Tropical Fish Storm Cindy explodes over the North Atlantic

Tropical Storm Cindy 2011-07/20 14:30Z

Weather Post by Dr. Ryan Maue

The title is a bit facetious since Cindy is a marginal tropical storm (~35 knots) and will not last more than a day as a tropical entity.  So, including tropical storms Arlene and Bret, we now have a total of 3-named systems for the 2011 record books.

Back at Climate Audit in 2009, Steve McIntyre, myself, and others had a long running conversation about the potential issue of recent “overcounting” tropical storms due to improved detection techniques, e.g. satellites which weren’t around a half-century ago.  We coined these “fish” tropical storms that are short-lived and relatively weak as “Baby Whirls” or “Tiny Tims“.  In recent research published in a couple journals, this improved detection has been found to exist.  However, it is useful to look back the debate a couple years ago when the narrative revolved around the notion that Atlantic storm frequency had increased drastically due to global warming.

Here is the literature that seemed “to pass muster”:

Landsea,C.W., G.A. Vecchi, L. Bengtsson, and T. R. Knutson, 2010: Impact of Duration Thresholds on Atlantic Tropical Cyclone Counts. Journal of Climate, Vol.23, 15 May 2010, pp.2508-2519 — Paper Link


Abstract and Title of Landsea et al.

Villarini, G., G.A. Vecchi, T.R. Knutson and J. A. Smith (2011): Is the Recorded Increase in Short Duration North Atlantic Tropical Storms Spurious?. J .Geophys. Res. doi:10.1029/2010JD015493.  Paper Link


Villarini et al.

Thus, as the North Atlantic sea-surface temperatures warm and the summer rolls into fall, one has to wonder what sort of tropical storms will develop.  More of these weak, short-lived variety or some long-lasting monster Cape Verdes?





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July 20, 2011 3:17 pm

Thanks, Ryan, for your usual primo take on the science of storms. Certainly since the ACE index has to be considered as a better metric of “heat-transfer” out of the tropics, can you provide some enlightenment relative to how this compares to numbers of named storms and total cyclonic activity?
Much appreciated.

July 20, 2011 3:20 pm

While I am being inquisitive, perhaps you could help me out on this one: When I look at the cyclone track model ensembles, they almost never agree with the “climatology” track that is also shown. Now, since I would expect the historical record to have some relevance, I understand that current conditions have a greater influence than past ones. Is this an indication that conditions have changed or that they are just constantly changing?

July 20, 2011 3:59 pm

I could be wrong, But I think “La Nada” is not quite as active as as La Nina, but more than El Nino. With current relatively warm Atlantic, this is a recipe for an active, although not necessarily hyperactive season, I think. What this means in terms of storm strengths and how many will make landfall is pretty difficult to say. Last season had plenty of storms, including some strong ones, but every one of them missed. “Landfall probability” seasonal forecasts don’t seem to be that successful as far as I can tell. And what storms actually hit is what matters for most of us.

July 20, 2011 4:02 pm

Ryan Maue asks “as the North Atlantic sea-surface temperatures warm and the summer rolls into fall, one has to wonder what sort of tropical storms will develop. More of these weak, short-lived variety or some long-lasting monster Cape Verdes?
Looks like we can expect more strong Atlantic storms:
Given that we are now into a period of global cooling, there may also be more strong storms over the next decade or two. There’s a chart in the above link on page 48 comparing storm landfalls with an earlier period. There is a similar chart in their 2008 forecast on page 34, which suggests that landfall Atlantic storms tend to increase during global cooling.

July 20, 2011 4:03 pm

Thus, as the North Atlantic sea-surface temperatures warm and the summer rolls into fall, one has to wonder what sort of tropical storms will develop. More of these weak, short-lived variety or some long-lasting monster Cape Verdes?

