94L a threat to the Lesser Antilles; Gordon a hurricane; Helene hits Mexico
A large tropical wave that emerged from the coast of Africa Thursday night (Invest 94L) is located a few hundred miles southwest of the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Africa, and is headed west at 15 - 20 mph. This storm is a threat to develop into a tropical storm that will affect the Lesser Antilles Islands as early as Wednesday. The storm is under moderate wind shear of 10 - 20 knots, and is over waters of 27.5°C. A large area of dry air lies just to the north of 94L, as seen on the latest Saharan Air Layer (SAL) analysis. This morning's 8:15 am EDT ASCAT pass caught the east side of 94L, and showed a partial surface circulation. Satellite images show just a modest amount of heavy thunderstorm activity, and I expect the earliest that 94L could develop into a tropical depression would be Sunday.
Figure 1. Morning satellite image of Invest 94L.
Forecast for 94L
The latest 8 am EDT run of the SHIPS model predicts that wind shear will be low, 5 - 10 knots, and ocean temperatures will gradually warm from 27.5°C to 28.5°C over the next four days, as 94L tracks westwards towards the Lesser Antilles. As is typical with storms making the crossing from Africa to the Antilles, dry air to the north will likely interfere with development. However, with shear expected to be low, dry air may be less of an issue for 94L than it was for Ernesto or TD 7. The storm should maintain a nearly due west track through Monday night, to a point near 50°W, about 700 miles east of the Lesser Antilles. At that point, a trough of low pressure passing to the north of 94L may be able to pull the storm more to the northwest, as suggested by the latest 06Z (2 am EDT) run of the NOGAPS model, and by three members of the GFS model ensemble forecast (Figure 2.) However, the models have been trending more towards a solution where this trough is not strong enough to influence 94L's path. This scenario will be more likely if 94L takes its time to develop, since a weaker storm will be smaller and shallower, and less likely to respond to the trough passing to the north. Our two best performing models, the GFS and ECMFW, both take 94L through the Lesser Antilles. The ECMWF, which predicts that 94L will stay weak and not develop, is faster, bringing the storm through the Lesser Antilles on Wednesday. The GFS model is slower, bringing 94L to the Lesser Antilles on Thursday as a hurricane. The models have shown poor run-to-run consistency in both the timing and the track of 94L, so it is difficult to assess which land areas might be most at risk, and when. A database of historical probabilities of storms in the same location as 94L maintained by Dr. Bob Hart of Florida State University reveals that historically, 45% of storms in this location have eventually hit land, with Canada (13% chance) and North Carolina (15% chance) the most likely targets. In their 8 am EDT Tropical Weather Outlook, NHC gave 94L a 40% chance of developing into a tropical depression by Monday morning.
Figure 2. The 00Z (8 pm EDT) run of the GFS model from August 17, 2012, was done 20 different times at low resolution using slightly different initial conditions to generate an ensemble of forecasts (pink lines.) The high-resolution operational GFS forecast is shown in white.
Gordon becomes a hurricane
Hurricane warnings are flying for the central and eastern Azores Islands as Hurricane Gordon heads eastwards at 18 mph. Gordon became the third hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season at 5 am Saturday morning, and is sporting an impressive-looking eye on visible satellite loops. Gordon should be able to maintain hurricane status until Sunday, when wind shear will rise steeply to 30 - 40 knots, and ocean temperatures will drop to 25°C. The combined effects of high wind shear, dry air, and cooler waters will likely act to weaken Gordon to a strong tropical storm by the time it arrives in the Azores Islands Sunday night, but the storm will be strong enough to bring damaging winds and heavy rain to the Azores Islands. Gordon is not a threat to any other land areas, and the extratropical remnants of Gordon will not bring any strong winds or significant rain to Europe. The last time the Azores were affected by a tropical storm was in 2009, when Tropical Storm Grace brought 65 mph winds on October 4. No significant damage was reported. Ironically, the last hurricane to affect the Azores was the 2006 version of Hurricane Gordon, which caused minor damage in the Azores, consisting of mostly fallen trees and power outages. However, after Gordon became an extratropical low, four injuries due to falling debris from high wind were reported in Spain, and Gordon brought high winds and rain that affected practice rounds at the Ryder Cup golf tournament in Ireland. About 126,000 homes were without power after the storm in Northern Ireland and one injury was reported.
Figure 3. Morning satellite image of Hurricane Gordon.
Helene makes landfall in Mexico
Tropical Storm Helene made landfall near 10 am EDT as a tropical storm near Tampico, Mexico, with 40 mph winds. Helene's formation on August 17 ties 2012 with 1933 for the 2nd earliest appearance of the Atlantic's eighth tropical storm. Helene's rains should remain south of Texas, but moisture from Helene may feed into a stalled frontal system over the northern Gulf of Mexico and bring heavy rains to the northern Gulf Coast early next week.
I'll have a new post this afternoon, giving a quick global weather summary for July, the 4th hottest July in Earth's history.