Friday, October 7, 2016

Hurricanes Matthew and Nicole

Sou | 6:40 PM Go to the first of 24 comments. Add a comment
Hurricane Matthew is dominating weather and climate news at the moment. It is a fierce tropical cyclone, or as it's called in the Atlantic, a hurricane. Currently it is again a Category 3 hurricane after it intensified over warm waters after dropping from a Cat 4 to a Cat 3 then back to a Cat 4. You can get the latest advisory information from NOAA's National Hurricane Centre, and view the current radar images at NWS.

There is another cyclone close by, Hurricane Nicole, which is currently a Cat 2 hurricane and is having an impact on Matthew. The wind image from Earth shows their current positions, with Matthew now affecting Florida:

Nicole is circling in the Atlantic and isn't expected to hit the USA directly.

Stay safe. If you want to help people devastated by the storm, weather.com lists some of the organisations providing assistance.

Matthew's development

Matthew began as a tropical wave off the coast of Africa and moved west, strengthening into a tropical storm five days later. Two days later, in a matter of hours, it had rapidly intensified into a hurricane. It hit Haiti as a Cat 4 hurricane. Here is a description from NASA's Precipitation Measurement Systems (PMS) Facebook page:
Matthew began as a fairly impressive tropical wave that emerged off of the coast of Africa on the 23rd of September but had to make its way all the way across the Central Atlantic before finally organizing into a tropical storm on the morning of the 28th while passing through the Windward Islands. Matthew then slowly but steadily intensified into a minimal hurricane by the early afternoon of the following day as it continued to track westward through the central eastern Caribbean.

The next day, September 30th, Matthew underwent a period of rapid intensification; its winds increased in intensity from 85 knots (~98 mph) to 140 knots (~161 mph) in the span of just 15 hours, taking the storm from a Category 2 to a Category 5 hurricane. Matthew was only at Category 5 intensity briefly, dipping back down to a still powerful Category 4 storm, which it maintained over the coming the 3 days.

On Sunday, October 2nd, while over the central Caribbean, Matthew made a turn to the north between a weak trough of lower pressure over the Gulf of Mexico and a ridge of higher pressure to its east. This put the storm on a direct course for southwest Haiti, the eastern tip of Cuba and the lower Bahamas. Matthew stuck the southwest coast of Haiti around 7 am EDT as a powerful Category 4 hurricane near Les Anglais on the morning of Tuesday October 4th with maximum sustained winds reported at 145 mph by the National Hurricane Center.

Matthew then continued moving northward before striking the eastern tip of Cuba in the evening later that same day before starting to veer off towards the northwest towards the Central Bahamas as a slightly weaker Category 3 storm.

The damage and destruction

So far, more than 300 deaths have been reported, almost 500 deaths have been reported, almost 600 deaths have been reported, 842 deaths have been reported, mostly in Haiti where coastal communities have been devastated. There have also been areas ravaged in Cuba and the Bahamas. The eye of the hurricane is now approaching Florida. The images below give a sense of the destruction wrought:


The eye is just off Daytona Beach right now.

Sou - 1:30 am AEDST 8 October; 10:30 am EDT 7 Oct; 2:30 pm GMT 7 Oct

What is to come

In the USA, where communities are now preparing for its arrival, the warnings are for strong winds, heavy rain and particularly storm surges. The hurricane is expected to move up the east coast from Florida, turning east back over the ocean somewhere around South Carolina. The latest from the NOAA is shown below, where M is for Major Hurricane (not "medium"), H is for Hurricane (not "high"), and S is for "Tropical Storm".:

From the latest (2:00 am EDT, 6:00 am GMT) NOAA advisory:
The combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline.  There is a danger of life-threatening inundation during the next 36 hours along the Florida east coast, the Georgia coast, and the South Carolina coast from Boca Raton, Florida, to South Santee River, South Carolina.
The map below shows the projected storm surge, from the NOAA prototype storm surge warning graphic.

The dark pink is a storm surge warning, and the light pink is a storm surge watch. The map below indicates the possible height of the flooding:

To get an idea of precipitation, below is a crop from an image from NASA while the storm was over the Bahamas. The purple colour indicates the most intense precipitation:

Cloud top temperatures indicating thunderstorms. NASA’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this infrared view of Hurricane Matthew over the Bahamas at 11:27 a.m. PDT (2:27 p.m. EDT) on Oct. 6, 2016. The colors denote cloud top temperatures, with the most intense thunderstorms shown in purple and blue. Source: NASA Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Is Hurricane Matthew "unusual"?

