While all eyes in South Florida are fixed on the coconuts and construction cranes being flung about by Hurricane Irma, her not-so-little brother Jose is capering about in the Atlantic north of Puerto Rico, doing some kind of weird spinning in a circle fandango that current forecasts say could leave the storm pointed right at South Florida at the end of the week.
Like Irma, Jose is a major storm, with 130 mile-per-hour winds. At the moment, it's about 1,000 miles east-southeast of Miami, and an entirely schizophrenic attitude about where it wants to go.
The National Hurricane Center, in its most recent advisory, forecasts the Category 4 Jose over the next five days going slightly northeast, looping back west, spinning south, then east again — "sort of like tying a knot," as one of the center's hurricane specialists said. (Though, when it all takes place at 130 mph, the more accurate simile might be, like a teenager with a hot car doing donuts in the parking lot.)
When all this back-and-forth ends on Friday, the center expects Jose to be sitting about 600 miles away, facing Miami. But where it goes from there, at least right now, is pretty much anybody's guess.
Meteorologists typically assign hurricanes what they call a cone of uncertainty, a predicted route that starts narrowly and specifically, then broadens out as it moves into the future and the possibilities expand. The one for Jose not a cone at all but an almost-perfect circle.
"The future path of Jose after it makes its stalling loop in the western Atlantic remains uncertain," helplessly shrugged forecasters for cable television's The Weather Channel on Sunday. "But we will continue to monitor it for any potential U.S. impact."
Directionally confused hurricanes that feint one way and head another are unusual, but certainly not unknown. Remember Hurricane Jeanne, which in 2004 seemed to be puttering harmlessly off into the Atlantic before whirling and smashing into Hutchinson Island, ultimately becoming the deadliest of the four hurricanes that hit Florida that year?
What is more confounding is that, after Harvey and Irma, Jose could end up being the third major hurricane to hit the United States in three weeks. When Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys Sunday, it was the first time in recorded history that the continental United States has taken hits from two Category 4 storms in the same year.
Lumping Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia (the hurricane that struck Mexico last week) in with the dozens of wildfires in the western United States and an earthquake in Mexico earlier this month, Jeff Masters, meteorology director at the private service Weather Underground, told reporters there was only one conclusion: "Nature's gone crazy."
The sense of amazement has even stretched into outer space, where U.S. astronaut Randy Bresnick has been forwarding to Earth photos of his view from the space shuttle. On Saturday night, he sent a shot of Irma and Jose together, their misty expanse covering a good chunk of the western hemisphere. "Unfortunately," he captioned them, "a tale of two hurricanes."