Aug 23, 2016

Hurricane Hermine Doesn’t Exist Yet, But Experts Are Starting To Worry

Atlantic Ocean
by
Eric Holthaus
,
FiveThirtyEight
Hurricane Wilma made landfall in Florida in October 2005. Photo: J. Pat Carter / AP
Hurricane Wilma made landfall in Florida in October 2005. Photo: J. Pat Carter / AP

It’s late August, which means it’s the peak of hurricane season. Not surprisingly, weather models have begun to key in on a particularly interesting area of disturbed weather near the Eastern Caribbean islands that shows potential for growing into a tropical storm or hurricane that may track toward the U.S. coast. If it gets a name, it’ll be called Hermine.

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Sure, all the ingredients are here for this area of disturbed weather to become a memorable storm. Water temperatures on its projected path are near record highs, a potential fuel source that could aid in rapid intensification. There’s also a strong blocking ridge of high pressure that is forecast to set up over the mid-Atlantic region and could help steer this storm, if it forms, toward the U.S. Those are important details that meteorologists can add to the messy weather model guidance. But ensemble forecasting helps meteorologists avoid focusing too intensely on the extreme possibilities and take a step back to gain perspective.

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Some additional context for this specific storm is that no matter what the current forecasts show, there’s a looming concern when you consider more than a century’s worth of weather records in Florida. Between the 1950s and Florida’s last hurricane strike in 2005, the state averaged one landfall about every other year. (That’s not to say that the atmosphere subscribes to a set schedule. Hurricanes can come in bunches, or with long breaks in between.)

Amid what by some measures has been a historically inactive stretch for hurricane landfalls in the U.S., the mere threat of a potential hurricane heading toward Florida is relatively big news in the weather world. In May, meteorologist and hurricane specialist Philip Klotzbach tried to quantify just how unusual Florida’s current lucky streak is:

Since that tweet, another hurricane — Earl — came and went. That’s now 67 in a row that have missed Florida.

[T]here’s been a huge increase in vulnerability on our coastlines over the past decade. According to U.S. census data, more than 2 million more people live in Florida today than during the last strike: Hurricane Wilma on Oct. 24, 2005. More than half a million of those moved to the Miami area. Throw in the steady unrelenting pressure of sea level rise, and the Miami area could be facing real trouble