Bill Patzert on Hurricane Alex and 2010 hurricane season

In late June, Hurricane Alex ushered in what some scientists say might be a busy 2010 Atlantic hurricane season. EarthSky spoke with research climatologist and oceanographer Bill Patzert of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory about Hurricane Alex.

Bill Patzert: Well, the good news about it, if there is any, is that we dodged a bullet, because it didn’t go directly over the areas affected by the oil spill. This was a very unusual hurricane. It came very early. It’s very rare to get a hurricane in June. It strengthened very rapidly. By the time it came ashore it was a category 2.

Hurricane Alex is the strongest June hurricane since Alma in 1966, forty-four years ago, said Patzert. Many believe this 2010 hurricane season might be an active one.

Bill Patzert: Well, all the elements are in place. The Caribbean, the Gulf, the tropical Atlantic are all very, very warm. And we switched out of an El Nino into what we call a La Nina situation really out of the path of these westward-moving hurricanes. And so they tend to get strong and last long during a La Nina situation.

We asked Dr. Patzert what he thought is the most important thing people should know about the 2010 hurricane season.

Bill Patzert: Well, we have to remember that these are tremendous forces of nature. These great hurricanes, they can be extremely strong, extremely wet when they come ashore, and can be deadly. And so the most important thing that people have to remember is that preparation is the thing that you have to consider most, and first. Know your evacuation routes, know exactly what you’re going to do, and don’t wait till the last minute, because they can be extremely damaging and in many cases very deadly, as we’ve seen in the past.

Dr. Patzert expressed relief that Hurricane Alex didn’t cross paths with the Gulf oil spill.

Bill Patzert: If Alex had come ashore directly over this spill and into the coast of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, with a huge storm surge, it really could have made a bad situation worse. But on the other hand, some people talk about with these giant hurricanes come over the gulf, they’re like a giant Mix-master. They could tend to disperse the large spill and make it easier for it to degrade and perhaps lessen some of the effects in the long run. So like most things, there’s the blessings and the curses.

He explained why hurricanes tend to get stronger as the season progresses.

Bill Patzert: Great hurricanes feed off the heat from the ocean. In August and September, the tropical Atlantic, the Gulf, and the Caribbean, it’s the end of the heating season in the northern hemisphere. And so you’re not running on regular anymore. By the time you get to September, you’re running on high-octane fuel, very high sea-surface temperatures. And so that’s why we always peak in the early fall.

July 2, 2010

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