Storm Porn

Don't you love it??? Not the storms themselves, of course.  I'm talking about the images, the luscious satellite photography that lets us view glorious atmospheric blemishes like hurricanes from the ultimate POV. The most attractive North Atlantic storm of 2009 (so far), IMHO, was Hurricane Bill, seen here on August 18 far from land just one day before before he maximized to Category 4 status.  Subsequently he brushed past the Eastern seaboard before degenerating into a warm wet blob that moseyed on east to molest northern Europe for a bit. Thankfully, at least as far as us ...

3rd October 2009.
By Charles Doane

Don’t you love it???

Not the storms themselves, of course.  I’m talking about the images, the luscious satellite photography that lets us view glorious atmospheric blemishes like hurricanes from the ultimate POV.

The most attractive North Atlantic storm of 2009 (so far), IMHO, was Hurricane Bill, seen here on August 18 far from land just one day before before he maximized to Category 4 status.  Subsequently he brushed past the Eastern seaboard before degenerating into a warm wet blob that moseyed on east to molest northern Europe for a bit.

Thankfully, at least as far as us sailors are concerned, the North Atlantic hurricane season has been a dud this year (knock on wood). Seems like the first in a long time.

 

The year everyone now remembers best, of course, is ’05.  I spent the worst two weeks of that hurricane season noodling around the Maine coast with my wife Clare and our newborn baby Lucy aboard our Golden Hind 31 Sophie.  We first heard of the storm named Katrina on the VHF, and by the time we got to Boothbay she was Category 5, forecast to track right over New Orleans.  Having lived briefly in New Orleans, I well remembered the strange sensation of having to walk up steep hills to take a peek at the Mississippi, so immediately assumed the city must be doomed.

There was nothing I could do about that.  But I could take steps to mitigate the effects Katrina might have on us.  A wall of fog was forecast to blanket the coast as the storm fled the scene of the crime and swept up the St. Lawrence river valley.  I figured it was a good time to head inland up the Sheepscot River where the fog might be thinner.  Puttering like thieves through the soup to Wiscasset, we had plenty of time to monitor FM radio news reports.  All the WX pundits kept saying (over and over and over again) that this was the worst storm season since 1995.

For me it was a powerful mantra. I will never forget the summer of ’95, nor the storms it generated, as I sailed most of the way across the Atlantic that season in my 35-foot yawl Crazy Horse.  With two others I set out from Newport in early July to sail across the Bowling Alley of the Gods.  Already by then they had their arms warmed up.  Their first shot, Allison, had been a gutterball, born south of Cuba, that hooked up through the southeast U.S. and fell apart off the Carolinas.  The second, Barry, was a clean shot straight up the alley all the way to Nova Scotia.

The third, I must confess, we saw coming.  It was an anonymous blip, a wave in the trades well east of Antigua, that we assumed (or hoped, anyway) would come to nothing.  Instead it formed a core and intensified. By the time we were halfway to Bermuda just three days later, it was named Chantal and was headed straight for us.

Fortunately, she missed us by about 200 miles.  For at least 12 hours, though, it looked like she had really locked on to us.  One of my shipmates wore the same pair of sweatshorts every day of the passage, and for a while I was convinced those damn shorts had something to do with our predicament.  I imagined them getting warmer and moister with each passing hour and that the storm, like the Nazgul seeking the One Ring, had sensed their presence and was drawn to them.

All the rest of that year it felt like we were dodging bullets.  Just after we left Bermuda in early August, the island almost took a direct hit from Felix. (St. Martin, you may recall, got whacked hard twice—first by Luis and then by Marilyn—in the space of just two weeks in September.)  And even in the Azores it didn’t quite seem safe.  First came Noel in early October.  Then in early November it was Tanya, the remnants of which passed less than 100 miles of where we were on Sao Miguel.  I spent a long, sleepless night crouched on a wild bronco of a pontoon watching fishing boats drag down into the marina near my boat.  When I heard the season might go into December and that they were dusting off the Greek alphabet just in case, I got spooked and stayed put for the winter.

Ten years later, in the season of Katrina, the storms did run into December, and even on into January, and the Greek alphabet got quite a work-out.  By then it was clear that hurricanes were getting both more intense and more frequent.  And in the very objective annals of meteorology it was also clear that 1995 was the year this trend got started.  That year, I later learned, every single tropical wave developed into a tropical depression.  Every depression save two became a named storm.  Eleven of the 19 storms became full-fledged hurricanes.  In 2005, by comparison, there were 27 storms, 14 of which became hurricanes.  One of them, Wilma, with a central pressure of 882 millibars, was the most intense Atlantic hurricane ever recorded.

And now this.  Some have argued that the relatively cool summer we’ve just had, not to mention the relatively inactive storm season we seem to be having, are proof that all the fuss about global warming is just hoorah.  The logic being, I suppose, that since tropical storms effectively function as heat pumps, transferring heat from the tropics to higher latitudes, the fact that there are fewer of them means there must be less heat to transfer.

But over in the Pacific they’ve been having a very active storm season this year, plus global sea-surface temps apparently took a big spike upwards in July before dropping suddenly for unknown reasons.  The bottom line is that one year doth not a trend make.  As a sailor I’m thankful the Atlantic has been calm this season; as a storm porn addict I guess I’m a little bummed.

How about the rest of you?  Any hot pix you want to share or trade???


About the author:

Charles Doane

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Charles Doane is an editor-at-large for SAIL, where he previously was a senior editor. He also served as managing editor at Offshore and associate editor at Cruising World. Charles has logged more than 40,000 miles as an offshore sailor, including six transatlantic passages and some single-handed passages. His blog posts appear courtesy of his website www.WaveTrain.net.
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