Tag Archives: Honduras

The Eastern North Pacific: It is boiling out there!

The Sun above will soon reach the limit of the northern tropics marking the advent of summer 2012 in the northern hemisphere, and the ocean-atmosphere below are already showing the results of all the additional solar energy being absorbed by way of large areas of disturbed weather, storms, increased rain, warmer sea surface waters, and other signs that the heat exchange process is actively underway.

Three ocean basins in particular, have been showing increased signs of weather instability as we approach the change in seasons, the central/northeastern Indian Ocean, the Northwestern Pacific, and of more interest to us in Florida because of its proximity: the Easter North Pacific basin.

In a pattern that has become prevalent over the past 2-3 years, the region ranging from northern South America, mainly Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador to Panama, Central America, Southern Mexico and a vast expanse of the eastern Pacific Ocean adjacent to these coastlines, has seen a nearly continuous transit of tropical waves coming in from the Atlantic, and the generation of tropical waves and cells of disturbed weather over Pacific Ocean waters offshore Central America and southern Mexico. In 2012 this pattern of tropical activity became noticeable toward the end of March and even more so in April and May, and it has already generated tropical storm Aletta that was active from 14 May through the 19th, and major hurricane Cat. 3 Bud from 21 May through the 26th of the  same month.

Satellite image of 26 May 2012 showing some of the tropical activity that has been prevalent in the Eastern North Pacific sub-basin over the past couple of months and for the last 3+ years around this time of the year
Another satellite image of the same region shown on the image to the left except 17 days later on 11 June 2012 showing a couple of tropical waves with potential for further development

So far during the month of June 2012 the Eastern North Pacific basin appears to have entered a new phase of even higher activity. Sea surface waters in some areas of the basin have been above 30 degrees Celsius, tropical wave generation has been abundant leading to numerous instances of extreme rain and thunderstorms events in Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Southern Mexico, with some flash flooding events as well. As of 11 June there were two areas of disturbed weather to the west of Nicaragua and Guatemala that exhibited some potentially cyclonic characteristics warranting close monitoring.

Map of sea surface temperatures based on satellite observations on 5 June 2012 showing a large region of waters at or above 30 Celsius off the coast Sea surface temperature,Typhoon Guchol, Philippines,Taiwan,Asia monsoon,Tropical storm Alberto, Tropical storm Beryl,Caribbean,Tropical wave assembly line,Hurricane alley,CAPE of southern Mexico and Central America

Elsewhere in the northern tropics, tropical storm GUCHOL in the northwestern Pacific is moving west by northwest in the general direction of the Philippines and Taiwan, and the Indian ocean, the Indian subcontinent and southeast Asia have been experiencing large amounts of rain as the onset of the Asia Monsoon takes hold of that vast region.

Satellite image of 12 June 2012 showing the Eastern Atlantic sub-basin and the western part of Equatorial Africa where some minor disturbances and tropical waves are active

The Atlantic basin has been a different story in 2012. On the one hand the 2012 Atlantic Hurricane Season got an early start when trow tropical storm Alberto and Beryl developed to the west of central Florida and southeast of Georgia, with Beryl actually moving westward and coming over land before veering northward and eventually making a full 180 degree turn toward the northeast. Since then the overall basin has been rather quiet with respect to tropical cyclone activity, although the Gulf and the northern Caribbean have seen plenty of disturbed, stormy weather over the course of several weeks. Looking farther east toward the eastern Atlantic and equatorial Africa the combined tropical wave assembly line – hurricane alley have remain mostly quiet despite sporadic flare-ups of storm cells overland and along the ‘alley’.  It should be noted that the northern Atlantic’s surface waters remain much cooler than in previous years at this time, with a rather large region extending well south of the Cape Verde Islands where sea surface temperatures are in the low to mid 20 Celsius; this can be observed in the image below:

Satellite image based map of sea surface temperatures for the north Atlantic on 11 June 2012 showing much cooler temperatures than in previous years around the same dates


13 June 2012: Latest News

GOES satellite image for the aviation industry in the morning of 14 June 2012 showing Tropical Storm CARLOTA near the coast of Southern Mexico

Quite interesting! Just as I was about to publish this brief post the National Hurricane Center issued an advisory for this sub-basin indicating tropical storm CARLOTTA, the 3rd named storm of the eastern Pacific 2012 hurricane season, has developed near the coast of southern Mexico. There are now two active tropical cyclones in the larger Pacific Ocean basin!

Mosaic of satellite images showing the North Pacific Ocean basin on 14 June 2012 where two tropical cyclones GUCHOL and CARLOTA are currently active

Also in the Eastern North Pacific sub-basin, there is an area of low pressure to the west of Tropical Storm CARLOTTA’s current location that may warrant close monitoring as it exhibits some characteristics that might lead to further development.

15 June 2012: Latest News

GOES satellite image of tropical storm CARLOTTA as it neared hurricane strength in the early morning hours of 15 June 2012 off the Pacific coast of southern Mexico

CARLOTTA is now a category 1 hurricane moving northwest with maximum sustained winds of 130 kph near the Pacific coast of Mexico. Per the latest discussion emanating from the National Hurricane Center a Hurricane Hunter airplane was in route to get a fix on the latest intensity and tracking data, but based on previous advisories CARLOTTA appears to be continuing to intensify, while its track has shifted closer to the Mexican coast where it might make landfall some time in the morning of Saturday 16 June. Various atmospheric features are at play to the north and west of the system’s current location, which may alter its course over the next 24-36 hours. This is definitely one to monitor closely by all communities along the Mexican Pacific coastal region.

