Unusual March Cold

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GOES-East RGB imagery showing a cold front just east of Bermuda with trailing cloudiness spreading over the island on the 3rd March at 14:45UTC. This front was responsible for bringing yesterday’s very cold weather.

On the 3rd of March a cold front pushed across the Western Atlantic and reached Bermuda in the morning. It brought an unremarkable amount of rain (0.67″ at the Bermuda Weather Service) and a sharp wind shift from west-southwest to north-northwest. This northwesterly flow continued through the weekend bringing in continental polar air originating over Northern Ontario and Quebec. This same airmass was responsible for record cold air across the Northeastern United States.

Cold air filtering over the waters of the Western Atlantic resulted in widespread ocean-effect shower activity. These showers began to reach Bermuda on Saturday night and intensified during the day on Sunday afternoon with some of the heavier showers containing small hail. Rain-cooled air in the downdraughts of these showers helped keep and nudge temperatures down through the day. In fact, a new record low was set for the 5th by early-morning and Bermuda stayed below the previous record for much of the afternoon and overnight, bottoming out at 47.7°F. This passes the previous record for the 5th of 52.0°F set in 1978. Meanwhile, near-gale force winds occasionally reaching gale force around those showers helped make it feel even colder.

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Temperatures 3rd March through the 5th March meteorological days. We see the sharp drop in temperature on the 3rd associated with showers along the cold front, followed by a slow and steady decrease in temperatures on the 4th. Temperature fluctuations dominate on the 5th as widespread showers move in with rain-cooled downdraughts. Temperature data from Bermuda Weather Service.

How unusual was Sunday’s cold weather?

Yesterday’s high temperature only reached 56.1°F, this is the second coldest March high temperature on record (since 1949), only surpassed by 19th March 1967 when the high was 56°F*. This was also the coldest high temperature of any day since 55.4°F on the 15th January 2000.

The average temperature for the day (as the max + min divided by two)** was 51.9F, making it the coldest March day on record since 1949 beating 52°F in 1979 and 1951. This was the lowest average temperature of any day since 25th January 2003 with a mean temperature of 51.6°F. Incidentally, this mean temperature is also lower than the former record low for the day.

The low temperature of 47.7°F was the 7th coldest March temperature on record. It was the coldest March low since 2001 when it hit 45.6°F on the 7th of March, and the coldest day of any month since a low of 47.1°F on 27th February 2006.

Essentially, yesterday was about as cold as it gets in Bermuda in March – and it has only been a few degrees colder a handful of times on any day in the period of record. Bermuda should see a gradual return to near seasonal averages as high pressure builds in from the west and the northerly flow weakens begins to veer, becoming easterly by Wednesday morning.

Follow the Bermuda Weather Service to track the warm-up over the next few days and for the latest official forecast, observations, and warnings.

Table of ranked low temperatures as measured for the meteorological day 0600UTC to 0600UTC at the airport.

1 11-Mar-1951 45.0°F
2 7-Mar-2001 45.6°F
3 10-Mar-1951 46.0°F
12-Mar-1991 46.0°F
4 19-Mar-1979 47.0°F
5 8-Mar-1999 47.1°F
6 9-Mar-1999 47.3°F
6-Mar-2001 47.3°F
7 5-Mar-2017 47.7°F
8 21-Mar-1979 48.0°F
17-Mar-1981 48.0°F
16-Mar-1988 48.0°F
11-Mar-1991 48.0°F
25-Mar-2009 48.0°F
* Observations made prior to 1995 were made to the nearest 1°F, nearest 0.1°F after 1995.
**Daily averaged temperatures are impacted by the above uncertainty. Rounding to the nearest 1°F yields a mean of 52.0°F, tying the record. Additionally, a recent method change results in a daily averaged temperature of 52.2°F for yesterday which is the second coldest March temperature, but isn’t comparable to the majority of the period of record.

