BREAKING: 2018 hurricane forecast amended with new prediction

Flagler Drive is raked by wind, rain and water from the Intracoastal Waterway in West Palm Beach Sunday afternoon, September 10, 2017 as winds from Hurricane Irma rake the county. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

Confidence that 2018 will experience a below normal hurricane season increased substantially this week as global forces align to temper tropical activity.

An updated forecast released Thursday by the federal Climate Prediction Center is now calling for a 60 percent chance of a less active storm season, a hefty jump from a May forecast that predicted only a 25 percent probability of below normal activity.

Gerry Bell, the center’s lead seasonal hurricane forecaster, said the growing likelihood that a storm-thwarting El Nino will form in the fall combined with tropical Atlantic water temperatures that are the coldest since the 1990s were key factors in making the new prediction.

The forecast comes as Florida enters the peak of hurricane season between mid-August through October when 95 percent of hurricanes form. Already four named storms  – Alberto, Beryl, Chris and Debby – have spun up this season. Beryl and Chris both mustered hurricane strength.

As of Thursday afternoon, Tropical Storm Debby was still churning harmlessly in the northern Atlantic.

And hurricane experts warned Thursday there will be more storms.

“It’s not dead,” said Stanley Goldenberg, a meteorologist with the Hurricane Research Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Storms can pop up quickly and we do expect more storms.”

STORM 2018: Hurricane Central

An average hurricane season has 12 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes.

RELATED: Will a hurricane be named after you this season? 

The hyperactive 2017 storm season produced 17 named storms, 10 hurricanes and six major hurricanes.

Bell said when the May forecast was released the chances an El Nino would form were only 45 percent.

An update this week puts the odds of an El Nino forming in the fall at 65 percent and up to 70 percent of a winter El Nino that could last into 2019. Bell compared this season to 2015, which had 11 named storms and 4 hurricanes.

“Please remember the hurricane seasonal outlooks are a general guide and do not predict landfalling storms,” Bell said. “Whether or not a storm strikes land is determined by the weather patterns in place when the storm approaches and those are generally not predictable until five to seven days in advance.”

Earth was put on an El Niño watch in June, but it’s not officially declared present until ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific are more than 1 degree above normal and are expected to maintain that temperature for six months.

After that, it can take 30 to 60 days for the atmosphere to respond.

The onset of El Niño occurs in tandem with the relaxation of the trade winds — those Earth-skimming easterlies that have guided sailing ships across the world’s oceans for centuries.

With the trade winds reduced, warm water that has piled up in the western Pacific Ocean and around Indonesia rushes back toward the east. That movement of warm water shifts rainfall patterns and the formation of deep tropical thunderstorms. The exploding storms whose cloud tops can touch the jet stream disrupt upper air patterns so winds come more out of the west.

The west winds create shear in the Atlantic, which can be deadly to budding hurricanes.

“The main message should be that no matter what this or any other prediction says that people must treat this like the peak of hurricane season and be prepared,” Goldenberg said. “Remember, 1992 was overall a very slow year.”

Category 5 Hurricane Andrew – the first named storm of the 1992 season – devastated areas of South Florida when made landfall Aug. 24.

At least 20 research groups, private companies and universities churn out annual hurricane forecasts, including the University of Arizona, The Weather Co. and Pennsylvania State University’s Earth System Science Center.

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Climatology shows the hurricane season typically peaks in mid-August through October.

JUST IN: Thunderstorm triggers weather advisory for east-central Palm Beach County

A significant weather advisory has been issued for areas in east-central Palm Beach County as forecasters track a strong thunderstorm near Royal Palm Beach and moving south at 10 mph.

The advisory is in effect until 4:45 p.m.

It includes West Palm Beach, Boynton Beach, Wellington, Greenacres Royal Palm Beach, Palm Springs and Atlantis.

Dime-size hail and winds up to 45 mph are possible with this storm.

VIDEO: Lightning scares the bejesus out of Florida officer

An Apopka policeman got the quite the scare Tuesday when a lightning strike hit too close to home and had him scurrying into his police car.

