Tag Archive for: Bermuda High

Why Hurricanes Often Track Like Boomerangs

Ever wonder why so many hurricanes track like boomerangs? They don’t all follow this pattern, of course, but when you look at the 1370 hurricanes between 1851 and 2006, a pattern clearly emerges.

From the US Department of Commerce book “Tropical Cyclones of the North Atlantic 1851 -2006.”

Interaction of Complex Systems

In my research, I found several possible explanations for the pattern above.

Harris County Meteorologist Jeff Lindner provided this explanation. “Many of the storms that form in the eastern or central tropical Atlantic tend to get pulled northward by mid-latitude troughs over the western Atlantic as they attempt to move westward. Storms that make it all the way across tend to happen only when strong ridges of high pressure are in place.” 

“Once a system is ‘captured’ by a mid-latitude trough, it will turn NW then N and then NE and E ahead of and along the trough axis. That’s why so many tracks are of this fashion over the open central and north Atlantic.”

Jeff Lindner, Harris County Meteorologist

Lindner added, “The further south a storm develops the less likely it is to be influenced by any sort of trough and a more westward track is then favored. Tracks into the Caribbean Sea from the east usually continue westward and those are what we tend to worry most about here along the Gulf Coast.”  

“It is very rare for storms to cross central America or Mexico due to the high mountains in this area. The mountains quickly destroy the low-level circulations. A few in history have survived the trek, but they are few,” said Lindner.

Shifts in Bermuda High

The mother of all high-pressure ridges in the Atlantic is sometimes called the Bermuda or Azores high. NOAA defines it as “a semi-permanent, subtropical area of high pressure that migrates east and west between Bermuda and the Azores depending on the season.”

Red arrow added to NOAA Image indicating migration of high between Bermuda and the Azores.

The Meteorology 101 blog says, “During the summer, [the Bermuda high] is located just off the east coast of the United States. The clockwise circulation around this high pressure area helps direct the path of hurricanes and helps determine where they will make landfall. … During the winter months, the Bermuda High is located farther east of the US towards the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. 

Depending on the Bermuda high’s location at any given time, it can block storms from going north. Or it can spin storms around in the boomerang pattern in the first image above. That’s because winds circulate in a clockwise fashion around high-pressure systems in the northern hemisphere.

Also note, sometimes gaps open in the high, letting storms slip north and get caught up in that clockwise circulation.

Highs Sometimes Block Storms from Curving North

HurricaneScience.org says, “Atlantic hurricanes typically propagate around the periphery of the subtropical ridge, riding along its strongest winds. If the high is positioned to the east, then hurricanes generally propagate around the high’s western edge into the open Atlantic Ocean without making landfall.”

“However, if the high is positioned to the west and extends far enough to the south, storms are blocked from curving north and forced to continue west, putting a large bulls-eye on Florida, Cuba, and the Gulf of Mexico.” This helps explain the wide spread of tracks on the left of the first image.

Influence of Trade Winds

This post from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) explains the relationship between the Sahara Desert and the formation of many hurricanes. Prevailing winds blowing from east to west (often called trade winds) come off the hot, dry Sahara Desert where they meet the cooler, wetter environment of the Atlantic Ocean west of Africa.

Prevailing global wind circulation patterns, courtesy of NASA

The prevailing winds in this latitude are so steady that in the days of sailing ships, mariners from Europe going to the Americas would first sail south to Africa. There, they would ride the reliable winds west to conduct commerce in the New World. Hence the name “trade winds.” The trade winds steer hurricanes, too.

In higher latitudes, the trade winds reverse direction. So sailors returning to Europe would sail north before returning to Europe and catch a tailwind home.

Opposing trade winds at least partially explain the boomerang pattern shown above.

If you ever get to Seville, Spain, make sure you visit the Archive of the Indies. There you will find the story of every Spanish treasure fleet that made the round trip between Europe and the Americas. I was struck by how many fleets sank in hurricanes while riding the trade winds.

Meteorology, or lack thereof, has influenced the fate of empires.

