Saturday, May 21, 2011

Final Day of Hurricne Week, Baja time

(Click on images in this article to expand)

Hurricane Linda from space in the Eastern Pacific
The Eastern Pacific Hurricane Season begins May 15th, but residents of Baja will scoff about any threat so early in the season. I've heard tribal knowledge like, "Hurricanes never come up the Sea of Cortez before September 1st." Well, right off the bat, my first hurricane, Ignacio, proved that one wrong in 2003.
The earliest Tropical Cyclone (one of Tropical Storm intensity or greater) to make landfall in Baja was TS Calvine on July 8th, 1993. The earliest hurricane to make landfall in Baja was Category 1 Hurricane Doreen in 1977. The most powerful storm to hit Baja was Kiko in 1989, the only Category 3 storm to ever make landfall in Baja. The dealiest storm was Hurricane Lisa in 1976. Lisa was a Category 4 Hurricane that passed up the Sea of Cortez and indirectly resulted in the deaths of thousands in La Paz.
So, we did research and here's the scientific straight scoop. We went to the NHC's Historical Hurricane Plotter which has data on tropical weather compiled from 1948 to 2008. We looked at plots of tropical storms though Category 5 hurricanes that passed within 150 miles of Baja. To confirm our data, it was checked against the Unisys data complied independently.
There is a map for each month of the season, click on the map for an enlarged view of storms tracked during that month. Each table shows the year of the storm, the first date of it's highest wind speed and the highest Saffir-Simpson Scale Category rating the storm achieved. This is not necessarily the storm's rating when it made landfall in Baja California Sur. The storms are sorted by the day they achieved maximum strength, showing what part of the month is most prone to storms.
May Hurricanes
Hurricane Georges in the Caribbean 1997Let's Start with May, that's an easy one. Since 1951 not a single tropical storm or hurricane has passed within 250 miles of Baja.
In June the Eastern Pacific is starting to really warm up and the storm activity increases. By mid June hurricanes become a possibility in Baja, although still pretty remote. The last time a June hurricane hit Baja was in 1958. The early season storm packed winds of 85 mph as it passed within 25 miles of Cabo San Lucas, which wasn't much more than a few fishing huts at the time.
June Storms
1958 15 Not Named 25 TD
1959 12 Not Named 45 TS
1960 25 BONNY 45 TS
1960 25 BONNY 45 TS
1974 21 CONNIE 25 TD
1990 23 DOUGLAS 30 TD

In July the water in the Sea of Cortez is warmer. But hurricanes in our hemisphere want to go to the west because of their rotation. The jet stream usually doesn't drop southward across Baja until late August. Historically speaking, July is a safe month too, as the storms move harmlessly out into the Pacific and dissipate. There has been one Category 2 hurricane brush past Magdalena Bay and make landfall north of San Ignacio back in July of 1954. Tropical storm Calvin hit East Cape in 1993 and another tropical storm Calvin hit Todos Santos in 1981. (yes, the same day twelve years apart!) Ok, we can make it though July without a hurricane.
July Storms
1950 6 Not Named 75 H1
1952 19 Not Named 45 TS
1954 16 Not Named 75 H1
1954 16 Not Named 75 H1
1958 29 Not Named 45 TS
1964 7 NATALIE 45 TS
1970 18 HELGA 50 TS
1974 18 FRANCESCA 60 TS
1974 18 GRETCHEN 50 TS
1981 8 CALVIN 40 TS
1984 7 FAUSTO 90 H2
1984 11 GENEVIEVE 65 H1
1985 4 FEFA 60 TS
1989 27 FLOSSIE 25 TD
1993 8 CALVIN 50 TS
1998 18 CELIA 45 TS
2005 20 EUGENE 50 TS
2006 25 EMILIA 50 TS
2008 3 DOUGLAS 30 TD

Well, dream on if you think the luck will hold though August. I heard it said just days before Hurricane Ignacio in 2003  " was no concern, storms never come up the Sea until after September 1st." That is nothing but an old wives tale. By the end of August we can start to get into some serious hurricane weather.
Anyone who has spent the summer in Baja knows, about August 15th the days become still and humid, and this is in addition to near 100 degree heat every day. Thunderstorms appear regularly over the mountains between Cabo San Lucas and La Paz. The earliest hurricane to make landfall in Baja Sur was August 15th and the latest was October 17th, thus defining Baja's hurricane season. However, a Category 1storm passed just 30 miles south of Cabo in 1958, certainly close enough to deliver some punch to the peninsula.
Hurricane Fran from space - off the coast of FloridaThe warm water of the Sea can be in the upper 80°'s by late August and this becomes a very strong hurricane magnet. Storms that generate NW of Acapulco can sometimes get stuck  'inside' and travel up the Sea. Hurricane Ignacio did exactly that on August 26, 2003.
The good news is August tropical cyclones in Baja are still rare. The upper atmosphere steering winds are still moving eastward far north of the hurricane track and a majority of the storms move off into the colder waters of the Pacific and spin apart.
August Storms
Hurricane and tropical storm tracks affecting Baja California
However, August can spawn monster storms too, like Kiko in 1989. Kiko made it to Category 3 has it churned up the Sea of Cortez and  made landfall on the East Cape with winds in excess of 120 MPH. Kiko was the ONLY category 3 storm to ever make landfall in Baja.