He did the right thing. A car with a metal roof is an appropriate place to take shelter if you can’t reach a building.

But the video captured by an Apopka Police Department camera shows the shock – no pun intended – the officer had when lightning hit nearby, knocking out electricity and lighting up the back of the parking lot like the Fourth of July.

The department notes on its Facebook page that the officer was unharmed in the incident.

 

A lightning strike near the Apopka Police Department took an officer by surprise in this screen grab from a surveillance camera.

Florida lightning death occurs 10 years to day after similar strike on same island

Lightning strikes south of Belvedere Road near I-95 in West Palm Beach on July 9, 2009. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

A lightning strike that is believed to have killed a man on Siesta Key on Sunday occurred 10 years to the day after a similar strike on the barrier island took down a fisherman, who ultimately survived his injury.

The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office said this morning that 33-year-old James W. Barton died Sunday after an emergency call came in at about 2:15 p.m. that a person was struck by lightning on the beach.

An initial death investigation said beach lifeguards and first-responders tried to help Barton, who was from Seffner, Fla., but he was pronounced dead at the hospital.

RELATED: Lightning kills randomly, know myth from fact

Ten years earlier on June 24, fisherman Eric Troyer, then 28, was fishing near Midnight Pass beach when a jogger saw him struck by lightning. According to a 2008 article in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, the jogger pulled Troyer from the water and gave him CPR. Doctors lowered Troyer’s body temperature hoping to prevent brain damage. According to the article, Troyer was expected to make a full recovery.

John Jensenius, a lightning expert with the National Weather Service, said Barton’s death was the fourth in Florida this year, including a Lake Worth woman, and a landscaper struck in Margate who died after a June 11 lightning strike.

On average, about 5 people are killed each year in Florida in lightning-related incidents, Jensenius said.

Related: Summer lightning and golf in South Florida

“With four deaths in Florida already, certainly the death toll is above average given where we are in the season,” Jensenius said. “When you are at four and the average is 4.7, that’s pretty high for this point in the year.”

Jensenius said July averages the highest number of lightning-related deaths each year nationwide.

Jensenius said one challenge to educating people about lightning is the enduring myth that holding something metal attracts lightning.

“It has nothing to do with what you are holding, it has simply to do with the fact that you are outside,” Jensenius said. “There is simply no place outside that is safe in a thunderstorm.”

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JUST IN: Man struck by lightning as storms rage along coast

UPDATE 1 p.m.: Flood advisory issued for east and central Palm Beach County.

The advisory, which is in effect until 3 p.m., warns that heavy rains could cause minor flooding in areas with poor drainage.

Cities included in the advisory are West Palm Beach, Wellington, Boynton Beach, Lake Worth and Greenacres.

 

UPDATE 12:52 p.m.: A man was struck by lightning in Margate during today’s thunderstorms that are pummeling South Florida’s coast.

WPLG Channel 10 reports the man, who was taken to Broward Health North, is a landscaper.

Lightning over West Palm Beach today as thunderstorms torment coastal South Florida. Photo by Allen Eyestone

UPDATE 12:30 p.m.: West Palm Beach has been added to a significant weather advisory for strong thunderstorms extending along a line from the Port of Palm Beach into Broward County.

UPDATE 11:56 a.m.: A significant weather advisory has been issued for areas of southern Palm Beach County, including Boca Raton, as storms cling to the coast from West Palm Beach into Broward County.

Nickel-size hail and winds topping 45 mph are possible with these storms.

The advisory is in effect until 12:30 p.m.

A water spout Tuesday morning, July 7, 2015, off the coast of Manalapan. (Photo by Bruce Miller/The Palm Beach Post)

Previous story: The National Weather Service in Miami is warning of a moderate threat for waterspouts today with light wind shear loading the atmosphere for potential spin ups.

Meteorologist Robert Garcia said several pilots off of Palm Beach County called in Sunday to report waterspouts as they were landing at or leaving Palm Beach International Airport.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more activity today,” Garcia said. “Normally you want some wind shear, but not a lot of it, and some light winds that could allow them to spin up.”

