30 November 2016

Most active Atlantic hurricane season in six years comes to an end

Today is the last official day of the Atlantic hurricane season. Since I started writing and posting updates on tropical Atlantic activity in 1996, I've written approximately 1,100 updates spanning 328 tropical cyclones, including 153 hurricanes, 69 major hurricanes, and 38 retired storm names. I was honored to have been asked to write blog posts for the New York Times for four years and for the Washington Post for five years and counting.  Thank you for your continued interest!

My 21st annual season summary is available on the Capital Weather Gang blog:

Most active Atlantic hurricane season in six years comes to an end

22 November 2016

Otto very close to becoming season's 7th hurricane

Just to keep everyone on their toes during the final homestretch of hurricane season, Tropical Storm Otto is lurking in the southwest Caribbean Sea.  Yesterday morning, it was just a tropical depression, and then was upgraded to a tropical storm later in the day as expected.  As of Tuesday morning, it is nearly a hurricane with peak sustained winds of 70 mph.

Otto is still on track to make landfall near the Nicaragua/Costa Rica border on Thanksgiving, then cross over into the eastern Pacific where it is expected to dissipate.  Hurricane watches have been issued for the area, while tropical storm watches and warnings cover much of Panama's northern coast.  If the center hits Costa Rica, it would be that country's first hurricane landfall on record.

The water temperature east of Nicaragua and Costa Rica is quite warm, around 28°C, which is plenty to sustain a hurricane.  The vertical wind shear has also decreased noticeably in the past couple of days.

The area where Otto is forecast to make landfall is sparsely populated, but as with all landfalling tropical cyclones, the risk of heavy rain and resulting flooding extends far from the center, and the mountainous areas of Nicaragua and Costa Rica could see 10-15 inches of rain in the coming days.

This is the 7th time that the name Otto has been on a name list since 1980, and it only got used in the past 3 of those 7 times (2004, 2010, 2016).  The next name on the list is Paula, though it's very unlikely that another named storm will form this year.

21 November 2016

Rare late-season tropical depression spins up in the Caribbean

My Monday update on newly-formed Tropical Depression 16, which could become Tropical Storm Otto today or tomorrow, is available on the Capital Weather Gang blog:

Rare late-season tropical depression spins up in the Caribbean

01 November 2016

One month after Matthew: A harrowing account from Haiti

Today's post is by a special guest: a woman who experienced the full fury of Hurricane Matthew in western Haiti.  Cheryl Nichols contacted me the day before the hurricane struck to thank me for giving Haiti attention in a blog post I wrote that day.  It was too difficult and too late to leave, so she sheltered in place.  I was thinking about her the morning Matthew made landfall there, hoping I'd hear from her again once electricity and communication lines were back up. Sure enough, three weeks later, I did, and what follows is her account and photos of the event.

Satellite image of Hurricane Matthew on the morning of October 4th, just as it was making landfall on southwest Haiti.
Nearly one month ago, on October 4th, Category 4 Hurricane Matthew hit the southwest Haitian peninsula of Grand Anse with a vengeance. I had arrived in Jeremie, the capital of and largest town in the Grand Anse on the 25th of September to teach English at UNOGA (Universite de Nouvelle de Grand Anse) for a three week session. This was my third visit to UNOGA in the last five years.

The weekend before the storm, I started tracking it as it passed through the lower Caribbean, just north of Colombia. The path of the storm seemed to indicate that it would turn northwest toward Jamaica, then Cuba.  Not being a meteorologist, I don’t know how many storms did what Matthew did: it seemed to take an almost right-hand turn and head due north, right toward Haiti.

Map of Matthew's track, with an inset map showing Jeremie's location on the peninsula.
As you may know from news reports and social media, Jeremie was ‘ground zero’ as the storm came ashore.

Radar loop from Guantanamo Bay showing Hurricane Matthew's eyewall passing over the western tip of Haiti and the eastern tip of Cuba. The city of Jeremie is on the northern side of the peninsula on the bottom of the images.
A Haitian professor, myself, and one of our students had stayed in the guest house in Jeremie to wait out the storm. I was sure the house would hold because it had stood for over a century enduring many storms in its history. Matthew, however, was its undoing. Just as the house started to collapse, the three of us managed to escape and our student had the presence of mind to get us through the brunt of the storm to a neighbor’s house where the family gave us not only shelter but dry clothes, food, beds, and comfort. I will be forever grateful to these two Haitian men who saw to my safety during the storm and my welfare for the several days following.

The guest house before (left) and after (right) the storm.  In the photo on the right, you can see the second floor had collapsed into the first floor.  Large trees are snapped or uprooted. (photos by Cheryl Nichols)
View of the Caribbean, which was previously blocked by trees. (photo by Cheryl Nichols)
I was able to get a ride to Port au Prince the following Sunday, very sad to leave Jeremie at a time when there were such great needs. Although I couldn’t help with the immediate rebuilding, I’ve been able through a network of family and friends, to raise money for both relief and long term redevelopment.

I am now in the north of Haiti in Gros Morne where I had planned to come for three weeks following my time in Jeremie. I am still reflecting on all that has happened to so many people that I have come to know and love over the last five years. I was grateful to have been part of this tragedy, to be a presence so that Haitians know they are not forgotten, and that a wider world cares about and wants to help them in an enduring way.

If you would like to support the recovery efforts, a couple "low overhead" charitable groups that I recommend and support are:

Haitian Connection
Catholic Relief Services

Cheryl teaching English in Haiti.