I'm not much of a betting man, but if I were, I would take odds that the Texas coast, and Houston specifically, will see no hurricane landfalls in 2011. We have a pretty substantial tropical storm in Nate meandering around the Bay of Campeche at the moment with forecast models still stumbling all over themselves trying to figure out where the hell it is going to go, but I feel confident in saying: It ain't coming here.
Now, let me say that we all should continue to remain prepared for anything. Hurricanes are unpredictable and I don't have a meteorological crystal ball (though how freaking awesome would that be?). But, the unique weather patterns that have brought us heat, drought and dry air persist and show no signs of letting up over the next two weeks. Assuming Nate doesn't defy the laws of science, consider the high pressure we have come to hate this summer to be our force field against looming storms in the Gulf.
Tropical Storm Nate will no doubt be a hurricane by this weekend and the longer it continues over the warm waters of the Gulf, the more likely it will be a major hurricane. How long that will be and where he will ultimately end up won't be known for a few days, perhaps even a week, but that high pressure sitting over us is only forecast to strengthen and perhaps even move east into the Gulf, blocking Nate's path to the north and forcing him back to Mexico.
Two of the most reliable forecast models are the European (ECMWF) and the GFS. The ECMWF sees Nate eventually plowing into Mexico as a strong hurricane in about three days, after which a strong blast of Arctic air pushing down the eastern seaboard will obliterate virtually all tropical activity and bring a chilly weekend to the northeast. On the other hand, the GFS thinks that same trough of low pressure we simply call a "cold front" moving across the U.S. will be strong enough to pull Nate northward not far off the Texas coast and eventually make landfall in east-central Louisiana as a major, perhaps even catastrophic, hurricane.
Things will start to clear up with Nate in terms of forecast track by tomorrow as recon planes from the National Hurricane Center make a run across the Gulf to take measurements of the steering currents in the upper levels of the atmosphere. Those readings will be reflected in the forecasting models tomorrow morning and we'll start to see greater consistency in Nate's track.
At this point, however, despite Nate's brief dance with the upper Texas coast in the GFS model, there is nothing to indicate that it will do anything but, at worst, turn northward and eventually northeast just as Lee did when it drenched Louisiana and left us with nothing but high winds and wildfires.
This isn't to say a close call with Nate wouldn't help our situation along the coastline. If that storm were to pass within a couple hundred miles of Galveston, no doubt we would see quite a bit of rain and wind, but I'm not even sure that will happen. I have a feeling that when the models begin to coalesce tomorrow, they will point south and that will be that.
I've just spouted all that nonsensical sounding weather-speak and glazed right over the fact that I predicted our hurricane season in Texas is over. I believe it is and I can explain why.
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Statistically speaking, September 10 is the peak of hurricane season and 2011 has been a very busy year, right on the heels of 2005 -- the year with the record for named storms in the Atlantic. Fortunately, unlike 2005, only one hurricane and one tropical storm have made landfall on the continental U.S. But September 10 could see a major hurricane threatening the northern Gulf coast and another threatening the east cost of Florida, right on cue.
After that, there is reason to feel optimistic that our season will start to slow down, particularly in Texas. Since 1900, the Texas coastline has never experienced a major hurricane strike (category three or above) after September 23, with most major hurricanes striking between mid-August and mid-September. In fact, in that same time period, the entire Texas coastline was struck by hurricanes only two times after September 23: an unnamed category two hurricane that hit Corpus Christi on October 16, 1912, and Hurricane Jerry, which hit Galveston as a modest category 1 storm on October 16, 1989. In short, getting a big storm after September 23 here in Texas is rare.
The reason Texas is spared when other parts of the Atlantic basin are still being plagued with hurricanes is because our first cool fronts of the year usually begin rolling in around the third week of September. This year, we've already gotten our first and there appears to be another possibly on the way by next weekend. As these troughs of low pressure sweep across the midwest and into the southeast, they tend to pull hurricanes with them away from our part of the country, which is what some of the models are predicting with Nate. They also bring cool, dry air into the region.
The bad news in all of this is the drought is continuing with a vengeance and if, as some are predicting, we see strong La Nina conditions over the Pacific Ocean, this drought could last through the winter. But, rather than go all gloom and doom, I'm suggesting we be happy at our lack of hurricanes and the onset of cooler weather. It may not be perfect, but it's something.