RELATED: Clearing up the confusion of weather warnings 

Also, lapse rates, where the surface air warms and then rapidly cools as it rises into the atmosphere, are expected to be favorable for waterspouts.

The temperatures at about 18,000 feet is just 14 to 16 degrees (-9 to -10 Celsius), which could instigate thunderstorms this afternoon.

“Any convection that gets high enough into that colder air could become strong,” Garcia said. “We are already seeing decent lightning activity for a storm southeast of Miami.”

Check The Palm Beach Post radar map.

Multiple waterspouts were spotted in the Florida Keys last week.

Florida remains under the influence of an area of low pressure over the central and norther areas of the Peninsula. The cyclonic (counter clockwise) flow of the low pressure means it is sucking in tropical moisture that will likely interact with the state’s Atlantic and Gulf Coast sea breezes today to create thunderstorms.

Garcia expects most of the storms to remain over the interior of the state, but light southeast winds at the surface make the storms a little unpredictable.

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The NWS morning discussion notes that showers could “propagate in random directions as outflow boundaries collide.” An outflow boundary is the rush of rain-cooled air that runs in front of a storm.

Temperatures should be about normal for this time of year with daytime peaks in the high 80s and overnight lows in the mid 70s.

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VIDEO: Thunderstorms rock Palm Beach County, more expected today

South Florida’s afternoon thunderstorms have been robust this week, with Tuesday’s atmospheric performance pelting parts of Palm Beach County with hail and sending down wind gusts of up to 60 mph.

With cooler air filtering in aloft, there is an increased concern this afternoon for strong winds that burst down from thunderstorms, and small hail.

The continued west-southwest winds will limit Atlantic sea breeze development until early afternoon, so the storms are expected to pop up at about the same time, or a little sooner, than they did Tuesday.

According to the National Weather Service in Miami a trained spotter reported pea-size hail at the intersection of Jog Road and Lantana Road at about 7:30 Tuesday night, while a wind gust of 48 mph was recorded by a WeatherBug station at John Prince Park.

At least one resident questioned whether a tornado touched down near Greenacres, while another compared the storm to September’s Hurricane Irma.

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More thunderstorms are expected today with the afternoon sea breeze flowing in from the west and an outflow boundary from storminess north of South Florida.

Yesterday’s storms included some hefty rainfall amounts, including 1.54 inches in Jupiter, .66 inches in Boynton Beach and .46 inches in Lake Worth.

The National Weather Service said winds in Boynton Beach knocked over a fence and blew a gazebo down with winds estimated at 60 mph on radar.

Check The Palm Beach Post radar map.

This one is from May 20, but too beautiful not to include.

Florida is unique nationwide because the sea breeze invades the peninsula from both coasts, sometimes colliding in the center like armies meeting in battle.

“The challenge for our day to day summer forecasting is determining where the sea breeze will be and which one will be more dominant, the Atlantic or the Gulf,” said Robert Molleda, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Miami, during a 2016 interview. “Determining which is more dominant dictates where storms will form.”

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That’s important because Florida is the thunderstorm capital of the United States, according to the Florida Climate Center.

In a slice of the state that includes Palm Beach County, an average of 80 days per year include thunderstorm activity.

A region in the center of the state west of Lake Okeechobee has the highest number of thunderstorm days at 100 — a tally that the climate center likens to areas of the world that max out on thunderstorms, such as the Lake Victoria region of equatorial Africa and the middle of the Amazon basin.

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UPDATE: Western Palm Beach County animal rescue flooded out as possible tropical system brews

The Barky Pines Animal Rescue and Sanctuary in western Palm Beach County is up to 3-feet underwater and struggling to find temporary homes for its 35 dogs, 40 chickens, 24 ducks and assorted pigs, goats and cows.

Elizabeth Accomando, who founded the sanctuary two years ago, said she’s been unable to get help to drain her property because it’s in unincorporated Palm Beach County and not under the management of a local flood control district.

She is trying to find temporary homes for her animals, but it’s hard to get in or out of her property because of flooded roads.

