Blustery day before cool front this weekend

A blustery day with wind gusts topping 30 mph will turn into a mixed bag for the weekend, including some sun and a Sunday cool front with a near guarantee of rain.

Sustained east winds this morning at Palm Beach International Airport are measuring upwards of 20 mph with gusts to 31 mph.

PBIA

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The wind, which has triggered a wind advisory for Lake Okeechobee, rip current warnings along the Atlantic beaches and a small craft advisory, is a function of a high pressure system moving into South Florida rubbing up against a stationary boundary stretching from the Bahamas into the Gulf of Mexico.

“Wind speeds will only increase as we go through today,” said National Weather Service meteorologists in their  morning forecast. “Temperatures are quite mild this  morning, being regulated off the stiff breeze off the relatively warm Atlantic waters.”

Today’s hazards

Saturday’s forecast is for mostly cloudy skies, a high temperature of 75 degrees, with breezy conditions continuing as a low pressure system begins to dig into the Mississippi Valley.

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That low will increase winds out of the south, bringing more warm, tropical air into South Florida.

Sunday forecast map. Source: Weather Prediction Center.

By Sunday, an area of low pressure expected to form in the Gulf of Mexico will begin to move through North  Florida, trailing a cool front that will increase the chances for rain Sunday between 30 and 60 percent for the day and up to 80 percent overnight.

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A cloudy day Sunday will decrease the chances for thunderstorms ahead of the front as daytime heating will muted, but there is a low chance of thunderstorms in the forecast.

The cool front will whip winds back out of the  north, pulling in colder air that will make its mark Monday night with lows in the mid-50s and a high Tuesday in the upper 60s.

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Lifeguards warning of this purple beach predator

On winter’s east winds they come, floating sapphire jewels with a venomous sting that lasts long after they’ve washed ashore.

Portuguese man-of-war, so named for the ship-shaped balloon that keeps them buoyant, have been spotted on Palm Beach County beaches in recent weeks with lifeguards warning to steer clear of the grape-colored sea creatures.

Rip currents and Portuguese man o’ war kept beachgoers out of the water at Phipps Ocean Park Sunday January 21, 2018 in Palm Beach. (Meghan McCarthy / Daily News)

“We fly the purple flags pretty frequently in winter,” said Town of Palm Beach Ocean Rescue lifeguard Taylor Jantz, referring to the caution flag alerting to the presence of threatening beach pests. “While a jellyfish sting can feel like a mosquito bite, a man-of-war can create a much harsher reaction.”

Related: ‘Can people die from this?’ How I felt after a man-of-war stung me.

Surfer Eddie Ritz, of West Palm Beach, shows off a man-of-war sting he suffered after tentacles wrapped around his arm.

Tentacles stacked with coiled, barbed tubes of venom stream out as far as 100 feet from the man-of-war’s gas-filled sail, packing a sting that can swell lymph nodes, cause nausea, and, in extreme cases, cause trouble breathing.

Earlier this month, a woman swimming at Phil Foster Park in Riviera Beach became entangled in man-of-war tentacles and had to be taken to the hospital, according to Steve Kaes, a training officer for Palm Beach County Ocean Rescue South District.

“She was having trouble breathing,” Kaes said. “The more parts of your body it covers, the more stressful it is.”

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The man-of-war uses its venomous tentacles to paralyze and kill small fish.

Although often confused with a jellyfish, the man-of-war is actually a siphonophore, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A siphonophore is comprised of different organisms with various functions all working together as one.

While serious reactions to a man-of-war sting are rare, if the tentacles get wrapped around a person, they can stick to the skin, causing lines of red welts that can last for several days. Tentacles can still cause stings after being broken up in rough surf or even after the man-of-war washes ashore and dies.

Surface high pressure over the Eastern Seaboard and western Atlantic Ocean during winter months contributes to persistent east-northeasterly winds, said Robert Molleda, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Miami.

“These high pressure areas are typically stronger in the winter, so that often leads to stronger east winds,” Molleda said.

With winds turned north following Tuesday’s cold front, there weren’t as many man-of-war on Palm Beach’s Midtown beach Wednesday, but Jantz said she had buried several to keep them away from people strolling the shore where they often get caught in the wrack line.

