Growing Concerns for the Atlantic Challenge Rowers

11 01 2016

Dale C. S. Destin |

Concerns are growing for Team Wadadli (or Team Antigua) and the rest of the rowers participating in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. Marine conditions are expected to become extremely unfavourable, if not exceptionally dangerous for the seafarers.

Tweet of concern

Tweet of concern

By now, you may have heard of the very powerful extratropical low pressure system that could transition into the first tropical cyclone (generic term for tropical depressions, tropical storms and hurricanes) over the Atlantic in January since 1978.

Extratropical cyclone with centre marked by X, next to the red L. 0600 UTC, Jan 11, 2016 Surface Chart

Extratropical cyclone with centre marked by X, next to the red L. 0600 UTC, Jan 11, 2016 Surface Chart

Transition or not, the low/tropical cyclone is expected to generate across the paths of many of the rowers, ginormous seas, possibly reaching six metres (20 feet) and sustained storm force winds (greater than 34 knots/39 mph). Such severe marine conditions will easily cause boats to capsize and be injurious the occupants, if not worse.

Wave Height (ft), Valid Tue, Jan 11, 2016, Issued Jan 11 at 6 AM AST

Wave Height (ft), Valid Tue, Jan 11, 2016, Issued Jan 11 at 6 AM AST. The box at the top right indicates the seas Team Wadadli and many others could face tomorrow.

Wind Speed (kt), Valid Tue, Jan 11, 2016, Issued Jan 11 at 6 AM AST

Wind Speed (kt), Valid Tue, Jan 11, 2016, Issued Jan 11 at 6 AM AST. The box at the top right indicates the winds Team Wadadli and many other could face tomorrow.

Additionally, unfriendly winds and currents will stop, if not push rowers backwards, towards the starting point instead of the finish line – Antigua. Initially, the unfavourable winds will come from the south, then the west and then north over the next few days in the vicinity of the racers.

Last night, Team Wadadli was forced to “drop” its sea anchor as they were being push towards the bad weather by southerly winds. They also reported that the seas were building. It is not clear how long they will stay in “anchorage”. However, this strategy (of which there are very few) may not be the best for the situation.

tweet from team wadadli

Note that a sea-anchor also known as a drift anchor does not stop a boat from moving, it just slows and stabilizes it in heavy weather. The Race Tracker shows that Team Wadadli, as of 8 am this morning, was still moving towards the bad weather at 1.4 knots (1.6 mph), perhaps on a collision course with what could become Tropical Storm Alex, which is also moving towards them.

Tracker showing the locations and progress of the boats as of 8 am this morning

Tracker showing the locations and progress of the boats as of 8 am this morning

The Tracker also showed many, if not all of the boats were in a similar situation.

If Team Wadadli remains drift anchored, instead of finding away to get out of the southerly flow (drifting from south to north), they could find themselves in a lot of trouble along with many of their competitors.

By my projections, in the next 24 hours, Team Wadadli, could find itself well northeast of its current position, heading out over the North Atlantic, in seas over 4.5 metres (15 feet) and winds greater than 28 knots (32 mph). Of even greater concern is that they could get caught up in the southwesterly winds (winds blowing from the southwest) and move northeast with the bad weather for several days.

Other teams, especially those that are east of longitude 35 degrees west, could suffer a similar fate.

I don’t know what’s the organizer’s criteria for the race to be suspended or cancelled but conditions must be getting pretty close to meeting them.

The low/tropical cyclone will severely affect this year’s edition of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. If the rowers were up for a challenge, the upcoming days will fulfil their desire. Let’s hope they come out of it in flying colours with a heck of a story to tell.

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A Rare January Atlantic Hurricane?

8 01 2016

Dale C. S. Destin |

The fourth ever January tropical cyclone (generic name for depressions, tropical storms and hurricanes) could form in the next five days. Weather models have been indicating, with varying degrees of confidence, that a powerful extratropical cyclone centred near Bermuda could transition into a tropical cyclone.

Extratropical cyclone with centre marked by X, next to the red L. 1200 UTC, Jan 8, 2016

Extratropical cyclone, centre marked by X next to the red L. 1200 UTC, Jan 8, 2016 Surface Chart

How often does this happen? This has happened only three other times over the past 165 years, the last being 1978. On average, the probability of a tropical depression, tropical storm or hurricane developing in January is around 2%. This means that it happens once in about every 50 Januarys/years.

What’s the situation? Already, the extratropical cyclone has winds of 57 knots (65 mph). The winds are of similar strength to a strong tropical storm. However, it lacks tropical characteristics such as a warm core, organized deep convection and strong winds close to its centre of circulation – all features required for it to be classified as a tropical storm or hurricane.

Satellite image of the extratropical cyclone that could transition to tropical cyclone

Satellite image of the extratropical cyclone that could transition into a tropical storm or hurricane

What are the chances of a tropical cyclone this January? Currently, the United States National Hurricane Center (NHC) has given the system a 30% chance of developing into a subtropical or tropical cyclone in the next five days. However, the usually very reliable ECMWF model has the chance greater than 90% for the 48 hours starting from 8 am, Saturday, January 9, 2016.

ECMWF model forecast, valid 8 am Sat, Jan 9 to 8 am Mon, Jan 11, 2016

ECMWF model forecast, valid 8 am Sat, Jan 9 to 8 am Mon, Jan 11, 2016

Will it impact the Caribbean? Whether or not the system develops into a tropical cyclone, it is not expected to have a direct impact on Antigua and the rest of the Caribbean. The centre and storm/hurricane force winds will stay well away from our islands. Notwithstanding, the cyclone will push large battering swells to our shores, making for hazardous marine conditions, especially for sea bathers.

Wave height (ft). Valid 8 pm, Mon, Jan 11, 2016. Issued Jan 8 at 6 pm

Wave height (ft). Valid 8 pm, Mon, Jan 11, 2016. Issued Jan 8 at 6 pm

Wind speed (knots). Valid 8 pm, Mon, Jan 11, 2016. Issued Jan 8 at 6 pm

Wind speed (knots). Valid 8 pm, Mon, Jan 11, 2016. Issued Jan 8 at 6 pm

Where else will it affect? The cyclone will likely make life extremely difficult and dangerous for Team Wadadli and the rest of the rowers taking part in the Atlantic Challenge. In addition to it generating large northerly swells across the preferred path of the race, it is expected to cause strong southerly, westerly and northerly winds during next week.

Swells are expected to reach Africa and Europe during the upcoming week as the system moves east over the eastern North Atlantic.

Where has it affected? Today it caused storm force winds of 43 knots (50 mph) and rain across Bermuda. It has and still is generating very hazardous seas around this island also. Swells from the system have reached the United States east coast and the Bahamas.

What are the other Atlantic January Tropical cyclones? According to NHC’s database – HURDATA2, which dates back to 1851, the three times that there have been tropical cyclones in January are:

None affected any land mass directly.

Has the Caribbean ever receive a direct impact in January? Incidentally, Antigua and the northeast Caribbean were once struck by a Hurricane in January. This happened with Hurricane Alice, which actually formed on December 30, 1954 and crossed over into January 1955, impacting the islands during the first week of the year.

If the extratropical storm does develop into a tropical cyclone it would be called Alex. We will be keeping an eye on this once in a half a century event.








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