Somewhat Tardy Reflections on Hurricane Alex

By Chris Mooney | July 6, 2010 7:54 am

Hurricane_Alex_visible_landfall_satellite_imageryAnyone watching the pre-season forecasts, and now the weather, has to be pretty concerned about the hurricane season that we’re heading into.

Hurricane Alex, which just slammed the Mexico coast and caused over $ 1 billion in damage, set some troubling early season records. As the National Hurricane Center put it:

IT MAY BE OF INTEREST THAT ALEX WAS THE FIRST CATEGORY TWO…AND THE STRONGEST…HURRICANE TO OCCUR IN JUNE SINCE ALMA OF 1966.

In other words–climatologically, we’re not used to getting storms this strong, this early. Alex’s minimum central pressure dropped down to 947 millibars before landfall…and the maximum sustained wind speeds reached 85 to 90 knots. True, there have been stronger storms in June occasionally, but only very rarely.

Get ready, in other words, for what could well be a very bad year…and that’s not even mentioning the oil.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Hurricanes

Comments (7)

  1. David

    Some of these statistics should be taken with a grain of salt. There are more worrying things about the coming season.

    The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale was developed in 1971. Going back and guessing the strength of previous storms is pretty shaky at best. The technology was just not there to measure them well. The ability to see what is going on inside hurricanes is a really recent development. Alma may have been the earliest storm to strike the US but hurricanes have been know to form as early as March. The amount of money damages that they do is fairly pointless. Katrina was much more expensive than the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. There is no comparison of the real damages done. As many as 12,000 have been estimated to have died in Galveston compared to 1500 in Katrina. There have only been six hurricanes that have killed more than 500 people.

    There are more interesting things about Alex though. Who cares about the maximum wind speed? The worst storms have not necessarily been the ones with the fastest winds. This was a really huge storm to come up this early and this fast. We were basically getting bands coming on shore around the entire gulf. That is impressive. That we have another depression that may develop in the same area a week later after all that energy was sucked up by Alex is much more interesting. Usually it takes longer for them to get enough energy to start again.

  2. Nullius in Verba

    “…climatologically…”

    What is the difference between climate and weather, the one we were told about when it snowed heavily this winter?

  3. Chris

    Was 1966 a very bad year?

  4. David

    Chis:

    Apparently it was a bit heavier than normal but not drastically so. A total of what they reference as 50 Hurricane Days (2 hurricanes on 1 day = 2 hurricane days)

    Others before came as high as 56 and lowest at 11 from 1954 to 1966 with the majority in 30-40 range.

  5. ChrisD

    @Nullius 2

    What is the difference between climate and weather, the one we were told about when it snowed heavily this winter?

    Without getting into the weather v. climate thing, there’s an angle to your specific question that merits comment:

    Last winter’s snow was being used by some as “proof” that AGW is wrong. As you know perfectly well, it was no such thing, and for a reason that has nothing to do with weather v. climate: Increased snowfall is entirely consistent with AGW.

    And I’m pretty sure you know this.

  6. David

    There is much more to the science of weather and climatology than AGW. Could we please talk about something interesting in the weather without beating the same dead horses on both sides?

    Back on topic,

    Actually, the hurricanes could be a blessing for speeding up the dispersal of VOCs from the oil spill. Once they are gone, the remaining tars from the oil spill are pretty much inert. Much like asphalt. Well, exactly like asphalt since it is asphalt. In the gulf, there are always tarballs from natural seepage. The only real danger ecologically is the oil that is still liquid or sticky. It still has enough of the volatiles to be a chemical hazard to the food chain and a physical hazard to wildlife.

    Hopefully, in another month it will all be over except for the cleanup and lawsuits. A couple years and things will be back to normal. Well, except for the people that it bankrupts and the rebuilding of the wildlife populations that will probably take several years to recover. While it shouldn’t have happened, we survived Ixtoc I and we will survive this one.

  7. Nullius in Verba

    “And I’m pretty sure you know this.”

    Of course I know this – that’s the entire point of the joke. The AGW storytellers have presented weather as climate for so long that it has become a cliché. Knowledgeable sceptics say it only as a form of ironic humour (laughing at the fact that it switches between weather and climate depending on whether it supports AGW or not), and others are simply following the chain of logic established in their minds by the AGW scaremongers themselves. Poetic justice.

    “Could we please talk about something interesting in the weather without beating the same dead horses on both sides?”

    This horse, sadly, is not dead. Chris Mooney just rode into town on it.

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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

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