Abnormal Tides

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19 Sep to 12 Oct 2017 Water levels from Bermuda Esso Pier, St. George’s Island. Verified water level observations in green, preliminary water level observations in red. Forecast water level due to the predicted astronomical tide in blue. Water level is with respect to mean higher high water, where positive values indicate normally dry land is inundated. Alternative reference water level marks are on the right.

Over the weekend, the combination of the spring tide and a high amplitude ocean eddy resulted in localized coastal flooding around low-lying areas of Bermuda. Tides were running around 1.5 ft above expected levels which were already higher than normal thanks to a spring tide.

The role of the Astronomical Tides:

The astronomical tides are driven primarily by the gravitational effects of the Moon on the ocean. When the Moon is directly overhead, the water rises in response to the Moon’s gravitational pull. When the Moon is directly underfoot, the water rises again to balance the pull of the Moon on the opposite side of the Earth.

During “Spring” tides, the gravitational pull of the Sun on the oceans acts in the same direction as that from the Moon. This results in higher than normal tides and tidal ranges. Conversely, during “Neap” tides, the gravitational pull of the Sun is acting perpendicular to that of the Moon and lower than normal tides and tidal ranges can be expected. Looking at the blue line in the above figure, higher tides associated with the Spring tide can be seen around the 20th September and again last weekend, while lower tides associated with Neap tide can be seen around the 28th September.

Additionally, the Sun and Moon have to be aligned in space for their gravitational pull to act in the same direction. This manifests as a New Moon when the Moon is between the Sun and the Earth, and a Full Moon when the Earth is in between the Sun and the Moon. Both New and Full moon are associated with Spring tides. The Lunar cycle (including one Full and one New Moon) repeats roughly every 29 days and so you can expect a Spring tide a little more than every fortnight.

[More on Spring and Neap Tides]

Finally, the Moon follows an elliptical orbit around the Earth and so is closer or further away twice per orbit. Every ~7.5 Spring tides, the moon reaches its closest distance to Earth during a New or Full Moon. When the Moon is closer to Earth (perigee), the tides are slightly higher than normal. The opposite is true for when the Moon is furthest from Earth (apogee). Tides during last weekend’s Spring tide were higher than the 20th September’s Spring tide because the Moon was near/at perigee last weekend, and not during the 20th September.

The role of Ocean Eddies:

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Sea surface height anomalies showing a positive anomaly greater than 30 cm near Bermuda (circled in black). This was associated with an anticyclonic eddy that intensified as it tracked southwestward toward Bermuda over the last two months.

Ever present in the ocean, eddies can manifest as regions of higher (positive) or lower (negative) sea surface height anomalies. The flow around these sea surface height anomalies is often close to balanced and so they can persist for a long time as they track across the ocean surface. These anomalies are typically small, less than 30 cm.

Typical flow around a positive sea surface height anomaly is clockwise (anticyclonic), and counter-clockwise (cyclonic) for a negative sea surface height anomaly in the northern hemisphere.

Over the weekend, a positive sea surface height anomaly associated with an anticyclonic eddy was tracking near Bermuda with amplitude estimated to be more than 30 cm (1 ft) via satellite measurements. Coinciding with the spring tide and Lunar perigee, this resulted in abnormally high water levels and some coastal inundation.

See some media mention of the tides here: Royal Gazette; Bernews (1); Bernews (2)

With sea level rise associated with climate change, it is reasonable to expect this mostly nuisance level of inundating events to occur more frequently as water level anomalies don’t have to be as extreme for flooding to occur.

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Hurricane Maria

The peak of the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane season continues to be active. Another major hurricane has had significant impacts in the Eastern Caribbean. Hurricane MARIA made landfall in Dominica on Monday evening as a category five hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 160 mph, with higher gusts. Winds of this strength are capable of producing catastrophic damage. Early reports from Dominica confirm that widespread wind damage indeed occurred.

In addition to violent winds, tropical cyclones present serious water hazards. Coastal areas are flooded as the ocean is blown onshore, combining with astronomical tides – this is known as a storm tide. This flooding can be accompanied by large battering waves at the immediate shoreline. Furthermore, heavy rains intrinsically linked to tropical cyclones can result in life-threatening flash flooding and mudslides. Both of these hazards also affected land in Dominica.

