The bell has rung for hurricane season

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, August 23, 2016

I watched some of the middle and long distance track and field races on television during the Olympics last week.

For the casual spectator such as myself, most of these races tend toward the monotonous. Runners make multiple laps around the track mostly all bunched together. Just because someone is ahead for seven laps doesn’t mean they will be ahead at the end. There is the occasional lead change or some jostling among those back in the pack for position, but, at least for the track-and-field layperson, not much appears to be going on.

But, that changes once the runners enter the “bell lap.” As they enter their final lap around the track a bell rings. Then the real excitement finally begins as the runners make their moves for the final push to the finish line. News is about to be made.

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Hearing the bell go off in those races, and seeing the excitement that followed, reminded me of a story told by Dr. Phil Klotzbach, who makes seasonal hurricane forecasts as head of the Tropical Meteorology Project at Colorado State University.

Klotzbach learned his craft from his predecessor Dr. Bill Gray, a pioneer in the field of seasonal hurricane forecasting. According to Klotzbach, every year on Aug. 20, Dr. Gray would walk into their laboratory at Colorado State and ring a bell. 

Why? Because, August 20th is a good approximation of the beginning of the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season. Even though the official Atlantic 

hurricane season runs from June 1st to November 30th, almost as many storms form during the six weeks from mid-August to the end of September as during the rest of the six-month season combined.

Certainly for those of us on the central Gulf Coast the next six weeks is the part of the season that historically has had the greatest impact on us. 

Major hurricanes are those with winds greater than 110 miles per hour. All of the major hurricanes making landfall in coastal Mississippi and southeast Louisiana have done so between mid-August and the first week in October.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has upped the number of tropical storms and hurricanes they expect this season in the Atlantic. 

On August 11th, in an update to the outlook that they released back in June, NOAA said there is a 70 percent chance for 7-12 named storms to form during the remainder of this season, with two to four of them becoming major hurricanes.

There have already been six named storms in 2016. Two of those have been hurricanes, but, neither of these came close to crossing the threshold to become a major hurricane.

Several people said to me during July and early August, “There doesn’t seem to be much going on with hurricanes this season.”

That’s not unusual for June through mid-August. We usually have to wait for the bell lap to see how busy the season will be and whether any hurricanes that form impact the northern Gulf Coast.

The bell has rung. Forecasters are expecting at least one and perhaps two hurricanes to form this week over the mid-Atlantic. Fortunately for us, both are predicted to curve to the north before they get to the Gulf of Mexico.

As for our local weather this week, the dog days of summer continue, which means warm and sticky with widely scattered mostly afternoon showers and thunderstorms.

By Skip Rigney