Hurricanes- Pacific. Pacific hurricanes are only different from Atlantic hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons because of where they occur. When the symmetrically identical atmospheric engines develop east of 180°F and north of the Equator, they’re called Pacific hurricanes.
How busy is the Eastern Pacific Ocean? Pacific hurricanes are a virtually annual occurrence and typically there are several. Sometimes there are many. More seldom yet are there multiple mid-to-high Category hurricanes at any given time. It’s very rare for as many as three Category 4 or higher hurricanes to be in the Eastern Pacific at any given time but it has happened – the last event having been in 2015. Every year, usually one or two tropical systems meaningfully impact the US.
Rough landfalls of Pacific hurricanes commonly rack up damages in the hundreds of millions. On occasion, the toll has been much more significant. 2013’s Manuel tops the list of deadliest Pacific Hurricanes with $4.32 billion in damages reported. Several others have also cost billions, although the big ones tend to hit Mexico when strong. The 1975 Pacific Northwest hurricane traveled the farthest north on record, packing peak winds of 75 mph, affecting even western Canada.
A California hurricane is one that affects the state of California. The California current, which transports cooler waters, works against the mechanisms that keep tropical systems together. It means California typically stays in the clear from severe hurricane damage. Atypical factors, however, can put the Golden State in harm’s way. El Niño may warm the waters near the coast and also the Californian current. Instead of Pacific tropical systems’ typical northwestward trajectory, the Pacific High can push weather and also encourage a northeastward trajectory into the US.
When tropical cyclones and hurricanes do affect California, the main threat is typically the dropping of too much rain too quickly, causing flooding, such as during 1976’s Hurricane Kathleen, which killed three Californians. Far less occasionally, they may make landfall, such as the 1858 San Diego hurricane, which inspired much of the initial research and monitoring along the West Coast. [Visit here for a list of Californian hurricanes.]
When a system in the Pacific becomes a threat to the US, special teams called hurricane hunters may be deployed to refine Meteorologists’ understandings of the system. The Hurricane Hunters Association (the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron), NOAA Hurricane Hunters, as well as some military expeditions have flown into systems in the name and duty of science. In fact out own Dr. Witiw was part of the Hurricane Hunters when he was with the US Air Force.
Modern meteorological tools are wonderful but limited capabilities leave some mysteries inside hurricanes. Those measurements require the brave souls who are willing to pilot through the storms. Hurricane hunters, cruising at an altitude of 45,000’, can provide insights into the weather conditions inside the storm, out of the reach of satellites and radars. Improved functionality of satellites has reduced the need for hurricane hunters but many still take the courageous flight into the natural frays. Some even cruise directly into the eye to note its location, core pressures, wind speeds, rainfall rates and key indicators used to generate storm surge warnings.
Pacific Hurricanes Summer 2017
2017 has already proven to be an exceptional year in the Eastern Pacific with May’s Tropical Storm Adrian: the earliest Pacific tropical storm on record, overtaking 1990’s Alma from May 14 by four days. Adrian was ahead of schedule, as the Pacific Hurricane season kicks off May 15, 16 days before the start of the Atlantic Hurricane season. Both seasons end November 30th.
This summer, Pacific hurricanes and tropical cyclones are predicted to be moderately above average in frequency due to warm surface waters in the Eastern Pacific and favorable levels of vertical wind shear over parts of the Ocean. A typical Pacific Hurricane season yields fifteen tropical storms, eight hurricanes and four major hurricanes. Forecasts are presently foretelling three significant hurricane impacts with Mexico alone, which is a prediction of about one more than during a typical year.
Written by Meteorologist Geoff Linsley