2018 Storm Season. Finished With Engines & the Butcher’s Bill.
For the two late newcomers to our address list in the last three days, please rest assured that this is not the typical length of our daily bulletin, being a summary of the season on what I believe and hope is the last day.
Strong wind shear dominates the Atlantic basin now, sea temperatures have cooled and the last swirls of tropical air gradients have succumbed to frontal activity and disappeared into the foulness of a new North Atlantic winter. It would seem to me that the 2018 season has breathed its last.
I have a sailor's natural aversion to packing up too soon, but recognise that all the reliable commentators have folded their tents and silently stolen away. It is time to ring off on the 2018 season with my final daily report for the year.
My reluctant prediction for this storm season was for 15 named storms, 8 hurricanes and 4 major hurricanes. The final tally was 15 named storms, 8 hurricanes and 2 major hurricanes. I am always happy to err on the side of caution and looking at the human cost of major hurricanes below, am thankful for the two overestimates.
So, the butcher's bill.
We picked up our first storm candidate on 18th May as a disturbance started to take shape, lounging around in the far south west Caribbean. The sharper of the professionals joined in two or three days later as it inched towards the Yucatan Channel and by 25th, it was all aboard for Subtropical storm ALBERTO (incidentally making this the fourth-consecutive season in which storms formed prior to June 1st). After entering the Gulf of Mexico ALBERTO transitioned into a tropical storm and reached a fairly weak peak intensity making a forgettable landfall near Laguna Beach, Florida on the night of the 28th May.
We went into a period of ‘Storm season? What storm season?' for a month, as we watched wave after wave of pressure gradients hitting Saharan sand to the east and upper level wind shear to the west. The month was not without incident though, as some formations which did not reach storm force, were still able to pack a torrential rain punch with landfalls across the Gulf coast states.
On 1st July, we picked up our second suspect as it slipped the African coast putting up a spirited fight against airborne sand. By July 4th in a daily report littered with regrettable Star Spangled Banner puns, we were fairly certain that this would be the second storm of the season and predicted a track well to the east of the land of the free etc. (I am so sorry. I can only apologise again). Early the next day, this had formal recognition and became Tropical Storm BERYL intensifying to hurricane intensity early on July 6th. BERYL weakened quickly, was down to tropical storm strength 24 hours later, and then lost shape (almost) completely, having stayed well clear of land. I say almost, as local conditions gradually became favourable for redevelopment to the point at which the remnants of BERYL regrouped on July 14th and formed a subtropical storm near Bermuda but only lasted 12 hours before dissipating altogether.
Around the same time, a new disturbance piped up near Bermuda. This loafed about in the same area for a few days, deepening and slowly becoming Tropical Storm CHRIS on July 8th. This still faced a battle to shake off the stranglehold of dry air and finally did so, becoming a hurricane on July 10th, briefly reaching category 2 the next day. CHRIS did not stray far from the area between Bermuda and North Carolina for a few days before turning to trace close to the eastern seaboard. This caused heavy coastal rain until the fading remnants finally crossed Labrador. One fatality was attributed to CHRIS when a 62 year old swimmer drowned off Kill Devil Hills beach, North Carolina.
Another dry period followed as Saharan air dominated the convergence zone until August 4th when another westbound disturbance took advantage of a development window in the eastern subtropical Atlantic and became Tropical Storm DEBBY. This peaked on 8th August and was gone by 9th. DEBBY was destined to remain a fish storm and, to the disappointment of some of the more avid vintage motion picture enthusiasts amongst our readership, remained a long way from Dallas. A non-tropical low over the north Atlantic formed Subtropical Storm ERNESTO on August 15th when it was already headed away from the eastern seaboard. This has a couple of attempts to kick-start into something more impressive, but was outdone by its own ground speed.