Hurricane Nicole Post Storm Report Released

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NASA Terra/MODIS True Color satellite imagery of Hurricane Nicole near the time of closest point of approach 13 Oct 2016.

After each season, the National Hurricane Center prepares ‘post-storm reports’ on each tropical cyclone that formed in the North Atlantic and Eastern Pacific basins. These reports include data collected in real-time that may not have been available during operational analysis, and therefore can sometimes lead to revision of track or intensity. This was the case for 2014’s Hurricane Fay.

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Time trace of wind gusts (red ‘x’) and wind directions (green ‘triangles’) from the airport reproduced from the NHC report. We see the sharp decrease in wind gusts and sharp wind shift as the calm eye of Nicole crossed.

Today, the National Hurricane Center released its report on 2016’s Hurricane Nicole. Their analysis on observations from Bermuda suggest that widespread category one conditions occurred on the island with isolated areas seeing category two conditions. Aircraft reconnaissance measurements near the time of closest point of approach to Bermuda indicate that Nicole was still a category three hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 105 kts (120 mph). The island received impacts from the left-front quadrant of Nicole’s eyewall, missing these strongest winds (located in the right-front quadrant) and thus this was classified as a strike.

[strike, direct-hit, indirect-hitlandfall – Impact Terminology Defined]

Hurricanes are centers of extreme low pressure. Winds spiral inwards, towards centers of low pressure and in the northern hemisphere, this manifests as a counter-clockwise circulation.  Observations from Bermuda indicated that winds backed (turned counter-clockwise with time) from an easterly direction to a northerly, and then northwesterly direction suggesting that the center of circulation remained to east of the island and therefore did not make landfall, despite Bermuda entering the calm eye of the hurricane.

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Bermuda SRI Radar imagery showing steady and heavy rain rates persisting over Bermuda (red ‘+’) for hours before the drier eye and southwestern quadrant passed over the island. Reproduced from the NHC report.

Nicole’s impacts on Bermuda were also remarkable in that the hurricane made for one of the top-5 wettest meteorological days on record at the airport, and the Bermuda Weather Service was able to release a weather balloon in the eye that measured the highest precipitable water here since 1973 at 2.93″.

[What is Precipitable Water?]

Notable for an erratic early track and meteorological evolution (including two periods of rapid intensification), Hurricane Nicole will go down in the record books as the fourth early-October hurricane impact on Bermuda in three years. Once Nicole passed Bermuda, the cyclone underwent a complex transition into a powerful extratropical cyclone in the North Atlantic where it continued to produce storm force winds for several days.

Current Weather:

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Wind measurements at the Crescent, in the northern marine area via Bermuda Weather Service. Note peak in winds just before 9am 16 Feb 2017(sustained, to/gusts, middle).

Bermuda is now well into its ‘winter’ season where changeable weather associated with gales is commonplace. Yesterday’s cold front brought a brief warm and humid spell with southwesterly gales and thunderstorms that brought heavy rain to the island.

Locally severe wind gusts, mainly confined to the marine area, were also observed. The Crescent Buoy, in the northern marine area, measured a peak thunderstorm gust of 54 kts. Winds on island appear to have remained below severe levels (i.e. < 50 kts) with a peak gust of 43 kts measured at the airport prior to any thunderstorm activity.

Follow the Bermuda Weather Service for the latest official forecast, warnings, and observations for Bermuda.

Torrential January Rains

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Observations around Bermuda indicate a widespread 4-6″ of rain fell with isolated areas seeing >6″. Reports are sourced from Wunderground, WeatherLink, and Bermuda Weather Service.**Note that shaded areas on this map with fewer reports are less reliable.**

A deep long-wave upper level trough over the Eastern United States slowly edged eastwards on Thursday morning, this allowed a cold front to slowly advance towards and across Bermuda. Deep-layered flow out of the tropics allowed significant moisture transport across Bermuda. The frontal system, supported by upper level dynamics, was able to make use of that moisture in the form of an active band of heavy showers and thunderstorms that slowly progressed across the island, with a trailing region of light-moderate rains.

