April 23, 2021

The Editor Speaks: Monster Matthew defies the experts

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colin-wilsonweb2Hurricanes are unpredictable and although we have come a long way in tracking them and forecasting where they go they are untamed beasts and have a will of their own.

Listening to the experts pronounce for days including on Friday that Matthew would not and could not intensify from a Category 2 Hurricane for the next couple of days because it was undergoing dry air and wind shear.

Even as the National Hurricane Centre was showing on their website Matthew was increasing in strength to a Category 2 and in minutes was now a Category 4, one of the Miami TV station’s experts was saying it would not intensify until the weekend!

It actually then defied everyone again and became a Category 5 storm – the Atlantic’s first in nine years.

Can you imagine if this had happened just as Matthew was approaching land in a highly populated area?

The very highly respected Jeff Masters, founder of Weather Underground, said in his blog on Saturday (1) morning, “The NHC official forecast and the intensity models failed to predict Matthew’s rapid intensification—though the SHIPS model did give a 12% chance that we would see intensification into a Category 5 hurricane. We don’t have much data over ocean areas to be able to diagnose the detailed flow pattern around the core of a hurricane, and it is likely the shear was actually much lower near Matthew’s center, which allowed the storm to organize more quickly than our models anticipated. The rapid intensification process was also aided by the fact Matthew was moving into a moister atmosphere—the upper-level winds hitting Matthew from the southwest were advecting in air that had high humidity, which did not disrupt the storm like low humidity air would have done.

“Another surprise regarding Matthew’s rapid intensification was that the central pressure that supported the Category 5 winds of the storm was relatively high—941 mb. Category 5 storms usually have pressures quite a bit lower. According to meteorologist Sam Lillo, Matthew had the third highest pressure observed in an Atlantic category 5 hurricane. For comparison, Hurricane Andrew had a 933 mb central pressure when it was a Category 5, and Hurricane Felix had a 935 mb central pressure when it achieved Category 5 status. Matthew’s strongest winds have been focused over a relatively narrow region near the core of the storm, which has allowed it to have extreme winds without an extremely low pressure.

“An Air Force hurricane hunter aircraft made two passes through the eye of Matthew on Saturday morning, and found that Matthew’s central pressure had risen to 947 mb during their second pass at 8:48 am EDT. Flight-level winds at 10,000 feet hit 135 mph and surface winds measured by their stepped frequency microwave radiometer (SFMR) were as high as 124 mph, which would make Matthew a borderline Category 3/Category 4 storm. Infrared satellite loops on Saturday morning showed that Matthew had weakened some, with the eye less distinct and the cloud tops of the eyewall thunderstorms warmer. At upper levels, high cirrus clouds streaming to the north of Matthew showed the continued presence of a powerful outflow channel, which was helping ventilate the storm and allowing it to fight off the high wind shear of 20 – 30 knots affecting it. Aiding development today were warm ocean waters of 28.5°C (83°F) and 70 – 75% relative humidity at mid-levels of the atmosphere, as analyzed by the SHIPS model. Heavy rains from Matthew were affecting the coast of South America near the Colombia/Venezuela border, as seen on Venezuela radar.”

As I write this I am waiting for the right hand turn the experts predict will happen and poor Jamaica and to a lesser extent our Sister Islands are going to get horribly clouted.

With the poor call by the experts so far on Monster Matthew I am not placing any money on them being right.

By the time you read this you will know one way or the other.

I will place a postscript Monday morning.

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