Tropical Storms in both the Atlantic and Pacific during January. It could happen this week. And it’s all due to this new Anthropocene weather we’re now experiencing.
The Holocene ended more than half a century ago. That’s when human impacts from the production of plastics, to the use of nuclear materials, to the forcing of species extinction, became what scientists now believe to be the dominant influence on this era of Earth history. It was also the time when human beings were in the process of plotting a course to radically alter the Earth’s climate. Pumping greenhouse gasses into the global environment at the fastest pace ever recorded in the geological record. Setting the stage for a warming event not seen in millions of years and, perhaps, in all of time on this world. One that would fundamentally alter the geophysical nature of the Earth system from the bottom of the oceans to the top of the atmosphere.
And it sure does feel like it — with the North Pole now experiencing above-freezing temperatures during Winter and with both the Atlantic and the Pacific retaining enough heat and instability to brew up tropical cyclones during January.
Unprecedented Tropical Cyclone Development in Both the Pacific and the Atlantic During January
It’s really a bit of an understatement to say that January is not a month where we usually see tropical cyclone formation in the Northern Hemisphere. Back in the 1870s it happened in the Atlantic. Once. In the Pacific, which tends to host sea surface temperatures that are hotter than those in the Atlantic, the various basins can sometimes see these beasts blow up early on in the year. Sometimes meaning that two have only ever been recorded during January — Winona on January 9 of 1985 and Ekeka on January 26 of 1992.
Since climatology is the understanding of trends in average weather over long periods, we can probably say that the off-season tropical cyclone climatology has already changed for the Pacific. During the 148 years since record keeping began in 1832 for the Pacific through to 1980 only seven tropical cyclones were recorded to have formed during the period of December through May. During just the 35 years since 1980, we’ve seen nearly twice that many — 12. In other words, the rate of recorded off-season storm formation septupled or increased a factor of 7. And both the earliest and the latest named stormed have now formed during back-to-back years — Nine C on New Years Eve less than two weeks ago and now Pali on January 7th.
What we are seeing now is unprecedented by any measure of tropical weather system climatology. We have never seen a tropical storm form so early in the Central Pacific at the same time during which a similar, very rare, tropical system was threatening to form in the Atlantic. In other words, it’s not just both events in isolation that’s quite odd. It’s the fact they are both happening side-by-side.
Pali — Earliest Tropical Cyclone to have Ever Formed in Central Pacific
Pali, in particular, is an unusual beast. According to Weather Underground, as of early this morning Pali was whipping up 65 mile per hour winds and rough surf along a broad region of water some 1350 miles southeast of Hawaii. Pali spun up out of a westerly wind burst and storm pattern associated with the monster El Nino now going off in the Pacific. But even during past super El Ninos, related odd tropical systems have tended to form mainly during late November through to mid December. The formation of Pali is then possibly associated with both this late peaking El Nino and with sea surface temperatures in the Pacific that are now among the hottest ever seen in human reckoning.
(According to today’s National Hurricane Center forecast, Pali could stick around for quite some time. This record earliest Pacific cyclone could last into the middle of January — spinning out westerly winds that aid in the maintenance and possible re-intensification of the current super El Nino. Image source: NOAA’s Central Pacific Hurricane Center.)
Pali is expected to meander along the Central Pacific equatorial region in which it formed over the next six days. It is predicted to maintain tropical storm intensity throughout this period — making it a rather long-lasting weather system. Expected to re-curve back toward the Equator near the 175 West Longitude line, the strong westerlies associated with Pali could also aid in maintaining or even increasing the strength of our current super El Nino — driving warm water up-welling in the Eastern Pacific to reinvigorate. Sea surface temperatures in the range of 27 to 28 degrees Celsius are more than enough to maintain tropical storm intensity. Meanwhile, sea surfaces in the range of 3-4 degrees Celsius hotter than normal just to the southeast of Pali will continue to provide considerable moisture for the storm to feed upon. Wind shear, therefore, is the only major limiter for Pali. And though shear appears to be strong enough to preclude Pali’s development into a typhoon, it is not at this time predicted to become intense enough to disperse Pali. So, if the forecast is correct, we’re looking at this storm sticking around for at least another week.
30 Percent Chance of Tropical Cyclone Development in the Atlantic During January
As if Pali and this ramping trend of off-season tropical cyclone formation in the Pacific weren’t enough to put an exclamation point after the sentence — tropical storms are forming earlier than they used to — we have a concordant potential tropical cyclone development happening at the same time in the Atlantic. A weird storm is taking on extra-tropical characteristics off the US East Coast. Already packing gale-force winds in the range of 60-65 miles per hour, this odd system now has the potential to become a warm-core, tropical low as it moves eastward toward the Azores.
The storm now sits over sea surface temperatures in the range of 23-26 degrees Celsius. That’s much, much hotter than normal (2 to 8 degrees Celsius above average) for that region of the North Atlantic for this time of year. It’s also in the range that’s generally considered just about enough to support tropical storm and even possibly hurricane formation. Subsequently, the National Hurricane Center sees the potential for a warm core formation in this system and has given it a 10 percent chance of becoming a tropical storm over the next 48 hours.
(Very odd North Atlantic Gale rages over record warm waters in the North Atlantic. This system now has a 10 percent chance to develop into a tropical cyclone over the next 48 hours. Over the next five days, the chance of tropical cyclone development jumps to 30 percent. Image source: The National Hurricane Center.)
This freakish system is then expected to skirt the southern edge of a powerful low between the UK and Greenland. Tracking eastward toward Africa, its winds are predicted to further intensify as it heads toward somewhat warmer waters. Over the next five days, the National Hurricane Center gives a moderate chance (30 percent) that this system will form into a tropical cyclone.
As noted above, such weather patterns are not at all normal for the North Atlantic. And if a hurricane or tropical storm did form during January in the North Atlantic it would be the first time since 1872. Again it’s a case of we’ve never seen weather like this before. We’ve never seen hurricanes so early in the Central Pacific. We’ve never seen sea surface temperatures so warm during Winter off the US East Coast. And we’ve never seen the potential development of a January Atlantic tropical system at the same time such systems are riling the waters of the Equatorial Pacific.
The scientists were absolutely right. The Holocene is over. We’re living on a different planet.
Hat Tip to Colorado Bob
Hat Tip to Caroline
Hat Tip to DT Lange