Ophelia found a batch of moist, unstable air that helped her explode into a Cat 4 today. After technically dying just 4 days ago, Ophelia redeveloped a new surface low and steadily grew into the showcase storm of the 2011 season. Major Hurricane Ophelia has maximum sustained winds of 140 mph and a central pressure of 940 mb. Both stats are season bests.
So how was Ophelia able to do this? And what did forecasters miss? Trust me, if I had those answers I would be teaching a Tropical Forecasting 101 seminar down in Miami tomorrow. Truth is that we just don't know enough about intensity forecasting yet to nail down even a 24 hour forecast spot on. I truly believe that the folks down at the National Hurricane Center are the best in the business, but even they now have their second big miss of the season. This time they underplayed Ophelia on consecutive days. Fortunately Bermuda was never in any real danger, so no harm, no foul. But the NHC overplayed Irene back in August and may have cost the U.S. millions with unneeded preparations and unnecessary evacuations.
(Hurricane Ophelia Wind Shear Analysis and Water Vapor)
The graphic above shows Ophelia in a pocket of moist air and low wind shear. But with heavily sheared areas in her close proximity. We may rely to heavily on these wind shear analysis, sea surface temp analysis, and water vapor scans, when we should think more about vertical instability, jet streaks, precipitable water, and potential energy. Kinda like what we focus on when forecasting severe weather on our continent. The problem with that, is that we would need more frequent sonde data, which can only be delivered by aircraft. The government has been reluctant to buy into drones, but their are private drone projects underway that could hold the answers to better scanning of tropical systems in the future. Otherwise their is also a 10 year government research project underway, whose sole purpose is to study intensity forecasting of tropical systems. I'm not sure, but I think that that project my have been a victim of recent budget cuts. Nice right?
We'll have to see if Ophelia's got any more tricks up her sleeve. We can get a few hints from the satellite loop above. First notice how the wind shear is finally sawing at Ophelia's southwestern flank, that should mean that her dismantling is eminent. Once that shear reaches her more vital parts, that will cause her to slowly weaken. She is also entering the northern Atlantic. The water north of about 35N begins to rapidly cool with latitude, that too will begin to take a toll on Ophelia as her fuel source gets cut. So it looks like her run is about to come to an end, if she makes Cat 5 now, we will probably have to replace some expensive computer monitors down at FIU, and suture the cuts on the forcasters hands of course. One other thing to note is how Ophelia has jogged a bit to the west at the end of the latest loop. This could be of some concern to Newfoundland, as a course adjustment might be in order for the next advisory at 2am. Ophelia can not be trusted after all.
(Tropical Storm Philippe)
Tropical Storm Philippe has been a little defiant himself. Despite digging straight into 30 knot shear, Philippe has been able to strengthen all the way to 70 mph sustained winds and a pressure now down to 996 mb. The National Hurricane Center is giving him just a 16% chance of becoming a hurricane, but we all know what these two deviant storms are up to. Just looking at Philippe though, it's hard to imagine that he will be able to become a hurricane anytime soon. Not only are our satellites telling us that he is in unfavorable conditions, but we can actually see the affects of those conditions on Philippes presentation. The only thing he's got going for him is some impressive convection with cold clouds tops. So I'm sure that when we wake up in the morning he'll be a Cat 5. LOL.