“Avoid the tentacles, they can stretch out a long, long way,” Kaes said. “The most important thing is to tell children they aren’t toys.”

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Tara Smith, of Delray Beach, said she was at a private beach Monday when she noticed her 6-year-old son Harrison shoveling something blue into a pile.

Harrison Smith, 6, sits behind Portuguese man-of-war he shoveled into a pile on a private beach in Delray Beach. Photo courtesy Tara Smith

“I thought it was strange and from a distance thought they were water bottles,” Smith said. “But my younger daughter Lexi and him ran to go get me and I saw he was shoveling a ton of man-of-war into a pile.”

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Smith said her children weren’t stung, but that the beach was littered with man-of-war.

While lifeguards write on beach condition chalkboards when man-of-war are present, Jantz said people often don’t know what they are or what to look for. Sharks they understand, but the purple critters on the beach seem less threatening.

Children will pop the sails like balloons, which can sting their hands or feet, Jantz said

“Whether they are dry or wet, those toxings are still living,” Jantz said. “They’re beautiful to look at, but can really hurt.”

The Florida Poison Control Center recommends treating the sting by washing the area with sea water, vinegar or alcohol, and scraping off any remaining tentacles.

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Earl expected to become a hurricane before landfall

For the latest updates on Earl, see today’s WeatherPlus blog here. 

Update 11 p.m.: Tropical Storm Earl’s top sustained winds remain at 60 mph in the National Hurricane Center’s 11 p.m. advisory, but forecasters say Earl should become the first hurricane of the 2016 Atlantic season before landfall.

Everything you need to know about the 2016 hurricane season. 

rb0-lalo

The tropical storm is moving west at about 16 mph with a minimum central pressure at 996 mb, both of which remain the same as the previous advisory. However, a hurricane warning is now in effect for Puerto Costa Maya, Mexico, southward to the Belize-Guatemala border.

Forecasters expect some decrease in forward speed in the next two days, with Earl’s core predicted to pass just north of the Honduras Bay Islands Wednesday afternoon. Tropical storm conditions are expected to reach the coast of Honduras overnight, reaching parts of Mexico Wednesday night or early Thursday.

Rain totals of 8 to 12 inches, with up to 16 inches in spots, are forecast for parts of Belize, Honduras, Guatemala and the Yucatan peninsula.

Update 8 p.m.: Tropical Storm Earl remains on a westward path at about 16 mph, but the National Hurricane Center says Earl’s top sustained winds are now at 60 mph, with more strengthening expected.

Earl’s minimum central pressure has dropped to 996 mb, and tropical storm warnings are now in effect for Punta Allen, Mexico, southweard to the Belize-Guatemala border, as well as for Cabo Gracias a Dios westward to the Honduras-Guatemala border.

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Update 5 p.m.: The National Hurricane Center says Tropical Storm Earl has slowed its forward speed to 16 mph, which could allow it to strengthen over the super warm waters of the Caribbean.

Maximum sustained winds are near 50 mph, with higher gusts, and the minimum central pressure is 1002 mb.

Earl could be near hurricane-strength as it approaches Belize and the Yucatan Peninsula early Thursday. Tropical-storm force winds extend outward up to 90 miles.

Some images from Jamaica have begun to hit social media.

Update 2 p.m.: Tropical Storm Earl is up to 50 mph winds as it speeds toward the Yucatan Peninsula at 22 mph.

The system’s minimum central pressure is a modest 1002 mb, but hurricane center forecasters said it could intensify to near hurricane strength by the time it reaches the coast late tomorrow.

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Honduras could begin feeling tropical storm conditions tonight as winds extend up to 80 miles from the center of the storm.

Everything you need to know about the 2016 hurricane season. 

Hurricane conditions could begin in Mexico and Belize Wednesday night, according to the 2 p.m. public advisory from the hurricane center.

A hurricane watch is in effect for the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula from Punta Allen, Mexico to south of the Belize and Guatemalan border. A hurricane watch means that hurricane conditions are possible within the watch area. It is typically issued 48 hours before the anticipated beginning of tropical storm force winds.

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Rainfall seems to be the biggest concern with Earl. Accumulations of up to 12 inches are expected over portions of Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, and the Yucatan Peninsula. Isolated amounts of rain could total 16 inches.

