Another Atlantic hurricane is heading towards another place I've visited recently. Hurricane Ophelia, now churning in the eastern Atlantic, should reach the south coast of—not kidding—Ireland tomorrow morning as a tropical storm, and a few hours later roll over Islay.
This year’s busy and bizarre hurricane season isn’t done stunning scientists. The latest named storm, Ophelia, is now the sixth major hurricane to form in the Atlantic this year, and the 10th consecutive named storm to reach hurricane strength this year — only the third time in recorded history and the first time in a century that has happened — tying the all-time single-year record. On top of all that, no major hurricane has ever formed as far east as Ophelia has. The storm intensified so far east, in fact, that the continent it now threatens is Europe. Ophelia reached category 3 strength 220 miles south of the Azores on Saturday morning, and is now on track to strike Ireland beginning Monday.
While it won’t still be a hurricane by the time it reaches the British Isles — Ophelia is forecast to have become an extratropical storm before then — it will probably still arrive as “a destructive windstorm in Ireland on par with some of the most damaging in the nation’s history,” according to Henson, with winds as high as 70 mph along the island’s southwest coast. A “status red” alert, Ireland’s highest, has been issued for five counties in that region. Storm surge flooding along the coast is possible, but the biggest threat will be from the high winds.
I mean, this is just weird:
The New York Times talked to people on the American island of Vieques and has this report on the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria two weeks ago:
The 9,000 people living on this island eight miles east of the Puerto Rican mainland have been largely cut off from the world for 11 days since Hurricane Maria hit, with no power or communications and, for many, no running water. People scan the skies and the sea hoping to sight the emergency aid that has been arriving drip by drip, on boats, in helicopters or in the bellies of eight-seat propeller planes.
“We’re on this island, we can’t get off it,” Aleida Tolentino, 56, said on Saturday, as she gazed out over the brown hillsides of uprooted trees and branches stripped of every leaf, with rain rolling in from the east.
The grinding lack of electricity and communications services has created archipelagos of isolation across Puerto Rico. Dozens of towns and neighborhoods, from the coffee-growing mountains to the industrial shoals of the capital, are now virtual islands unto themselves, stranded by destroyed roads, downed cables and splintered cellphone towers.
Even death is an emergency. On Saturday morning, Marlon Esquilín, the funeral director in Isabel Segunda, opened the doors of his hearse to pull out the blackbagged body of an older woman who had died of natural causes the night before.
Someone stole his generator, so he has no power to embalm bodies, and no way to keep them cold in storage. The hospital’s backup generator was also stolen, he said, so he cannot keep bodies there either.
The island has been blasted back to the 19th Century. If only it were part of the United States, then maybe we could help them. Oh, wait...
After a high temperature of 33°C yesterday (the 7th in a row above 32°C), a much-anticipated cold front came through overnight (as predicted). It's now 18°C. But:
Indications are that the air mass will begin to moderate Sunday, with another warmer-than-normal period a good part of next week. This time around, daily highs should approach the 27°C mark.
Rain looks to be sparse at least until the middle of next week.
That last bit is important, because we're having a drought. But at least it's delightfully cool.
Chicago is having its 7th consecutive day of 32°C-plus heat, including 5 straight days above 33°C, a new record for this late in the season. Fortunately, a cold front is marching across the prairie and promises to bring a 15°C temperature drop overnight and high temperatures in the 20s for the rest of the week.
We didn't have a horrible summer here. So we're not thrilled that the crisp, cool days of autumn have been delayed a full month. But tomorrow we can open our windows again.
It can get warm in Chicago in September, but not usually this warm. The forecast today calls for 34°C with a dewpoint above 21°C, the epitome of the worst July weather we get here.
The culprits are the tropical systems currently destroying islands in the Atlantic. A dome of unseasonably warm air has stalled over the eastern US and Canada, because Jose and Maria are dumping energy into the air right off shore.
So, today's temperatures will be 12°C above normal and will likely surpass the record 33°C set in 1970. Same tomorrow. Saturday and Sunday will also be hot but probably not quite as hot—though, I have to say, 31°C still really sucks the day after the September equinox.
The gross weather pattern should clear out by Wednesday. I really hope so; I want autumn.
Update: Yesterday's 33.3°C high also broke a record (32.7°C set in 1933).
Hurricane Maria's eye passed directly over Vieques earlier this morning and has now struck Puerto Rico proper:
Hurricane Maria roared ashore Wednesday as the strongest storm to strike Puerto Rico in more than 80 years, knocking out power to nearly the entire island and leaving frightened people huddled in buildings hoping to ride out withstand powerhouse winds that have already left death and devastation across the Caribbean.
The storm first slammed the coast near Yabucoa at 6:15 a.m. as a Category 4 hurricane with 250 km/h winds — the first Category 4 storm to directly strike the island since 1932. By midmorning, Maria had fully engulfed the 160-km-long island as winds snapped palm trees, peeled off rooftops, sent debris skidding across beaches and roads, and cut power to nearly the entire island.