Rain totals for the meteorological day (0600 UTC to 0600 UTC) at the Bermuda Weather Service far exceeded several records, with 5.34″ of rain. This led to widespread flooding of low-lying and poor-drainage areas (see: Royal Gazette, Bernews). Furthermore, this rain total is roughly the amount of rain that Bermuda typically gets for the entire month of January. The 1981-2010 average January rainfall is 5.43″, or 5.30″ for 1971-2000 climate period.

Table: Records broken with yesterday’s rain, with reference to single, meteorological day records for the period 1949-present at Bermuda Weather Service.
Type of Record Previous Record
Record Wettest for the date 5 Jan 1.54″ (5 Jan 1994)
Record Wettest Jan Day 3.99″ (11 Jan 1986)
Record Wettest Winter (Dec-Jan-Feb) Day 3.99″ (11 Jan 1986)
5th Wettest Day (1.) 7.77″ (1 Jun 1996)
(2.) 6.77″ (13 Oct 2016 – Hurricane Nicole)
(3.) 6.21″ (31 Aug 1982)
(4.) 5.52″ (14 Jul 1980)
(5.) 5.34″ (5 Jan 2017)
(6.) 5.24″ (29 Oct 1967)

It is particularly impressive that this event made it into the top-5 wettest meteorological days because it occurred in winter. Rain events in winter typically produce lower totals for two main reasons, compared to summer events:

  1. these are typically associated with frontal systems that generally pass quickly
  2. there’s typically not as much atmospheric moisture available in winter

This event was associated with a frontal system, but it was progressing very slowly, and there was unusually high amount of atmospheric moisture available for rain because of the deep-layered flow from the tropics ahead of the system.

Model guidance performed well at picking up on the potential for a heavy rain event on the 5th since the end of December. This was reflected in the Bermuda Weather Service forecasts and forecaster’s discussion several days before the event.

More heavy rain is in the forecast

Yesterday’s front has progressed to the East of Bermuda, clearing its rainy weather with it. This is allowing much drier weather to settle in. However, an area of low pressure and frontal system, organizing over the lower Mississippi Valley today, will result in a similar frontal set-up to yesterday’s system over Bermuda at the end of the weekend.

Over the weekend, the low will push off the US East coast and track northeastwards around a long-wave trough over Eastern North America. As it does this, deep-layered southerly flow out of the tropics resumes ahead of a trailing cold front. This front will slowly progress eastwards toward Bermuda, passing on Sunday.

Model guidance is once again suggesting potential for a heavy rain event associated with this system. This is mentioned in the Bermuda Weather Service forecast and forecaster’s discussion. With soil freshly saturated, additional flooding in low-lying and poor-drainage areas is possible on Sunday.

A significant cool-down is then expected to start the work week. Temperatures are likely to struggle to reach 60°F on Monday as a continental polar airmass is drawn off of North America from the northwest across Bermuda.

See the Bermuda Weather Service for the latest official forecasts, warnings, and observations for Bermuda.

Tudor Hill Observatory

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Tudor Hill Marine Atmospheric Observatory (Credit: BIOS)

In a project commissioned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Earth Systems Research Laboratory (ESRL) the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS) has been the cooperating agency responsible for measuring the concentration of key atmospheric atmospheric gas species at Tudor Hill in Bermuda. This is part of NOAA/ESRL’s Global Monitoring Division’s aim to track changes in these key gas species, particularly focusing on their sources, sinks, global trends, and distributions.

[About: Global Monitoring Division]

One of the more well known gases measured at these types of observatories, including Tudor Hill, is Carbon Dioxide. An infamous greenhouse gas emitted largely through the burning of organic matter (ie. fossil fuels), the increase in Carbon Dioxide can be seen even in the middle of the Atlantic at Tudor Hill, Bermuda.