“These rains could result in life-threatening flash floods and mud slides,” forecasters wrote.

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Previous story: 

The first advisory for Tropical Storm Earl – the 5th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season – was issued just before noon by the National Hurricane Center.

Earl is packing 45 mph winds as it moves west at 22 mph. The storm is about 215 miles south-southeast of Grand Cayman.

The storm is no threat to the U.S., but Caribbean island nations, Belize, Hondurans and Mexico have issued watches and warnings as the system approaches.

Hurricane center forecasters said the storm is entering an area where wind shear will weaken, allowing it to increase in intensity.

They said Earl could be near hurricane strength by the time it approaches Yucatan Peninsula.

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Previous story: The National Hurricane Center has posted a special alert saying it will begin initiating advisories on Tropical Storm Earl before noon.

An Air Force Hurricane Hunter has been investigating the storm this morning and relaying information back that must show a closed circulation has developed.

All you need to know about the 2016 hurricane season. 

Earl is the 5th named storm of the 2016 hurricane season. The Atlantic basin had been incredibly quiet for a month before this tropical wave popped up last week.

AccuWeather forecasters said the fast forward pace of the storm – about 23 mph – won’t give it enough time to ramp up into a hurricane before making landfall near the Yucatan Peninsula tomorrow.

Check The Palm Beach Post radar map.

rb_lalo-animated

Previous story: 

A strong tropical wave packing tropical cyclone-strength winds continues its swift trek west in the Caribbean Sea, but lacks the closed surface circulation that would make it the 5th named storm of the year.

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As of 8 a.m., National Hurricane Center forecasters said the system was about 150 miles south-southwest of Kinston, Jamaica and moving west at about 20 mph. It is expected to reach the Cayman Islands later today as environmental conditions become more accommodating for its development.

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The system is producing winds of 40 to 45 mph.

An Air Force Hurricane Hunter crew is on its way to investigate the system this morning. A flight Monday had to turnaround because of minor fuel line problems.

“Regardless of tropical cyclone formation, the wave is already producing winds of 40 to 45 mph, and these conditions along with heavy rains will likely continue over portions of Jamaica this morning, and will spread over the Cayman Islands later today,” forecasters wrote.

At least six people were killed in the Dominican Republic last night as heavy rains and strong winds associated with the tropical wave pounded the island, according to the Associated Press.

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Power lines that were knocked down by the storm started a fire that killed six people on a bus returning from a trip to the beach. At least 12 other people on board were injured, the AP reported.

AccuWeather forecasters said Monday they expect this storm, which would be named Earl if it gained tropical storm status, to become a strong tropical storm or even a hurricane.

People in Central America are eager to learn more this morning after the reconnaissance flight.

Some people commenting on social media are frustrated with what they see as a lack of action on the part of the National Hurricane Center. The center has not issued any warnings or watches for the Caribbean, which is protocol when the storm has not been named.

While the storm is being directly blamed for six deaths, there may be more as the day progresses.

For all 2016 Hurricane Season news go here. 

“Conditions from the system may have also caused a tour boat to overturn near the Samana Peninsula on Sunday,” an AP story said. “Authorities recovered the bodies of three people and said four others were still missing.”

Military spokesman Arsenio Maldonado said a small craft advisory was in effect at the time but a cause of the incident has not yet been determined.

The Jamaican Meteorological Service issued a tropical warning Monday night.

In the 8 a.m. discussion, forecasters note that people living in the western Caribbean should listen to local meteorologists and emergency managers for warnings.

Areas of Honduras, Belize, and the Yucatan Peninsula are of special concern.

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Hurricane Center hopes to thwart maritime disasters like El Faro

The National Hurricane Center is hoping to thwart maritime disasters such as the 2015 sinking of the cargo ship El Faro by training with the cruise and cargo shipping industries on storm forecasting during severe weather events.

Center Director Rick Knabb said meteorologists met with representatives from both groups and the U.S. Coast Guard in May to discuss how the center can better get the most timely forecasts to people responsible for routing ships at sea.