The only eventual impact ashore was some heavy rainfall and gusty winds on the west coasts of Ireland and Scotland. Sixth sense had us watching the disturbance that would become FLORENCE, almost from the moment it left the African coast on August 23rd. On August 28th the National Hurricane Centre raised the possibility of tropical development which transpired on August 31st when this became Tropical Storm FLORENCE. Gradual intensification occurred as FLORENCE tracked west-nor'west until September 4th when this became the third hurricane of the 2018 season and unexpectedly underwent rapid intensification into a category 3 major hurricane. Strong wind shear intervened briefly but the cyclone regained hurricane strength on September 9th and reached category 4 on 10th with peak intensity winds of 122 knots. By the evening of September 13th, FLORENCE had been downgraded to a category 1 hurricane but began to stall as it neared the Carolina coastline, producing a devastating rainmaker making landfall close to Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. FLORENCE degenerated to a post-tropical cyclone over West Virginia on September 17th , and two days later, the remnants were absorbed into another frontal system.
Despite a weakened landfall as a category 1 hurricane, FLORENCE still had enough wind speed to cause widespread damage throughout the Carolinas. Ashore, the storm's forward motion slowed to a crawl allowing time for biblical quantities of rain along coastal areas including a short period stalled offshore west of Wilmington. Coupled with a large storm surge, this caused widespread flooding along a long stretch of the North Carolina coast, from New Bern to Wilmington. As the storm moved inland heavy rain caused widespread inland flooding, inundating Fayetteville, Smithfield, Lumberton, Durham, and Chapel Hill, as major rivers such as the Neuse, Eno, Cape Fear and Lumber broke their banks. Many places received record-breaking rainfall, with more than 30 inches measured in some locations. At least 55 deaths were attributed to FLORENCE. We picked up on a westbound disturbance on 24th August, a few days after leaving the African coast. This was something of a leap of faith, as even the Blind Sniper had dismissed this as bound for an early grave in airborne sand.
By August 30th this disturbance had reached the south-west Caribbean and the various modellers had a new pin-up which crept north-east and became Tropical Storm GORDON on the night of September 3rd as it crossed the Florida Keys. Although the storm intensified slightly as it moved over southern Florida, vertical convection suffered at the hands of upper level shear. Late on September 4th, GORDON reached peak shortly before landfall just west of the Alabama-Mississippi border and rapidly degraded into a tropical depression. Moving further inland and quickly weakening, GORDON lingered over the south-eastern United States for the next two days, before finally degenerating into a remnant low on September 8th. On September 7th, a new disturbance left the African coast and rapidly organised. The following day, still close to the Cape Verde Islands, this became Tropical Storm HELENE and reached hurricane force the next day reaching category 2 intensity. Over the next two weeks, HELENE bounced around in the central Atlantic, alternately strengthening and weakening between tropical storm and hurricane force before crossing the Azores. This triggered flooding which claimed three lives, before the remnants scooted off to the north-east and lightly brushed the west coast of Ireland.
On September 8th, a westbound disturbance in the central Atlantic developed into Tropical Storm ISAAC and became a category 1 hurricane two days later. This looked to be bad news for the islands of the western Caribbean, but hit upper level shear and weakened again the following day. This continued to track west and despite a few attempts at rallying, crossed the Leeward Islands on 13th September as a weak tropical storm and weakened to nothing two days later. A non-tropical low formed along a trough of low pressure in the north-central Atlantic on September 11th and milled around for 8 days without impacting land.
On September 12th this became Subtropical Storm JOYCE but was comprehensively overwhelmed by HELENE. This cyclone had a sort roller coaster ride of varying intensities but was only of interest to fish and sailors. On September 19th JOYCE weakened into a remnant low and was gone.
We thrashed Star Trek gags to death with KIRK which formed a tropical storm on the eastern side of the Atlantic centre line on September 22nd. Little change in strength occurred as KIRK tracked west, possibly owing to its high ground speed, and it weakened to a tropical depression early on September 24th. This rallied on September 26th and KIRK became tropical storm again as it approached the Windward Islands. Again, upper level wind shear saved the day and this became a weak storm at landfall on St. Lucia on 27th and did not survive beyond 48 hours after entering the Caribbean. This was season over for the Windward Islands. Hurricane LESLIE seemed to be the storm that would not go away. The four-week lifespan began south-west of the Azores and then described a sequence of intensity variations between tropical depression and category 1 hurricane over some erratic tracks, but all clear of land. Finally, a weakening LESLIE clipped Madeira on October 11th and made a remnant landfall close to Lisbon on 13th, thereafter bound for Madrid. Apparently.