I suppose one could say that every hurricane is unique so in that sense, each one has unusual features. Tropical cyclones are relatively rare. There are usually no more than a few tropical cyclones a year all around the world. In the Atlantic, there aren't normally no more than one or two hurricanes of Cat 4 or higher in any year.

There's an interview with Kerry Emanuel on Hurricane Matthew and hurricanes in general, in which he mentions how damage can be worse these days, because sea levels are higher. He also talks about how there has been a huge increase in coastal development during the recent hurricane "drought". This wasn't a drought in the real sense. Hurricanes have still been happening. It's just that they haven't made landfall in the USA - or not while classified as hurricanes. (Sandy had a huge impact, but had diminished to a tropical storm at the time of landfall.)

Kerry Emanuel stressed that even if the frequency or intensity of hurricanes didn't change, rising seas combined with increased coastal development means that the impact will be worse over time.

Some of the hurricane heroes

We'd know much less about Matthew and other tropical storms if it wasn't for people I regard as hurricane heroes.

Matthew through the eyes of climate science deniers

Over at WUWT, Anthony Watts started out with a couple of lacklustre articles, then geared up as the threat became more difficult to downplay. He now has posted 14 articles, some of which are just reporting the status, others in which he writes straw man attacks on climate hawks.

In one of his earlier articles, Anthony wrote a "nightmare scenario" headline: "Latest hurricane #Matthew forecast spaghetti plots show increased uncertainty with a nightmare scenario". Down the bottom of that article he wrote:
Meanwhile, despite the increased uncertainty, the usual doomsters are out in force:
His "usual doomsters" who are "out in force" was Seth Borenstein. Anthony linked to a tweet from Seth Borenstein, which was a link to a straightforward article providing some questions and answers on Hurricane Matthew. Neither the tweet nor the article were hyperbolic - just some facts. Since then, Anthony Watts has come "out in force" himself. So far he has written the following articles on the subject.
  1. Latest forecast track shows hurricane #Matthew grazing Florida East Coast - 3 October
  2. #Matthew takes aim on Florida, likely to end 4000 day major hurricane drought for USA - 4 October
  3. Latest forecast spaghetti plots for Hurricane #Matthew - 4 October
  4. Hurricane data from 1851 suggests #Matthew landfall on east coast of Florida is a longshot - 5 October
  5. Seeing death skulls in hurricane #Matthew - 5 October
  6. Models suggest hurricane #Matthew could hit Florida twice - 5 October
  7. Latest hurricane #Matthew forecast spaghetti plots show increased uncertainty with a nightmare scenario - 5 October
  8. #Matthew may reach CAT5 before it reaches Florida – 4000 day hurricane drought mark reached - 6 October
  9. #Matthew Forecast: 9 million people may lose power - 6 October
  10. Worse: Latest #Matthew spaghetti models show landfall near Cape Canaveral, and loopback 4-5+ days, millions affected - 6 October
  11. NASA’s impressive 3D video animation of #Matthew before it slams Haiti - 6 October
  12. Double eyewall structure revealed in hurricane #Matthew - 6 October
  13. Why trying to link hurricane #Matthew to ‘Climate Change’ is just political hype - 6 October
  14. #Matthew downgraded to Cat3 hurricane as it approaches Florida coast - 7 October

In his latest but one article, Anthony referred to Sandy, which was disastrous, as "much ballyhooed". He clearly doesn't "believe" that rising sea levels will make storm surges that much worse. Nor does he "believe" that having more and more people living on the east coast of the USA poses any special risk. (There is an estimated additional 1.7 million people living in Florida since Hurricane Wilma in 2005.)

Anthony's only references to "political hype" were an article by Joe Romm at Think Progress, and an article by climate disinformer Marc Morano. I'll let you decide which is "hype". He didn't refer to the article by Chris Mooney at Washington Post, which had the title: "Here’s what we can — and can’t — say about climate change and Hurricane Matthew".

Marc Morano didn't cite any climate science. He just put up a chart from the EPA showing all tropical cyclones in the North Atlantic. He didn't distinguish between cyclones of different intensity, except in the context of those making landfall in the USA. It's not straightforward to work out change in hurricanes going back a long way, in part because it's only in recent decades that satellites have shown up hurricanes that might otherwise have not been detected or if they were, their intensity would have been hard to measure. The charts below are from the lists of Cat 4 and Cat 5 hurricanes in Wikipedia. Take it with a pinch of salt. I haven't done the same (yet) for Pacific cyclones.

Because it's likely that the early years in the above chart aren't complete, below is a chart just since the mid-1920s (which may not be complete or accurate either).

