there were 13 named storms.

“Some things we can model and understand but there is a lot of natural climate variability and we probably will never be able to understand everything,” Halpert said. “The question is how much of an impact La Nina will have on this hurricane season and that’s still a big question.”

Florida’s gone an unprecedented 10 years without a hurricane making landfall. 

 

Read more about how La Nina may impact hurricanes here. 

 

Capture

No break in South Florida pollen season with temperate, wet weather

Warm temperatures and wet weather have made pollen a year-long nuisance for allergy sufferers in South Florida, with readings last week reaching into the moderate range, according to the Florida Department of Health’s Palm Beach County office.

While a reading taken yesterday was in the “low” range for pollen from trees, grasses and weeds, the pollen this year never took it’s normal seasonal break, said Randall Miller, an environmental supervisor for the health department’s division of environmental public health division.

“Pollen usually shuts down November to March and the last we see of ragweed is usually October,” Miller said. “But we’ve seen ragweed all the way out through December. This season didn’t really get a chance to shut down.”

Palm Beach County Health Department pollen count, which is an actual measure of air quality, shows a low reading as of Monday, Feb. 22.
Palm Beach County Health Department pollen count, which is an actual measure of air quality, shows a low reading as of Monday, Feb. 22.

Palm Beach County has three levels for its pollen measurement; 0-20 is low, 20 to 200 is moderate, and anything above 200 is high.

Palm Beach County temperatures in December were 8 degrees warmer than the historic average, while temps in January and February have been about normal. According to the National Weather Service, rain totals at the Palm Beach International Airport were 4 inches higher than normal in December and 7 inches higher in January.

Pollen can improve right after a rain as it is washed out of the air.

“But at the same time, you may have an in influx as the plants and trees get water,” Miller said.

Spring-time pollen, magnified 2,000 times by researchers at the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, cause allergic reactions for millions of people. (AP Photo/University of Florida/IFAS, File)
Spring-time pollen, magnified 2,000 times by researchers at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, cause allergic reactions for millions of people. (AP Photo/University of Florida/IFAS, File)

Miller said the lack of a strong, extended cool down has aided in straight pollination for the past three to five years.

“The pine pollen will usually start in February, but a cold spell, down into the 40s for several days, would put it on hold until April usually,” Miller said. “The last three years in January, the pines and palms have started and we’re still seeing that pollination going on.”

Miller said there is a difference in the actual measurements taken by the county health department for pollen and mold, and what is reported on Pollen.com. According to Miller, Pollen.com is more of a forecast of pollen that takes into account climatological data on temperatures and rain.

Pollen.com, which is owned by Connecticut-based IMS Health, Inc., did not immediately return a request for an interview. According to its website, IMS Health developed Pollen.com’s forecasts and manufactures a pollen-measuring device called Rotorod that can be purchased.

Pollen.com's forecast for today, Feb. 23, and Feb. 24 shows very high readings.
Pollen.com’s forecast for today, Feb. 23, and Feb. 24 shows very high readings.

Strong storms, small chance of tornadoes for South Florida

National Weather Service meteorologists in Miami are forecasting the possibility of strong thunderstorms tonight and Friday afternoon as South Florida gets whacked by two fronts from the same system.

There is a small chance the storms could produce a brief tornado. While the risk is minimal, it’s not impossible, said Dan Gregoria, lead forecaster in the Miami NWS office.

Capture

“We wanted to provide you with a heads-up on this potential, despite the low probabilities of occurrence,” Gregoria said.

The notice comes just days after an EF-2 tornado whipped through Cape Coral with 132 mph winds. That storm damaged 178 structures, destroyed one home and knocked over an estimated 100 power poles.

Despite the seven-minute rampage, just three people suffered minor injuries.

Cape Coral residents assess the damage to homes on Southwest 15th Avenue on Sunday morning. Jack Hardman/The News-Press
Cape Coral residents assess the damage to homes on Southwest 15th Avenue on Sunday morning. Jack Hardman/The News-Press

The unruly weather this week, described as a “roller coaster” by Miami forecasters, includes the formation Wednesday of Subtropical Storm Alex – the first named Atlantic storm of 2016 and only the fourth named storm to form in January since 1851.

Alex, which is no threat to the U.S., was 785 miles southwest of the Azores on Wednesday and traveling northeast at 14 mph. Maximum sustained winds were about 50 mph. Strengthening was not expected.

Still, the Alex is noteworthy as the first January named storm since 1978.

“It’s pretty rare,” said Dave Samuhel, a meteorologist with AccuWeather. “We’re closer to the end of hurricane season than the start of a new one.”

