First photos of sunken El Faro cargo ship released, lost in Hurricane Joaquin

The National Transportation Safety Board released the first photos Sunday of the sunken El Faro cargo ship, which went down in last year’s Hurricane Joaquin.

The ship sits in about 15,000 feet of water, deeper than the Titantic, in the an area near Crooked Island, Bahamas.

A crew of 33 was lost when the ship sank Oct. 1 after losing power and listing 15 degrees while sailing from Jacksonville to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Tom Roth-Roffy, the lead investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, told The Associated Press that none of the crew were found.

“There were no human remains found whatsoever, and no personal effects whatsoever,” Roth-Roffy said. “I think we found one boot.”

The NTSB is continuing the investigation but a key piece of evidence, the ship’s data recorder.
El Faro cargo ship is seen in 15,000 feet of water in first images released of the hurricane-damaged ship.
El Faro cargo ship is seen in 15,000 feet of water in first images released of the hurricane-damaged ship.
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El Faro cargo ship is seen in 15,000 feet of water in first images released of the hurricane-damaged ship.
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El Faro cargo ship is seen in 15,000 feet of water in first images released of the hurricane-damaged ship.
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El Faro cargo ship is seen in 15,000 feet of water in first images released of the hurricane-damaged ship.
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El Faro cargo ship is seen in 15,000 feet of water in first images released of the hurricane-damaged ship.

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. 

2016 hurricane season, 97% chance of named storm hitting U.S.

Colorado State University’s Department of Atmospheric Science stopped doing quantitative December hurricane forecasts for pending storm seasons in 2012.

But researchers are still issuing a more qualitative discussion of the factors that will influence the 2016 hurricane season, including the climatological chances that the U.S. and individual states will get hit by a tropical storm, hurricane or major hurricane.

This year’s discussion, released last week, relies on two main events for its hurricane predictions; whether El Nino will remain a strong influence through summer next year and the potency of the Atlantic Multi-Decadal Oscillation (AMO).

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El Nino is known to knock down hurricanes by creating strong westerly wind shear, such as we saw during the 2015 hurricane season.

The AMO is a longer-term phenomenon that impacts sea-surface temperatures. Warm sea surface temperatures are like candy to growing hurricanes.

While CSU’s study, which was written by hurricane expert Philip Kotzbach with assistance from William Gray, looks generally at four scenarios affecting hurricane frequency and strength, it also gives climatological landfall probabilities for 2016. The probabilities are long term chances, taking into account data from the 20th century.

“While we are not issuing a quantitative forecast in this early outlook, we can still provide interested readers with the climatological probabilities of landfall for various portions of the United States coastline,” Klotzbach wrote.

For all of the U.S., Klotzbach said there is a 97 percent chance of a named storm making landfall. That could mean a tropical storm, hurricane or major hurricane.

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Last week’s discussion also gives the climatological probabilities that a hurricane or major hurricane will impact specific states.

Climatological chance for a hurricane landfall in 2016
Climatological probabilities for a hurricane landfall in 2016.

Klotzbach notes that none of the 27 major hurricanes that have formed since Wilma in 2005 made a U.S. landfall.

“The 10-year period that the U.S. has gone without any major landfalls exceeds the previous record of eight years set between 1861 and 1868,” he wrote.

But why?

“There is obviously a luck component that has played a significant role,” Klotzbach said.

He explains another part of why in a blog for the Capital Weather Gang written with Brian McNoldy. Basically an exploration of how an east coast low pressure system may be steering hurricanes away from the U.S.

Florida is singled out as being “remarkably lucky” to have not been impacted by a hurricane since Wilma. Klotzbach said there has been a marked decrease in hurricanes hitting the Florida peninsula over the past 50 years.

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Bob Henson, a meteorologist and blogger for Weather Underground said CSU’s recent discussion makes him even more “eager to see how this very uncertain hurricane season will unfold.”

“As one would expect, the skill of these outlooks steadily improves as the hurricane season nears,” he wrote in a blog last week.  “Even if it’s too soon right now to expect an accurate forecast for 2016, the latest thoughts from CSU make me even more eager to see how this very uncertain hurricane season will unfold.”