I think that the latest year is not complete for Cat 4 hurricanes.

In contrast to Marc Morano and Anthony Watts, Joe Romm quoted hurricane and weather expert, Jeff Masters, and Anthony Watts own preferred expert Philip Klotzbach! (No wonder Anthony refused to link to his article.) Dr Romm also cited a number of scientific papers that suggested that as the oceans warm, the intensity of cyclones increases. He wrote:
While we aren’t seeing more total hurricanes, we are seeing more of the Category 4 or 5 super-hurricanes, the ones that historically have done the most damage and destroyed entire coastal cities. We’re also seeing a sharp rise in the most damaging storm surges, whereby even a Category 1 hurricane (such as Sandy) can cause unprecedented damage.
The odd thing is that Anthony Watts copied a tweet from Philip Klobatsch, in which he referred to predictions of stronger cyclones and said that "...we won't verify w/current observations for 20, 30 or maybe 50 years". (That may or may not be so. Some scientists have reported that even the current data is indicating that storms are intensifying.)

Anyway, instead of acknowledging that Philip Klobatsch wasn't rejecting the predictions, Anthony oddly wrote: "Remember that, when the climate doomsters try to convince you that this is all “climate change” driven." What are we meant to remember? Are we meant to remember to check back in 20, 30, or maybe 50 years to see if the predictions were correct?

In any case, "climate doomsters" are not trying to convince you that "this is all "climate change" driven". What they are pointing out is that it is likely that:
  • there will be an increase in the frequency of the most intense tropical cyclones, and
  • an increase in the intensity of the fiercest cylones, and
  • an increase in the damage from all cyclones that are near coastal areas, because of rising sea levels (and increases in population).

For more from the deniosphere, there were some tweets from one of Anthony Watts' favourite conspiracy theorists:
The "deplorables" reference is presumably to Hillary Clinton's comment: ""You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the ‘basket of deplorables,’" she said. "Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it.

That statement from Hillary Clinton, which is probably an underestimate, has been portrayed as a gaffe. The deplorables don't like it when they are called out for what they are. The tweet from Matt Drudge has been roundly criticised for being utterly irresponsible. I wonder how many of the deplorables agree with him?

References and further reading

Matthew (Atlantic Ocean) - updates from NASA

Advisories on Hurricane Matthew - updates from NOAA National Hurricane Centre

Radar images - National Weather Service

Hurricane Matthew: How You Can Help the People of Haiti - By Pam Wright from weather.com

More from the media and blogs

  • Hurricane Matthew: Death toll soars in Haiti - from Al Jazeera
  • Matthew Toys With Florida Coast; Major Surge Threat Remains - Jeff Masters at Wunderground.com
  • Wet, wild and weird: Some answers about Hurricane Matthew - Seth Borenstein at AP
  • Hurricane Matthew is a serious threat to Florida. Here's what we know. - Brad Plumer at Vox
  • Hurricane Matthew to pound Florida, East Coast as a Category 4 storm - Accuweather (with video)
  • The Climate Context of Hurricane Matthew - interview with Kerry Emanuel at WarmRegards.com
  • Hurricane Matthew Could Be One Of The Strongest Storms To Hit Florida’s East Coast - Matt Lanza at FiveThirtyEight
  • Hurricane Matthew: Florida hit by 'monster' storm after hundreds killed in Haiti – latest - The Guardian
  • Hurricane Matthew: Hundreds dead in Haiti storm disaster - BBC
  • Hurricane Matthew begins to make landfall in Florida after barrelling through Haiti, Dominican Republic - ABC News
  • Hurricane Matthew: East coast of US braces as deadly storm lashes Florida - SMH - with (noisy) video
  • Hurricane Matthew: The Scary Clown of Hurricanes! - Greg Laden, with more here and here.
  • Here’s what we can — and can’t — say about climate change and Hurricane Matthew - Chris Mooney at Washington Post
  • Hurricane Matthew is super strong — because of climate change - Joe Romm at Think Progress
  • Conservatives, progressives battle over ‘deplorables,’ leaving quote itself behind - By David Weigel at Washington Post


  1. With the focus on the Atlantic, it's easy to forget the Pacific. Here's a link to an article in EOS about a new paper in GRL:

    Why 2015 Was a Big Hurricane Year for the Eastern North Pacific

    Record-breaking oceanic and atmospheric conditions led to a remarkable season in a key Pacific hurricane development region.

