Thursday, August 10, 2006

NOT OFF THE HOOK BY A LONGSHOT


By now, you may be wondering, "what happened to hurricane season?" Remember back in May there were dire predictions for another busy year with killer storms roaring ashore - somewhere? So far, we've only had three named storms and the last one to form - Chris, was kind of wimpy, fizzling out before it even got halfway through the Caribbean.

Well, this week, the National Weather Service revised their projections for hurricane season - downward! When I first heard this, I began to scratch my head. I don't want people to get the impression that the season will be light. Its all a cruel numbers game, if you ask me. I've never understood the fascination with guessing how many storms there will be. It doesn't matter if there are 15 or 20 hurricanes, if none of them hits land. Conversely, if there are only three storms and they devastate the East coast and the Gulf, which is a worse scenario? The poster child for this argument is the year 1992; the year of Andrew. A year that had only six storms, four of which became hurricanes.

Don't worry, things are just warming up - literally. Imagine, if you will a pot of water placed on a stove. You turn the burner on full blast and the water immediately starts boiling, right? Not quite - didn't your mama ever tell you that a watched pot never boils? Rather, it takes a while to get the churning of water and steam, what we scientists call convection to begin. Once it stops, it will keep going, maybe even overflow the pot until you turn off the burner. But even after you shut off the heat, bubbles and steam percolate.

Well, the ocean (the earth is 75% water) is like that pot and the sun is the burner. Its true, sea-surface temperatures in the Atlantic, the primary breeding ground for storms are not as warm as they were in 2005. That may be why we haven't seen a lot of storms come off the coast of Africa - yet. Also, surface pressures in the Atlantic are fairly high and you need low pressure to allow storms to form. Something similar is going on in the Gulf Of Mexico. Last year, storms exploded due to not only warm water there, but deep warm water. This year, temperatures are nothing to write home about.

However, as the title of the blog intimates, we're not going to get off easy as we head into the heart of the season. Sure, we may not have to brush off our Greek like we did in 2005. Remember, we ran out of names last year and had to do the "alpha, beta" thing. The season peaks from mid August to mid October. Historically, this is when some of the meanest storms of the year spawned. Anyone remember Hugo, Opal, Ivan?

Like a lot of things in life, its not where you start, but where you end up.

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