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Météo-France Radar Imagery from Martinique and Guadelupe‏: Hurricane Maria passing over Dominica 18 UTC 18 Sep – 08 UTC 19 Sep 2017. The purple and blue colors indicate light rain, while the green and yellow colors indicate heavy rain. Source.

At landfall in Dominica, the core of category five hurricane MARIA was small. Hurricane force winds extended at most 30 miles from the center. But the spiral bands, packing torrential rains and damaging tropical storm force winds extended over Martinique and Guadelupe.

The high terrain on Dominica was able to weaken MARIA somewhat as it crossed that island. However, emerging over the high sea surface temperatures of the Caribbean and remaining in a favorable atmospheric environment, MARIA was able to quickly regain strength.

As is common with powerful hurricanes, particularly those that have small cores, an eyewall replacement cycle began on Tuesday evening. This is when spiral bands organize into an outer eyewall structure surrounding the original eyewall. The outer eyewall then intensifies at the expense of the inner eyewall. The inner eyewall eventually dissipates and the outer eyewall contracts. This typically ends with a slightly weaker hurricane with a larger core of violent hurricane force winds.

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National Weather Service Radar Imagery from Puerto Rico as MARIA passes near St. Croix. On the right, the inner eyewall is highlighted in pink, and the outer eyewall in purple. In both images, the lighter rain is in blue and green with heavier rain in yellow and orange colors. Imagery at 0344 UTC 20 Sep 2017.

In the pre-dawn hours of Wednesday morning, the outer eyewall of MARIA was strengthening and the inner eyewall weakening. The resulting broadened core of MARIA was now wide enough to bring the violent hurricane force winds of the outer eyewall to St. Croix of the US Virgin Islands.

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National Weather Service Radar Imagery from Puerto Rico just before the time of landfall in Puerto Rico. Here, light rain is blue and green colors, heavy rain in the yellow and orange colors. Imagery at 0950 UTC 20 Sep 2017. Radar imagery from Puerto Rico ended at this time for reasons related to the hurricane.

The typical progression of the eyewall replacement cycle was interrupted just before completion as MARIA came ashore in Puerto Rico near sunrise Wednesday morning, as a category four hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 155 mph – still capable of producing catastrophic wind damage, coastal flooding, and life-threatening inland flash flooding. Adverse weather spread across all of Puerto Rico through the morning, leaving widespread wind damage and floods.

The much more substantial terrain of Puerto Rico significantly disrupted the core of MARIA, and the hurricane has emerged into the Atlantic and has maximum sustained winds near 115 mph. This remains a dangerous major hurricane.

Remaining in a favorable environment of light wind shear and high sea surface temperatures, MARIA is now re-organizing as it tracks northwestward, offshore of the north coast of Hispaniola. The Turks and Caicos Islands are next at risk of direct impacts from the core of violent winds, while adverse weather extends across the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and the southeastern Bahamas Islands.

[See the latest Forecast Track for MARIA from the NHC]

MARIA is expected to pass near the Turks and Caicos Islands Friday Morning as a major hurricane capable of producing extreme to catastrophic wind damage, coastal flooding, and freshwater flooding. Late on Friday, MARIA is forecast to turn more northwestward, and then northward over the weekend. This takes the track of MARIA away from the Bahamas and the hurricane is expected to track between the US East Coast and Bermuda in the 3-5 day period.

Swells from IRMA, JOSE, and now MARIA have kept rough seas in Bermuda’s marine area for most of September. Bermuda should continue to closely monitor the progress of MARIA as it turns northward in the long range. At the moment, MARIA’s impacts on Bermuda appear to be a continuation of rough and hazardous seas in the marine area while winds may increase into the moderate-strong range as MARIA passes to the west on Tuesday.

Follow official updates from the Bermuda Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center.

Peak of Hurricane Season

 

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Multispectral GOES-East imagery of the tropical Atlantic 5th September 1815 UTC showing Hurricane Irma (center) and Tropical Storm Jose (lower right).

