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Dr. Jeff Masters - Tropical storms and hurricane roundup

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Dr. Jeff Masters Dr. Jeff Masters | 08:00 UK time, Saturday, 10 September 2011

Distance travelled ~ 649'203'200 km

(After almost getting killed flying into hurricane Hugo as a flight meteorologist for Hurricane Hunters, Dr. Jeff Masters left to pursue a Ph.D in air pollution meteorology from the University of Michigan. While working on his Ph.D he cofounded the very popular weather internet service 'The Weather Underground'. Here he shares his thoughts on the current tropical storm developments, just as the 23 Degrees team touches down in Mexico to film Nate.)

Tropical Storm Maria is pounding the Lesser Antilles Islands with heavy rains and strong gusty winds. Maria's 45 mph winds are expected to steadily increase for the next five days as the storm takes advantage of warm ocean temperatures near 29.5°C and light winds aloft that put little shear on the storm's core. By Monday, Maria is expected to be a Category 1 hurricane, and may intensify to a Category 3 hurricane with 115 mph winds by Wednesday. Maria is headed northwest at 15 mph, and will pass through the Virgin Islands and skirt the eastern side of Puerto Rico on Saturday. The storm is expected to dump 100 to 200 mm of rain on the islands, with isolated amounts as high as 250 mm. Maria will turn to the north early next week and miss the U.S., but may be a threat to Canada late in the week.

A Hurricane Watch has been posted along the Mexican coast from Tampico to
Veracruz for the arrival of Tropical Storm Nate. Nate is nearly stationary in the Bay of Campeche, but is expected to move steadily westwards on Saturday and Sunday, and make landfall on Sunday as a strong tropical storm with 70 mph winds between Tampico and Veracruz. The primary danger from Nate will be heavy rains; 100 - 150 mm of rain is expected in coastal Mexico, with isolated amounts as high as 300 mm. Unfortunately, Nate will be too far south to being
rains to Texas, which is enduring its worst drought in recorded history.

Figure 1. True-color MODIS image of Tropical Storm Nate taken at 12:45 pm EDT Friday, September 9, 2011. At the time, Nate was a tropical storm with 50 mph winds. Image credit: NASA.

Hurricane Katia is a few hundred kilometers south of Newfoundland, Canada, and is accelerating east-northeastward towards the open Atlantic. The hurricane is expected to pass over much colder waters of 18°C on Saturday afternoon. A hurricane cannot survive in waters less than about 25°C, and the cold waters will force Katia to transition into a powerful extratropical storm. Extratropical Storm Katia will continue east-northeastward towards Europe, and on Monday, the storm will pass very close to northern British Isles. The offshore waters of Northern Ireland and Western Scotland can expect storm-force winds of 50 - 65 mph as Katia roars past to the north. Hurricanes that transition to powerful extratropical storms hit the British Isles several times per decade, on average. In September 2006, two major hurricanes named Gordon and Helene transitioned to strong extratropical storms that hit the British Isles. Only once since accurate records began in 1851 has an actual hurricane with full tropical characteristics hit Europe. This happened on September 16, 1961, when Category 1 Hurricane Debbie hit northwestern Ireland. Wind gusts reached 106 mph at Ballykelly and 104 mph at Tiree and Snaefill, and coastal radio stations reported the airwaves were jammed with calls for help from small ships and fishing craft. Eleven people were killed and 50 injured in the storm.

Figure 2. Image of Hurricane Katia taken from the International Space Station at 15:00 GMT September 9, 2011, by astronaut Ron Garan. At the time, Katia was a Category 1 hurricane with 85 mph winds. Long Island, New York is visible
at the lower left.

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