15 October 2012

Rafael almost a hurricane

Since my previous post on Friday, Patty got smothered by the mid-latitude trough and front as expected, and the final advisory was written on it on Saturday morning. 

Meanwhile, the disturbance that left the African coast on October 5 was upgraded to Tropical Storm Rafael on Friday night based on aircraft reconnaissance.  This is the same wave that I mentioned last Thursday when it was east of the Lesser Antilles.  It is now about 350 miles due north of Puerto Rico, and is just shy of becoming a hurricane (should be later today).  This would make Rafael the 17th named storm and the 9th hurricane this year in the Atlantic. [We've still only had 1 major hurricane very briefly: Michael.  The last five seasons with 0 or 1 major hurricanes were 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, and 1997.  So it's been a while, but the season isn't over yet...]

At the 11am EDT advisory, the maximum sustained winds are 60kts with a 985mb central pressure.  Tropical storm force winds extend 205 miles from the center.

The traditional satellite presentation is quite impressive, and in earlier overpasses by microwave instruments, it already has an eyewall and eye below the cloudtops.  I'm going to include a couple images to showcase some of the noteworthy features.  The first is a full-resolution visible image from GOES-14 zoomed in right over the storm.  The fine whispy cirrus outlow exists in all quadrants except the northeast, and the deep intense thunderstorms are firing up and wrapping around the center.  Then, in the enhanced infrared image below that, you can see the temperatures of the cloud tops, with the coldest highest cloud tops in black and light gray and the warm ocean on the other side of the scale, also in dark gray.

Assuming it does indeed become a hurricane later today, it would be the first hurricane we've had below 25N since Ernesto (briefly a hurricane in early August before hitting the Yucatan peninsula).  And even Rafael would sneak in below 25N by a very small margin.  That is certainly an oddity of the season!

Track models are all in very good agreement that Rafael will head north toward Bermuda, then gradually turn northeast, most likely passing slightly east of Bermuda on Tuesday evening before racing into the cold and hostile north central Atlantic.

It probably won't be able to strengthen too much more, but should remain in the 65kt ballpark (+/- 10kts) for the next few days before turning extratropical.

Elsewhere, there's nothing on the horizon, but this time of year, we need to keep a closer eye on the western Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico for quick developers.

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