RINA: A Complex Environment

Infrared GOES satellite image of Hurricane RINA in the early morning of 27 October 2011 also showing the remnants of a tropical wave in the Caribbean, now a large cell of stormy weather near the Nicaragua-Honduras border

It is now 8:00 a.m. EST on Thursday 27 October 2011. Early data from the GOES satellite and hurricane-hunter aircraft is that Hurricane Rina has continued to weaken during the night, a trend that started some 24 hours ago, as it feels the effects of wind shear resulting from its clash with a ridge of high pressure over the Gulf of Mexico, a rather dry atmosphere to the west and north of its path and the early effects of a cold front now moving south and east over the southern USA. Early reports from National Hurricane Center forecasters are that this tropical cyclone is barely a hurricane, with surface winds estimated at 110 kph. Visual clues empirically confirm what the data are telling us, the overall size of the system is perhaps half of what it was just 48 hours ago, the perimeter has a jagged appearance as wind shear is taking its toll, the eye is not readily discernible, and the outflow from the top of the storm is almost absent: all of these are signs of a weakening system.

GOES satellite image of Hurricane RINA on 27 October 2011 in the morning showing water vapor in the atmosphere to help illustrate the adverse environment around this storm, whcih has contributed to its recent weakening

RINA has shifted its track as it continues its progressive turn toward the north, and it is now moving northwest by north at 10 kph. At this rate and direction the storm appears headed for an impact over the general area of Playa del Carmen – Cozumel-Cancun, in the state of Quintana Roo in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula during the night tonight.

Regarding RINA’s track it is important to note that consensus among the various forecast models is now in closer agreement than we have had over the past couple of days. Most models are now forecasting the cyclone will come overland in the northeastern region of the Yucatan Peninsula, then exit over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico and under the effects of a high pressure system and cold front pushing south over the Gulf, start a ‘hairpin’ turn toward the east and then southeast by this weekend or early this coming week. This projected track appears to bring RINA back into the Caribbean or Cuba in 4 to 5 days from now. While this scenario reflects the consensus of  most model it should however be noted that at least two of the models project RINA will track over the Florida Straits or even the Florida Keys and extreme southeastern Florida around 5 days from now. This projected track is illustrated below:

Projected track for Hurricane RINA as of 27 October 2011 developed by the Navy Research Laboratory of the United States

In considering what this projected track might mean for various interests around the Caribbean sub-basin and in Florida, the main questions becomes: what will happen to RINA intensity-wise as it follows such convoluted path in 4 or 5 days from today? As a weakening system, which is projected to continue weakening, will RINA survive as a tropical cyclone in 4  or 5 days. From previous discussions we have seen that if predicting the track to be followed by a tropical cyclone is difficult, it is even more difficult to predict what the intensity of a storm may be 2 to 3 days hence, and extremely more so when we are talking about 4 or 5 days from today. The general thinking has RINA decaying to tropical storm strength as it interacts with land over Quintana Roo and continues to sustain the effects of the various external factors already mentioned here. What will happen as RINA re-emerges over waters in the Gulf of Mexico? Given the adverse environment that will prevail over that region over the next several days it appears unlikely the storm would regain strength at that time, consequently we might be might see only the remnants of RINA making the hairpin turn in the projected track 4 – 5 days from now.

What does it all mean for communities in the path of RINA, such as vulnerable communities in the coastal region of Quintana Roo, Mexico? What about Tulum, Xel-Ha, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, Puerto Morelos, Cancun, Isla Mujeres and the numerous resorts along the so-called ‘Riviera Maya’? My recommendation to all those communities that will suffer, in varied measure, the impact of RINA, is do not let your guard down and be deceived by a weakening storm. Winds of 100-120 kilometers per hour, possibly gusting to 140-150 kph can be quite damaging generating considerable flying debris, with the potential for causing injury or even death as well as damage to buildings and structures. Storm surge and superimposed waves have the capacity of exerting tremendously strong impact loads on buildings and infrastructure in the coastal region in addition to causing severe beach erosion. From communications with contacts in Quintana Roo I know for a fact that Civil Protection authorities have activated emergency plans, which include evacuation of tourists from coastal resorts. Civil protection  authorities in Quintana Roo have an excellent record of proactively activating emergency plans, convening emergency committees at the municipal level, and of protecting the lives of visitors and residents alike from the impacts of tropical cyclones their state suffers with some frequency because of its geographic location.

Satellite image with superimposed wind analysis on 27 October 2011 developed by the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies of the University of Wisconsin in Madison

What else is happening in the Caribbean or elsewhere in the larger Atlantic basin? For starters, the tropical wave of low-pressure that was active in the southeastern Caribbean and moving westward has become disorganized, and it shows low to no probability for further development. This system has been moving at a rather fast clip of 20 – 25 kph and it is now a large cell of disturbed weather, with plenty of thunderstorm activity and heavy precipitation, located to the east of the Nicaragua/Honduras border and continuing to move generally westward at approximately 20 kph. What is interesting about this system has been its fast  pace of forward movement especially when compared to the rather slow pace at which RINA has been moving, which raised a remote potential for some interaction between both systems. An interesting question would be, if the remnants of RINA as it recurves back into the Caribbean and those of this other system, may not generate some sequel should they happen to interact in the future? Relative to this, it wouldn’t be the first time we see the remnants of a system in the Caribbean interact with another and be re-energized to become something totally new, even a new tropical cyclone.

Satellite image on 27 October 2011 showing water vapor in the atmosphere over most of the tropical North Atlantic basin

Farther east other than a couple of areas of rain over ‘hurricane alley’ and the eastern Atlantic there is nothing, for now at least, showing potential for cyclonic development. Tropical waves over equatorial Africa continue to develop, and although such activity has shifted southward toward the equator there is still some potential for any one of these waves to emerge over the eastern Atlantic and head toward the Caribbean. So, as I always say: pay attention! Be prepared!! MITIGATE!!!