In an unfortunate twist, some residents of Vieques had stocked up on critical supplies in advance of Irma only to donate what they had left to harder-hit areas such as Tortola and St. Thomas. Residents rushed to restock before deliveries to the island stopped and the power flickered off yet again.
There isn't much news coming out of Vieques yet, but having been there less than a year ago, I can't imagine that much of it remains standing. The shops and restaurants on Calle Flamboyan are (were?) less than 50 m from the beach, and barely 3 m above the Caribbean. I hope everyone got out OK.
This hurricane season may not break records for numbers or aggregate storm severity, but it will probably do so for destruction and cost. With St Martin and Barbuda all but destroyed, it looks like Vieques and Culebra are next:
Hurricane Maria went through an astonishingly quick transformation from a minimal hurricane to a Category 5 monster in less than 24 hours. As of 9 p.m. ET [Monday], Maria had maximum sustained winds of 250 km/h, and the island of Dominica was right in the path of the worst of the storm's winds.
The National Hurricane Center has warned Maria is now a "potentially catastrophic" storm. This is the only Category 5 storm to strike Dominica on record, and may be among the fastest rates of intensification of any hurricane on record.
The National Weather Service office in San Juan issued a statement on Monday afternoon warning of the massive threat this storm poses to the island. The winds alone could cause locations to be "uninhabitable for weeks or months," the Weather Service stated, in addition to warning of a potentially deadly storm surge along the coast.
I visited Vieques in November, and I've visited St Martin twice before. I hope both islands recover quickly.
Note to Scott Adams and other climate-change deniers: The intensity and destruction of this year's hurricanes don't prove human-caused climate change. They are predicted consequences of human-caused climate change. By "predicted" I mean that, 20 or 30 years ago, climatologists warned this is exactly what would happen as the planet got warmer.
The science of modeling hurricane storm surges started here in Chicago after the seiche of 1954:
When the surge hit Chicago, it hit a city that housed one of the world’s great meteorology departments, at the University of Chicago. One of its professors was the meteorologist George Platzman....
The meeting of those two freak concepts—real but rare deadly Great Lakes storm surges, and the bizarre possibility of an atomic bomb detonating in Lake Michigan—along with his computer-forecasting experiments, led Platzman to take up the nonexistent science of storm-surge prediction, beginning with an attempt to reverse-engineer the 1954 tragedy. His first model, in 1958, got the timing right, but was off by half on the height of the surge; nonetheless, it was used to accurately predict a 1960 Lake Michigan storm surge on Chicago, resulting in a public warning that may have saved lives.
Five years later, Platzman published a much more ambitious run at the phenomenon, crunching 20 years of hourly wind and water-level data at six weather stations on Lake Erie. He also used a much more sophisticated model than his 1958 study—which didn’t include wind stress—a level of complexity only possible in the computer age. And it worked, with an accuracy of about 90 percent.
The models improved into today's SLOSH model, which meteorologists have been using with abandon the past two weeks.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said yesterday that Hurricane Irma caused "enormous devastation," leaving the island without gas or electricity:
Most communications with the outside world are being conducted via the military, he said, adding that there was “no clarity” on victims.
The Dutch navy, which has two ships stationed off the coast of the island, tweeted images gathered by helicopter showing damaged houses, hotels and boats.
French authorities have counted at least eight dead on the French side of the island.
Photo of Princess Juliana Airport, looking south; Dutch Dept. of Defense.
An official said that 95% of the island was destroyed, rendering the island uninhabitable.
Irma's winds, estimated at 280 km/h when it hit St Martin, mean it had the strength of an EF4 tornado.
And Hurricane Jose, with sustained winds of 240 km/h, is forecast to hit St Martin by 8pm AST tomorrow—about 12 hours before Hurricane Irma hits Florida head-on.
I've visited St Martin/Sint Maarten twice, once in 2009 and again in 2014. It's unclear when I or anyone will spend a vacation there in future, because this morning the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic smashed directly into the island.
At 8:43 AST, the Guardian posted these videos.
Twitter user Kurt Siegelin posted this video at 9:12 AST.
As of 9:30 AST,
French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb also said that government buildings on the island of Saint Martin - the most sturdy built there - had been destroyed.
“We know that the four most solid buildings on the island have been destroyed which means that more rustic structures have probably been completely or partially destroyed,” he told reporters.
Meanwhile, Puerto Rico is bracing for impact as most models forecast the eye to pass just north of San Juan:
This is the first Category-5 storm to hit Puerto Rico since 1928, and is significantly more powerful.
The forecast track puts the storm in South Florida on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Jose is right behind Irma, but forecast to pass northeast of the Windward Islands over the weekend. And Tropical Storm Katia is about to blow across southern Mexico.
I'll be following all three closely this week.