Hurricane Alex…how freaky?

January 14, 2016 — 3 Comments
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Hurricane Alex and the UK 14/01/2016

Satellite pictures have emerged showing how truly amazing Hurricane Alex really was. These satellite pictures (courtesy MeteoSat, Dundee sat.dundee.ac.uk and eumetsat/eosdis) show that Alex is one of the most northerly and easterly forming Atlantic Hurricanes (second ever, in any month to form north of 30N) and rare for January at this extreme northerly and easterly location.  In typically understated fashion, the official National Hurricane Center tropical discussion hinted at the astonishing nature of this event as the diminutive storm transitioned to a Category 1 hurricane on 14 January.

“Remarkably, Alex has undergone the transformation into a hurricane. A distinct eye is present… ” (11am 14 jan 2016)

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Hurricane Alex (Cat1), just before downgrading to a Tropical Storm, near the UK 15/01/2015

Alex is very likely to be the closest January hurricane to UK shores but Fran and Hannah were Cat 1 hurricanes that came closer, albeit both in October.

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Hannah and Fran Cat 1 hurricanes tracked close to the UK

It is quite common for ex-hurricanes to track across the UK (e.g. Bertha Aug 2014) each year as extra-tropical storms but usually these happen in late summer and Autumn, at the mature end of the hurricane season.  Nevertheless, a hurricane (Category 1) forming on the European side of the Atlantic so far north and east in January, with snow clearly visible on the UK hills is truly amazing.

Some meteorologists think that a hurricane visiting Britain is possible before 2030.

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Alex becomes a hurricane 14 Jan 2016 (image EUMETSAT)

Alex is the first Atlantic hurricane to form in the month of January since 1938 and is the first Atlantic hurricane to exist during January since Alice in 1955.

Hurricane Alex, located in the sub-tropical Mid-Atlantic south of the Azores at approximately 30N 30W, was named on Wednesday by the National Hurricane Center as a sub-tropical storm lingering in the tropical Mid Atlantic took on more hurricane characteristics.

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Hurricane Alex 14/01/2016

Despite sea surface temperatures of only 20C, wind speeds in excess of 80mph started circulating around a tight hurricane eye.  The notable northerly formation would be remarkable in summer, let alone January.

So Alex is certainly remarkable but not entirely unique because two other hurricanes have occurred in January since records began in 1851.

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Hurricane Alex’s eye 14/01/2016

Hurricanes usually form June 1 to November 30, the official “hurricane season”.  This is towards the end of long hot summers, when Tropical seas are at their warmest. Hurricanes are named starting from “A” as the first one of the season.  It is extremely unusual for hurricanes to form in January, and making landfall over the Azores so far north will almost certainly be a first for any hurricane.

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How freaky is Hurricane Alex?

A key ingredient of hurricane formation is a warm sea surface, usually at least 27C to at least 60 metres.  Warm waters fuel the energy hurricanes feed on and, through evaporation of vast quantities of sea water and release of latent heat into the atmosphere, convection is caused and wind speeds increase to a sustained 74mph into a hurricane eye.

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Hurricane Alex, spot the eye (image EUMETSAT)

Alex has formed over relatively cool SSTs, around 20C, which would usually not give birth to a hurricane.

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usual hurricane formation

Meteorologists suggest that unusually COOL upper air temperatures in an upper trough over have assisted convection and the uplift of air to create thundery conditions around a hurricane eye.

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sea surface temperature anomalies Alex

Like other recent remarkable weather events, Alex’s special early arrival is not quite unprecedented and two hurricanes have occurred in the Atlantic in January.  An unnamed hurricane formed in 1938 in the tropical Atlantic, with winds of 70 knots, but only lasted as a Cat 1 hurricane for one day.

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In addition, Hurricane Alice formed on December 31 1954 and lasted as a Cat 1 for 5 days into Jan 1955 before weakening to a tropical storm.  She had a slightly strange SW track towards Venezuela.  Also, interestingly, 1954-55 was a weak La Nina year, strengthening to a moderate La Nina year.  La Nina years are more conducive to Atlantic hurricanes whereas our current very strong, but gradually declining, El Nino state is associated with fewer Atlantic hurricanes.

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Geographically, both Alice and “the unnamed one” formed much further south (around 20N) in the tropical Atlantic than our Alex (around 30N).  So Alex can certainly claim to be an unusual storm because it is so far North AND so far out of the hurricane season.  This might even qualify him as “freak” status.

Currently, Alex is a small storm with a tight hurricane eye where sustained winds exceed 85mph.  It is not expected to strengthen much or last more than a few days as a hurricane system because the track is northerly and this will take it over ever cooler Atlantic waters.  The Azores is on the track of Alex and is likely to experience a highly unusual January hurricane in the next 12 hours.

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Hurricane Alex intensity Cat1

The storm will lower intensity and dissipate over cooler than average North Atlantic waters before making “landfall” most likely somewhere near the southern tip of Greenland.

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Hurricane Alex track January 2016

Here’s some expert explanation of the development of Alex from the very excellent Mark Sudduth of hurricanetrack.com

Alex started life as a tropical disturbance near the Bahamas over unusually warm sea surface temperatures emanating out of the Gulf.

The sub-tropical disturbance never threatened land, except momentarily to risk a nor-easter for the Atlantic US coast.  His track took him safely into the Atlantic.

However, despite his remote location, Alex did impact our European weather indirectly. Earlier this week a trough disruption took some of his tropical energy into Europe via the Bay of Biscay.

This lowered pressure over Europe sufficient to allow an Arctic plunge to push further south across the UK and into the continent.

Warm air from Alex’s sub-tropical source has also possibly helped build pressure to the north over the Atlantic that assisted a tighter pressure gradient over the UK allowing a more brisk Arctic wind chill to build.  This same high pressure will keep him stuck in the Atlantic until he dissipates near southern Greenland.

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Hurricane Alex and HIGH pressure to the North

However, the existence of Alex has possibly thrown weather prediction models into a spin because the forecasts from models, even short term, are now in a good deal of disagreement about next week.

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models completely disagree… Alex’s influence?

So perhaps Alex has broken more things than just weather records!

and finally… is global warming to blame for Alex?  Well, typically, the answer is both Yes and No!

Read this interesting article below here to get the idea why..

http://www.cato.org/blog/buzz-alex-global-warming

http://mashable.com/2016/01/14/hurricane-alex-forms-january/?utm_cid=mash-com-Tw-main-link#i2kSmA3cnGq1

https://xmetman.wordpress.com/

http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/alex-becomes-the-atlantics-first-january-hurricane-since-1955

Hurricane Pali has also been setting records in the Pacific http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/01/hurricane-pali-sets-pacific-record-160113090131993.html

3 responses to Hurricane Alex…how freaky?

  1. 

    Brilliant. Thank you

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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  1. Hurricane Alex…how freaky? | ajmarciniak - January 17, 2016

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