    The year 2015 was record-breaking for hurricanes in the eastern North Pacific Ocean. Major storms included Hurricanes Ignacio, Olaf, and Patricia, the lattermost being the strongest storm on record for the Western Hemisphere. A new study by Collins et al. investigates what made the 2015 eastern North Pacific hurricane season so extraordinary.

  2. Such a horrible storm. It was initially forecast to hit Jamaica instead of Haiti, then it turned and covered all of Haiti in tropical storm or worse winds (every spot for hours, and briefly, the entire country simultaneously), and huge rainfall. Haiti just can't catch a break.

  3. Projection: if, as is currently forecast, Matthew does not quite make landfall and merely scrapes along the entire coast of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, the denier squad will declare victory.

    1. "Polarization is so severe now that people are choosing to disbelieve how deadly a hurricane is. Let that sink in."


  4. I've added an update - the eye is just off Daytona Beach at the moment. Also, the death toll keeps rising.

    Re hurricane deniers - see Greg Laden's blog. He's not too pleased with their behaviour.

  5. BBC are reporting over 400 dead in Haiti :-(

    1. I think it's worse than that, Tadaaa. Reuters is reporting close to 600 dead so far. (See updates in the article above.)

    2. Make that 842 now.

    3. I'd be surprised if it wasn't a few thousand who died in the storm. I'll be surprised if it's not several thousand more who perish from disease in the next few months.

      I hope to be wrong.

  6. BBC are know reporting the drudge Report false flag story


  7. I read this interesting study from last year about the drought of major hurricanes hitting the U.S.
    Figure 1 is interesting because it shows how often a drought of a given length is estimated to happen. Currently, using their log scale, a drought of this length (11+ years) comes in at a once in 500 year event. Matthew has just been downgraded to a Cat 2 and still hasn't come ashore so this drought continues (of course the winds are and were hurricane force all along the Florida coast).

  8. How soon we forget. Google this:

    typhoon haiyan site:wattsupwiththat.com

    And read the articles by the likes of Anthony Watts, Pat Michaels, Paul Homewood et. al. downplaying the severity of one of the most devastating tropical storms of our times, that killed 7000+ people and left millions homeless. According to them, it was only 2500 or so, based on very early reports. But did they ever come back and say: "Hey, apologies, it was more serious than we thought"? Not on your life; they doubled down. Being a denier means you never, *ever*, have to admit you were wrong.

    That's what it's all about, really. Think about it. They are somehow never wrong about even the most insignificant little thing.

    It must be great to go through life like that. Maybe we should print them a batch of feckin' T-shirts: "Wasting away again in Dunning-Krugerville". Or perhaps: "Igorant, and proud of it!".

  9. I'll continue on my sustained line and say all government help should be denied from the states that are governed by those who deny science. So stay safe, local democrats.

  10. Is there something about the conditions at a coastline that tends to stop a storm making landfall?

    1. Not that I'm aware of,Jammy. Think Yasi and Katrina.

    2. Nor me Sou. I was just contemplating how few reach land out of those that form. And how they sometimes seem to follow the coast.

    3. Nor me Sou. I was just contemplating how few reach land out of those that form. And how they sometimes seem to follow the coast.

    4. Hurricanes weaken over land, so one approaching land might find its front edge chewed away. I don't see how that could redirect it, but it might weaken a weak one into a tropical storm. Probably a minor effect.

    5. @Philip Cohen
      That sounds a possible idea. Might only work on an East coast.

    6. I'm not seeing support for the idea that hurricanes avoid land. Even Matthew made landfall repeatedly -- Haiti, Cuba, several islands in the Bahams, and South Carolina.

      Weather in general goes up the East coast of North America because the jet stream gets pushed down the Rockies and must eventually head back north. But by the time the jet stream matters, storms are extratropical.

    7. No, at least not flat coastlines. Mountainous land may cause 'wobbles' in eye centre tracks, but integrity of systems get destroyed wholesale by such country (which is why Taiwan is an effective shield for the Chinese east coast).

  11. As Hills said:

    "You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the ‘basket of deplorables,’" she said. "Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it.”

    Make that 3/4 ofTrump supporters rather than half. The remaining 1/4 is comprised of emeritus voters who were always conservative anyway. I weep for my former country, which has been taken over by wingnut assholes. These people don't give a sh#t about other people. It's all me, me, me!

    Yeah, we get it. Everyone, including me, fears what is going to happen to us in the future. But putting your head in the sand and not addressing the two biggest items we need to address at the moment: sustainabilty and climate change, is not going to make these problems go away. It will only get worse. Capiche?

    1. If you're a citizen, fvap.org to register. Deadline is tonight in several states -- hurry!


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