Atlantic Basin, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexcio storm season 2016

Welcome to our eighth year of daily storm reports for the Atlantic basin, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico storm season. New readers can rest assured that this is by far the most I would expect anyone to read, being our joint summary of 2015 and forecast for 2016. I try and get the daily report done in a paragraph or two.

The season is given a nominal start date of June 1st by various agencies, analysts and vile weather enthusiasts, continuing through to a frankly overambitious end on November 30th. I routinely draw on a number of resources ranging from excitable amateur bluffers and doomsday catastrophists to the more conservative official bodies, including military and civil government agencies on both sides of the Atlantic. Our aim is to provide a simple, plainly worded and - one hopes – reasonably accurate forecast.

Regular readers will be aware that I avoid long range forecasts as far as possible. I have a seafarer's healthy mistrust of armchair meteorologists, tea-leaf readers and liars who are never around when you are up to your knees in filth, muck and green water. Nevertheless, I'll take a stab. I have taken account of some decent forecasters who seem (foolishly, in my view) confident in six month's predicted wisdom and whose understanding and accuracy I have come to respect, whilst simultaneously ignoring the charlatans, incompetents and fantasists who pop up from time to time.

Last year we had 11 named storms in the Atlantic basin of which 4 became hurricanes and 2 became major hurricanes. Short-lived DANNY became a category 3 for just a few hours, but well to the east of the Windward Islands, whilst JOAQUIN touched category 5 in late September as it approached the Bahamas from the north-east. JOAQUIN weakened before landfall and doubled back from the eastern seaboard, but not before overcoming US-flagged container ship El Faro and killing her entire crew of 33 souls.

Along with many others, I had confidently predicted the main development areas to be the eastern Atlantic - in an area to the north of the Caribbean and east of Florida - which wasn't far out. I also considered a secondary development area in the Gulf of Mexico to be a racing certainty. If I continue with a racing analogy, my horse fell as it was being led off the truck. The Gulf was like a millpond. We saw only tropical storm BILL which faffed about off the Texas coast in mid-June. This proved to be a rainmaker ashore but hardly bothered the guys in the oil leases offshore.

It was undeniably a quiet season. The highest wind shear recorded over an entire season since 1949. Predictions on windstorm activity in the Gulf of Mexico/Caribbean/Atlantic basin are dominated by the meteorological profile of the tropical Pacific and El Nino/La Nina. Last year, sea water temperatures were a couple of degrees above the norm - an El Nino year - fertile breeding ground for wind shear. Sea water temperatures in the Pacific are already down on last year and we can expect a slight La Nina which, in turn, will hamper the evolution of wind shear. A second significant factor is sea water temperature in the reporting area itself. Storms love warm water. Temperatures in the central and eastern Atlantic and southern Caribbean are already above average, while temperatures in the US Gulf are around average, however cold water concentrations also have their say, and cooler than average temperatures in the north Atlantic may kick off a cycle of strong trade winds in the south - local wind shear, if you like.

The forecast for pressure profiles is similar to last year with predominantly high pressure/sinking air – a passion killer for storm development. Moisture is needed too. Dry air was a significant feature of the intertropical convergence zone last year, creating an airborne sandpit which proved a determined defence against wet air circulation. This is not expected to be repeated this year.

The smart guys have put all these factors into the mix to find similar years from past records. This is great for statistics but doesn't tell you if you are going to get wet or lose roof tiles - or worse. Nonetheless, we should take a stab at this.

For storm development;

Warm water - less dry air – no El Nino.

Against storm development;

High pressure profile – warm Pacific – cool in the north Atlantic, possible strong trades.

Mixed signals have the analysts in some disarray. We can all say with certainty that there will be one hurricane this year, as we have already had it.

Hurricane ALEX burst into life in January to the north east of the Bahamas as a tropical low and hit the heights as it approached the Azores as a fish storm.

On balance then – let's say 13 named storms, 7 hurricanes and 3 major – based purely on statistics and comparison with similar years. 2016 will be more active than 2015 with primary activity in the western Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, also the eastern seaboard. Sorry.

Names then – we've had ALEX already, BONNIE next then COLIN, DANIELLE, EARL, FIONA, GASTON, HERMINE (sic), IAN, JULIA, KARL, LISA, MATTHEW, NICOLE, OTTO, PAULA, RICHARD, SHARY, TOBIAS, VIRGINE & WALTER. I hope to be done and dusted before we get to NICOLE.

Beginning in the next few days I will produce a daily summary, usually late afternoon UK time, by when I will have seen the overnight reports from the US. I then send this out to our growing address list before, late in the day UK time, it will appear on our website www.watkins-marine.com and on Twitter@watkinsmarine. An image will usually be attached to this bulletin which our clever design friends at Advantage London http://www.advantagelondon.com/ use as an illustration on our social media posts at all kinds of odd hours of the day and night. I forgot to thank them last season, hence the blatant plug.


Feedback and new readers are always welcome.

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