“I have chihuahuas that will drown if I don’t shuttle them to high ground so they can go to the bathroom,” she said. “I’m afraid with the pending rain this weekend, that we will be completely submerged.”

Elizabeth Accomando, founder of Barky Pines Animal Rescue and Sanctuary in Loxahatchee said most of her 6-acre property is underwater.
Elizabeth Accomando, founder of Barky Pines Animal Rescue and Sanctuary in Loxahatchee said most of her 6-acre property is underwater.

Previous story: The National Hurricane Center is giving an area of cloudiness and showers in the Gulf of Mexico a 20 percent chance of developing into something tropical within the next five days.

While conditions are not favorable for development in the short term, hurricane center forecasters said something could begin to grow later this week when the system moves into the central or eastern Gulf of Mexico.

RELATED: The Palm Beach Post has your 2018 hurricane season news and prep lists  here.

This is the second time the center has had to issue a special Tropical Weather Outlook on a potential system this month ahead of the official June 1 start date of hurricane season.

The first disturbance’s tropical hopes fizzled last week, but brought widespread heavy rain to South Florida.

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Forecasters have been watching the Caribbean for potential development for days, but the models have differed on the timing and strength of what may come.

“The area from the western Caribbean to the Gulf of Mexico and near Florida is where to watch for early-season tropical development,” said Accuweather long-range meteorologist Paul Pastelok.

If the disturbance does form into a tropical storm, it would be named Alberto.

For the past three years, tropical systems have formed before the June 1 start date of hurricane season. Tropical Storm Arlene formed in April 2017. In 2016, Hurricane Alex formed in January, followed by Tropical Storm Bonnie spinning up in May. Tropical Storm Ana formed in May 2015.

Record rainfall piled up Sunday in South Florida, with another soggy week ahead and more tropical moisture moving in for Memorial Day weekend.

A whopping 5.27 inches of rain fell Sunday in Fort Lauderdale, trouncing the previous record of 4.86 inches set in 2013.

For the past seven days, up to 10 inches of rain fell in central and western Palm Beach County with upwards of 7 inches at the coast.

Wellington got more than 4 inches of rain Saturday into Sunday, with village officials assuring residents all pumps were running at full capacity.

While forecasters have backed off predictions for another round of massive rain today, they are expecting an additional 2 inches through Wednesday with locally higher amounts.

“Guidance continues to suggest a relative lull (or more of a return to normal rainy season) Tuesday and Wednesday before deep tropical moisture and the threat for heavy rain returns ahead of the start of the holiday weekend,” National Weather Service meteorologists wrote in a morning discussion.

Rain chances stay high through Wednesday when they drop down to 30 percent.

Thursday through Sunday “holds quite a bit of uncertainty,” forecasters said. Models differ on when heavier rain will return – Thursday or closer to the weekend –  although there is some agreement that a disturbance forming in the Gulf of Mexico may work its way east. The timing, location, and strength of the disturbance is still unclear.

“Regardless of which model is right, it appears rain chances will be on the increase again by Friday at the latest,” forecasters said this morning. “Unless a fast, northeastward moving disturbance can clear the area and bring drier air in behind it by the middle of the holiday weekend, it appears showers will remain likely throughout.”

Forecast rain amounts through Thursday morning.

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Money for South Florida flood control shorted, report says

The budget for repairing South Florida’s aging flood control structures is short tens of millions of dollars each year, potentially putting homes at risk during extreme rainfall, according to an inspector general’s report.

A year-long review of the South Florida Water Management District’s operations and maintenance program found the annual allotment set aside for repairs to levees, canals and water control structures should be about $88.5 million, while the actual budget averages only $53 million.

STORMS: The Palm Beach Post’s hurricane page has everything you need to know about the upcoming season.

District officials agree the repair budget needs to be bolstered, but not by as much as what is indicated in the report, which they say is based on a facilities survey conducted three years ago that is outdated.

“That particular number of $88.5 million is based on old information,” said John Mitnik, chief engineer for the South Florida Water Management District. “I try and avoid giving a specific number because the idea is you need to continue to add funding to the program each year over the next several years.”