Umm, you’re the expert, you tell us!
One of the most impressive things about this positive AMO cycle of above normal hurricanes (other than using greek letters in 2005), is the dearth of hurricanes reaching New England. In the last active period we had the Hurricane of 1938 (try not to schedule a hurricane right after ground-soaking rains) and several in the 1950s.
The last decent hurricane in New England was Bob in 1990, see and that was before the AMO flipped in 1995. Post flip there was, excuse me, it isn’t worth remembering, ah, Floyd. There was also Bertha, but I wasn’t out in that one.
I tell people around here we’ve been very, very lucky during the last decade or two. It’s so boring here that the NWS’ Boston office hasn’t set up a 2011 season web page yet! Oh – here’s a cute site – Only two tropical storms and four extratropical storms have passed within 100 nm of Boston since 2000, and they all missed New Hampshire.
Mid July, it’s time for the season to start perking up.

Douglas DC
July 20, 2011 4:08 pm

Given our recent nasty storms here in NE Oregon,I was talking to an old aviation buddy of mine.
1975 was a similar year, and there was a nasty hurricane Gretchen, I believe that came up the
pacific coast and caused all sorts of thunder rain and hail from it…
Dora could be quite a show…

July 20, 2011 4:15 pm

35 knots………and it gets a name
If that’s the criteria, then we need to name every squall line…………

Mac the Knife
July 20, 2011 5:43 pm

Ahhhhhh… the dreaded humuhumunukunukuapua’a tropical storm…

Frank K.
July 20, 2011 6:16 pm

Ric Werme says:
July 20, 2011 at 4:03 pm
“Only two tropical storms and four extratropical storms have passed within 100 nm of Boston since 2000, and they all missed New Hampshire.”
As a resident of New Hampshire, that’s good to know!
(PS – I’m running a marathon at Hampton Beach, NH in early October – hopefully no New England hurricanes will hit us at that time!).

July 20, 2011 6:36 pm

It has been my opinion that NOAA rushes to name storms to make it seem like there are more tropical cyclones due to global warming. While looking at I happened to see what Jeff Masters wrote about the Bret, something about being unusual to have two letters used so early in the season. Of course, the good Dr. Masters left out the part about how 2 of the 3 “tropical storms” would never have been named 10 years ago. Perception is reality, especially when people’s attention spans is as short as it it today.
Thank you Dr. Maue for the regular ACE index updates. It cares not about how many letters are used.

July 20, 2011 6:45 pm

Fish storms & baby sunspots. Both are over rated and leave the impression that there is more to them that what is reality.

July 20, 2011 6:52 pm

RE: Ric Werme says:
July 20, 2011 at 4:03 pm
The “cycle” that included the ’38 hurricane and ended with Donna in ’60 was quite active in New England, but apparently the “cycle” before that was not. It was for that reason that there were no people alive in ’38 who had first hand experience of what a hurricane could do to New England. In fact many simple stated, as an iron-clad rule, “Hurricanes do not hit New England,” as the history of colonial hurricanes and the “Saxby Gale” had been forgotten
Hurricane Bertha had very little wind by the time it reached southern New Hampshire, but the rain was heavy, and much warmer than any rain one usually experiences in New England. My kids went out for walks, getting completely drenched and not minding it a bit.
Hurricane Bob, on the other hand, had enough wind left, even on the west side, to take down a large, old maple on Main Street. (To people’s surprise the center of the tree was filled with cement. Apparently that was a type of tree surgury, many years ago, but no one could recall who did it, or when. More forgotten history.)
In the ’38 hurricane it wasn’t just a tree on Main Street. It was every other tree, and in some cases it was every tree. I own a pamphlet put out (as a momento) by the city of Keene, NH, two weeks after the ’38 hurricane. It is loaded with photos, and the damage is unreal. It wasn’t just the trees; it was also the houses the trees fell on.
I hope New Hampshire goes without a major hurricane this “cycle.” The people of New England are completely unaware of the tree damage they’d face. Also they’ve built a lot up on the hills, where the winds were worse.

July 20, 2011 7:22 pm

As an engineer used to make measurements on complex systems it really amazes me how someone with a scientific background can conclude that the observed phenomena changes its behavior when it is observed with a more sensitive instrument. The transition to a more sensitive system automatically generates an increase of the observable phenomena and therefore their count. Stating that the number of occurrences has increased because of external causes and not keeping into account the change of measurement system denotes as a minimum a lack of basic scientific culture, and probably a strong desire to jump to a predefined conclusion. It is like if some astronomers would state that starting from the 90s the number of observed stars and nebula has been increasing due to some mysterious event, deliberately ignoring the contribution of the Hubble telescope.

Adriana Ortiz
July 20, 2011 7:49 pm

Thunderstorms with lightning in Asuncion, Paraguay 14C July 20 currently I think Svensmark was correct. Even if its cold the clouds are forming!

July 20, 2011 7:59 pm

Meanwhile, the PNW remains well below normal.

Fergus T. Ambrose
July 20, 2011 8:47 pm

But can you rate seafood shops with the famous ACE index?

Bill Jamison
July 20, 2011 9:31 pm

Ryan I just want to let you know how much I enjoy your posts and appreciate your work!

July 20, 2011 9:58 pm

In honor of Pluto, maybe ‘dwarf hurricane’ would be an appropriate name?

July 20, 2011 10:05 pm

Every wisp of a vortex and low level circulation in the subtropics or even temperates gets a name these days.
Cry wolf anyone?
Sort of like the “excessive heat watch” that I am under right now.
Huh? Okay….so its gonna be hot.
The warning system in place in this country has become ultimate NANNY-STATE hyperbole material and just plain bull****.
Cindy…I don’t give a fat flying **** you are out there….and hell no….you don’t deserve to have a name!
Norfolk, VA, USA

Eyal Porat
July 20, 2011 11:08 pm

Very much like sun spots count.
Spots that are being counted today were not seen by naked human eye, hence not counted.
Today the count is done for tiny specs and is inflated by hi tech equipment.

July 21, 2011 1:45 am

Just checked the Beaufort Scale. 35kts just creeps in to a force 8 Fresh Gale. A violent storm,(trop. storm equivalent?) kicks in from 48-55 kts. and a hurricane, Force 12, is over 64 kts.
There would appear to be significant inflation of storm criteria over the last few years, effectively divorcing older records from the satellite age and making it easier for unscientific use of statistics to support claims of increasing storms due, of course, to CAGW. Funny, that.

Bill Jamison
July 21, 2011 3:37 am

Just as Ryan predicted, Dora is now a Cat 4 storm with sustained winds of 140mph and a pressure of 942mb.
Will she become a Cat 5?

Joe Bastardi
July 21, 2011 4:22 am

As always, great post from Dr Ryan the Weather Lion. One note, from an old timer ( I am) Fish storm was used back in the 70s at PSU, for any storm that would recurve. Then again Ryan wasnt even born then so how would he know? ( ha ha) It is interesting to note, that these developments are what I call “pattern recogntion) flare ups ( example Gaston 04, Diana, 1984) that develop off fronts when troughs lift out. I have never seen 2 come out of one front, and if it had pushed a bit further south into the gulf, we might have gotten 3 with the western impulse that was leading to all the heavy rain on the gulf coast. I would look for alot of action near the south atlantic coast this year and later in the year, it wont just go out fishing on its merry way, given pattern analogs.

July 21, 2011 5:59 am

I’m somewhat tired of the conspiracy talk in regards to hurricane naming. Show me where the NHC has used the increase in named storms to support Global Warming. If memory serves me right, the NHC center has been one of the few parts of NOAA that have strictly stuck to the science. I do remember Chris Landsea specifically withdrawing from AR4 and openly criticizing the IPCC.

July 21, 2011 6:33 am

Remember everyone, DON’T PRAY FOR RAIN.

Gary Swift
July 21, 2011 6:42 am

“Wade says:
July 20, 2011 at 6:36 pm
It has been my opinion that NOAA rushes to name storms to make it seem like there are more tropical cyclones due to global warming”
There has been a big change in storm warnings in recent decades. It’s not a conspiracy. Better observation, tracking, and prediction allow us to issue much more informative severe weather alerts to protect people and commerce. I don’t think it’s and ebil plot to take over the world. It’s probably a good thing.

July 21, 2011 11:37 am

Just a totally amateurish insight, but didn’t Brett develop at or near a stationary front (not a tropical wave) and Cindy is on that same line…Seems like the low pressure system associated with the front became our tropical hurricanes. I have also noted a tendancy in the last few years of double lows developing into storms. Mostly the second(easterly storm) tends to draw down the power of the first (westerly storm), with the second storm being very short lived. Now this is just an observation and does not constitute a model…LOL

July 21, 2011 2:25 pm

In addition to small, short lived storms, other storms probably under-counted in the past include category fives:

July 21, 2011 2:34 pm

Fish Spinner – A storm that goes out to sea, and never makes landfall.
A good read on Hurricane Hazel (1954).

July 21, 2011 2:37 pm
July 21, 2011 5:45 pm

Joe Bastardi says:
July 21, 2011 at 4:22 am

One note, from an old timer ( I am) Fish storm was used back in the 70s at PSU, for any storm that would recurve.

While I like “fish storm,” I’ve never like “recurve.” Most storms that recurve have the steering wheel turned right for their entire existence. So, when does the original curve end and the recurve begin? When the storm is heading due North? What happens if we simply sto pusing the term?

July 21, 2011 5:50 pm

savethesharks says:
July 20, 2011 at 10:05 pm

Sort of like the “excessive heat watch” that I am under right now.
Huh? Okay….so its gonna be hot.
… ****. … **** … !

I dislike “excessive” as much ore more than “recurve.” Excessive implies to me there’s something we can do to fix it, e.g. excessive play in the steering wheel.
Sounds like the heat is getting to you. 🙂

July 21, 2011 6:50 pm

zerored78 says:
July 21, 2011 at 5:59 am

I’m somewhat tired of the conspiracy talk in regards to hurricane naming. Show me where the NHC has used the increase in named storms to support Global Warming. If memory serves me right, the NHC center has been one of the few parts of NOAA that have strictly stuck to the science. I do remember Chris Landsea specifically withdrawing from AR4 and openly criticizing the IPCC.

I recall some old post mortems from Bill Gray that muttered a bit about storms getting named that hadn’t been before. I tried to find a reference to that without digging too deeply, but came up with which is a decent but biased look at the issue and the busted forecast of 2007.
One thing it said is The criteria for naming storms has also changed – most recently, in 2002, when subtropical storms started to be named along with tropical storms and hurricanes. I knew there was some noise about subtropical storms, but I had been under the impression they had been named before, it was just that there were several one year.
Digging a bit more (e.g. changing hurricane to subtropical)… says in part:

Nov. 29, 2007, 2:28PM
With another hurricane season set to end this Friday, a controversy is brewing over decisions of the National Hurricane Center to designate several borderline systems as tropical storms.
Some meteorologists, including former hurricane center director Neil Frank, say as many as six of this year’s 14 named tropical systems might have failed in earlier decades to earn “named storm” status.
“They seem to be naming storms a lot more than they used to,” said Frank, who directed the hurricane center from 1974 to 1987 and is now chief meteorologist for KHOU-TV. “This year, I would put at least four storms in a very questionable category, and maybe even six.”
In earlier years before widespread satellite coverage, the hurricane center placed more emphasis on measurements of central pressure than wind speeds in designating tropical storms and giving those systems names, Frank said. Central pressures and wind speed are related, but the relationship isn’t absolute.
Frank said he prefers using central pressure, because it can be directly measured by aircraft dropping an instrument into a tropical system.
If a reconnaissance plane had measured a wind speed above 39 mph during Frank’s tenure, the system would not automatically have been named. His forecasters might have waited a day to see if the central pressure fell, he said, to ensure that the system really was a tropical storm.
That practice probably would have prevented some systems, such as Tropical Storm Jerry, from getting named this year, Frank said. After being upgraded, Jerry remained a tropical storm for less than a day in the northern Atlantic.

In fact, there are reasons to believe that historical storms have been overcounted as well as undercounted, said Judith Curry, chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Before satellites, scientists had few ways to tell the difference between tropical systems and non-tropical storms. As a result, some non-tropical storms probably were named.
“The bottom line is that, yes, we do have errors in tropical cyclone counts,” said Curry. “But it is not clear whether this adds a net negative or positive bias to any trend.”

I’ve seen no suggestions that the NHC is naming storms early to strengthen a link between global warming and tropical storms, and I’m sure Chris Landsea would certainly quash any effort the NHC might muster in that regard. Landsea might change the historical counts of storms, but the project to work through old Atlantic ST records has been quite open. Note that several records are indirect, e.g. swells from a tropical storm far away, so the intensity data is not as a the storm counts are.

July 21, 2011 9:23 pm

35kt? I’ve motorcycled in worse. By gum, I’ve bicycled in worse. Drunk.
(Don’t you give me no lip, child: drunk cycling is a tradition bordering on religion West of th’ Appalachians.)

July 22, 2011 12:11 am

I’ve been observing and forecasting weather professionally for about 60 years. One of my duties has been to monitor the development and movement of Tropical cyclones in the Atlantic Basin. There is no doubt in my mind that the larger number of named storms in the past decade is the result of better observational techniques which include satellite information and reconnaissance aircraft. But that’s not the whole story. Neither of these techniques was available in 1933 when 21 storms equivalent to named storms today were reported. One requirement for achieving a high number in those pre 1950 years was that the storms move through the western third of the Atlantic where there were more land areas and ships of opportunity to provide observations. In fact, there were more ships reporting major hurricanes in those days than there are today. The simple reason for that counterintuitive fact is that with so little warning of the development and movement of storms in the Tropical Atlantic, many ships wound up being caught in their circulation than is the case today. Take a look at the synoptic ship reports today while a TS or HU is in progress and you’ll see a wide void in the vicinity of, and downstream from, the active storm systems. [You can see a similar absence of aircraft in a region where a cluster of severe thunderstorms are in in progress. These are fascinating to watch in real-time at an ATC tracking center]. So, there are some years when there really are many more storms than normal. NHC’s chart of TS Climate history shows a regimal pattern of annual TC frequency in which there may be about a decade of low numbers preceded and followed by decades of high numbers.
In recent years there seems to be a tendency to name almost anything that exhibits a cyclonic circulation. So far this season we have had three named storms, none of which in the past would have been characterized as being as intense and these were designated to be. Looking at the criteria used for naming these systems, one sees a notable absence of genuine ground (or sea-surface) truth.
TS Arlene was named at 7PM CDT June 28th in the Southern Bay of Campeche with estimated winds of 35kts. The storm moved westward into Mexico 2 days later with sustained winds purported to be 55kts with the forecasted possibility of it becoming an HU before moving inland. It didn’t. The highest winds I saw reported at ground stations near the path were about 40kts.
TS Bret was named at 11pm EDT on July 17th north of the NE Bahamas with highest winds of 35kts based on recon FL winds of 43-45kts and a few SFMR surface winds analyzed as being about 36-37kts. Bret drifted slowly southward some convection around the E semicircle but with evidence of northerly shear starting to develop. Winds were estimated at 45kts with a SLP of 1001mbs. By 5pm EDT on the 18th, with northeasterly wind shear pushing most of the convection into the SW quadrant leaving the surface circulation exposed to the NNE, recon and dropsondes data and “believable” SFMR winds of 50+kts and a SLP of 996mbs, prompted NHC to increase the intensity to 55kts. Forecasters opined that the storm had a chance to make HU strength if it got its act together before increasing NE shear took it apart. Unfortunately, the subsequent recon pass and the accompanying satellite pix showed less organization with the central pressure rising to 998mbs by 11PM EDT and Bret’s intensity was reduced to 50kts. Further weakening occurred during the next 24 hours as the storm completed a tight cyclonic loop and headed NNEWD. The strength was maintained at 45kts through the morning hours of the 20th and then dropped to 40kts in the evening and 35kts at 11PM. This minimal TS strength of 35kts was retained through the 21st thanks to NHC supplying life support to a system that consisted of a naked, broad low-level circulation devoid of any significant convection. They finally pulled the plug earlier this evening dropping the peak winds to 30kts. Now the reason for highlighting the quote “believable” is to provide some evidence that SFMR winds cannot be uncritically relied upon without further examination of the surface conditions at the points they were sampled. The algorithms which solve for the wind speeds are based on the thermal characteristics of wind-driven spray just above the ocean surface. Were a particular sample to be taken in, say, a heavy rain burst, the resulting estimates could be much too high. As sophisticated as this measurement system is, there is a significant amount of subjectivity and expertise involved in the resolution of this data. It makes one think of how some analysts can derive temperatures from ancient tree-rings.
TS Cindy developed along or just ahead a quasi-stationary front north of Bermuda and well east of the Mid-Atlantic Coast and was picked up by NHC Wednesday afternoon, June 20th. There was some question as to whether it was a sub-Tropical low or a Tropical low since it had characteristics of both types. I had little doubt which way they would go, and sure enough they opted for a TC. In the absence of nearby surface data, NHC relied on several of the advanced techniques for determining surface wind speeds using methodology developed at CIRA at Colorado State and TAFB at NHC which incorporated data from the AMSU satellite and possibly the SSM/I data. They found enough of an array of winds to determine that there was probably a 35kt wind somewhere near the center and at 5PM EDT the system was named TS Cindy located at 35.2°N and 53.8°W. (Technically, the Tropical Atlantic is usually designated as beginning at 35.0°N and extending southward, but compared to other determinations, that’s probably just nit-picking). The system was in an area of strong west-southwesterly wind shear of 25-35kts and increasing, and the SST in the area was about 28°C. These parameters would suggest that it might have been more properly designated as a Sub-Tropical system, especially in the absence of a well-formed eye. During Wed night and into midday Thu the 21st, NHC increased the intensity to 50kts although the satellite (Dvorak) analyses had the strength ranging from 35-40kts. Late this past evening, warming cloud tops signaled a weakening of convection mostly due to the rapidly declining SSTs along the storm track. Since it is now showing a warm core, it will probably dissipate as a “Post-Tropical” system rather than convert to an extra-Tropical one.
Now in the case of these three storms, in none of them has there been a report from a reliable land-based, shipboard or buoy platform that has reported a wind in excess of 43kts (that for Arlene on the Mexican Coast) or 33kts for either Bret or Cindy. I doubt whether Bret ever had a sustained 35kt surface wind. Cindy could certainly have exceeded 35kts due to a strong baroclinic zone in the SE quadrant on Thursday. What nags at me is that thanks to these three duds, we have already burned 3 of the names on this year’s TS list from storms that might never have been reported in the pre-satellite era. To some that might be merely an academic distinction. However, corrupts the climatological data base. There is a strong and rarely disputed motivation to produce high numbers, possibly to satisfy a coterie of “climate scientists” who have theorized that warming marine conditions due to climate change will lead to larger numbers of Tropical storms and hurricanes. This is not to say that this hyping of the numbers implies anything sinister; it may be nothing more than rooting for the home team.

Laurie Bowen
July 23, 2011 9:07 am

Speaking of counting things . . . . How about water spouts . . . do ‘we’ (somebody) detect them, count them, and figure them in the “big picture” of ‘weather’ . . . . I know my little brain does . . . as it looks to me like all that water gets to become a cloud and then rain . . . . eventually . . .
But then again, maybe it is just another troll question . . . or maybe worth a discussion! I dun no!

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