So far the 2002 Atlantic Hurricane Season has been an interesting one. So far, we have seen 11 named storms including seven during the month of September. However, on the flip side, we've only seen two hurricanes, which also have occurred in September (Gustav and Isidore), and one major hurricane, which is still going in Isidore.
Originally, the folks at Colorado State projected an about average hurricane season with 10 named storms 6 hurricanes, and 2 major hurricanes. By August though, there had only been one named storm, and conditions weren't favorable for tropical development along the ITCZ as strong high pressure in the Central Atlantic was creating a good deal of sustenance and squashing thunderstorm development.
As a result, Dr. Gray and his team lowered their expectations to just 9 storms, 6 hurricanes, and two major hurricanes. In September, the numbers went down even further. But, since that time, the tropics in the Atlantic have gone crazy with 7 named storms in just three weeks. Are they still right, or should they think again?
On September 2nd, 2002, Dr. William Gray and his team of tropical experts at Colorado State issued an update to their forecast for the 2002 Atlantic Hurricane Season. At this point in time, there had been only four named storms on the season including Arthur, Bertha, Cristobal, and Dolly. All of these storms were only moderate tropical storms.
On top of that, high pressure was still dominating weather in the Tropical Atlantic by creating a large area of sinking air that even penetrated the ITCZ (Intertropical Convergence Zone). Gray's forecast team had already lowered expectations a month earlier as they saw that there was a stronger than thought El Nino in the Pacific, cooler sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic, and hostile upper level conditions control conditions in the Atlantic Basin so far in 2002.
As a result, the forecast team adjusted their numbers to only 8 named storms, 3 hurricanes, and 1 major hurricane, which are considerably below normal. They cited below average sea surface temperatures, above average sea level pressure, above average easterly trade winds, a stronger El Nino than anticipated, and more hostile upper level winds throughout the Atlantic Tropics. These inhibiting factors have been a major influence on the Tropical Atlantic throughout the 2002 Atlantic Hurricane Season, and reduced what was originally a very optimistic forecast for the season.
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Since the forecast team at Colorado State issued its forecast, the Atlantic Basin has gone wild with activity. In the three weeks since the forecast update was issued, there have been 7 named storms, 2 hurricanes, and 1 major hurricane. Now, the actual numbers have far exceeded the recently lowered expectations by Dr. Gray and his team. So far in 2002, there have been 11 named storms, where eight were forecast.
However, Dr. Gray still looks on target this year with the number of hurricanes and major hurricanes still down with two hurricanes and one major hurricane respectively. But, there maybe more on the way. As of the weekend of this report (September 21st-22nd, 2002), there is a subtropical system, Kyle in the North Central Atlantic, a tropical depression that is east of the Lesser Antilles, a weak upper level low near the Bahamas, a strong tropical wave west of the Cape Verde Islands, and another strong wave about to enter the Eastern Atlantic off the West Coast of Africa.
So, the numbers can certainly change. The question is why didn't Gray and his team go ahead and downgrade the numbers in light of how active the past several years have been from mid-September to the end of the hurricane season on November 30th? Over the past four seasons, a large number of named storms, hurricanes, and major hurricanes have formed after Labor Day, and even during the months of October and November.
They include: Mitch (October, 1998), Lenny (November, 1999), Keith (October, 2000), Iris (October, 2001), and Michelle (November, 2001). All these previously mentioned storms have been major hurricanes of Category Four strength or higher. On top of that, there have been 18 named storms, 10 hurricanes, and 5 major hurricanes during the months of October and November from 1998 to 2001.
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The Atlantic Hurricane Season begins on June 1st every year, and lasts until November 30th. The Atlantic Basin consists of the North Atlantic from the West Coast of Africa to the East Coast of the United States, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. The number of named storms, hurricanes, and major hurricanes have been up over the past seven years as there have been an average of about 14 named storms, 8 hurricanes, and 4 major hurricanes.
This has come about due to the La Nina, which is a phenomena that develops when sea surface temperatures in the Eastern and Central Pacific are cooler than normal. This anomaly changes the global weather patterns including making the upper level wind patterns more favorable toward tropical storm and hurricane development in the Atlantic Basin.
A moderate El Nino this year has tempered the expected numbers for the upcoming season, but it has still been very active with only low hurricane and major hurricane numbers. Despite the increased numbers in the last eight years, only three of the 28 major hurricanes that have formed since 1995 have made landfall (Opal, Georges, and Floyd) so the United States has been fortunate. However, experts including Dr. Gray believe that our luck cannot last for long. Remember, it only takes one storm. Andrew proved that in 1992.
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