Coriolis Force

Many scientists also cite the Coriolis Force as a reason for why hurricanes try to drift north of dominant west-to-east winds. Frankly, the physics are beyond me. It has to do with the rotation of the earth at different speeds in different latitudes, and the rightward drift of objects (like hurricanes) not anchored to the earth while traveling over long distances. The Coriolis Force is also used to explain why hurricanes rotate in a counter-clockwise direction.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/31/2022 with input from Jeff Lindner, HCFCD

1828 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Another Above-Average Hurricane Season Predicted

This is the time of year when meteorologists start predicting how many hurricanes we will experience in the Atlantic Basin. Frank Billingsley at Click2Houston.com issued his prediction for an above-average hurricane season Friday. He also predicts that other meteorologists will predict the same. Here’s why.

Official Averages Out of Date

The official window used to calculate the average number of storms has been 1981 to 2010. But when Brian McNoldy of the University of Miami looked at the more recent 30 years from 1991 to 2020, he found an increase in the number of storms. Also, AccuWeather has already come out with its prediction, showing a substantial increase.

Year(s)StormsHurricanesMajor Hurricanes
1981-2010 (Old Average)1263
1991-2020 (New Average)1473
2020 Actual30136
2021 Predicted by AccuWeather16 to 207 to 103 to 5
Sources: Brian McNoldy, AccuWeather, NHC

Other Contributing Factors

Sea-Surface Temperatures

Sea-surface temperatures are slightly above normal for this time of year. Despite the polar outbreak in February which cooled the Gulf somewhat, the Caribbean and Atlantic remain higher than average. See anomaly map below from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

Seven day average as of 4/3/2021
La Niña

Billingsley’s prediction also takes into account La Niña, which is part of ENSO (El Niño Southern Oscillation).

NOAA describes El Niño and La Niña as the warm and cool phases of a recurring climate pattern across the tropical Pacific. The pattern can shift back and forth irregularly every two to seven years, and each phase triggers predictable disruptions of temperature, precipitation and winds.

The El Niño phase usually means fewer hurricanes in the Atlantic.

Typical influence of El Niño on Pacific and Atlantic seasonal hurricane activity. Map by NOAA Climate.gov, based on originals by Gerry Bell.

The La Niña phase usually means more hurricanes in The Atlantic.

Typical influence of La Niña on Pacific and Atlantic seasonal hurricane activity. Map by NOAA Climate.gov, based on originals by Gerry Bell.

Why? In short, the warm, wet air of El Niño in the tropical Pacific produces stronger vertical wind sheer which discourages hurricane formation in the Atlantic. The cool, dry air of La Niña produces less wind sheer which lets hurricanes form more easily.

National Hurricane Center

The real question is: How long will La Niña last? La Niña was strong last year. That meant one of the busiest hurricane seasons ever. (See table above.) But will it fade by the start of this hurricane season or the end? The Texas Water Development Board predicted it would begin to fade after this month. But some models show it lasting through the end of the year.

Bermuda High

AccuWeather predicts three to five hurricanes will make a direct hit on the United States this year. That’s partially due to another factor – the position of the Bermuda High. A weak Bermuda High means storms forming in the Atlantic would most likely aim at the Eastern Seaboard as opposed to coming into the Gulf.

Bottom line, “Be prepared. Anyone who has been through a hurricane can tell you it only takes one.”

Frank Billingsley, Click2Houston.com

Valuable Resources During Hurricane Season

For the full AccuWeather forecast, click here.

Colorado State University’s hurricane forecast comes out next week. It’s one of the most respected in the world.

During the season, the National Hurricane Center provides the most frequent updates of storm activities. They will start issuing tropical updates on May 15. And their reports will have more features than ever this year. See the list of new features including storm surge inundation values, weather forecasts for “blue-water” mariners, wave heights, cumulative maximum winds over 5-days, and more.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/3/2021 based on information from Click2Houston, AccuWeather, and NOAA

1313 days since Hurricane Harvey