Another interesting feature is the seasonal change in Carbon Dioxide concentration controlled mainly by the biosphere. Because there is more land in the northern hemisphere, the biosphere’s influence is disproportionally weighted to what is happening in the northern hemisphere. During northern hemisphere summer, there are more photosynthetically active plants taking in more Carbon Dioxide globally than during northern hemisphere winter.

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Measurements of concentration of Carbon Dioxide gas at Tudor Hill Bermuda since records began in 1989, including preliminary 2016 data in orange. Plotted with NOAA/ESRL’s interactive data viewer.

Attributing the trend in Carbon Dioxide to human activity is a little more complicated than just observing the trend. It comes through analysis of Carbon isotopes bonded in Carbon Dioxide. Carbon comes in two naturally occurring stable isotopes: Carbon-13 (13C) and Carbon-12 (12C). 13C has an additional neutron and therefore has slightly more mass and slightly different chemical properties.

It has been found that the biosphere (ie. plants) preferentially uptake the lighter 12C containing molecules during photosynthesis. This leaves behind less 12C in the atmosphere and so the ratio 13C/12C increases. The higher proportion of 12C in organisms is maintained even if they should become fossil fuels. When we burn organic matter (ie. fossil fuels) we release Carbon Dioxide with higher proportions of 12C into the atmosphere and the ratio 13C/12C measured in the air decreases as a result.

One way to measure the relative amount of the two stable Carbon isotopes is called “delta 13 Carbon” (δ13C). Here, the measured ratio 13C/12C is standardized by a reference ratio determined from reference research into the average properties of Carbon. That standardization is very close to one, and all the variations occur in the thousandths decimal. In practice, one is subtracted from it and then the result is multiplied by 1000.

A trend of decreasing δ13C is observed at Tudor Hill, Bermuda. This trend lends support to the idea that not only are atmospheric Carbon Dioxide concentrations increasing, but the increase might be due to human activity.

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All available delta thirteen C data for Tudor Hill, Bermuda. Records of this parameter are kept since 1991, including preliminary 2016 data points. Plotted with NOAA/ESRL’s interactive data viewer.

These trends and patterns are repeated across the world. It is clear that the upswing in Carbon Dioxide is not a local phenomenon, but a symptom of a global problem.

Many more projects, providing invaluable scientific insight rely on data like this collected at Tudor Hill in Bermuda and around the world. Bermuda has proved to offer a unique location to get continuous long time-series of the largely undisturbed samples of the low-level ambient marine atmosphere. As such, I expect research to continue or expand in Bermuda, particularly as issues such as increasing Carbon Dioxide concentrations become more pressing.

References:
Carbon Isotopes in Photosynthesis (Marion H. O’Leary, 1988)
NOAA/ESRL’s Global Monitoring Division
->Map of Observation Sites
->Tudor Hill’s Measurements via Interactive Data Viewer

Nicole’s Direct Hit

Hurricane Nicole passed very close to Bermuda midday on Thursday 13 October as a strong category three hurricane. Preliminary center fixes indicate that Nicole passed about 9 nm (10 mi) east of Bermuda at noon on Thursday with maximum sustained winds near 105 kts (120 mph). At this time, Nicole’s eye was about 30 nm (35 mi) wide, and so Bermuda briefly entered the calm of the eye, but not before enduring hours of violent winds and torrential rain that led to isolated structural damage, significant utilities disruptions, and widespread flooding in coastal areas, low-lying areas, and poor-drainage areas.

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Visible satellite image of Nicole near time of closest approach. At this time, the entire island was experiencing the relative calm of the eye. An approximate track of Hurricane Hunter flight through Nicole is overlaid in red, starting at A in the bottom right.

