2017 Hurricane Season Begins

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.


Screen Shot 2017-05-31 at 1.34.19 PM
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.
Screen Shot 2017-05-31 at 1.34.58 PM.png
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.

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).

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.

Dry Start to Spring

After a very wet January, mainly thanks to a month’s worth of rain falling in one event, Bermuda has seen a succession of progressively drier months to end winter and begin spring.

Spring itself is typically the driest time of year in Bermuda. The driest month is May with 3.01″ of rain (1971-2000 average). In spring, mid-latitude cyclones start to track further away from the island, yet the western Atlantic hasn’t quite become the warm, humid environment that supports isolated summer showers and tropical disturbances. At the same time, the Bermuda-Azores high extends westward across the Atlantic suppressing clouds and rain.

This April was characterized by a blocking ridge of high pressure over Northeast United States and Southeast Canada. This kept most mid-latitude cyclones away as they tracked northward into Canada rather than westward into the Atlantic. Their trailing fronts found dry and stable air in place leading to them fizzling out on approach.

[See the ridge in 500 hPa height anomalies]

Year-to-Date rainfall for 2017, through 30 April (blue) compared to average for the year (red, dashed) with the range of values each day in the period of record (POR: 1949-2017).

The record wet year-to-date precipitation totals that January’s deluge brought have receded to below average levels as successively drier February and March led to the second driest April since 1949 with only 0.73″ of rain at the airport.

Here’s how April 2017 stacked against some other dry months:

April Any Month
1 Apr 1973 (0.33″) 1 May 1991 (0.28″)
2 *Apr 2017 (0.73″) 2= Apr ’73
& May ’82 (0.33″)
3 Apr 1954 (0.76″) 4 Jan 1950 (0.54″)
4 Apr 1964 (0.79″) 5 May 1993 (0.59″)
5 Apr 2010 (0.84″) 6 May 2011 (0.62″)
6 Apr 1957 (0.94″) 7 Jun 2005 (0.64″)
7 Apr 1955 (1.13″) 8= Jan ’74
& *Apr ’17 (0.73″)

April 2017 didn’t quite make it into the top 5 of any dry month. Prolonged periods without significant rain lead to low water levels in tanks around the island. My unofficial TankRain project seems to capture this decline in tank level quite well. Not much rain is expected through the first weekend of May – mild and dry weather persisting a little longer. See the latest official forecast and observations at the Bermuda Weather Service.

Unusual March Cold

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.

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

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.

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.

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:

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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