Late Season Hurricane in the Gulf? No.

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From ImpactWeather’s lead hurricane forecaster, Chris Hebert:

The seventeenth named storm of the 2010 hurricane season is now churning around in the western Caribbean Sea. Tropical Storm Richard is located about 150 miles east of Honduras with 40 mph winds. Satellite imagery indicates that Richard is becoming better organized today, as wind shear has decreased significantly during the past 24 hours. Question is, will Richard pose a serious threat to either the Bay of Campeche or the northern Gulf of Mexico?

Yesterday, it did look like Richard might have a chance to impact the northeastern Gulf, but those chances are decreasing. High pressure is building across the northwest Gulf a little more strongly than forecast. This should keep Richard on a west to west-northwesterly track until its landfall in Belize on Monday. With a favorable environment for intensification over the next 60-72 hours, Richard will quite likely reach hurricane strength by Sunday, and possibly even major hurricane strength of 115 mph winds before it moves inland. That is, if it stays to the north of the coast of Honduras, which is no by no means a certainty.

Where will Richard go beyond the next few days? Before I answer that, let’s have a look at some past storm climatology. It’s always interesting to see where past storms that were located in the same area eventually tracked. In the image below, I plotted all storms since 1851 that moved to within 85 miles of Richard’s current position during the months of October and November.

1851-2009: October storms passing withing 85 miles of Richard's current location.

Note that the vast majority of October/November storms in the western Caribbean Sea tracked northward toward Cuba and eventually Florida and/or the Bahamas. That won’t likely be the case with Richard, as high pressure is forecast to build over Florida by next week. This will keep Richard away from the state as easterly winds on the south side of the high direct the storm westward. Earlier this week, we thought that Richard might track toward the Florida Panhandle by next Thursday. On my graphic, note that the last time a storm took such a track from Richard’s current position was in 1916. Not only is that a very rare occurance, but Texas has never been hit from a storm in Richard’s current location. Let’s now take a look at what the latest computer models suggest.

Computer model forecasts for Richard, as of early this morning.

Today, all of the models are in much better agreement (the past several days showed a wide variety of tracks and intensity). One thing they agree upon is the high pressure center over the northern Gulf will be stronger than was previously forecast. That should keep Richard farther to the south while preventing any turn toward the southern Gulf over the next 2-3 days. I think that after Richard moves inland into Central America on Monday morning, it may well survive to reach the eastern Bay of Campeche late next Tuesday. Once in the Bay of Campeche, though, it may not be able to survive for too long. What’s left of Richard will most likely entrain cooler, drier air and merge with a frontal boundary rather than intensify and head off to the north or northeast.

Will Richard be the final storm of the 2010 season? Probably not. There are still five weeks to go in the season, and some of the long range models are already hinting at another storm developing in the eastern Caribbean Sea by late next week. And though not frequent, there have been post-season storms forming after November 30 in recent years, including Subtropical Storm Olga in 2007 (named on December 10th) and 2005’s Hurricane Epsilon (reached hurricane status on December 2) and Tropical Storm Zeta which formed on December 30. When all is said and done, the 2010 Atlantic Hurricane Season may end with 18 or 19 named storms, making it one of the five most active on record, and the most active on record without a U.S. hurricane landfall.

The ImpactWeather track forecast for Richard.

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