to ever make landfall in Baja.
1960 19 DIANA 75 H1
1960 19 DIANA 75 H1
1965 31 EMILY 45 TS
1967 31 KATRINA 75 H1
1968 18 HYACINTH 45 TS
1969 23 EMILY 50 TS
1971 11 KATRINA 50 TS
1977 15 DOREEN 65 H1
1981 29 IRWIN 35 TS
1981 30 IRWIN 30 TD
1988 18 JOHN 30 TD
1989 26 KIKO 45 H3
1993 24 HILARY 40 TS
1995 11 FLOSSIE 70 H1
2000 15 ILEANA 60 TS
2003 23 IGNACIO 55 TS
2003 24 IGNACIO 60 TS
2008 24 JULIO 40 TS
September is the month to be a storm watcher in Baja. More than 150 tropical storms have passed within 250 miles of Cabo San Lucas since 1950. Many of them were just tropical storms, but September is the peak of the storm season.
By mid September the jet stream has dropped well down into Baja Sur before it makes a dramatic turn to the east. While I was plotting hurricane Marty the computer models forecast a continued NW progress harmlessly into the Pacific. Friday afternoon I noticed a drop to the south in the jet stream on the US Navy plots. These high speed upper air currents came almost as far as Magdalena Bay, then turn 90° east. That Friday night the BajaInsider predicted that Marty would not continue into the Pacific, but would turn and cross the peninsula south of Magdalena Bay. Marty hit the eastward winds south of the jet stream and banked against it's spin, progressively to the east. Marty arrived in La Paz on Monday morning. (thanks to my amateur weather tutor, Jim from Sea Witch!)
The jet stream can make a hurricane turn and it can tear it apart. The central column of convection is the engine that drives a hurricane. Hard turns or strong high altitude winds can disrupt the column and spin the storm apart. As the northern hemisphere cools these upper atmosphere steering winds drop further down Baja before turning east. The combination of these winds and energy still built up in the tropical regions are what make the period from September 15th to October 15th the peak of our storm season.

September Storms
1949 10 Not Named 75 H1
1953 16 Not Named 75 H1
1957 21 Not Named 45 TS
1958 11 Not Named 45 TS
1958 11 Not Named 45 TS
1959 9 Not Named 75 H1
1962 21 CLAUDIA 45 TS
1964 7 TILLIE 45 TS
1965 25 HAZEL 45 TS
1966 28 KIRSTEN 45 TS
1969 5 FLORENCE 45 TS
1969 10 GLENDA 55 TS
1971 7 NANETTE 70 H1
1973 25 IRAH 90 H2
1976 30 LIZA 120 H4
1978 25 PAUL 40 TS
1986 23 NEWTON 70 H1
1988 7 DEBBY 25 TD
1993 12 LIDIA 85 H2
1995 4 HENRIETTE 80 H1
1995 14 ISMAEL 70 H1
1995 15 ISMAEL 70 H1
1996 13 FAUSTO 85 H2
1998 2 ISIS 60 TS
1998 2 ISIS 65 H1
1999 7 GREG 65 H1
2000 17 MIRIAM 30 TD
2001 27 JULIETTE 80 H1
2003 22 MARTY 75 H1
2006 1 JOHN 100 H3
2007 4 HENRIETTE 75 H1
2007 24 IVO 25 L
2008 11 LOWELL 30 TD

Once we get to October you would think that the season is winding down. Well, not exactly. The threat of tropical weather extends through the entire month of October. It is said the British Privateer Cromwell and Spanish explorer Cabrillo were taken by surprise in a late season storms.
Hurricane Nora off the coast of BajaBy October the Sea of Cortez has reached it's high temperature, acting as a magnet to the warm water hungry storms. In addition the high altitude steering winds now have enough strength to overpower the storms desire to head west. One look at the storm plot for October and you can see what I mean.  There are fewer storms than in September, but the path moves them right over Baja.
October Storms
1955 2 NOTNAMED 45 TS
1958 3 NOTNAMED 75 H1
1958 4 NOTNAMED 75 H1
1962 4 DOREEN 75 H1
1962 4 DOREEN 75 H1
1963 18 MONA 75 H1
1967 13 OLIVIA 75 H1
1968 2 PAULINE 75 H1
1976 1 LIZA 120 H4
1976 28 NAOMI 40 TS
1978 5 ROSA 60 TS
1981 7 LIDIA 45 TS
1984 3 POLO 40 TS
1985 8 WALDO 75 H1
1986 1 PAINE 80 H1
1986 2 PAINE 80 H1
1987 1 PILAR 30 TD
1990 2 RACHEL 55 TS
1998 19 MADELINE 35 TS
2005 5 OTIS 20 L
2006 25 PAUL 40 TS
2008 11 NORBERT 95 H2
The good news is that by November 1st, like a line in the sand, the threat is over. Since 1950 only three tropical storms have even made it to within 250 miles of Cabo, none of them making land or achieving hurricane strength.
Monster hurricane Bonnie in the Atlantic

November Storms
1951 29 NOTNAMED 45 TS
1970 4 SELMA 50 TS
1991 12 NORA 30 TD

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