HOUSTON - Labor Day Weekend and natural disasters seem to go hand in hand. In 1935, the strongest hurricane to ever strike the US slammed south Florida. Beach goers enjoying the unofficial last weekend of summer were caught by surprise and many died.
This weekend a tropical system also threatens the US, but Tropical Storm Hermine is barely a shadow of that great Florida hurricane. That said, as it tracks toward the big cities of the northeast, it should not be written off. It may prove to be the biggest problem there since Sandy. Essentially they'll become the same type of system. (More on that, below.)
Hermine is losing its tropical characteristics. On the forecast map, the 'tropical storm' icon is swapped out for a 'low' icon, to signify a low pressure zone. At casual glance, Hermine appears to be dying. If you look closer, you'll see that winds actually increase as the tropical storm transitions into a non-tropical system and garners hurricane force winds again when it becomes an, "extra tropical low". ('Extra' in this context, means "outside of the tropics".) It'll be structured more like a wintertime Nor'easter snowstorm. Because it'll tap both the power of the warm ocean currents that give hurricanes their might AND it'll pull-in the cooler autumn air from Canada, a potent air-mass contrast will result creating a bigger, broader wind machine!
While Hermine's classification may not be, "hurricane", it will look like a duck, sound like a duck... it'll be a duck. Hermine will strengthen again to have the same winds as a hurricane, it'll have the same or greater storm surge that it did before and it'll produce the same high waves and coastal damage. HOWEVER, people will not take it as seriously as a hurricane because of the name change. (While the National Hurricane Center does incredibly good work for its customers in making forecasts, there does need to be a continued discussion -- like after Sandy -- about public communications in relaying warnings. If Hermine tracks into NYC or the Jersey Shore as a 75 mph 'low' and people didn't take it seriously because there was no hurricane warning, there could be casualties.)
Is this deja vu? Remember 2012's Hurricane Sandy? As it tracked into the northeast, it lost its tropical characteristics and the hurricane warnings were dropped. It actually strengthened as it transitioned from tropical to extra-tropical. There was more wind and more storm-surge than ever before when it was a hurricane, but many people let their guard down. (Other systems that have strengthened when becoming extra-tropical include, "The Perfect Storm" in 1991. Ever read the book or see the movie?) Since then, Sandy has been dubbed, "Superstorm" Sandy -- a non-meteorological term which seemed to cover all the bases of the death and destruction it had caused. While Hermine will be no Sandy, it will resemble a shade of that, "Superstorm". (I know Sandy well, as I flew into the hurricane with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters aboard an Orion P-3, as the only broadcast meteorologist in the country during the duration of the storm, to experience it in the air with NOAA.)
As with all hurricanes, Hermine's track will determine how bad things get. Some models take it out to sea sparing the cities, while others have the "Superstorm" blasting the US's biggest city with hurricane force gusts and life-threatening storm surge. Houston will likely see a few flight delays and cancelations coming into and out of those big city airport hubs should Hermine threaten.
As a benefit of this broad system, we're tapping just a taste of drier autumn air from the Midwest. It'll still be hot, but it won't feel quite as "jungle hot" after 3 pm.
If hurricane aren't enough, how about an Earthquake? This Saturday morning, Pawnee, Oklahoma endured a huge 5.6 magnitude tremor, felt from Nebraska to Austin. Bricks were knocked off buildings and store shelves tipped over. As of this publishing, thankfully there were no reported injuries. Many speculate Oklahoma's earthquakes are a product of fracking. As you may imagine, this explanation is contested by the frackers and their lobbying groups.
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