Knabb mentioned the effort during a congressional hearing of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard, when asked about the ongoing federal investigation into the El Faro sinking. The 737-foot ship went down near the Bahamas in Hurricane Joaquin, killing all 33 crew members.

National Transportation Board photo of El Faro on bottom of sea floor.
National Transportation Board photo of El Faro on bottom of sea floor.

“We are just as concerned about saving lives at sea as we are saving lives on land,” Knabb said. “We have our tropical analysis and forecast branch doing forecasting for the offshore waters and high seas over millions of square miles 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

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The NTSB is launching a mission this month JULYto recover the data voice recorder from El Faro, which is sitting in 15,000 feet of water near Crooked Island in the Bahamas.

But El Faro wasn’t the only ship to get caught in a storm in the past year. Royal Caribbean’s 1,100-foot Anthem of the Seas luxury liner was rocked by a powerful low pressure system in February that rolled up the eastern seaboard.

Anthem of the Seas
Anthem of the Seas

The company initially called the storm unexpected, but meteorologists had predicted hurricane-force gales. Royal Caribbean later apologized, saying the incident “identified gaps” in its planning system.

Passengers filed multiple lawsuits in federal court following what one plaintiff described as “hours of sheer terror” where cruise-goers experienced a “reasonable fear of death.”

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New Jersey passenger Frank DeLuca said in his lawsuit that the fear was amplified by the knowledge of what happened to El Faro.

Photo provided in the DeLuca lawsuit to Anthem of the Seas.
Photo provided in the DeLuca lawsuit to Anthem of the Seas.

“Just months after one of the worst maritime tragedies in recent history, (Royal Caribbean’s) knowing, intentional and reckless conduct subjects it to the imposition of punitive damages,” the lawsuit states.

Knabb said he was surprised to learn that some of the decisions on how to route ships during voyages are made by decision makers on land interpreting National Hurricane Center forecasts or other weather predictions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.

“We are trying to understand the entire landscape and meet our partners’ needs as best we can by getting together in person to do training and exercises just like we do with our land-based emergency managers,” Knabb said. “We learn from one another through mock scenarios so that when the real thing happens, everyone makes the best decision.”

The Cruise Lines International Association said in a statement that several companies participated in the April meeting with the National Hurricane Center.

Hurricane Joaquin on Sept. 30, 2016 at 11:45 a.m. Credits: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team
Hurricane Joaquin on Sept. 30, 2016 at 11:45 a.m. Credits: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team

“The industry has and will continue to have a relationship with the National Hurricane Center,” the statement said.

TOTE Maritime, which owned El Faro, didn’t respond to a question about whether representatives attended the NHC meeting, but did send the following statement:

“Our goal throughout the investigation is to learn everything possible about the loss of our crew and vessel. Out of respect for our seafarers and for every seafarer here and around the world, it is critical that we understand what contributed to this accident.”

In May, executives of the California- based company Applied Weather Technology, which provided forecast information to El Faro, were grilled at U.S. Coast Guard hearings about the timeliness of forecasts the ship received, specifically on Sept. 30, when Tropical Storm Joaquin grew to hurricane force.

El-Faro-photo

According to the testimony of AWT executives Jerry Hale and Rich Brown, a forecast sent to El Faro in the early hours of Sept. 30 did not include an updated graphic track for the storm. The wind and wave information, however, were updated and correct with each release.

But because of a normal three-hour delay between when the National Hurricane Center gathers the information and releases it, subsequent delays at AWT for processing and a mistake that led to the same track forecast going out twice, El Faro didn’t get an accurate storm track until 21 hours after information was originally gathered.

“For some reason, an anomaly that we have not reproduced or identified — the tropical storm file was not updated,” Hale said in a Wednesday hearing. “What went out was the tropical text file from the previous outlook.”

A report last year compiled for the Cruise Lines International Association found just 12 incidents of storm or wave damage to cruise ships between 2009 and 2014.

But that included one high profile brush between 2012’s Hurricane Sandy and the cruise ship Disney Fantasy.

“There was a moment in the night where the ship tilted so far to the right that the furniture moved across our room,” said passenger David Evans in a CNN iReport about the incident. “If you think about how far a 13th story ship has to tilt for furniture to move, it says a lot.”