The 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season is in full swing. According to climatology, this time of year typically sees the most tropical cyclone activity. The combination of a peak in sea surface temperatures, minimum in vertical wind shear, and a reduction in the extent of the dry and stable Saharan Air Layer this time of year all factor into why it is often very active.

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GOES-East color enhanced infrared imagery of Hurricane Irma, 5th September 2017 at 1845 UTC.

Hurricane Irma

This morning, Irma continued to strengthen. Near-continuous aircraft missions into the hurricane have found that maximum sustained winds have increased to near 185mph, making Irma a category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale and capable of catastrophic wind damage where the core of the hurricane comes ashore.

[National Hurricane Center Track]

Short Term Forecast: Hurricane Irma is now beginning to turn toward the west-northwest as it tracks around the south side of the deep-layered Bermuda-Azores high. On this track, Irma will pass very near or over several of the Leeward Islands and Puerto Rico where Hurricane Warnings are in effect.

Potentially catastrophic wind damage is possible should the core of Irma’s strongest winds come ashore on any of these islands. However, as hurricane force winds extend up to 60 nautical miles from the center, widespread damaging winds can be expected through the Leeward Islands. Heavy rain could result in life threatening inland flooding, and a significant storm surge is expected to cause dangerous coastal flooding.

[Radar imagery of Irma out of Martinique via Brian McNoldy]

Irma is expected to remain in a very favorable environment with high ocean heat content, low vertical wind shear, and away from mid-level dry air. Irma is therefore expected to remain a very powerful hurricane with intensity mostly being controlled by internal storm structure as it approaches Antigua and Barbuda tonight. Irma will spend most of Wednesday passing through the Leeward Islands and should begin to pull away by Wednesday night.

Hazardous swell from Irma is forecast to reach Bermuda’s southern marine area on Thursday, with 6-10ft seas outside the reef. Otherwise Irma will pass more than 800 miles south of the island during this time.

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Color enhanced infrared imagery of Tropical Storm Jose, 5th September 1845UTC.

Tropical Storm Jose

Over the central Tropical Atlantic, satellite wind measurements have indicated that a tropical disturbance has organized into a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds near 40 mph winds, becoming Tropical Storm Jose.

Short Term Forecast: Jose is pulling west-northwestward out of the central Atlantic, feeling the same steering flow as Irma. The storm is in a mostly favorable environment and a general strengthening trend is expected. However, upper level outflow from Irma could introduce periods of strong vertical wind shear that could hinder strengthening at times. Jose is not a threat to land at this time, but could become a threat to the Leeward Islands over the weekend.

[National Hurricane Center Track]

Follow official updates at the National Hurricane Center, and Bermuda-specific updates at the Bermuda Weather Service.

Emily, A Potential Threat?

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The Bermuda Weather Service Tropical Update Bulletin for this morning’s 6am update: Closest point of approach to Bermuda within 72 hrs (3 days) is forecast to be 236 nm to the NNW, 3 pm Thu, Aug 3, 2017. However, this system may move closer to Bermuda after this time period.

Yesterday morning, Tropical Storm Emily quickly formed in the Gulf of Mexico, just west of Tampa, Florida. The tropical storm made landfall south of Tampa a few hours later with maximum sustained winds near 40 kts. Through Monday evening and overnight, Emily tracked across the Florida peninsula, weakening to a tropical depression and emerged into the southwestern Atlantic early this morning. Tropical Depression Emily is a “Potential Threat” to Bermuda.

What does a “Potential Threat” mean?

PotentialThreatGlossary

This means that the center of a tropical cyclone (e.g. TD Emily) is expected to pass within 400 nautical miles of Bermuda in the next 72 hours. As of the 6am local time update from the National Hurricane Center and Bermuda Weather Service, Emily is expected to pass under 250 nautical miles away from the island on Thursday. It is important to note that these threat designations do not suggest that the tropical cyclone in question will result in adverse weather as it passes.

[See the BWS Glossary]

Another Emily?

