Here Comes Hurricane Season!
Our other source of summer surf comes from storms much closer than the long traveling Southern Hemisphere swells. Welcome to the Eastern Pacific hurricane season, which begins this coming Sunday and runs through Nov. 15. Born in the hot tropical waters off Southern Mexico and Central America, if these tightly wound feisty pinwheelers move in the right direction with the proper forward speed, they can kick up some pretty impressive surf on our south facing beaches, especially in August and September. Because of the hurricane swell’s severe angle (160- 180 degrees) the storm’s waves really light up Laguna’s Brooks Street, which really favors this direction and wave interval (10-11 seconds).
Once a storm reaches tropical storm status (39-74 mph winds sustained) it is given a name starting with the letter “A” and runs through the alphabet, trading genders with each successive spinner. Here are the names for the 2011 season: Adrian, Beatriz, Calvin, Dora, Eugene, Fernanda, Greg, Hilary, Irwin, Jova, Kenneth, Lidia, Max, Norma, Otis, Pilar, Ramon, Selma, Todd, Veronica, Wiley, Xina, York, and finally Zelda. We’ve never gone completely through the alphabet, having made it to “W” twice, “Winnie” in 1983 and “Waldo” in 1985. The average number of named storms is 14 per season.
As aforementioned, the sustained wind velocity of 39-74 mph classifies as a tropical storm. If that same storm intensifies with sustained winds of 74 – 95 mph it becomes what is called a Category One hurricane. Then if the winds increase to 96-111 mph, then the storm reaches Category Two status. Further intensification beefs the spinner up to Category Three, with sustained winds of 112- 130 mph. When a storm reaches this category it is listed as a major hurricane. Even further strengthening jacks the storm’s status up to a Category Four classification with sustained winds of 131-155 mph. Once those winds exceed 155 mph, then they’re members of the Category Five Club. During stronger El Nino events, we’re likely to see at least a couple fives during that season. Back in 1997 when that strong El Nino was goin’ on, there were three Category Fives, Guillermo, Linda, and Nora. On Sept. 12, 1997, Linda became the strongest hurricane in Eastern Pacific history with wind gusts up to 224 mph. with a central pressure of 909 millibars! More on hurricanes next time. Aloha!
Dennis McTighe served as a meteorologist and NOAA forecaster. He has kept daily weather records since 1958.