Hurricane Sandy was also responsible for sinking a replica of the 1787 Royal Naval sailing ship the Bounty, which went down off the coast of Cape Hatteras, N.C. on Oct. 29, 2012.

A replica of the Bounty went down off the coast of North Carolina in Hurricane Sandy. Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
A replica of the Bounty went down off the coast of North Carolina in Hurricane Sandy. Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard

A National Transportation Safety Board report blamed Bounty Capt. Robin Walbridge for the sinking, saying his “reckless decision to sail the vessel into the well-forecasted path of Hurricane Sandy, subjected the aging vessel and the inexperienced crew to conditions from which the vessel could not recover.”

Two people died on the Bounty, including Walbridge, whose body was never found.

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Watch spotted eagle rays swim into deep blue oblivion after release

Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium scientists are hoping to learn more about the lives and times of spotted eagle rays who call the Gulf of Mexico home.

On Tuesday, they released two of the beautiful marine creatures off Longboat Key after fitting them with acoustic tags in an effort find out their population status, reproduction cycles and life history in the first comprehensive spotted eagle ray conservation project in the Gulf.

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The project, which launched in 2009, has so far found that spotted eagle rays in the Sarasota area either say in the area or return after periods of months to years. Scientists believe some eagle ray pups are born in late summer and early fall and the rays move or migrate to other locations in winter months when waters in the Gulf cool.

The two rays released Tuesday included a 57-pound male and a 77-pound female.

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“While spotted eagle rays are protected in Florida, they are not protected under federal laws and international protections are limited,” Mote said in a press release. “These rays are harvested in Mexico and Cuba as food, and this fishing pressure, combined with their extremely low reproductive rate, makes them a vulnerable species.”

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Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium releases
Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium releases two spotted eagle rays after fitting them with acoustic tracking tags. Photo courtesy Mote Marine
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Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium releases two spotted eagle rays after fitting them with acoustic tracking tags. Photo courtesy Mote Marine

Dangerous beach conditions for Palm Beach County

The National Weather Service has issued a coastal hazard message for high rip currents along Palm Beach County’s coast through Wednesday morning.

Northeast winds of up to 23 mph are expected with higher gusts as an area of high pressure sits across the eastern U.S. and a developing low pressure system continues to track up the eastern seaboard.

A small craft advisory is also in effect for the Atlantic waters for waves of between five and nine feet with the highest seas in the Gulf Stream. The low pressure system is creating a northerly swell of two to four feet.

Water vapor image of low off Outer Banks helping to create rip currents for Palm Beach County.
Water vapor image of low off Outer Banks helping to create rip currents for Palm Beach County.

 

Waterspouts possible today as South Florida rainy season nears

The rainy season typically starts near mid-May in South Florida and it looks to be right on schedule if this week’s forecast holds true.

The National Weather Service in Miami  is expecting rain to begin in earnest tomorrow, with a 70 percent chance of showers as an east-southeasterly wind pulls warm, tropical air north.

That wind pattern, in addition to the boundary of a clockwise churning high-pressure system along the coast, is also kicking up the chances for waterspouts, said Larry Kelly, a meteorologist with the NWS in Miami.

Water spout Sunday, July 28, 2013 off Boynton Beach. Jennifer Nelson/Contributed
Water spout Sunday, July 28, 2013 off Boynton Beach. Jennifer Nelson/Contributed

“We’ve had a few showers off the coast that we were watching and the potential is there for waterspouts,” Kelly said. “There could be a cell out there that generates one. Boaters should just exercise caution.”

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The winds are also going to increase humidity today with dew points expected to reach into the low 70s.

Today, the chances for rain are 20 percent, increasing to 40 percent tonight. Forecasters note that precipitable water – the measure of the depth of water that would result at the surface if all water vapor in an air column were to fall as rain – is 1.75 inches.

But most of that is expected to fall more in the interior of the state as sea breezes from each coast collide.

Rain has been sparse this spring with just 0.76 inches falling at Palm Beach International Airport this month. In April, just 1.46 inches of rain fell, which is 2.2 inches below normal.

The 2015 rainy season began on May 10, according to the NWS in Miami. That’s about 10 days before normal.

Today’s high is supposed to reach 86 degrees, which is exactly the norm for this time of year.

