Summer weather is characterized by long periods of mind-numbing monotony followed by short bursts of terrifying chaos. We’re in one of those chaotic periods right now, where the August doldrums collapsed and gave us a tiny but powerful hurricane in the Atlantic, and a potential hurricane threatening Hawaii next week.
Danny is small but has a big attitude to make up for it. The storm started to look pretty healthy this morning, and we had the good fortune of Hurricane Hunters—y’know, the brave men and women who fly into hurricanes on purpose—investigating the storm early this afternoon just as it began to peak in intensity. The airborne meteorologists flew around for a little while and discovered that Danny is a major hurricane, clocking in as a category three on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale with maximum sustained winds of 115 MPH.
The hurricane’s wind field only extends 15 miles away from its very, very small eye, which places it somewhere among the most intense tiny hurricanes on record. Finding other storms of comparable size and strength is hard to do, but it appears that there have only been a handful of storms in recent history that were both extremely small and very intense at the same time. Last year’s Hurricane Gonzalo reached maximum winds of 125 MPH with hurricane force winds only stretching 25 miles from the storm’s eye, and 2001’s Hurricane Iris packed 140 MPH winds when its hurricane force wind field only extended 15 miles from its eye.
Danny seems to have peaked in intensity, and the National Hurricane Center expects the hurricane to undergo a steady weakening trend as it approaches the Caribbean this weekend and early next week, eventually affecting the northern Lesser Antilles, Puerto Rico, and Hispaniola as a decaying tropical storm. There’s always the chance that Danny survives its encounter with the Caribbean and continues on toward the west, so we can’t ignore it here in the States even though the forecast doesn’t show much good news for the little storm. If it does fall apart over the Antilles as is most likely right now, the cause of Danny’s demise will be dry air and wind shear, if interaction with the hilly terrain doesn’t do it in even sooner.
In a sense, there is some good news here! Models suggest that Danny and/or its remnants could bring several inches of rain to islands like Puerto Rico, which is trudging through one of its worst droughts in recorded history. Just about a quarter of the island is now in an “extreme drought.” The whole flood and landslide thing is bad, of course, but the region desperately needs the rain, and this is one of the rare times when many residents are actually cheering for the storm to come their way.
On the other side of North America, we’re tracking Tropical Storm Kilo, which is on a concerning path toward Hawaii according to the latest forecasts and model guidance. The system looks pretty disheveled right now, but it’s moving into a favorable environment for organization and strengthening, and the Central Pacific Hurricane Center in Honolulu expects Kilo to become a hurricane next week as it comes close to the western Hawaiian islands.
One thing of note is that the cone of uncertainty is narrower than normal in the short range, signaling forecaster confidence in the system’s movement through at least Sunday. The timing of its strengthening pattern and when it makes that northward turn is key to what kind of effects Hawaii will see and where.
Residents and visitors in Hawaii should watch forecast updates like a hawk, especially as we draw closer to next week. The forecast can and will change as meteorologists get a better idea of what’s going on with this tropical storm—Hurricane Hunters and other aircraft are scheduled to fly out and sample both the storm and the environment around it—so the track and intensity predictions will be fine-tuned the closer we get to its island approach.
The twin typhoons—remember them?—are still swirling away out in the western Pacific Ocean, and the westernmost typhoon is getting ready to make a sharp right turn and head toward Japan. Goni is weaker than it was a few days ago, but it’s still a formidable cyclone with winds of more than 100 MPH as it starts to rake Japan’s Ryukyu Islands and heads toward the Japanese mainland.
It looks like Ishigaki-jima, an island just east of Taiwan that’s home to nearly 50,000 people, is going to take a direct hit from Goni. Any landmass that experiences the wrath of this storm can expect destructive winds, heavy rain, a storm surge, inland flooding, and the potential for mud or landslides in hilly terrain.
Josh Morgerman, the guy who runs iCyclone and eagerly runs head-first into some of the world’s strongest storms, is on Ishigaki-jima right now, and you can follow his excellent updates on Facebook and Twitter as Typhoon Goni makes landfall this weekend.
The National Hurricane Center still gives this non-tropical low a 50% chance of developing into a tropical or subtropical storm over the next five days as it moves toward the northwest. The system isn’t all that healthy looking right now, but conditions are somewhat conducive to development through the weekend, so don’t be surprised if you flip on The Weather Channel this weekend and suddenly hear forecasters talking about Tropical Storm Erika.
[Images: NOAA, author, JTWC, NASA]