No More Rain! Please!!!

More Rain! NOAA/HPC 5 Day Forecast

We’ve certainly had a lot of rain in 2011. So far we are an incredible 20.57″ above normal in the greater Hartford area! We are on pace to break the record for the wettest year of all time. Here’s how we fall so far:

  1. 65.43″ – 2008
  2. 64.55″ – 1972
  3. 62.94″ – 1955
  4. 61.63″ – 1938
  5. 60.96″ – 1920
  6. 57.12″ – 2005
  7. 57.11″ – 2011 (so far…)

If you take a look at those years a lot of the years jump out. With the exception of 1920 and 2008 most of the wettest years on record have seen, not surprisingly, tropical activity in or near southern New England. In 1972 it was the remnants of Agnes. In 1955 it was the remnants of Connie and Diane. In 1938 it was the great hurricane. In 2005 it was the remnants of Tammy. In 2011 it was Irene and the remnants of Lee.

The last 2 1/2 months have been incredibly wet. October so far is 2.25″ above average while September was 5.77″ above average and August was 7.74″ above normal.

With another major rainstorm on the way for Wednesday we’ll easily tack on another inch or two to the 2011 total. On average we pick up 9.65″ of rain in the last 75 days of the year which means that if from here on out we pick up exactly normal rainfall we will break the all-time wettest year record.

73 Years Ago Today We Had “Our Katrina”

It’s been 73 years since a “major” hurricane has hit Connecticut. The September 21, 1938 hurricane was arguably New England’s greatest natural disaster of the 20th century and to this day remains the benchmark for modern New England hurricanes.

Since 1938 we’ve seen our fair share of hurricanes. Hurricane Carol produced category 2 conditions in the state. 1944, Donna, Gloria, and Bob produced category 1 conditions in portions of the state. None have risen to the level of ’38.

What made the ’38 hurricane so powerful is that as the storm was rocketing north (at nearly 60 mph) the jet stream was helping to enhance the storm’s power. While many storms weaken at this latitude the 1938 storm was holding steady. The tropical system was being fueled by extratropical processes which lead to a monster in our own backyard.

The hurricane made landfall in New Haven with a pressure of 946mb. The sustained wind in some parts of the Connecticut shoreline reached 115 m.p.h. There were higher gusts. Compare that to Gloria’s 75 m.p.h. sustained winds or Irene’s 50 m.p.h. sustained winds and you can see what made the ’38 storm so remarkable.

In the past week we’ve heard from utility company executives talk about what a extraordinary storm Irene was. I don’t think Irene was extraordinary at all. The duration of damaging wind gusts and the heavy rain made the damage worse than you’d expect from other 50 m.p.h. tropical storms but let’s be real here. The damage from Irene was not even a tiny fraction of what a major hurricane can do.

Irene’s 5 foot storm surge came at the worst possible time – during an astronomically high tide. How would we be prepared for a 15 foot storm surge like we had in ’38 (and during Carol, for that matter in southeast Connecticut)? Are we?

The 1938 hurricane was exceptional but it wasn’t unprecedented. There are some indications that the 1635 Great Colonial Hurricane was even stronger with a pressure around 938 mb!

When the utility companies testified about their storm response in front of the legislature earlier this week the president and COO of CL&P mentioned that Irene was about the size of Katrina when it made landfall in Connecticut. Yes, the official radius of gale force winds was similar, but we had about 6 hours of marginal tropical storm conditions in Connecticut from Irene. Winds never even approached hurricane force.

If the government, utilities, or citizens think that there is any appropriate comparison between Katrina and Irene they’re truly not prepared for a major hurricane. Hell, they’re not prepared for a category 1 hurricane! 1938 was our Katrina. Irene was barely a blip on the historical radar. I am truly concerned that making Irene out to be some extraordinary freak set of circumstances that crippled the power grid means we aren’t even close to prepared for the day the 1938 hurricane returns. It will.

Irene brought down a couple trees in many neighborhoods. 1938 flattened whole forests. The Guilford Green lost 2 trees during Irene. In ’38 it lost 80 percent of them. The trees still have their leaves this year but after ’38 most trees in the state were completely stripped bare.

If a tropical storm can knock out power for 9 days and destroys dozens of beachfront homes I can only imagine what a major hurricane like 1938 would do.

Connecticut Hurricanes Since 1850

A huge effort is underway to reanalyze the entire Atlantic hurricane database which goes back to 1850 with Chris Landsea and the Hurricane Reanalysis Project. Basically a team of researchers is going back through old records and, using modern techniques, fixing inconsistencies in the old database. Some of the changes include changes to track and intensity of hurricanes. The new data set is complete through 1930 though preliminary research has been done on major east coast hurricanes including the 1938 and 1944 hurricanes along with Donna and Carol.

The findings for 1938, 1944, Carol, and Donna are preliminary and need to be accepted by the National Hurricane Center’s Best Track Committee though they are vastly superior to the previous inconsisent and sometimes erroneous data in the original data set. The new findings suggest that Carol was a category 2 hurricane in Connecticut and not a category 3.

Additionally hurricanes Gloria and Bob have not been reanalyzed yet but every indication is the current “official” rating of category 2 in Connecticut will be downgraded to a 1. In fact this has been apparent for years and most meteorologists I know just ignore the “official” ranking and call the storms cat 1 storms in this state.

If you crunch the numbers you find the average return time for a hurricane in Connecticut is 16 years.  Additionally the median date of a hurricane impact in Connecticut is September 13th with  half of all hurricanes striking between September 8th and September 21st.

