It would be an understatement to say that the Atlantic hurricane season of 2006 hasn’t been much like the incredible season of 2005. Whereas in ‘05, every storm seemed to get stronger than expected, stay alive when weakening was forecast (remember Epsilon?), and break records whenever there were records to be broken, the ‘06 season has had more fizzle than sizzle. From Alberto to Chris to Ernesto and beyond, the storms of ‘06 have — much to relief of coastal residents, insurance companies and FEMA — generally stayed away from land, and have also generally underperformed their forecasts, unexpectedly weakening rather than unexpectedly strengthening. But now, we finally have an exception to that rule: Hurricane Gordon, which was supposed to weaken to a tropical storm by today, but has instead stubbornly held together, and indeed strengthened, as it approaches the Azores. As a result, Hurricane Warnings have just been issued for the islands, which Gordon is expected to plow through as either a Category 1 hurricane, a strong tropical storm, or a powerful extratropical gale, about 24 hours from now.
Here is what the 11pm EDT discussion says:
GORDON IS AN IMPRESSIVE HIGH-LATITUDE HURRICANE. IT HAS BEEN MAINTAINING A MOSTLY SOLID RING OF DEEP CONVECTION AROUND THE CENTER… WHILE THE EYE RECENTLY HAS BEEN CONTRACTING. SUBJECTIVE DVORAK ESTIMATES ARE AT LEAST 77 KT… WHILE IN-HOUSE OBJECTIVE ESTIMATES ARE NEAR 93 KT. A WELL-TIMED HIGH-RESOLUTION QUIKSCAT MICROWAVE OVER THE HURRICANE AT 2215 UTC SHOWED MAXIMUM WINDS OF 85 KT. THUS THE INTENSITY IS BUMPED UP TO 85 KT IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE ABOVE ESTIMATES. THE ONLY FACTOR THAT WOULD SUPPORT THE HURRICANE MAINTAINING ITS INTENSITY IS COOLING UPPER-LEVEL TEMPERATURES… WHICH WOULD GENERALLY KEEP A MORE UNSTABLE ENVIRONMENT THAN NORMAL… AS DIAGNOSED BY SHIPS GUIDANCE. HOWEVER… IT DOESN’T SEEM LIKE GORDON CAN KEEP UP THIS INTENSITY FOR TOO MUCH LONGER BEFORE INCREASING SHEAR… COOLER SSTS… AND AN APPROACHING COLD FRONT TAKE THEIR TOLL. ALL OF THESE EFFECTS WILL PROBABLY NOT WEAKEN GORDON VERY QUICKLY… AND IT IS BECOMING MORE AND MORE LIKELY THAT THE SYSTEM WILL BE A HURRICANE AS IT MOVES CLOSE TO THE AZORES. THEREFORE… A HURRICANE WARNING HAS BEEN ISSUED FOR THOSE ISLANDS.
Landfall in the Azores wouldn’t be as historic as Hurricane Vince hitting Spain last year. The Azores do periodically get hit by hurricanes, though it’s been 14 years since the last time it happened. The NHC discussion says: “HURRICANES ARE RARE BUT NOT UNPRECEDENTED IN THE AZORES. A QUICK CHECK OF THE 1851-2005 BEST TRACK DATABASE SHOWS THAT NINE HURRICANES HAVE IMPACTED THE AZORES DURING THIS TIME… THE MOST RECENT BEING CHARLEY OF 1992.”
Margie Kieper has a massive update on Gordon and his big sister, Hurricane Helene (Cat. 3 at 115 mph and expected to strengthen), which was making forecasters nervous earlier today, but which now appears to be of no concern:
Well, if there was ever any worry that Helene could affect the East Coast or even Bermuda, that worry should be put to rest now. The NHC is calling for a track that will take Helene, now a strong hurricane, out to sea and away from land areas. It looks like Helene will pass well to the south of Newfoundland on its way out so no worries there either. The rest of the tropics are quiet but I think we will see additional development off the coast of Africa before the week is out- and from the looks of things on the longer range models, the end of the month in to early October could continue to be busy as well.
Alan Sullivan has more detail on that latter point:
The 16-day GFS model is now showing tropical development in the western Caribbean for the first days of October. This could mean a tropical storm or hurricane for some part of Florida. I have suspected that such a scenario would unfold, as premature cold fronts go stationary from the Bahamas to Belize. Late season tropical storms often begin this way between Cuba and Central America.
Long-range computer models have a massive margin for error, of course. But they actually did an excellent job of predicting the formation of both Florence and Gordon (not sure about Helene).
Anyway, here’s a big-picture look at both Gordon (above) and Helene (below):