Modiki El Niños and Atlantic hurricane activity

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:48 PM GMT on July 08, 2009

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It's an El Niño year, which typically means that Atlantic hurricane activity will be reduced. But not all El Niño events are created equal when it comes to their impact on Atlantic hurricane activity. Over the past 150 years, hurricane damage has averaged $800 million/year in El Niño years and double that during La Niña years. The abnormal warming of the equatorial Eastern Pacific ocean waters in most El Niño events creates an atmospheric circulation pattern that brings strong upper-level winds over the Atlantic, creating high wind shear conditions unfavorable for hurricanes. Yet some El Niño years, like 2004, don't fit this pattern. Residents of Florida and the Gulf Coast will not soon forget the four major hurricanes that pounded them in 2004--Ivan, Frances, Jeanne, and Charley. Overall, the 15 named storms, 9 hurricanes, and 6 intense hurricanes of the hyperactive hurricane season of 2004 killed over 3000 people--mostly in Haiti, thanks to Hurricane Jeanne--and did $40 billion in damage.

A new paper published in Science last Friday attempts to explain why some El Niño years see high Atlantic hurricane activity. "Impact of Shifting Patterns of Pacific Ocean Warming on North Atlantic Tropical Cyclones", by Georgia Tech researchers Hye-Mi Kim, Peter Webster, and Judith Curry, theorizes that Atlantic hurricane activity is sensitive to exactly where in the Pacific Ocean El Niño warming occurs. If the warming occurs primarily in the Eastern Pacific, near the coast of South America, the resulting atmospheric circulation pattern creates very high wind shear over the tropical Atlantic, resulting in fewer hurricanes. This pattern, called the Eastern Pacific Warming (EPW) pattern, occurred most recently during the El Niño years of 1997, 1987, and 1982 (Figure 1). In contrast, more warming occurred in the Central Pacific during the El Niño years of 2004, 2002, 1994, and 1991. The scientists showed that these Central Pacific Warming (CPW) years had lower wind shear over the Atlantic, and thus featured higher hurricane activity than is typical for an El Niño year. One of the paper's authors, Professor Peter J. Webster, said the variant Central Pacific Warming (CPW) El Niño pattern was discovered in the 1980s by Japanese and Korean researchers, who dubbed it modiki El Niño. Modiki is the Japanese word for "similar, but different".


Figure 1. Difference of Sea Surface Temperature (SST) from average during the peak of hurricane season, August-September-October, for seven years that had El Niño events (except for 2009, when the SST anomaly for July 1 - 3 is plotted). On the left side are years when the El Niño warming primarily occurred in the Eastern Pacific (EPW years). On the right are years when the warming primarily occurred in the Central Pacific (CPW years). Shown on the top of each plot is the number of named storms (NS), hurricanes (H), and intense hurricanes (IH) that occurred in the Atlantic each year. Atlantic hurricane activity tends to be more prevalent in CPW years than EPW years. An average hurricane season has 10 named storms, 6 hurricanes, and 2 intense hurricanes. Image credit: NOAA/ESRL.

What, then, can we expect the current developing El Niño event to do to 2009 hurricane activity? Kim et al. note that in recent decades, the incidence of modiki CPW El Niño years has been increasing, relative to EPW years. However, the preliminary pattern of SST anomalies in the Pacific observed so far in July (lower left image in Figure 1) shows an EPW pattern--more warming in the Eastern Pacific than the Central Pacific. If Kim et al.'s theory holds true, this EPW pattern should lead to an Atlantic hurricane season with activity lower than the average 10 named storms, 6 hurricanes, and 2 intense hurricanes. There is still a possibility that the observed warming pattern could shift to the Central Pacific during the peak portion of hurricane season, however. We are still in the early stages of this El Niño, and it is unclear how it will evolve.

Jeff Masters

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Quoting jeffs713:
Nasty shear right now over the central caribbean.


With a nino officially established i dont see anything developing till mid/early august.Strong westerlies all across the area.

What king of impact will this nino event will have on this season is yet to be seen.
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That is a lot of energy in the Carrib and the area that's fixing to enter the carrib... If shear could die down...
Member Since: August 30, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 1857
12Z ECMWF low in gulf long term (192hrs). See if it holds it in the next couple of runs.
Member Since: September 23, 2005 Posts: 14 Comments: 11165
Member Since: March 19, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 1421
Nasty shear right now over the central caribbean.
Member Since: August 3, 2008 Posts: 16 Comments: 5881
Quoting Acemmett90:
Wow watch this wave

Which one!
the "blob" is suppose to make it's way to south texas...brownsville area or so. that is what i got from accuweather... if that is the case then i'm sure they will be happy...some heat and dry relief....
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the blob thing is suppose to make its way to south texas i believe. around brownsville or so. That is what i got from accuweather....which if that is the case then that is good. they have been very hot and dry as well, like we have.
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EL NINO declared today by the climate prediction center.
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True. Keeping a little eye on it is smart. Humberto formed in just the same way, from the tail of a stalled front...and then was memorable enough.

Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
i think the blob or whatever you want to call it is suppose to make its way to south texas...brownsvill area or so. That is what i got from accuweather.com - that would help them, they have been drier and hotter than us i believe.
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Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:
Im looking at the Gulf, I just dont see anything spinning up there either

Nothing yet. As TS alluded to, stalled fronts in the GOM have a tendency to spin up if they stay stalled out long enough and other conditions are right. This time of year, the biggest question mark will be shear.
Member Since: August 3, 2008 Posts: 16 Comments: 5881
Im looking at the Gulf, I just dont see anything spinning up there either
Correct me if I am wrong but this area will eventually move East to Florida...
Member Since: August 30, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 1857
Quoting TampaSpin:
The GOM needs to be watched over the next 48hrs. Watch the tail end of the stall front.

I definitely agree there. Waters are toasty, and when I glanced at the wind shear maps, it was marginal (but trending towards higher shear). That said... who knows what could happen.
Member Since: August 3, 2008 Posts: 16 Comments: 5881
Quoting 2010hurricane:



Are you making that up or is that true?


just having a little fun...
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Quoting SomeRandomTexan:
TS... The area right south of NOLA?


Yep.....i won't take much for something to spin up there....
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TS... The area right south of NOLA?
Member Since: August 30, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 1857
Quoting atmoaggie:


I just extended my own GFS run. Looks like it is spinning up 2 storms in the MDR at 9720 hours. One of them could be a threat to PR on August 12, 2010. Landfall at about 3 PM.




Are you making that up or is that true?
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The GOM needs to be watched over the next 48hrs. Watch the tail end of the stall front.
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Quoting atmoaggie:


I just extended my own GFS run. Looks like it is spinning up 2 storms in the MDR at 9720 hours. One of them could be a threat to PR on August 26, 2010. Landfall at about 3 PM.



LMBO!!! did it spin up any storms in December?
Member Since: August 30, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 1857
Quoting jeffs713:

*blinks*
*looks at the calendar*
*blinks again*
Um... lets finish out the 2009 season first.


I just extended my own GFS run. Looks like it is spinning up 2 storms in the MDR at 9720 hours. One of them could be a threat to PR on August 26, 2010. Landfall at about 3 PM.

Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
Quoting jeffs713:

*looks at the calendar*
Um... lets finish out the 2009 season first.


No doubt! I think you just pulled another thought from my head... ouch this is getting painful :)
Member Since: August 30, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 1857
Quoting 2010hurricane:
I wonder what will be the amount of storms in 2010?

*blinks*
*looks at the calendar*
*blinks again*
Um... lets finish out the 2009 season first.
Member Since: August 3, 2008 Posts: 16 Comments: 5881
I wonder what will be the amount of storms in 2010?
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TROPICAL WAVE IS ALONG 52W S OF 20N MOVING W NEAR 15 KT. A LARGE AREA OF SAHARAN DUST SURROUNDS THE WAVE AND IS LIMITING ANY DEEP CONVECTION TO S OF 12N. AN EARLIER QUIKSCAT PASS AROUND 0930 UTC DEPICTED VERY BROAD CYCLONIC WIND FLOW IN THE VICINITY OF THE WAVE AXIS. CONFINED MOSTLY ALONG THE ITCZ AXIS... SCATTERED MODERATE CONVECTION IS FROM 8N-12N BETWEEN 51W-59W.
...
AS THE TROPICAL WAVE ALONG 52W TRACKS CLOSER TO THE LESSER ANTILLES...INCREASED MOISTURE AND
INSTABILITY IS NOTED ON SATELLITE IMAGERY AS SCATTERED SHOWERS AND ISOLATED TSTMS ARE OVER THE WINDWARD ISLANDS S OF 14N E OF 63W. FRESH TO STRONG ELY TRADE WIND FLOW CONTINUES ACROSS THE BASIN AND IS FORECAST TO PERSIST THROUGH THE WEEKEND.

Link
Member Since: July 11, 2006 Posts: 14 Comments: 11328
Since we're going into a negative NAO, the storms will come toward the U.S. instead recurving out to sea later in the season
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Quoting Chicklit:
I liked Al Roker and Willard Scott.
Stephanie Abrams...now that's another story.
The woman screeches and doesn't use proper English. Don't know how she got where she is.
Poor Al. I just don't watch either NBC or the weather channel anymore.


Yea it was really sad. You could tell his knees were going bad from the wieght
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I liked Al Roker and Willard Scott.
Stephanie Abrams...now that's another story.
The woman screeches and doesn't use proper English. Don't know how she got where she is.
Poor Al. I just don't watch either NBC or the weather channel anymore.
Member Since: July 11, 2006 Posts: 14 Comments: 11328
Quoting CaneWarning:


No, last time I saw Al on tv he was talking about a doughnut he had eaten. I don't watch TWC anymore hardly.


When I was working on Project Runway we did an episode at the Today Show. Poor Al was limping out to his car after the show. He has really gained wieght since his bariatric surgery. I thought it was sad.
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
I am trying to remember the last time I ate a doughnut. Maybe we'll get an annular hurricane with a nice doughnut eye well out in the Atlantic this year.

Today was my guess for the first named storm in some of the contests. Oops :)


At least your date wasn't in the first week of June...
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Al Roker is NOT as big as Barney anymore....ok, maybe he's as annoying...I'll give you that much...
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LOL@atmoaggie on the Al Roker/Barney comparison! We're having a field day with it in my office.
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reedzone - you must be looking at a really long term gfs.

12Z shows a quite a little bugger out there in a week.

Link

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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.