Yes. The National Hurricane Center has six lists of names, and a new list is started for each hurricane season. The lists are then used in rotation, so every six years the same list of names is used again. A name is retired from the list is a storm is ‘so deadly or costly that the future use of its name on a different storm would be inappropriate for reasons of sensitivity’.  During the annual meeting by the World Meteorological Organization committee, representatives can suggest the retirement of a name and vote on the replacement name.

‘Emily’ has been a name on the Atlantic name lists since ‘Eloise’ was retired after the 1975 Hurricane Season. There have now been 7 tropical storms or hurricanes with the name ‘Emily’.

[More on Hurricane Names from the NHC]

What can Bermuda expect from Emily 2017?

Short answer: not much. As Emily passes on Thursday, the Bermuda Weather Service expects moderate winds (10-15 kts), slight seas (1-2 feet, inside the reef), and only isolated or scattered showers with a risk for thunder to dampen Emancipation Day, the first day of Cup Match.

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GOES-13 infrared imagery at 1045 UTC (7:45am local time) showing tropical depression Emily (red circle), a stationary front (red and blue line), and Bermuda (cyan circle).

Emily is not expected to change much in strength, possibly re-strengthening to a weak tropical storm at most. Strong vertical wind shear over Emily is allowing deep layered dry air to be entrained from the west. This is limiting the depression’s ability to maintain convection, organize, and strengthen despite being over the very warm waters of the Gulf Stream.

Showers and thunderstorms ahead of the stationary front to the west have already been the theme for Bermuda. Wind gusts reached gale force in and around some of those showers (official peak gust reached 35 kts at the airport yesterday, about the same as wind gusts currently around Emily). While showers and thunderstorms are expected to continue through Friday, high pressure building in from the east may allow dry (and even sunny) spells in between showers.

As Emily interacts with the front over the next 36-48 hours, it is expected to transition to a post-tropical cyclone. Emily is forecast to track northeastwards, along the stationary front over the next five days. The flow ahead of Emily is expected to gradually lift the stationary front away from Bermuda starting late today through her closest approach on Thursday. This allows high pressure to build in from the east, slowly reducing the coverage of shower activity and allowing winds to slacken. Emily then passes Bermuda and the flow behind her swings the front back towards Bermuda, bringing increased chances for showers on Friday morning.

Follow the Bermuda Weather Service and National Hurricane Center for any changes to their forecast.

Saharan Dust South of Bermuda

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Preliminary, Non-operational GOES-16 imagery from RAMMB/CIRA shows a plume of dust several hundred miles south of Bermuda this morning. Over the Sahara Desert across Northern Africa, dust is suspended by strong winds. It’s then transported westwards across the Atlantic around the southern periphery of the Bermuda-Azores high.

The dust is accompanied by a warm dry layer of air above the surface known as the Saharan Air Layer (SAL). This makes the lower atmosphere stable, trapping clouds and moisture in a shallow layer below. It has been shown that this hinders the development of tropical cyclones in the Atlantic as they entrain this dry and stable air and subsequently struggle to maintain deep convection.

Some dust from this plume is expected to reach Bermuda in the coming days. It is not uncommon for decaying dust plumes to reach Bermuda during the summer months. This typically results in hazy skies and sometimes bits of dust can be washed out in any rain showers.

[See NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division for more on SAL]

 

2017 Hurricane Season Begins

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The National Hurricane Center’s climatological progression of tropical cyclone activity as measured by Number of Storms per 100 years. The peak of hurricane season can be seen as from mid-August through mid-October. For more official climatology, see here.

The Atlantic Hurricane Season is each year from the 1st June through the 30th November, with tropical cyclone activity peaking in the first half of September. Over the past three seasons, Bermuda has seen disruptive impacts from four October hurricanes; Fay (2014), Gonzalo (2014), Joaquin (2015), and Nicole (2016).

Early indications suggest that this hurricane season will be more active than normal. On 25th May, the National Hurricane Center released their forecast for the upcoming hurricane season. They expect a near normal or above normal season with 11-17 named storms, with 5-9 storms becoming hurricanes, and 2-4 hurricanes becoming major hurricanes. An average season has 12 named storms, of which 6 become hurricanes and 3 of those hurricanes become major hurricanes.

