Next week there could be two hurricanes churning in the Gulf of Mexico for the first time in recorded history.
If that wasn’t peak 2020, there’s this:
They’re not going to get along with one another.
The tropical systems will likely batter and weaken each other — and one could even take the other out.
A lot of meteorological factors have to align before that historic first becomes a reality, said Colorado State University research professor Phil Klotzbach, one of the planet’s foremost hurricane forecasters.
“There’s still quite a bit of uncertainty, but we could be seeing a historic event next week,” he said. “But right now it’s a hypothetical.”
Tropical Storm Laura, which formed Friday, is forecast to veer further west away from Tampa Bay and Florida, according to the National Hurricane Center’s 5 p.m. Friday advisory. It was moving west at 17 mph while generating maximum sustained winds of up to 45 mph.
If Laura survives its Sunday-Monday trek over the mountains of Hispaniola and Cuba, it is expected to reach Category 1 strength in the warm eastern Gulf waters Tuesday. It’s path is aimed at the Louisiana-Mississippi border, with Pensacola the only part of Florida still caught in the cone of uncertainty.
Tropical Depression 14 will enter the western Gulf on Sunday and is projected to grow into Hurricane Marco on Tuesday. Its path is also veering west, right at the center of the Texas coastline. It was moving northwest at nearly 13 mph, with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph.
Both face several obstacles that could keep them from powering up — but both are still forecast to reach hurricane strength next week. Spectrum Bay News 9 Chief Meteorologist Mike Clay has his doubts, though.
“We’re not even sure (Laura) will survive over the islands,” he said. “It may not even make it to the Keys.”
Storm forecasts are constantly shifting. But scientists are intrigued by the possibilities of next week. Everyone else who lives on the Gulf of Mexico, probably not so much.
But this isn’t actually bad news. There are positive outcomes from what could be the BOGO deal of the century:
Each storm will likely keep the other from strengthening. They could even break each other down. That could reduce the potential damage and life-threatening conditions facing wherever the storms make landfall — or eliminate a landfall altogether.
“Neither of them are likely to benefit from the interaction,” said meteorologist Jeff Masters. “What is more likely is that one or both of them will decrease in strength."
It all comes down to outflow, or the strong winds being pushed out from the top of a storm’s center. The outflow from one storm will end up battering the other, potentially disrupting and weakening it.
“One or both of the storms will cause wind shear for the other,” said Masters, who founded Weather Underground and now works for Yale Climate Connections.
Or one could end up destroying the other.
“If one storm is a lot stronger than the other,” Masters said, “then it may be possible that the stronger storm will just completely whomp the weaker storm.”
That actually happened in 2005, when Hurricane Wilma hit southwest Florida as a Category 3 storm — and also wiped out nearby Tropical Storm Alpha in the Caribbean Sea.
That 2005 storm season is the most active hurricane season on record, when 27 named storms formed (they ran out of storm names that year, hence the use of Alpha and other Greek letters.) Forecasters are comparing 2020′s active Atlantic storm season to 2005.
While this would be the first two hurricanes to reach the Gulf at the same time, it would not be the first two storms to make landfall in the U.S. at the same time. The last time that happened was in 1933, during the Great Depression.
The Cuba–Brownsville hurricane hit Cuba and then Brownsville, Texas, on Sept. 5, 1933. At the same time a tropical storm landed at Cedar Key. But that was actually a remnant of the Treasure Coast hurricane, which hit Jupiter, traveled across Florida, passed by Tampa, entered the Gulf waters and curved back toward Florida as a weak tropical storm.
Those storms struck on opposite ends of the Gulf, however, so they never interacted.
There’s an even more amazing and unlikelier outcome next week: Both storms could end up rotating around the center of the Gulf of Mexico in a sort of hurricane dance-off.
It’s called the Fujiwhara Effect, named after the Japanese scientist who discovered the phenomenon in 1921, Sakuhei Fujiwhara. It’s actually common in the wide-open Pacific Ocean, where powerful storms often interact, but not in the much smaller Gulf.
One model shows a Fujiwhara Effect occurring next week, with Laura slowing Marco’s track to the Texas coast. Clay pointed out that reverses an earlier forecast of the two storms: “That is exactly the total opposite of yesterday, so in other words no one knows just yet.”
The European Model (the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecast) shows both storms failing to strengthen. It shows Laura emerging from Cuba as a weak system and reaching New Orleans as a tropical storm and Tropical Depression 14 dissipating over South Texas.
Still, Tampa Bay has its own weather worries unconnected to the storms: There will be gusty winds and strong thundershowers this weekend with a chance of street flooding.
Whatever next week brings — two hurricanes, a hurricane and a tropical storm, or two weakened storms — it’ll be important for Gulf Coast residents to pay attention to each storm. That’s because two storms coming so close together will make it harder to predict what they might do.
“The one negative you could say is that it makes it hard to predict what is going to happen,” Masters said. “The warnings from the forecasts are not going to be as good as we would like because the uncertainty is going to be higher.”
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2020 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide
HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane
PREPARE FOR COVID-19 AND THE STORM: The CDC's tips for this pandemic-hurricane season
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