The overnight low is expected to dip to just 77 degrees, which is six degrees above normal.

“We haven’t officially started rainy season, but it could be any day  now,” Kelly said. “Finally.”

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Landmark hurricane project on back burner after decade with no storms

A landmark hurricane research project that improved forecasts by 20 percent in five years is facing more budget cuts as the federal government seeks to “slow the development” of the program after a decade with no major hurricane landfalls.

In its fiscal year 2017 budget request, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said it plans to reduce its investment in the Hurricane Forecast Improvement Project, which was launched in response to the record storm seasons of 2004 and 2005.

Pensacola—Annette Burton, of Pensacola, feels the winds of Hurricane Ivan, as she visited Wayside Park to see the power of the storm. Staff photo by Greg Lovett
Pensacola—Annette Burton, of Pensacola, feels the winds of Hurricane Ivan, as she visited Wayside Park to see the power of the storm. Staff photo by Greg Lovett

The program was originally given $13 million annually beginning in 2009. That was cut to $4.8 million last year and is expected to be further reduced to $3.8 million as focus turns to a broader array of prediction products that will refine all hazardous weather forecasts, said NOAA spokesman David Miller.

A $2 million reduction has also been requested to forgo future research and development for computing capacity as NOAA “reduces its investment” in the project.

“As noted in our Congressional Justification language, we are proposing to refocus research-to-operations efforts from separate regional and application specific modeling and forecast improvements — such as hurricanes — to an integrated holistic approach,” Miller said. “The benefits gained will affect all forecast products, including hurricanes.”

Before the project, hurricane track forecasts improved on average only a few percent per year with intensity predictions improving a fraction of a percent.

Since 2010 when research began with the project, or HFIP, track and intensity forecasts improved an average of 5 percent per year.

The National Hurricane Center referred calls about HFIP cuts to the National Weather Service, which falls under NOAA.

But in past interviews with The Palm Beach Post, James Franklin, chief of the center’s hurricane specialists unit, stressed the importance of the project and said cuts would negatively affect improvements.

“You go 30 years and no one wants to spend money on hurricane prediction and then you have all the 2004 and 2005 storms,” Franklin said last year in an interview for a story about forecast changes since Hurricane Katrina. “It would be a shame for the progress we are starting to make to be cut back and slow.”

Read the rest of this exclusive story in The Palm Beach Post. 

PUNTA GORDA - Damage from hurricane Charley in the Windmill mobile home community. Staff photo by Richard Graulich
PUNTA GORDA – Damage from hurricane Charley in the Windmill mobile home community. Staff photo by Richard Graulich

Three hurricane names retired after devastating, record-breaking season

The World Meteorological Organization has retired three hurricane names following a 2015 storm season where records were shattered and lives lost.

The three names are Erika, Joaquin and Patricia.

They will be replaced with Elsa, Julian and Pamela when the lists are reissued in 2021, according to a press release from the National Hurricane Center.

National Transportation Board photo of El Faro on bottom of sea floor.
National Transportation Board photo of El Faro on bottom of sea floor. El Faro sunk in 2015’s Hurricane Joaquin.

The WMO reuses hurricane storm names every six years, but removes names if storms have been particularly costly, deadly or if the future use of the name would be “insensitive.”

Read: How storms get their names.

Hurricane Joaquin, a powerful Category 4 storm that spun up in late September, took the lives of 34 people, including 33 crew members of the cargo ship El Faro, which sank during the storm northeast of Crooked Island in the Bahamas.

The storm, which intensified at an unexpected rate, also devastated Crooked Island, Acklins, Long Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador in the central and southeastern Bahamas.

2015's Hurricane Joaquin, Oct. 1.
2015’s Hurricane Joaquin, Oct. 1.

Once forecast to be a Category 1 hurricane with Palm Beach County in its path, Erika fizzled in the Florida Straits.

But it sent torrential rains down on the Caribbean island of Dominica where more than a foot of rain fell. The storm was directly responsible for 30 deaths there, according to the hurricane center. In Haiti, one person died during a mud slide.

Hurricane Patricia, a late October storm, had winds that were measured at 215 mph. The Pacific Ocean hurricane was well beyond the magnitude of a Category 5 storm. It was the strongest, most intense, hurricane on record, beating even 2005’s Hurricane Wilma for intensity.

