KATIA is Number Eleven

State and local emergency management agencies with support from FEMA are busy carrying out response and damage assessment activities in countless communities from South Carolina to Maine impacted by tropical cyclone IRENE, while in other communities in Virgina and Maryland others are still quantifying damages caused by the  5.8 magnitude earthquake that hit near Richmond, Virgina one week ago.

Satellite image for the aviation industry showing most of the Atlantic basin on 30 August 2011

Initial reports regarding IRENE show 40 deaths, millions without power, and at least $7.0 billion in structural damages to buildings and infrastructure, marking the eleventh time so far in 2011 that the USA has had damage from a natural hazards reaching $1.0 billion or more.

Map showing location near Richmond, Virginia where more than 20 earthquakes have hit since 23 August 2011 when there was a 5.8 magnitude shock

I don’t have the most recent information on damage caused by the magnitude 5.8 earthquake that hit near Richmond, Virginia on 23 August 2011, but data from the USGS shows twenty new earthquakes including a 4.3 and a 4.8 magnitude shocks, have hit the same location within a few kilometers of each other over the last seven days. While most of these earthquakes have been minor, they have all been rather shallow with epicenters occurring at depths ranging from 7.2 km to 0.1 km, which makes them more damaging than deep seismic shocks.

Impacts by these recent hazards and others that have hit numerous communities around the country since January 1 illustrate the high vulnerability of the USA to a wide range of natural hazards, hence the need to be prepared and to practice MITIGATION.

While initial response efforts in the many communities  impacted by IRENE continue, and recovery activities begin to get under way, we are reminded that it is what we do on a continuous basis BEFORE there is any impact by a natural hazard, which gives us the best chance of reducing the potential for damage to buildings and infrastructure and for protecting life, property and the various functions of human activity. This is what we call the practice of MITIGATION!

Color-enhanced infrared GOES satellite image showing Tropical Storm KATIA and prevailing weather patterns over the Atlantic Basin on 30 August 2011

Being in the midst of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season we will also do well to remain alert, be prepared and pay attention at what is constantly happening in the tropics in the Atlantic basin at-large or in any of the sub-basins such as the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. Today on 30 August 2011 we see the eleventh-named tropical cyclone of the season, Tropical Storm KATIA, active and moving west by northwest in ‘hurricane alley’. which is showing signs of getting better organized and with a good chance of developing further perhaps even becoming a hurricane within the next 24-48 hours, as the system enters a more favorable environment of warmer surface waters and low wind shear in the atmosphere. Concurrently there is also a large cell of disturbed, stormy weather in the northwestern Caribbean between Honduras, Cuba and the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico that is showing some potential for further development.

Projected track for Tropical Storm KATIA developed by the U.S. Navy Research Laboratory based on data from NOAA

As we monitor KATIA and other potential cyclones in the Atlantic and Caribbean, and ponder the tremendous challenge ahead for so many impacted by IRENE and recent earthquakes and other natural hazards, we are concerned to have learned that funding the necessary recovery efforts may become new political ammunition in our already ultra-polarized U.S. Congress, where some are threatening to hold disaster recovery funds hostage in the name of ‘fiscal responsibility’ and ‘balancing the budget’. We will have to wait and see if cooler more pragmatic heads prevail over political ideology-driven minds.

Ten and Counting! It is still August

Think back to 1992; it was 17 August when ANDREW the first-named tropical cyclone of the season was generated from a tropical depression, which had activated about half-way through Hurricane Alley some 1,000 km to the southwest of the Cape Verde islands.

Water-vapor satellite image showing tropical storm IRENE impacting the northeastern USA and eastern Canada on 28 August 2011

Flash forward to the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season! It is Sunday 28 August and at the same time that IRENE, the first hurricane of the season now degraded to tropical storm strength, ravages the northeastern USA and eastern Canada with 100+ kph winds and huge amounts of rain, tropical storm JOSE had activated to the south of Bermuda.

Color-enhanced infrared satellite image showing tropical storm IRENE and newly generated tropical storm JOSE on 28 August 2011

Now we are up to 10 named Atlantic tropical cyclones in 2011 and it is still August. The last time there were ten tropical cyclones before the end of August in the Atlantic basin it  was in 2005, when we saw a historical season of 28 named storms and we had to use the letters of the Greek alphabet to name the last six storms. The next previous season we had had ten named tropical cyclones before the end of August in the Atlantic was in 1995 when tropical storm JERRY spawned north of Cuba near the western Bahamas and made landfall in Florida on 23 August. The 1995 Atlantic hurricane season ended with a total of 19 named tropical cyclones; quite an active season, and one which in the consensus of most scientists marked the start of a multi-decadal period of increased tropical cyclone activity in the Atlantic basin that continues today 17 years later. [ if you are interested in seeing complete records of past annual Atlantic hurricane seasons please visit: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/pastall.shtml#tracks_all ]

What does it all mean for us? Will 2011 be a record-breaking type season such as the one in 2005 or still an above-average-but-not-as-active, similar to the 1995 Atlantic hurricane season? NOAA’S Climate Prediction  Center [ for more on NOAA’s  2011 Atlantic season prediction, go to: http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2011/20110519_atlantichurricaneoutlook.html ] estimated we will see as many as 18 named storms generating in the Atlantic basin in 2011, which means we are already 56% there with about 51% of the official 2011 season still left to go. Speaking strictly in statistical terms it would appear there is a  a slightly higher than average chance that we may have at least a 1995-type season reaching the 18 total named storms predicted by NOAA for the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season.

Satellite image for the aviation industry showing a large tropical wave just south of the Cape Verde islands over the warm waters of the eastern Atlantic, moving west toward hurricane alley, on 28 August 2011

Looking toward the east we see a couple of larger tropical waves to the west and southwest of the Cape Verde islands, and also a couple of minor waves over equatorial Africa. However it is interesting to note that, at least for now, the amount of tropical activity we have seen over equatorial Africa over the past few weeks appears to have subsided considerably, and the same can be noted about the western ranges of the northern Indian ocean.

Consequently, intuitively at least, it would appear there are a couple of cells of disturbed weather currently over the eastern Atlantic that may see cyclonic development in the next few days, but beyond that the tropical wave assembly lineis rather empty for now. Also, there are no good candidates

Mosaic of water-vapor satellite images showing the northern tropics from the eastern Pacific to the Indian ocean on 28 August 2011

for seeds of future tropical cyclone in any of the sub-basins at least for now. We will have to wait and see what weather patterns may evolve over the next few days, which may construct a favorable environment for potential tropical cyclone development anywhere in the Atlantic basin leading into the first days of September. Keeping in mind that September has historically been the most active month for cyclogenesis in the Atlantic basin, it is entirely possible we could see significant cyclonic activity over the next few weeks. We will have to wait and see.