After peaking as an extremely dangerous category four hurricane the night before impacts on Bermuda were felt, Nicole began to weaken on its final approach on the island. Vertical wind shear had markedly increased during this time, disrupting the circulation and degrading the convective organization. The solid ring of deep convection around the eye, aka the eyewall, opened up into a semi-circle that became more poorly defined as the hurricane approached.

[See these changes on long radar loops of Nicole’s approach Here]

Traditional hurricane structure and observations from ongoing Hurricane Hunter missions suggest that the strongest winds of Hurricane Nicole missed Bermuda to the east as the island saw effects from the northern and then western parts of the eyewall, not the eastern eyewall where, in this case, the strongest winds would have been found. However, damaging hurricane force winds were observed for several hours, mainly as the northern eye wall of the hurricane crossed the island.

Peak gusts in this part of the hurricane were measured up to 118 kts (136 mph) at an unofficial station at Commissioner’s Point, while the official peak winds measured at the airport reached gusts of 91 kts (105 mph). The peak official 10-minute sustained winds reached 68 kts (78 mph) at the airport. Areas exposed to easterly winds, particularly near hill tops, likely saw the highest winds in Nicole.

Additionally, the Bermuda Weather Service was able to get an estimate of rainfall total at their office. During the hurricane, 6.77″ of rain was caught. This makes 13 October 2016, the wettest October day on record, beating the previous record of 5.24″ set on 29 October 1967. This rain comes on the heels of a very wet week prior to the hurricane and a record wet September as 11.80″ of rain was observed for the month, beating the previous record of 11.15″ in September 1983.

An official and comprehensive post-storm summary will be released by the National Hurricane Center in the coming months.

Nicole Set for Direct Hit Tomorrow Morning

Follow the latest official updates from the Bermuda Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center. Below are my unofficial thoughts.

The core of now category two Hurricane Nicole is expected to pass near or over Bermuda early on Thursday. As of the 3pm advisory from the NHC, this could mean dangerous coastal flooding from a 6-8 foot storm surge, flooding away from the coast due to heavy rain of 4-8″, and isolated damage from possible tornadoes. Tropical storm conditions are expected to begin after midnight tonight and last through much of Thursday with a period of hurricane force winds beginning Thursday morning lasting through mid-afternoon. Sustained winds are expected to peak near 90 kts (105 mph), and will be higher in elevated and exposed locations (possibly near category three strength) with higher gusts.

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Hurricane Nicole just after 12pm advisory on RGB GOES multispectral satellite imagery, Bermuda can be seen at the top of this image to the north-northeast of Nicole.

Last night, Nicole quickly strengthened from a tropical storm to a category two hurricane, increasing winds by 30 kts and decreasing pressure by 21 mb in the 24 hours between 12pm yesterday and today. Nicole had stalled or drifted slowly to the west during this time as it interacted with the front left behind as the extratropical remnants of Matthew exited the Canadian Maritimes and left Nicole in a weak steering environment.

Nicole is poised for some additional modest strengthening as the hurricane sits in a region of warm sea surface temperatures (~28 °C), low vertical wind shear, and generally high moisture content. However, some drier and more stable air to the west, might be intermittently wrapping into the circulation and slowing the pace of intensification. Nicole is expected to be a strong hurricane and it is still possible for Nicole to become a major hurricane before reaching the island.

The track forecast philosophy has proved true for the last five days and hasn’t changed; Nicole has made the turn to the north and is still expected to pass close to or over Bermuda Thursday morning as it turns more northeastward. Wobbles either side of the track could make a huge difference in terms of conditions felt. These wobbles are due to inner-core dynamics are hard to predict with skill.

