The Atlantic Ocean is a stew out there in the tropics: storm-stirring warm waters, storm-sapping Saharan dust, unexpected shear winds with El Nino poking up its augury head.
The muddle leaves hurricane forecasters grasping little as they prepare mid-season predictions. But conditions appear to have settled after four “oddball” storms formed as the season opened in June. The general sentiment going into the Cape Verde “active” season for tropical cyclones seems to be the same as in June: a relatively “quieter” year than most recent years.
The forecasts will begin to be released this week.
“I would say slightly below average for the remainder of the season,” hurricane guru Bill Gray of the Tropical Meteorology Project said last week. “But we’re still struggling with it.”
Cape Verde storms are West Africa rain clouds that move into the Atlantic, spin into cyclones and curl toward the Southeast. They tend to be the most dangerous storms for the Lowcountry. The disastrous Hurricane Hugo in 1989 was a Cape Verde storm.
The period tends to run from August through September. A wave typically rolls off the coast every three or four days — an average of 60 to 70 per season, according to National Hurricane Center specialists. On average, one in 10 become tropical cyclones.
El Nino is a Pacific Ocean warm water trend that stirs winds which shear off tropical cyclones.
Forecasters say a weak to moderate El Nino appears to be emerging.
S.C. Climate Office severe weather liaison Mark Malsick said the wind and Saharan dust conditions that have been keeping hurricane formation in check don’t appear to be changing for the near future, but it’s too early to say what effect El Nino conditions will have on the storms when the heart of the Cape Verde season arrives in mid-to-late August.
Even a relatively quiet season isn’t a reason to relax.
Both Hugo and the monstrous Hurricane Andrew that raked Florida and Louisiana in 1992 formed in “quiet” seasons.
“You still have the potential for major storm damage,” Gray said. “You guys sitting there in Charleston, let’s hope you continue to dodge the bullets, as you have been since 1989.”
Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744.