Then came MICHAEL. This began growth in a broad area of low pressure that had developed over the south-western Caribbean under a canopy of strong upper-level wind shear. This gave early comfort to the modellers but was unfortunately short-lived and the cyclone became better organised as it drifted north and east towards the Yucatán channel. By October 6th, few were in any doubt as to where this was going. The following day, this became Tropical Storm MICHAEL and 24 hours later, hit hurricane strength. On October 9th while approaching the Gulf coast, MICHAEL strengthened into a major hurricane, failing to realise the traditional weakening-before-landfall. MICHAEL became a category 4 storm when it crossed Mexico beach in Florida with sustained winds of a terrifying 135 knots, becoming the strongest storm of the season. In human terms, this was an awful storm. MICHAEL was the direct cause of 8 fatalities in Honduras, 4 in Nicaragua, and 3 in El Salvador. In the United States, at least 45 were killed across Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia.
On October 7th an area of low pressure associated with a late-season tropical wave piped up several hundred miles south of the Cape Verde Islands and showed development prospects as it tracked west-nor'west across the eastern Atlantic Ocean, and became Tropical Storm NADINE on October 9th. Gradual intensification ensued as NADINE moved north-west reaching peak intensity the following day. This was a small storm which quickly encountered an increasingly unfavourable environment suffering under strong upper level wind shear. On October 13th NADINE lost shape and dissipated without any impact on land.
A new disturbance in the central Atlantic became visible on satellite imagery on October 23rd. By October 27th there was sufficient evidence of vertical convection for this to be classified as Subtropical Storm OSCAR. This continued to intensify as it accelerated south around a broad upper-level low pressure formation until it formed a tangible eye on 28th and transitioned into tropical storm OSCAR, rapidly upgrading to a category 1 hurricane. OSCAR reached peak intensity as category 2 hurricane early on October 30th before accelerating north over increasingly colder waters passing well to the east of Bermuda. There was some chatter on the wires that this would make a flying visit to the British Isles and the Canadian guy briefly drew a track suspiciously close to my home but this was short-lived and OSCAR ended as it began, as a fish storm, and lost itself somewhere in the murk and muck of the North Atlantic winter. An estimated 119 deaths. This has been another dreadful season in humanitarian terms.
Many of you will be aware that I draw information from a number of sources, varying from the reliable agencies such as the UK Met Office, a couple of Europeans and of course many US, particularly military, sources. In quiet times, I occasionally share a snippet from one of the more eccentric storm enthusiasts who can always be relied upon to see a cumulus cloud and predict Armageddon. One such observer is the committed catastrophist blind-sniper, who seems to have acquired a popular following amongst you, judging from feedback received. I envisage this modeller in a lonely snowbound shack furiously scrawling violent isobaric curves across a map of the northern hemisphere. I can poke fun but in fairness, he was spot on with FLORENCE and MICHAEL. For the second year running, he produced a track which would have passed directly over my home. This gives me cause to suspect that he is on to me and knows where I live.
Next year will be our eleventh year of daily reporting and I've given up saying that I probably won't do this next year. In the meantime, thanks to the many addressees who have sent feedback and comment throughout the season, particularly the Canadian Guy Fan Club. Always much appreciated. I think we have replied to all. We have been posting these reports on our website www.watkins-marine.com and using the dark art of Twitter@watkinsmarine and will continue to use these to disseminate matters of lesser interest through the winter months.
Without wanting this to sound like a ghastly ego-boosting awards ceremony, I would like to say thanks to three people without whom I'd be firmly up the creek. Insomniac Carol Wright at our branding, digital and design agency friends Advantage London www.advantagelondon.com sits up at all hours of the night waiting to receive my bulletin, depending on my time zone, to post our bulletins on social media.
Here at Munich Re, Laura (now) Borley keeps the address list and is poised to post the report if I can't access e-mail and have to text it to her. We both heave a sigh of relief at the end of each season that this has not been necessary. Dhiren Lal came up with the solution of how to email over 700 addressees glitch-free - and when there have been glitches, he has been my saviour.
That's me then. Finished With Engines 2018.