“It is rather surreal to be saying this in January… but the satellite presentation of Pali has continued to improve today…” Hurricane Forecaster R. Ballard on January 11th.
“It is flat-out ridiculous that NHC & CPHC are writing advisories at the same time in January- first time on record!” National Hurricane Center’s Richard Blake in a tweet on January 13.
“Remarkably, Alex has undergone transformation into a hurricane.” National Hurricane Center forecaster Richard Pasch in a statement this morning.
The rising latent heat energy contained in this world’s water. That’s one of the big stories about how a human-forced climate change driven by fossil fuel emissions can essentially alter the geophysical nature of our Earth. Alter it in ways we’ve never before seen. Ways that produce all kinds of hazards from rapid glacial melt, to rising sea levels, to increasingly intense droughts, to flash wildfires, and to new, never-before seen storms.
This morning, at the same time a similarly freakish tropical cyclone Pali raged through the Pacific, another unprecedented thing happened. A thing related to the rising potential storm energy of the North Atlantic during Winter time due, in large part, to warming ocean waters and how the energy wafting off those waters tends to generate storms, strengthen storms and push their ability to develop outside of the typical ranges to which we are accustomed.
(Alex fed on warm water as it moved from a screaming hot region of ocean off the US East Coast, across above normal water temperatures in the Central North Atlantic, to a much warmer than normal region off the coast of Africa. As a result, Alex is now the strongest of two hurricanes ever to have formed in the North Atlantic during January since records began in 1771. Video Source: GOES Composite by wisc.edu.)
This morning, according to the National Hurricane Center, subtropical storm Alex made a full conversion to an Atlantic hurricane. Its maximum sustained winds, fed by all that extra heat bleeding off Atlantic waters, hit 85 miles per hour making it the strongest of only two hurricanes ever to form in January since record-keeping began in 1771. A December-forming Alice hit 90 miles per hour intensity on January 2 of 1955, which makes Alex the second-strongest storm to have hit the North Atlantic during the month. But Alex is the only storm to have formed during January to have generated such an intense wind field in an Atlantic tropical cyclone. This makes Alex an unprecedented event for two reasons — its occurrence at the same time as another January hurricane in the Pacific and due to its intensity as a January-forming storm.
And it’s also forming in an odd location and in an odd manner. Alex originated off the US East Coast. It fed on ridiculously warm waters there even as it made this odd, eastward path toward Africa. It formed near the Azores, in a zone which, according to hurricane specialist Eric Blake, would be a rare spot even for September. Most storms typically form off of Africa much closer to the Equator and then churn westward toward the Caribbean. And though storms do sometimes form outside of that climatological hurricane hotspot, Alex appears to have done just about everything backwards.
(Sea surface temperature anomaly map by Earth Nullschool. From the ridiculously hot and backed up Gulf Stream off the US East Coast through to the 1 C hotter than normal waters near the Azores, Alex has had nothing but hotter than normal ocean waters to draw energy from throughout its transformation into the strongest January-forming hurricane on record. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)
A Surreal Category 2 Hurricane in January?
Alex also still appears to be strengthening. According to National Hurricane Center reports, it may peak out at or near category 2 hurricane strength (82 knots maximum wind speed or topping out near 96 mph) by later this afternoon (NHC predicts an 80 knot or near 95 mph maximum intensity at this time) . By early tomorrow morning, the storm’s projected path brings it directly over the Azores. So it appears that this Atlantic island chain may be set to experience a CAT 2 storm during January. It’s a situation that invokes a sense of the surreal, as R. Ballard noted about Pali on the 11th. One in which it’s pretty clear that the world we’re living in now is one that has been dramatically altered by an incessant and growing rate of fossil fuel burning since the end of the 19th Century.
After roaring through the Azores, Alex is predicted to set a path toward the far North Atlantic and Greenland. A storm that’s expected to last through to at least Saturday as it transitions from a warm-core Winter tropical system to a mixed or cold core extratropical storm.
The rarity of this particular event in the context of other concurrent events cannot be overstated. We have never had a hurricane of this strength form in the Atlantic during January. We have never had a tropical cyclone, during the same period, form so early in the Central Pacific. And we have never had two storms of this intensity raging during this period of what is supposed to be deep Winter in both the Pacific and Atlantic.
As Dr. Jeff Masters stated so poignantly yesterday — it’s unprecedented. Just absolutely unprecedented.
UPDATE: The forecast strength for Alex has since been revised to 75 knots in the most recent NHC briefing. It therefore appears unlikely that Alex will reach CAT 2 strength this afternoon. Alex remains the strongest hurricane to have formed during January and the second strongest storm to hit the Atlantic basin at any time during January since record-keeping began in 1771.
Hat Tip to Kevin Jones
Hat Tip to Greg
Scientific Hat Tip to Dr. Jeff Masters
Hat Tip to Colorado Bob
Hat Tip to GiantSquid2