Given the fact our climate has changed in the last 100 years, some of that due to man-made climate change, it’s unclear what impact that will have on future hurricane threats. There is some evidence to suggest stronger and less frequent hurricanes in a warmer climate regime but that is on a planetary-scale not a regional scale. I suppose warming water temperatures could allow stronger hurricanes to reach higher latitudes but that is just conjecture on my part and I have not  seen any research done into that possibility.

Bottom line is that we are vulnerable to hurricanes. We’re probably more vulnerable than we think. And we could become even more vulnerable in the next 100 years due to a changing climate.

Storm #3 – September 16, 1858

  • Category 1 in Connecticut
  • Landfall in Easthampton, NY & Groton, CT
  • 80 m.p.h. sustained winds at CT landfall
  • 979mb pressure at CT landfall

Storm #6 – September 8, 1869

  • Category 1 in Connecticut
  • Catuegory 3 in Rhode Island and Massachusetts
  • Landfall in Montauk, NY & Westerly, RI
  • 115 m.p.h. sustained winds at RI landfall
  • 965mb pressure at Rhode Island landfall

Storm #4 – August 24, 1893

  • Category 1 in Connecticut
  • Landfall in Queens, NY
  • 85 m.p.h. sustained winds at landfall
  • 986 mb pressure at NY landfall

Storm #5 – October 10, 1894

  • Category 1 hurricane in Connecticut
  • Landfall in Patchogue, NY & Clinton, CT
  • 85 m.p.h. sustained winds at NY landfall
  • 978mb pressure at NY landfall

Great Atlantic Hurricane – September 15, 1938

  • Category 3 in Connecticut
  • Landfall in Brookhaven, NY & New Haven, CT
  • 120 m.p.h. sustained winds at NY landfall
  • 115 m.p.h. sustained winds at CT landfall
  • 941 mb pressure at NY landfall
  • 946 mb pressure at CT landfall

Great Atlantic Hurricane – September 15, 1944

  • Category 1 hurricane in Connecticut
  • Landfall in Matunuk, RI
  • 85 m.p.h. sustained winds at landfall
  • 955 mb pressure at landfall

Hurricane Carol* – August 30, 1954

  • Category 2 hurricane in Connecticut
  • Landfall in Easthampton, NY & Groton, CT
  • 115 m.p.h. sustained winds for both NY/CT landfalls (though category 3 winds remained east of CT/RI border)
  • 955 mb pressure at landfall

Hurricane Donna* – September 12, 1960

  • Category 1 hurricane in Connecticut
  • Landfall in Patchogue, NY & Old Saybrook, CT
  • 100 m.p.h. sustained winds at NY landfall
  • 962 mph pressure at NY landfall

Hurricane Gloria** – September 27, 1985

  • Category 1 hurricane in Connecticut
  • Landfall in Babylon, NY and Milford, CT
  • 85 m.p.h. winds at landfall in NY
  • 961mb pressure at landfall in NY

Hurricane Bob** – August 19, 1991

  • Category 1 hurricane in Conneticut
  • Category 2 hurricane in Rhode Island and Massachusetts
  • Landfall in New Shoreham, RI (Block Island)
  • 105 m.p.h. sustained winds at RI landfall
  • 962mb pressure at RI landfall

* Preliminary Reanalysis results complete and final details awaiting confirmation from NHC best-track committee.
**Reanalysis work currently underway and the stats represent a “best guess” given current data and input from fellow meteorologists.

Connecticut Hurricane Stats

  • Average Hurricane Return Time – 16 years
  • 6 out of 10 hurricanes that produced hurricane conditions in Connecticut made landfall in the state.
  • 4 out of 10 hurricanes that produced hurricane conditions in Connecticut made landfall in either Rhode Island or New York (Westchester or New York City).
  • 8 out of 10 hurricanes were category 1 storms in CT
  • 1 out of 10 hurricanes was a category 3 storm in CT (1938)
  • 1 out of 10 hurricanes was a category 2 storm in CT (Carol)
  • 6 out of 10 hurricanes struck in September
  • 3 out of 10 hurricanes struck in August
  • 1 out of 10 hurricanes struck in October
  • Earliest hurricane in  Connecticut was Hurricane Bob (8/19/1991)
  • Latest hurricane in Connecticut was the 1894 hurricane (10/10/1894)
  • Median date for a hurricane strike – September 13th
  • Highest wind speed for Connecticut landfall – 115 m.p.h.
  • Lowest pressure for a Connecticut landfall – 946 mb
  • Longest period in between hurricanes – 45 years (1894 to 1938)

Widespread Wind Damage

Connecticut Light and Power Outages

An unusually widespread wind damage event occurred across Connecticut earlier this evening with a maximum of 146,000 power customers in the dark. It appears widespread 45-60 mph wind gusts were common with pockets of 60-70 mph wind gusts where tree damage and power outages are more concentrated.

I can’t recall a severe weather event producing this many power outages in recent memory which is partially due to the fact this storm impacted virtually every town from Salisbury to Stonington.

There were a few areas were heavier pockets of damage occured including weste central Connecticut (New Milford, Brookfield, Warren, Woodbury), north central Connecticut (Enfield, Suffield), northeast Connecticut (Willington, Asheford, Eastford, Pomfret, Woodstock), and along the shoreline (Westbrook, Old Saybrook, Essex, Clindon, Deep River, Chester, and Killingworth).

Before these storms became prolific wind producers they were prolific hail producers. Here’s a shot Jennifer and Michael sent in from Colebrook.

Hail in Colebrook

A Cruel Joke?

The always amusing 6z NAM has a nice surprise for us midday Monday with a burst of heavy snow. If the NAM is correct (insert joke here) we could see a couple inches of snow accumulation even in downtown Hartford! Most models are less impressive but all show the threat for some snow.

At this point I think 1″ or 2″ is a decent bet for the hilltowns on either side of Hartford.

Oh yeah… spring begins tomorrow.