Hurricane season runs from June through November.

As far as tornadoes, National Weather Service meteorologist Chuck Caracozza said the chances of something forming in South Florida today or Friday are extremely slim.

key-west-florida-region-current-radar-animation

“It’s not like it’s going to be a severe weather outbreak,” Caracozza said. “There could be a few thunderstorms, but it’s highly uncertain.”

If storms do develop, they are expected to come from a low-pressure system that will push its warm front up through the Keys on Thursday night, with storms possibly on the leading edge.

On Friday afternoon, the same system will swing its cold front through, bringing another potential for storms. Sustained winds of 23 mph with gusts up to 30 are forecast for Friday.

Samuhel agreed the chances for a tornado were low, but worth watching. He said Saturday’s storm in Cape Coral was aided by high dew-point temperatures – which are a measure of moisture in the air – and strong wind shear. Neither factor is as virile with the system that’s forecast to hit today.

“A really juicy dew point is a big thing tornadoes need,’ Samuhel said. “There’s not as much moisture this go-around.”

For  more on the potential threat from storms, read the full Palm Beach Story here. 

New report: 2015 second warmest year for U.S.

The continental U.S. experienced its second warmest year on record with an annual average temperature 54.4 degrees, 2.4 degrees above the 20th century average.

According to a report released this morning by the National Centers for Environmental Information, 2015 is runner-up to 2012 when the average U.S. temp was 55.3 degrees.

“This is the 19th consecutive year the annual average temperature exceeded the 20th century average,” the NOAA report notes. “The first part of the year was marked by extreme warmth in the west and cold in the east, but by the end of 2015, record warmth spanned the east with near-average temperatures across the west.”

January-December-2015-US-Divisional-Avg-Temp-Ranks-Map

Southeast Florida experienced it’s warmest year on record, as was reported last week.

“If one word can describe South Florida’s weather in 2015, it would be HOT,” wrote meteorologist Robert Molleda in a year-end report issued by the NWS office in Miami. “It will go down as the hottest year on record at all four main climate sites.”

The year-long average temperature in West Palm Beach was 78 degrees, 2.6 degrees above the norm in records dating back to 1888.

Forecasters warn of possible flooding from persistent rains

The National Weather Service is warning that minor street flooding is possible in urban areas of Southeast Florida as a low pressure system continues to dump rain in the region through this afternoon.

Although no advisories have been issued, forecasters said up to 3 inches of rain is possible in some localized areas. The most vulnerable areas to flooding are in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

Capture

By mid to late afternoon, the system responsible for the rain is expected to move away from South Florida, which will lower the wind speeds and reduce the threat of flooding. The broad surface low is currently between the Bahamas and Cuba.

Rainfall amounts of .5 to 1 inch are still expected, but localized heavier amounts are possible.

High temperatures today are expected to reach 72 degrees, with a low tonight of 62 degrees.

Capture

Capture

Will La Nina awaken for 2016 hurricane season? What it means for Florida

The mighty trade winds that ushered ships across the Atlantic when sails and Mother Nature set maritime agendas gave way in 2015 to the westerlies — gales that pile warm Pacific Ocean water against the Americas and signal El Nino.

But like a pendulum, that water will slosh back toward Asia. Trade winds will regain power. The subtropical jet stream that helped kill Atlantic hurricanes will shift south.

And La Nina will awaken.

(05/08/2015) --- This image of Tropical Storm Anna taken from the International Space Station displays the view looking south-southeastward from western Virginia towards storm about 200 miles east of Savannah, Georgia, Bahamas and Florida in the distance. Expedition 43 NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and his crewmates captured many images of the Earth showing the storms progression onto the Carolina's and other east coast states.
(05/08/2015) — This image of Tropical Storm Anna taken from the International Space Station displays the view looking south-southeastward from western Virginia towards storm about 200 miles east of Savannah, Georgia, Bahamas and Florida in the distance. 

Just as El Nino helped protect Florida from tropical cyclones this storm season, hurricane experts are already considering the fate of the U.S. coast in a La Nina year, which 2016 could easily become.

“After a really big El Nino, you seem to transition to La Nina, and it can happen rapidly,” said Bill Patzert, a climatologist at NASA’s jet propulsion laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “The 2015 hurricane season was somewhat benign in the Atlantic, but if La Nina kicks in this coming summer, it could go back to spectacular.”

El Nino works as a hurricane deterrent by using the subtropical jet stream to cut the tops off storms with strong vertical shear — winds moving at different speeds and directions in different levels of the Atmosphere. The eastern Pacific Ocean is warmer than normal as surface waters flow west.

