It’s been two years since Tropical Storm Irene caused heavy rainfall and flooding in many parts of New Jersey. Meteorologist Gary Szatkowski, who works in Mount Holly for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), discussed the cause of tropical storms and hurricanes with NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider and said models are still showing a more active than usual hurricane season.
Szatkowski said Tropical Storm Irene had a major impact on New Jersey. “The biggest impact was obviously all the rainfall and the flooding. With every hurricane, you have the threats of high winds and the wind damage. You have storm surge and coastal flooding. And then you have the potential with heavy rain. And the big thing with Irene obviously was heavy rain and the catastrophic inland flooding that we saw really across much of the state,” he said.
Although forecasts have said this hurricane season would be active, it has been relatively calm thus far. Szatkowski said there have been six tropical storms, but they haven’t impacted the U.S. and none have strengthened into hurricanes. “In terms of the number of tropical storms we’ve had this season, … that would be considered an active season. But no hurricanes. In a normal year, we have one or two hurricanes by now. We haven’t had that yet. And certainly in terms of impacts on the United States, we just haven’t seen anything of any significance,” he said.
El Niño and La Niña affect water temperatures in the tropical pacific and have an impact worldwide. Szatkowski said there is a third category called neutral conditions which is neither El Niño nor La Niña, which describes the current conditions. Neutral conditions are generally favorable for hurricane development in the Atlantic, he said. That was one of the factors that was used to forecast an above average hurricane season.
According to Szatkowski, patterns have favored more hurricanes for many years. “We seem to be in a pattern of having above average hurricane activity, really since 1995. Most of the years since ’95 have been above average. And water temperatures are warmer than normal in the Atlantic. And that’s again one of the things that hurricanes thrive on, is warm water,” he said.
The jet stream is another factor that affects hurricane development. Szatkowski explained it’s a steering mechanism year round. The current position of the jet stream has kept cool, damp weather in this area and Szatkowski said if that continues as we go into September and hurricanes form, the jet stream would deflect them away from New Jersey.
“The jet stream, in the pattern it’s in right now today, would make it very difficult for a hurricane to make it to the East Coast,” Szatkowski said. “If it was coming out of the Caribbean say, it would curl up the coast, but then continue to curve and go out to the east into the open Atlantic. And so right now this weather pattern’s favorable.”
But Szatkowski said the jet stream changes and forecasters can’t bank on it staying in the current pattern for the rest of hurricane season.
Szatkowski also stressed that September and October can both be active months for hurricanes, as we saw last year with Hurricane Sandy striking at the end of October. While officials will worry about hurricanes forming for the next several months, Szatkowski said emergency planners do breathe a sigh of relief after Labor Day since if evacuations are necessary from Jersey Shore areas, fewer people would have to be moved in September and October.
“There’s certainly nothing brewing in the tropics right now to cause any concerns. It certainly looks like we’re going to get through the Labor Day weekend without any tropical concerns,” Szatkowski said. “I will add, though, that some of our very short range indicators are really kind of screaming at us that tropical storms and hurricanes are likely to develop.”