RELATED: Could Hurricane Harvey flooding happen in Palm Beach County?

A message left at the inspector general’s office was not returned Friday.

The report’s findings were to be presented Thursday during a meeting of the district’s influential Water Resources Analysis Coalition, or WRAC, at the request of the coalition’s chairman.

But in a surprise speech handwritten on a yellow legal pad, Jim Moran said his request was overruled and the item yanked from the public meeting. Moran, of Boynton Beach, then promptly resigned as chairman — a post he had held for four years.

South Florida Water Management District board member Jim Moran resigned as chairman of the Water Resources Analysis Coalition on Thursday after complaining an agenda item he had requested was removed from discussion. His speech and resignation announcement were hand written on legal pad paper. (Palm Beach Post)

The 56-page audit, which is a public record, was presented during an April meeting of the district’s Audit and Finance Committee, where officials were given a chance to respond to 13 recommendations in the report.

It will be reviewed by the full governing board at its Thursday meeting.

RELATED: This man knew rains could be deadly…and he was right.

While the district agreed with several of the recommendations…READ the full story at MyPalmBeachPost.com and find out more about the shakeup in leadership of one of the most powerful organizations in South Florida. 

Water flows over the spillway at the Saint Lucie Lock and Dam in Martin County on Tuesday, July 23, 2013. The Army Corps of Engineers structure was built for flood and flow control through the St. Lucie Canal and management of the water level in Lake Okeechobee. Water levels in Lake Okeechobee are at the highest levels in recent years. (Thomas Cordy/The Palm Beach Post)

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Potential for funnel clouds, significant weather advisory for Palm Beach County

The National Weather Service has issued a significant weather advisory for eastern Palm Beach County with gusty showers creating the potential for funnel clouds.

The advisory is in effect until 9:45 a.m.

Areas affected include West Palm Beach, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach, Wellington, Palm Beach, Juno Beach, Ocean Ridge, Greenacres, Royal Palm Beach and Lantana.

Forecasters said gusty showers along a line from the Port of Palm Beach to Lake Worth were moving west at 20 mph.

UPDATE: Planet-hunting satellite launch delayed

UPDATE 4:25 p.m.: Space X has canceled its launch today, hoping to try for a Wednesday launch window.

Previous story: A planet-hunting satellite is scheduled to launch tonight from Cape Canaveral aboard a Space X Falcon 9 rocket.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, is scheduled for liftoff at 6:32 p.m. with a 30-second launch window. A backup launch window opens Tuesday at 6:13 p.m.

On its two-year mission, TESS will look for planets smaller than Earth all the way to gas giants. It will do this by monitoring more than 200,000 bright host stars.

Regular dips in the brightness of stars could indicate orbiting planets.

The launch will be webcast on the SpaceX website and NASA TV.

Space X will attempt to land the first stage of the rocket on the “Of course I still love you” drone ship offshore.

The second drone ship is named “Just read the instructions.” The names were chosen by SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk to honor the sci-fi author Iain M. Banks. 

Space X drone ship “Just read the instructions.”

Meteorologists with the U.S. Air Force 45th Space Wing predict an 80 percent chance of favorable weather for liftoff.

Today, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center is hosting several events to be broadcast live on NASA TV. View the TESS Briefings and Events page for the full list of event participants.

Worlds orbiting other stars are called exoplanets.

Thousands of exoplanets have already been discovered. In 2016, NASA developed a unique way to introduce some of them to the public with an whimsical vacation-planning guide.

Described as being similar to Luke Skywalker’s Tatooine, this planet orbits a pair of stars.
This so-called “rogue planet” doesn’t orbit a parent sun. Artists envisioned a place “Where the nightlife never ends.”

The wonders of space can be difficult for people to grasp because it sometimes comes across as just data, said Joby Harris, a visual strategist with NASA during a 2016 interview.

“Our universe has gotten so much bigger but people aren’t talking about it,” Harris said. “The power of imagery with science really makes the connection with people.”

An artist’s rendition of NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS.