North Pacific “Hurricanes”

Reposted from The Cliff Mass Weather Blog

January 06, 2021

North Pacific “Hurricanes”

 The north Pacific Ocean will never experience a hurricane:  a tropical storm with a sustained wind speed of 74 mph or more.

They aren’t called hurricanes not because north Pacific storms aren’t as strong or stronger than many hurricanes, but because they are not tropical in character.

Clouds swirl into a very deep low pressure center south of Alaska.

During the past few weeks, a number of extraordinarily intense north Pacific storms have formed, with several them putting most tropical hurricanes to shame.  And a major Pacific storm will develop west of our coast later this week, producing huge waves and swell.

Consider the NOAA Ocean Prediction Center sea level pressure analysis for 10 AM PDT 31 December 2020.  A low center near the southwest portion of the Aleutians had a central pressure of 921 hPa (mb), which is unbelievable.  The DEEPEST LOW PRESSURE ON RECORD IN THE BERING SEA.  It was the strongest storm to ever hit Alaska.

How does the low pressure of this storm compare to hurricanes?  Consider the Saffir-Simpson hurricane categories often described by the media.  The pacific storm near the Aleutians that day had a central pressure at the boundary between a Category 4 and Category 5 hurricane. And the associated winds greatly exceeded the requirements for a hurricane.  ANOTHER low center (cyclone) to its east (west of our shores!) had a central pressure of only 972, similar to a category 2 hurricane.

And consider this:  Hurricane Andrew, which brought catastrophic damage to southeastern Florida in 1992, had a central pressure of 922 hPa (mb)) and was a Category 5 storm,  and Category 5 Hurricane Charley made landfall in Punta Gorda, Florida, in 2004 with a central pressure of 941 hPa. Hurricane Katrina at 920 hPa caused widespread devastation along many highly populated areas of the central Gulf Coast and had the third lowest central pressure ever recorded in that area.
And there is something else:  north Pacific storms are much larger in size that tropical hurricanes.  To demonstrate, here are images of the December 31 North Pacific Storm and Hurricane Laura (Cat. 4), using the same horizontal scales. Two to three times as large.

Hurricanes get their energy predominantly from the heat of evaporated water, which is released as latent heat in the storm as massive amounts of water condenses.  Thus, hurricanes require warm water (above about 80F) to survive.   North Pacific storms secure their energy from differences in temperature between the Arctic and subropics.
Another strong Pacific “hurricane” is predicted to form a thousand miles west of us on Friday/Saturday, with a low center of 960 hPa.  Just slightly weaker than the great Columbus Day Storm of 1962.

The sustained winds at that time (see below) indicated a large area above 55 knots (63 mph) and surely the strongest winds will exceed hurricane strength 

And don’t worry about it hitting Washington State:  it will swing northward into the Gulf of Alaska and eventually weaken.  But the storm will produce HUGE waves, reaching 40-50 ft (significant wave height, see forecast for Saturday) and some of those will reach our shores on Sunday (see forecast graphic), although considerable attenuated (perhaps 30 ft).

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January 7, 2021 10:36 am

There is an anomalous “warm” pool of water in the North Pacific left over from the last El Niño and tropical waters moving north out of the Western Pacific which is contributing to the strength of these storms this year. Natures way to dissipate the heat over the winter.

With the La Niña in place, continuing low solar and the northern waters cooling it will be a return to much colder times. Bundle up.

Reply to  rbabcock
January 7, 2021 11:07 am

“There is an anomalous “warm” pool of water in the North Pacific left over from the last El Niño and tropical waters moving north out of the Western Pacific which is contributing to the strength of these storms this year.”

I was wondering why the western half of North America was unusually warm this year.

This is a very good example of how ENSO affects atmospheric temperatures for years after the actual event.

Indeed ENSO is the main driver (by far) of global atmospheric temperatures. The question is: What drives ENSO?

Reply to  dh-mtl
January 7, 2021 12:25 pm

dh-mtl wrote, “This is a very good example of how ENSO affects atmospheric temperatures for years after the actual event.”

For more than a decade, I had discussed the long-term effects of ENSO on global surface temperatures here at WUWT and also at my blog Climate Observations:
Bob Tisdale – Climate Observations | Sea Surface Temperature, Ocean Heat Content, and Other Climate Change Discussions (

I had also published a free ebook back in 2012 in .pdf form (23MB) titled Who Turned on the Heat?  It’s a comprehensive examination of The processes and long-term global-warming aftereffects of El Niños and La Niñas, which are the dominant weather events on Earth:

Also see the post “Does The Climate-Science Industry Purposely Ignore A Simple Aspect of Strong El Niño Events That Causes Long-Term Global Warming?


Reply to  dh-mtl
January 7, 2021 12:26 pm

The question is: What drives ENSO?

telluric current (from Latin tellūs, “earth”), or Earth current,[1] is an electric current which moves underground or through the sea. Telluric currents result from both natural causes and human activity, and the discrete currents interact in a complex pattern. The currents are extremely low frequency and travel over large areas at or near the surface of the Earth
Telluric current – Wikipedia

The motion of electrically conducting sea water through Earth’s magnetic field induces secondary electromagnetic fields.
OS – Electromagnetic characteristics of ENSO (

Reply to  jmorpuss
January 8, 2021 1:59 am

I don’t think electricity is involved. Its a coupled ocean-atmosphere feedback that flips periodically from one stable phase and back. Over a cycle it has no effect on the global temperature average.

Reply to  Loydo
January 8, 2021 3:43 am

That’s right Loydo…you don’t think !!
Just spout rubbish all the time.

Reply to  Loydo
January 11, 2021 9:34 am

The trouble with the cycling idea is that back-to-back Ninos or Ninas are relatively common and proxy data show that historically one or the other can be dominant for quite long periods.

Ron Long
January 7, 2021 10:39 am

Excellent posting of a report about strong north Pacific storms. I was in High School in western Oregon during the famous Columbus Day Storm of 1962, and the wind speeds, both sustained and gusts, were amazing, and accompanied by large Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar trees breaking off or tipping over. I have also been in several hurricanes, in Vietnam and Cancun, and the wind speeds during the Columbus Day event were equal.

Reply to  Ron Long
January 7, 2021 12:40 pm

Yes, I was in high school in Washington State when the Columbus Day Storm hit. Along the coastal shores, one can still find huge weathered logs of driftwood due to that storm.

Reply to  noaaprogrammer
January 7, 2021 1:21 pm

Since we’re getting all nostalgic, cheers to you survivors!

I was breastfeeding then, as an infant, and didn’t notice much.

Dave Fair
Reply to  Ron Long
January 7, 2021 2:26 pm

To be a high-schooler and logger in OR in the early 1960s and a combat soldier in Vietnam in the late 1960s were both hoots of the highest order.

Reply to  Dave Fair
January 7, 2021 3:03 pm

Dave was the Vietnam War a hoot because of the amount of drugs taken.

“What drugs did soldiers use in the Vietnam War?
According to a 1971 report by the Department of Defense, 51 percent of the armed forces had smoked marijuana, 31 percent had used psychedelics, such as LSD, mescaline and psilocybin mushrooms, and an additional 28 percent had taken hard drugs, such as cocaine and heroin. But drug usage wasn’t just limited by what enlistees could illicitly buy on the black market. Their military command also heavily prescribed pills to the troops under the auspices of improving performance.”
G.I.s’ Drug Use in Vietnam Soared—With Their Commanders’ Help – HISTORY

Reply to  jmorpuss
January 7, 2021 4:41 pm

It seems to be the focus of your attention….

Nothing to do with the subject of this article.

Dave Fair
Reply to  jmorpuss
January 8, 2021 3:38 pm

Drugs had nothing to do with the hoot of being a young man in high-stress, high-achievement environments. Learning, earning, achieving and fighting are appropriate young man games.

Ron Long
Reply to  Dave Fair
January 7, 2021 5:21 pm

Dave, I worked in logging as summer jobs and it was far more dangerous than being in Vietnam. In Vietnam I was in an Air Traffic Controller Army unit and we did not do drugs. Beer? Don’t ask.

Dave Fair
Reply to  Ron Long
January 8, 2021 3:52 pm

One of my favorite (semi-serious) jokes, Ron, it that the Draft saved my life by getting me out of logging. In my Army combat company, we did not allow the dopers out on operations. In their great wisdom our leaders simply put them on permanent berm guard duty instead of getting them out of the Army for everybody’s safety. Every sundown we were in camp it was an inspiring sight (/s) to see the marijuana smoke rising from the perimeter bunkers after the guards were put in place.

Reply to  Ron Long
January 9, 2021 3:12 am

Ron, you really need to watch this vid.

Is alcohol a Drug.
Is Alcohol A Drug – The Stop Drinking Expert Explains! – YouTube

Wim Röst
January 7, 2021 12:01 pm

The most recent 7-day change in sea surface temperatures shows the effect of the recent huge low pressure areas in the North Pacific, transporting surface heat upward and mixing surface water with colder deeper water: comment image

January 7, 2021 12:03 pm

This has nothing to do with “warm” or “cold” water.
Hurricanes can exist close to equator only.
The reson is, the revolution period of the hurricane must be equal to the (Earth day)/ sin(latitude). This is possible only for small latitudes, close to the equator.
No chance for northern or southern latitudes.
Hurricanes are resonant to the Earth rotation.

Reply to  Alex
January 7, 2021 12:57 pm

Don’t you mean hurricanes must be “born” in the tropics? Newfoundland has been hit by many hurricanes. Since the earth rotates eastward, the ‘canes prefer the northern hemisphere.

Reply to  Anti-griff
January 7, 2021 11:57 pm

Yes. After that they can move quite north just like a boomerang flying free then.
Their remnants hit Europe and even ural and siberia.

Reply to  Anti-griff
January 8, 2021 12:50 am

They don’t “prefer” any hemisphere and their formation has nothing to do with their revolution period, whatever that is. Better read this before taking any more wild guesses.

Reply to  Alex
January 7, 2021 1:44 pm

Hurricanes are warm core. They are formed when the warm air ascends over water in a cluster of thunderstorms, draws in air from the outside to replace the rising air and the Coriolis Effect causes it to deflect as it moves to the center of convection. The lower the pressure in the center the faster the air moves in and the stronger the rotation. Since the Coriolis Effect is low at the equator and stronger as you go away, hurricanes won’t form below 5N or 5S and generally 10 deg latitude or higher is required. Also to get enough evaporation, the water temperatures need to be above 26C to maintain one (hence warm core). If a hurricane drifts over colder water and no other weather system is around to influence it, it will fall apart.

Cold core storms over water are formed by the differences in pressure between two air masses. Typically a strong high in winter is very cold and generally polar in origin. When it is next to an air mass that is maritime in origin (low pressure), the air flows from the high to low and rotation begins, again due to the Earth’s rotation. The perfect setup is very cold winter air moving in from Siberia hitting the warmer maritime air northwest of Hawaii. Currently the arctic air is near record low temperature (and record high pressure) and the Pacific air is warmer than normal (low pressure).. bingo.. huge storms.

January 7, 2021 1:07 pm

For the bulk of 45 years in shipping, my rule of thumb has been, for the waters around the British Isles [so roughly 50-60 North],

980 mb – Gale, Beaufort 8
960 mb – Storm, Beaufort 10
940 mb – Hurricane force, Beaufort 12.

Rule of thumb, but gives an idea of the likely severity of the weather near the Low very quickly.
I remember when the BRAER went aground in the early 1990s, the forecast was for about 930 mb, IIRC; I told my then-fiancée that this would be a bad storm.
More than the weather, though, affected that ship.


January 7, 2021 4:55 pm

 North Pacific storms secure their energy from differences in temperature between the Arctic and subropics.”

Since it hasn’t gotten significantly warmer in the subtropics and temperate zones, that indicates that it is getting significantly colder in the Arctic.

Looking at these polar storms, it demonstrates a storm’s power and indications how polar storms concentrate Arctic sea ice and flush sea ice past Greenland.

Impressive storms!

Joel O’Bryan
January 7, 2021 5:54 pm

Joe Bastardi mentioned in his recent essay that North America should prepare for a bumpy late January – February. Then a few of these will hit Washingto-Oregon-Cal like freight train.It’ll give Old Dementia Joe something to focus on rather than his dismal foreign policies and inability to control multiple international crises.

Last edited 2 years ago by Joel O’Bryan
D Boss
January 8, 2021 6:16 am

Excellent post! I grew up in a northern climate, where every few years or so a major blizzard occurs. I have since quasi retired to South Florida, and have now been through a handful of Hurricanes – Frances in 2004, my house was in the eyewall for 22 hours due to it expanding in diameter whilst slowly moving….

I have opined since then that Blizzards or major ones are nothing more than “cold hurricanes” as they have similar winds and low pressure. (both are destructive and potentially deadly but in different ways)

Your post indicates my assessment of the two systems from practical experience, was not wrong!

January 8, 2021 8:33 am

I don’t get the relevance or purpose of comparing these storms to hurricanes.

Is it just alarmism? Click Bait? I don’t get it.

The pressures at the centers of these storms are as low as severe hurricanes. Ok. News flash: low pressures aren’t what cause damage.

High winds cause storm surge and wind damage and the winds associated with these storms are, at their worst, barely in the Category 1 range.

The East Coast has “noreasters” that have winds as strong as that…so what? Still doesn’t make them equivalent to a hurricane.

I’m just not getting the purpose of this comparison.

D Boss
Reply to  Sailorcurt
January 9, 2021 5:01 am

Sailorcurt: Perhaps you are unaware that pressure differential in the atmo, is the CAUSE of wind, so if you have a cold core storm with 930 mb, you are going to have hurricane force winds – period!

I doubt you have been in both kinds of storms of any consequence, or you’d grasp the purpose of the post.

Yes, inland blizzards can’t have “storm surge”, but all the other damage factors do occur in major blizzards: wind damage to power distribution, road blockage, etc.

However another empirical observation having been in both kinds of storms – the building codes in the southern regions where Hurricanes most impact are at least an order of magnitude poorer than in northern climates – so far lower structural damage occurs due to sustained high winds in the blizzard prone areas.

I will grant that in this kind of comparison, the scale of the two kinds of storms is different. That is warm core storms like Hurricanes can be bigger and more powerful than cold core storms like Blizzards. But I have been through a handful of Blizzards that are in fact comparable to being through cat2 and cat3 hurricanes.

The purpose of the comparison is valid, as there are common elements and results though the formation and growth of each is different.

Another point is that cold core storms like Blizzards do not have an “eye” where the eyewall is the most intense part of the storm. So Hurricanes have an intense core destruction zone, whilst a major Blizzard has it’s damage zone more widely distributed.typically over a longer time period. Both have serious destructive potential.

January 8, 2021 10:53 am

Very America-centered article. This website invites readers and submitters from across the globe. The globe does not consist of the USA alone. Thank God it is not.
Getting back on subject. Yes your observations are correct and you are not alone in making them.
Thank you for your submission.

Pat from Kerbob
January 8, 2021 11:23 am

Isn’t this fairly common? Tofino on west coast vancouver island is famous for huge waves, the resorts there do big winter business with people going specifically to watch the storm waves come in and pound the shore.

I have a question Cliff or whoever may read this, I have been going salmon/halibut fishing yearly for last 25 years, june-aug time frame.
You want decent weather so you can get out to the “salmon highway” some distance off the west coast of the island that the fish follow as they head south (how far from shore varies, the further north the closer the highway is to land).
For the last 5 years either the weather is worse or we have had consistently bad luck where we have only been able to get offshore maybe 1 day every 2-3 years, vs 1-2 days each trip, wind and waves being a bugger in 24′ sport boat. And forget anchoring for halibut in that, the definition of living hell. Consequently much worse fishing. The fish are still there when you get out there, but cannot get to them.

Is there any long term trend for bad weather in the north east pacific area?

January 10, 2021 12:34 pm

Uh, those who know of Typhoon Freda, aka the Columbus Day storm of 1962, will sneer at your headline, never mind linguistics.

Columbus Day Storm of 1962 – Wikipedia
(Called a ‘typhoon because it formed west of the International Date Line, as many do but few reach North America.)

It trashed western OR and WA, then kept up by another storm it joined with trashed southern Vancouver Island into the lower mainland of B.C.

All with winds exceeding your threshold.

Yes, not as bad as SE US/Caribbean/Central America, but Freda showed severe storms of circular nature can occur in the North Pacific.

(That Wikipedia article has links to other very strong storms hitting the mid wet coast, not necessarily typhoons.

Note that many typhoons head toward the west coast of North America, but most do not reach it.

BTW, aren’t their ‘hurricanes’ that begin west of Mexico and head north, rarely doing much damage?

PS: Damage from windstorms can be worse than expected because of water on trees in the wet winter on the coast, especially evergreens (Arbutus/Madrone and most conifers), and snow at times especially at modest elevations (temperature on the west coast in winter is usually only a few degrees above freezing at seal level). We ground makes it easier to uproot trees.

January 11, 2021 8:02 am

There was war in East Asia and Europe in autumn 1939. The NYT reported about a tropical storm to make landfall in California in the twentieth century: Here a brief excerpt from
QUOTE: California experienced an eight-day-long heat wave since about September 16th before a tropical storm, formerly a hurricane, hit Southern California , at San Pedro early on the 25th with winds of severe gale force. The up to 11 Beaufort strong winds were the only tropical storm to make landfall in California in the twentieth century. The air pressure went down to 971 mb, and the excessive rain caused heavy flooding, e.g. September records in Los Angeles (5.24 inches in 24 hours) and at Mount Wilson, 295mm/11.60inches). It was the heaviest September rain in Los Angeles ’ weather history and it broke the worst heat wave in Weather Bureau records, as measured by intensity and duration. (NYT, Sept. 26, 1939). UNQUOTE

In September 1939 the sun state had to cope with a number of weather caprioles. The unanswered question until today is what role an El Niño event had in that place at that time, and the contribution of war activities in China and Europe, due to the excessive release of condensation nuclei. Much too extraordinary and seldom was the situation that caused high precipitation during September with 370% above normal in California (Alabama, 119%; Arizona, 335%; Nevada 327%; Utah 261%);

January 11, 2021 9:28 am

This is a linguistic question. In most languages the quotes around “hurricane” would be unnecessary since the corresponding Word (e. g. “Orkan” in German) simply means a Beaufort 12 storm (= windspeed more than 73 mph/33 meters per second).

What is known as a hurricane in English is “a tropical hurricane” in most languages. Though I Think that “ouragan” in French is also only used for tropical hurricanes.

Also remember that as recently as the 40’s the Word “hurricane” was never used in the Pacific, the hurricane that devastated the 3rd Fleet in November 1944 (and figures in “The Caine Mutiny”) was known as “Halsey’s typhoon” not “Halsey’s hurricane”

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