Factors like the phase of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and Atlantic sea surface temperatures (and many others) in their current and forecast states are used to make educated assessments of whether a season will be more or less active than normal. This year, returning weak El Niño phase may act to limit hurricane activity while warmer than normal Atlantic sea surface temperatures may act to enhance activity: this conflict is one of the reasons that this season’s forecast comes with quite a bit of uncertainty. Should the effects of El Niño not materialize, or should Atlantic sea surface temperatures cool through the season, the final assessment of overall activity could be dramatically different.

On ENSO

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Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies for Aug-Sep-Oct of the 1997 El Niño event. Warmer than normal sea surface temperatures across the central and eastern Pacific are key characteristics of El Niño.
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500 hPa Relative Humidity Anomaly for Aug-Sep-Oct of the 1997 El Niño event. Higher than normal mid-tropospheric relative humidity over the central-eastern Pacific is indicative of enhanced deep convection there. Suppressed convection, indicated by abnormally low relative humidity, is seen over South America and the Maritime Continent in the western Pacific.

The enhanced deep convection over the central and eastern Pacific results in vertical wind shear across the Western Atlantic. Wind shear acts to weaken tropical cyclones by keeping their convection disorganized and allowing dry air into their circulation, suppressing further convection.

[Watch wind shear push deep convection (greens) to the south while the low level swirl (grays) of 2006’s tropical storm Chris continues to the west]

The Atlantic hurricane season peaks in September. We see that for inactive hurricane seasons, there is an El Niño signal across the eastern and central Pacific. But for active hurricane seasons, that signal is more reminiscent of La Niña with cooler than normal sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern Pacific. However, for active seasons, there is the additional ingredient of warmer than normal sea surface temperatures across the tropical Atlantic – deep convection (and therefore supporting tropical cyclone development) there.

[Compare SSTs for Active and Inactive seasons]

It is important to remember that seasonal forecasts make no skillful assessment of where the storms form or track. Just one tropical storm or hurricane can make for a bad season, and so it is important to prepare for each and every season by topping-up supplies and having an emergency plan.

It is important to exercise constant vigilance during hurricane season by regularly checking for updates by the Bermuda Weather Service and National Hurricane Center.

Uncommon May Gale

Gales developed on Friday as a small low pressure passed just under 80 km to the north. This low was one of a series of small-scale low pressure systems that tracked from west to east along a quasi-stationary front near Bermuda last week.

Ahead of Friday’s low, that quasi-stationary front lifted northward across the island with patchy light rain showers on Thursday night. This was accompanied by an increase in temperatures and humidity as southwesterly winds strengthened early Friday morning. Southwesterly winds briefly increased to gale force (sustained >34 kts) with unofficial gusts over 45 kts reported at automated weather observing sites. Winds then dropped off slightly, veering through to northerly as the front moved across Bermuda from west.

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Graph of automated unofficial observations from Pearl Island sensors showing falling pressure and southwesterly winds increasing to gale force before 10am. Then winds drop off, veer to the north and temperature falls between 10am and 11am as the cold front passes. Northerly winds return to gale force after 11am as pressure rises. A similar wind trace was observed at Crescent and in official observations, however, the minimum in winds at Pearl Island was much more dramatic.

Cooler air then blew in as winds veered to the north on renewed gales behind the front. Storm force (>48 kts) gusts were recorded around the island, with a peak official gust of 49 kts at the airport, the second highest official gust observed in May since 1949*. High winds resulted in diverted flights (Royal Gazette/Bernews), delayed start to Relay for Life (Bernews), and several boat incidents (Bernews).

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Bermuda Weather Service Radar at 8:57am local time as the small scale low was passing north of Bermuda. Much of the rainfall is confined to an east-west front about 80 km north of Bermuda, and southwest-northeast oriented cold front about 40 km south of Bermuda.

Very little rain fell from this system. Much of the shower activity was confined to the north of the island (along the front near the centre of the low), and south of the island (along the front). Pressure fell to 1000.7 hPa as the low passed the island, the lowest pressure observed in May since 2007**.

* Only 6th May 1978 had a higher gust at 50 kts, but the record is incomplete prior to 1996.
** This statistic is not recorded prior to August 2006.