Hurricane Joaquin, Oct. 2 2015
Hurricane Joaquin, Oct. 2 2015

La Nina is marked by strong winds from the east that push warm Atlantic waters toward the U.S., while weaker winds from the west are less able to disrupt storms. The eastern Pacific Ocean is cooler than normal as east winds push surface water toward Asia.

During neutral years – between La Nina and El Nino – ocean temperatures, tropical rainfall patterns and wind patterns are closer to long term averages.

“It’s certainly possible that La Nina could be in place by late autumn (2016), which would favor an active Atlantic hurricane season,” said Bob Henson, a meteorologist and blogger for WeatherUnderground. “The closer we are to La Nina, the more favorable it is for hurricanes to develop in the Atlantic.”

Read more about what the experts think of the 2016 hurricane season here. 

Venomous sea serpent shows up in odd place, twice

A venomous sea snake that usually sticks to the warmer tropical waters of the Pacific Ocean was found in Huntington Beach, possibly invited north by El Nino.

The yellow bellied sea snake was found this month during a beach cleanup by the Surfrider Foundation, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Yellow-bellied sea snake, photo from Wikimedia
Yellow-bellied sea snake, photo from Wikimedia

It was the second such snake found in California this year. The first was discovered in October on Silver Strand State Beach in Ventura County.

El Nino is a climatological event that warms the waters of the eastern and central Pacific. This year’s El Nino is considered one of the strongest on record, if not the strongest.

Read how El Nino and La Nino differ and what it means to Florida here. 

Greg Pauly, herpetological curator at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, told the Times it might have been El Nino that prompted it to move hundreds of miles north of its typically habitat.

“It is incredible and fascinating to have two of these aquatic, highly venomous snakes suddenly show up around here,” Pauly told the Times. “But this is not an invasion, and no one has ever died from the bite of this animal.”

As a personal aside, I was in Guanacaste, Costa Rica earlier this month and the ocean was loaded with these snakes. This was my 5th trip to the city of Tamarindo and I have never seen so many in the water.

Costa Rica is a normal habitat for these snakes, but I had to wonder if the warmer waters – and they were warmer based on the fact that I was never cold surfing – was somehow allowing them to proliferate.

While these snakes are venomous, they have tiny mouths barely wide enough to bite a human.

Capturesnake
Habitat of the yellow bellied sea snake.

Cold front to send South Fla. temperatures plummeting

South Florida may break record high heat temperatures this week, but the scorcher is expected to end soon.

A strong cold front is forecast to move through the peninsula Friday or Saturday morning, bringing with it daytime temperatures cooler than normal for this time of year.

The National Weather Service is predicting a high around 70 degrees on Saturday, which is six degrees below the 30-year normal maximum high for that day. AccuWeather puts Saturday’s high at 69 degrees.

AccuWeather forecast
AccuWeather forecast

The NWS has the overnight low temperature dipping to 60 degrees, which is one degree warmer than normal for Dec. 19.

“A much drier and milder air mass may finally knock temperatures and humidity levels back to values more typical of the holiday season, particularly for this coming weekend,” NWS forecasters wrote this morning.

map2

But before the cold from hits South Florida, temperatures will continue well above normal for this time of year and could break records.

The high today in West Palm Beach is forecast to hit 86 degrees. The record for today was 87 degrees, set in 1920. It’s possible the overnight low of 75 degrees was a record-setter, or at least tied for the record. I’m checking on that now.

The typical normal high temperature 76 degrees. The normal low for today is 60 degrees.

This Saturday forecast shows the low pressure system pushing through Florida into the Florida Straits.
This Saturday forecast shows the low pressure system pushing through Florida into the Florida Straits.

Florida is suffering its hottest year on record and is expected to finish 2015 as top ranked for toasty temperatures.

South Florida temperatures have been running an average 3 degrees warmer than  normal this year.

CWMGOy5WoAE6shk

A report released Wednesday by the National Centers for Environmental Information, shows the first 11 months of the year have simmered at an average 73.7 degrees in the Sunshine State. That’s 2.5 degrees above average and higher than anything measured in the 121 years records have been kept.

Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties are on a similar track with November topping off as the hottest 11-month streak since Grover Cleveland was president with an average temperature of 77.8 degrees.

This weekend’s cool front is an extension of an incredibly strong storm that hit Alaska last weekend.

According to AccuWeather, the central area of low pressure of the storm as measured over the Bering Sea was 924 millibars. The strongest low pressure measured over Alaskan soil was from a storm in 1977 that measured 925 millibars.