Six lists of names are used on a rotating basis. 

Hurricane Patricia's winds reached 215 mph, the strongest on record.
Hurricane Patricia’s winds reached 215 mph, the strongest on record.

In just 24 hours, Patricia’s winds had ramped up from a modest Category 1 storm to 207 mph — a “remarkable” intensification no one had predicted, and a nightmare scenario for meteorologists entrusted with saving lives.

Patricia is the 13th name to be removed from the eastern North Pacific list. Erika and Joaquin are the 79th and 80th storm names to be removed from the Atlantic list.

Small boats warned to exercise caution Sunday as seas swelled

South Florida mariners awoke Sunday to an ocean simmering with a peril that cowed more than one experienced captain.

Light morning winds were forecast to veer east, blowing at sustained speeds of up to 23 mph. Seas were pushed to 6 feet and marked by steep troughs and peaky crests. A swift north current sped under it all.

How much that bluster is responsible for the deaths of three people, including a 9-year-old boy and his father, a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputy, is now part of the investigation into what happened in the deep blue water miles east of the St. Lucie Inlet Sunday.

Reports from a lone survivor found washed ashore south of the inlet on Monday are that the 24-foot black Sea Ray that carried the four on an ill-fated fishing trip sank around 9 a.m. after taking on water near the stern.

“They went fishing at 8 a.m. yesterday morning, got outside to 80 feet of water and the boat swamped immediately,” said Martin County Sheriff William Snyder. “They clung to the boat for a period of time and one by one were not able to stay with the boat and drowned.”

Martin County Sheriff William Snyder holds a press conference at Stuart Beach after three bodies and one survivor were found nearby from a boating accident on April 11, 2016. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)
Martin County Sheriff William Snyder holds a press conference at Stuart Beach after three bodies and one survivor were found nearby from a boating accident on April 11, 2016. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

The National Weather Service in Melbourne had issued a caution for small vessels on Sunday, an alert triggered when sustained winds are forecast to be 17 to 23 mph and seas are expected to reach 4 to 6 feet.

The caution is a lower warning level than an advisory, which is issued when winds are forecast to reach speeds of more than 23 mph and seas swell to between 5 and 7 feet.

Still, David Knight, captain of a 65-foot charter fishing boat in Stuart, cancelled a trip he had scheduled for Sunday after reading the forecast. While his Lady Stuart I, at more than twice the length of the Sea Ray, can handle itself when caution alerts are issued, he doesn’t take it out when east winds are forecast to blow more than 20 mph.

“We don’t like to punish our customers,” Knight said. “With an east wind, it has time to gather energy, and the potential to build pretty big seas.”

While the worst of the weather was not expected until late morning or early afternoon as warming temperatures bolstered winds, many boaters decided early Sunday not to venture into the Atlantic’s watery wilderness.

Boaters at Sandsprit Park, the public boating ramp where the victims left Sunday morning in their 24-footer, said weather conditions were bad enough to keep them from going out of the inlet.

“The east wind was blowing 20 knots. The waves on the ocean had to be at least 5 feet. I wasn’t going out there,” said Vincent Sabia, who was trailering in his boat Monday.

Like the Jupiter Inlet, taking boats in and out of the St. Lucie is a challenge. Especially on crowded weekends, boaters need to be experienced, said Jonathan Earhart, a captain with Chaos Fishing Adventures in Stuart.

“Even with my 40-footer, those conditions can be tough,” Earhart said.

The National Weather Service doesn’t define what a “small craft” is, saying in an explanation of a “small craft advisory” that “any vessel that may be adversely affected by small craft advisory criteria should be considered a small craft.”

“To me, 64 feet and under is a small craft,” said Knight. “I got up at 5:30 in the morning Sunday, looked at the forecast, went outside, and made my decision not to go out.”

Robert Stewart, the survivor of the boat incident off St. Lucie Inlet, is taken to Martin Memorial Hospital. (Courtesy Martin County Sheriff’s Office)
Robert Stewart, the survivor of the boat incident off St. Lucie Inlet, is taken to Martin Memorial Hospital. (Courtesy Martin County Sheriff’s Office)