Who is in danger fom Hurricane Bill?
Just two weeks ago, we brought you a story about the strangely calm Atlantic hurricane season. As part of that story, we reported that tropical weather analysts had lowered their Atlantic hurricane expectations yet again. Also part of that story, a memory of 1992 — when a ridiculously quiet hurricane season was punctuated by the very destructive forces of Hurricane Andrew in Florida. We also predicted that a major storm was brewing off the coast of Africa, and that people living in areas affected by hurricanes shouldn’t let the weak early season fool them into complacence.
We were right.
We now have three active storms in the Atlantic — Hurricane Bill building up steam just east of the Lesser Antilles, weakening but still dangerous Tropical Depression Ana near Puerto Rico, and the remnants of Tropical Depression Claudette lingering over the Florida Panhandle region.
The first hurricane of the season, Bill, is gathering force far from the American coast over the Atlantic Ocean. Bill’s movements place it on a track potentially leading to Bermuda and the surrounding islands before this weekend. It is important to remember, though, that 3 and 5 day tracks are mere predictions from meteorologists. When was the last time you trusted a meteorologist’s opinion with your home, your valuables, your family, or even your own life? People living along the Gulf Coast and the Eastern seaboard of the United States should pay particular attention to Bill’s behavior over the next couple of days.
Hurricane Bill is now expected to become “a major storm” over the next 48 hours. That notation (“a major storm”) generally means a hurricane with sustained winds topping 110 miles per hour. Hurricane Bill has already become a Category 2 hurricane as of Monday — that indicates that Bill’s sustained winds are thrashing about at 100 mph. Hurricane Bill is now expected to strengthen further, becoming a Category Three hurricane by early Wednesday.
As of this writing Bill was centered 810 miles east of the Leeward Islands. Bill is now moving west-northwest at around 17 mph. Hurricane Bill is a large system, about 300 miles across. This widens the scope of potential victims to the point that an island like Bermuda could be hit hard by Bill even if the surrounding Atlantic island avoid a direct hit.
Unfortunately, as with any tropical event, it is difficult to tell people the one thing they want to know. Where will Bill go? That can’t be said for certain, but meteorologists on the whole do not believe the storm will reach the U.S. mainland.
Making things even more difficult, weather forecasters only provide five-day cones for the potential path of hurricanes. In fact, forecasters admit having difficulty making sensible projections of storms’ paths further than 72 hours or three days. Why? Mostly because storms change direction at short notice, often altering their course overnight while most people tracking them from home are asleep.
There is bad news about Hurricane Bill — because of warm ocean water and very little “wind shear” (a force that can weaken or even destroy storms), Bill is in perfect position to continue to strengthen. The last time a storm that earned a Category Three ranking hit U.S. soil was in 2005, when Hurricane Wilma hit and caused an estimated $20 billion in damage.
So this year’s Atlantic hurricane season is beginning to get interesting. With Hurricane Bill strengthening and threatening, the arrival of (admittedly weakening) Tropical Storm Claudette on the Florida coast, and the formation of Tropical Storm Ana late last week, the slow start to this year’s storm season is over.
By this time last year, six named storms (including two big hurricanes — Bertha and Dolly) had already formed and threatened to cause damage.