  • Track more to the left: easterly winds veer to the south, increasing to hurricane force as Nicole passes (east eyewall)
  • Track more to the right: easterly winds increase to hurricane force as Nicole approaches, suddenly become light and shift to the west, suddenly increase to hurricane force as Nicole passes (eye)
  • Track even more to the right: easterly winds increase to hurricane force and back to the north as Nicole passes (west eyewall)

Wind direction strongly controls who/where sees the most significant coastal flooding due to storm surge. For instance, should winds reach their peak out of the south, then south shore would take the brunt of any storm surge. Similarly, this changes wind exposure as windward hilltops see dramatically higher winds than the sheltered lee-side valleys. It is therefore imperative to both know your exposure and prepare for the scenario that exploits your exposure.

Expect scattered to widespread tree damage and power outages, isolated structural damage (mainly to roofing on elevated and exposed locations or along the track of any tornadoes, and along the coast if an inundating storm surge develops), and isolated flooding from rainfall in low-lying and poor drainage areas. Significant coastal erosion will likely begin to take shape tonight as seas inside the reef become rough, and isolated power outages are likely before dawn tomorrow as winds begin to reach 50 kts in exposed locations.

Nicole Begins Erratic Track

As always stay abreast of the most up to date official information from the National Hurricane Center, and Bermuda Weather Service. The following are my unofficial thoughts:

Yesterday afternoon and overnight, Nicole put on a somewhat unexpected burst of organization and intensification peaking as a category two hurricane with maximum sustained winds estimated near 90 kts (105 mph). This morning however, Nicole has begun to take on the expected erratic track and has weakened due to stronger vertical wind shear. Nicole, however, remains a ‘Potential Threat’ to Bermuda. After drifting to the south and weakening over the next two to three days, Nicole is expected to accelerate northwards toward Bermuda, possibly re-intensifying and has a chance to become a ‘Threat’ to the island by early next week.

[Threat: When effects from any tropical cyclone are possible in Bermuda within 72 hours. – BWS Glossary]

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Most recent track forecast for Tropical Storm Nicole. See the latest ‘Local Advisory‘ from the Bermuda Weather Service’s Tropical Products page.

Nicole, after becoming stationary overnight and this morning, is expected to begin a slow drift to the south. In the short term, Nicole has therefore passed its closest point of approach to Bermuda which was about 285 nm south of the island at 6pm yesterday. However, Nicole is still a potential threat to Bermuda at about 290 nm to the south as of today’s midday advisory.

Nicole’s southward drift is expected to pick up pace today and gradually turn back to the west on Sunday as deep layered ridging builds to the north of the storm. Early next week, however, that ridging begins to move east of Nicole as another deep layered shortwave trough approaches the region from the west. This in combination with interaction from Matthew exiting the US east coast is expected to turn Nicole back toward the north. Nicole again approaches Bermuda early next week, possibly becoming a threat to the island by mid-week. The track forecast early next week is still more uncertain than average and it is not clear how Nicole will interact with both the shortwave trough and Matthew in the coming days.

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Hurricane Nicole yesterday afternoon rapidly intensifying  with eye feature and symmetric deep convection (left). Nicole after strong vertical wind shear rapidly weakens the cyclone, leaving it with asymmetric deep convection loaded to the south of the storm (right). See latest satellite imagery centered on Nicole here.

In terms of intensity, very strong vertical wind shear is currently weakening Nicole. These strong upper level winds have stripped the organized convection away from the low-level center of Nicole this morning. This has weakened Nicole dramatically from a category two with maximum sustained winds near 85 kts (100 mph) to a tropical storm with winds near 60 kts (70 mph) in six hours.

This strong vertical wind shear is expected to continue to weaken Nicole today to a minimal tropical storm by Saturday. These unfavorable upper winds are expected to persist at least through Monday, limiting Nicole’s intensity. Nicole could degenerate into a remnant low in this time, or could prove again resilient to large scale shear and maintain moderate tropical storm intensity. However, the environment is expected to gradually become more conducive for development as Nicole approaches Bermuda early next week.

The overall atmospheric set up next week is again very uncertain and therefore it is important to continue to monitor the progression of Nicole over the next five days and prepare accordingly should Nicole become a threat to Bermuda.