Twisters Visit the Bahamas

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As a young meteorologist stationed at Homestead Air Force Base in southern Florida, I’m familiar with the tropical weather of the region. Morning funnel clouds just off the coast were nearly as common as the sound of jet turbines spooling up at the first hint of daylight. Viewed from the control tower, distant waterspouts were not all that uncommon, either. Still, it struck me as unusual when reports of significant damage, injuries and three deaths from tornadoes began coming in yesterday from the Bahamas. Tornadoes there are rare — apart from a hurricane they are typically not even an annual occurrence.

However as we’ve seen elsewhere so often already this season, strong El Niño-driven Pacific storms sweep across the southern United States and then continue eastward into the North Atlantic. It’s not likely that, having pushed decisively across the U.S., a cold front will dramatically weaken and not impact the Bahamas (the island of Bimini is just 60 miles east of Miami), so it comes as a bit of a surprise that severe thunderstorms and tornadoes aren’t a bit more common to the small cluster of islands. In fact, the warm waters of the Gulf Stream can enhance the instability of a cold front moving toward the Bahamas resulting in thunderstorms even stronger than they were over Florida.

Most often when severe weather visits the Bahamas it comes in the form of a hurricane. And, like frontal-related thunderstorms, hurricanes passing over the Gulf Stream can often intensify. Tornadoes in this scenario are always within reason and should be expected.

Today in the Plains of the U.S. a strong low pressure area is taking shape. It is expected that this system will grow into a strong storm system with severe weather expected later in the week from Texas to the Great Lakes. Fortunately for the Bahamas, it looks like the system will begin weakening as it reaches the U.S. East Coast. Though spring is still in its early stages, the 2010 Hurricane Season is now just over two months away and I can’t help but wonder what might be in store for the islands of the Bahamas. The "First Look" at the 2010 Hurricane Season from ImpactWeather indicates a tropical season more active than the past few years.



Yesterday a funnel cloud was visible near the Freeport Container Port, Freeport, Bahamas. Photo: Mike Stafford/Bradford Marine Bahamas



After the Bahamas tornado, one of the Freeport Container Port’s cranes is shown toppled and damaged. Photo: www.BahamaIslandsInfo.com



On today’s Gmaps image, it’s easy to see the cold front already well east of the Bahamas and the line of heavy clouds and storms along and just ahead of the front. It was this line that passed through the Bahamas yesterday. High pressure in the central Gulf of Mexico now provides cooler and more stable conditions across Florida and the Bahamas. Image: ImpactWeather Gmaps 2.0. Overlay: Global Surface fronts, current temperatures, visible satellite image (8:30 AM CDT Tuesday).



A look at Saturday’s forecast and the potential for severe thunderstorms. Image from ImpactWeather’s StormWatch Team.



This undated NOAA photo from Wiki shows two water spouts near the Bahamas.

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