Tropical system developing in Gulf of Mexico, as hurricane season peak nears

WEATHER NEWS: Tropical system developing in Gulf of Mexico, as hurricane season peak nears


Meteorologists are monitoring a tropical wave that on Friday was pushing northwest over the Bay of Campeche in the southern Gulf of Mexico.

The National Hurricane Center is estimating a 60 percent chance that a storm will eventually develop as it drifts toward land. A tropical depression could form later Friday or Saturday, but it will likely stop developing by Saturday night as it moves inland.

This comes as the tropics have been eerily quiet thus far this season — though there are hints the basin could start to awaken. While it’s unlikely the tropical wave will become anything more than a low-end tropical storm, it’s the first sign of peak season’s swift approach as September nears.

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Weather models are also simulating the development of more robust tropical waves set to roll off the coast of Africa in coming weeks. It’s impossible to diagnose what will transpire with any of them, but conditions could prove favorable for development as more time passes.

System to watch approaching Gulf

On Friday morning, a tropical wave was located over the Bay of Campeche and dubbed “Invest 99L,” a designation that suggests the potential for tropical development. The Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters will be dispatching a crew Friday afternoon to fly into the nascent system in an effort to obtain additional data for forecasting and modeling.

The Hurricane Hunters specified their mission was that of low-level reconnaissance, meaning they’d spend their time flying below 10,000 feet altitude in an effort to locate any potential low-level center.

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Thunderstorms were blossoming around the tropical wave Friday morning. Convection, or shower and thunderstorm activity, was visible spouting over the Bay of Campeche. Other areas of storminess were occurring in Belize, northern Guatemala and the Montes Azules National Park region of Mexico.

As the system continues northwest, it will likely strengthen some.

There are questions regarding where the center of the roiling cloud mass is, assuming one exists. A farther east center would likely support better chances of development, since more of the system would be over the warm waters of the southwestern Gulf. That trajectory would also give the system a longer time to mature before eventually moving ashore Sunday in the northern Mexico state of Tamaulipas or perhaps southern Texas.

Weather models indicate some consolidation of the tropical disturbance is possible in the next 48 hours as it feeds off favorable gulf water temperatures in the lower- to mid-80s. Also of note is the prominent outflow, or high-altitude exhaust, evidenced on satellite. The more air a storm exhales in the upper atmosphere, the more warm, humid air it’s able to ingest as fuel near the surface.

There’s a decent chance that the system could fringe South Texas with heavy rainfall sometime late Sunday or early next week, but uncertainty abounds.

All told, the Atlantic Ocean has been surprisingly quiet. No hurricane has formed in the Atlantic basin so far this year — an impressive 317-day drought. This year has now entered into the top 10 years with the longest dearth of hurricanes in the satellite record.

It defies predictions of an above-average season, which is still possible, and according to forecasts probable. Technically speaking, mid-September is the climatological peak to hurricane season. That’s when activity is statistically favored to reach a crescendo. But it’s not uncommon for most of August to be quiet, as if the ocean is lying in wait. This year, however, we’re now to the point of being behind.

On average, a season’s fourth named storm will form by Aug. 22 and the fifth by Aug. 29. It’s unlikely that we will get there by those dates this year. One hurricane should have already formed in an average year, as well, and we’d be about a week out from our second. Neither looks to be the case.

There have been three named storms so far this season, two of which were fleeting disturbances with poorly organized, disheveled structures.

Instead the Atlantic Ocean is quiet — perhaps due to disruptive wind shear (a change of wind speed and/or direction with height), or broad subsidence or sinking of air. Wind shear can tear apart fledgling storms and inhibit their organization.

ACE, or Accumulated Cyclone Energy — a measure of how much oceanic heat energy storms churn up and transform into strong winds — is also at rock bottom. This point in a typical season would have already netted 18 ACE units. This season’s total stands at 2.8.

However, in the coming two weeks it appears wind shear should slacken a good deal, making it easier for storms to form.

Around that same time, long-range weather models indicate the potential for a few tropical waves to fan off the coast of Africa and begin their westward trek. These waves could help instigate what could be named storms.

Researchers at Colorado State University are calling for a 70 percent chance of near-normal activity in the next two weeks, with a 15 percent odds for above-average and an equal chance for below-average.

They emphasize that “this period typically marks the real ramp-up for Atlantic tropical cyclone activity.”

It’s also important to note that there may still be major impact on people regardless of whether a season is above or below average. A jam-packed season might feature storms developing at a breakneck pace, but if storms avoid land, there’s often little consequential result. Likewise, 1992 yielded meteorological radio silence until mid to late August, when the calamitous Hurricane Andrew razed much of South Florida.

With only seven named storms, that season was far below average — but the biggest storm it produced was among the most costly and destructive in generations.

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