Tropical Storm Bret 2017: Firsts or Firsts in a Long Time

9 07 2017

Dale C. S. Destin |

Tropical Storm Bret making landfall on Trinidad during the early morning hours of June 20, 2017.

Tropical Storm Bret making landfall on Trinidad during the early morning hours of June 20, 2017.

The formation of Tropical Storm Bret, a few weeks ago, resulted in several firsts or firsts in a long time for the Atlantic hurricane season, for the Eastern Caribbean and for Trinidad. Here are some we have noted:

  • 1st named storm to pass south of La Brea, Trinidad.
  • 1st named storm to form between Africa and the Caribbean before summer (June 21).
  • 1st time there were two named storms (Bret and Cindy) in June alive at the same time – June 20, 2017.
  • 1st designated potential tropical cyclone ever by the U.S. National Hurricane Center.
  • 1st named storm to impact the Eastern Caribbean before summer, since an unnamed hurricane in March 1908 impacted Antigua and the northeast Caribbean – the only other such system to impact the area before June 21; it formed in the Caribbean Sea.
  • 1st named storm to impact Trinidad in June since an unnamed hurricane in 1933. There is no other June storm on record for Trinidad.
All named storm on record for June - 1851 to 2016

All named storm on record for June – 1851 to 2016. Only three storms have affected the Eastern Caribbean in June since 1851. Two seen above plus Bret.

  • 1st named storm to form between African and the Caribbean in June since Tropical Storm Anna of 1979. There has ONLY been one other in June – an unnamed hurricane of 1933. So, there have ONLY been three named storms to impact the Eastern Caribbean in June on record.
  • 1st named storm to make landfall (pass over land) in Trinidad since Tropical Storm Bret of 1993. This has ONLY happened three other times – Fran of 1990, Alma of 1974 and an unnamed storm of 1933.
  • 1st named storm to pass within 65 nuatical miles (nm) or 120 km of Port of Spain, Trinidad, since Joyce of 2000. There have ONLY been 11 named storms in history, dating back to 1851, to have passed within 65 nm of Port of Spain, Trinidad; ONLY four were hurricanes, the last one being Hurricane Flora of 1963.
All named storms to have passed within 65 nm of Port of Spain, Trinidad on Record - 1851 to 2016

All named storms to have passed within 65 nm of Port of Spain, Trinidad on Record – 1851 to 2016

  • 1st time two named storms (Bret and Cindy) formed in June since 1909. It has happened ONLY two other times – 1906 and 1886. Both 1906 and 1886 turned out to be very active years; 1909 had near normal activity.
  • 1st named storm in June since Barry of 2013.

This June was quite active, in terms of named storms. The average for the month is 0.5 or one every other year. So, the two named storms which formed in this past June amount to the total we normally get in four Junes.

Is the activity of June an omen for the rest of the season? Well, the sample  size – three, is way too small to so say anything remotely definitive; however, FYI, of the three Junes with two named storms, two were quite active. Further, of the 10 seasons with at least 3 named storms forming between January 1 and June 30, six have been near or below normal.

All named storms for Jan-Jun 1851 to 2016

All Jan-Jun named storms on record, 1851 to 2016

Our most recent forecast of the season calls for above normal activity with 16 named storms, 7 becoming hurricanes and 4 becoming major hurricanes.

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The Advent of Potential Tropical Cyclones – What, When and Why?

21 06 2017

Dale C. S. Destin |

History was made this past Sunday when for the first time ever the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) issued tropical storm (TS) warnings for portions of the southern Caribbean, in the absence of a TS. This they were able to do by designating an approaching tropical disturbance a “potential tropical cyclone” (PTC).


In the past, it was the policy of the NHC to not issue tropical cyclone (the generic term for tropical depressions, TSs and hurricanes) watches and warnings UNLESS there EXISTS a threatening tropical cyclone (TC). This was the case even if there was a 100% certainty that one was going to form and impact land in a short space of time.

This policy served us well. However, just about every year, there would be, at least, that one tropical disturbance that would approach land, and everybody knew it was going to form into a TC just before impact. But the existing policy would get in the way of issuing watches and warnings that were needed to sprung persons into meaningful preparations.

A classic example of this was Hurricane Tomas of 2010. The system approach the southern Caribbean in late October and was not upgraded to a TS until it was less than 12 hours away from Barbados.


Tomas as a potential tropical cyclone on the “doorsteps” of Barbados, less than 9 hours before impact, with no warning issued

So instead of having 36-48 hours lead time to prepare, there was less than 9 hours. The bulletin announcing the warnings not only came late but also late in the day – 5 pm, which means any preparations that could be done, took place mainly after-dark, after it started to rain and after hardware stores were closed.

Tomas cause eight deaths and over US$500 million dollars in damage across the southern Caribbean. Some of the loss could have been avoided if many persons were not caught off guard due to the very short lead time between the formation of Tomas and its impact on the islands.

Hurricane Gonzalo of 2014 similarly caught many Antiguans off guard and unprepared. Many persons did not hear about the system until hours before it arrived. One person told me that she suffered damage to her property because she only found out what was happening when the winds started to pick up. By then, it was to late for her to go outside to close the shutters. Many boats were damage or sunk because of insufficient time to secure them.


Gonzalo as a potential tropical cyclone less than 20 hours before it made landfall in Antigua as a hurricane with no warning issued

To solve this problem, the NHC has revised its policy and instead of just issuing watches and warnings for ONLY existing TCs, they have started this year to issue them for “PTCs”. By definition, according to NHC, a PTC is: ”…a disturbance that is not yet a TC, but which poses the threat of bringing TS or hurricane conditions to land areas within 48 hours.”

So, no longer is a disturbance, with a high chance of becoming a TC, allowed to march up to a country without 24-48 hours of watches and warnings being issued. Such systems can now be declared PTCs and the requisite watches and warnings will be issued, early.

It could be argued that an approaching tropical disturbance with a high chance of becoming a TC should be enough to spring persons into TS or hurricane preparations. However, studies have shown, a great number of persons just don’t prepare until watches or warnings are issued. Hence, the need for them to be issued early.

This policy change may be one of the most important ever by the NHC. Like the previous policy though, this one is not perfect; however, it plugs a huge loophole in the TC warning system. It has the distinct potential benefit of further reducing “surprised” attacks from TC, which translate into saving more lives, more properties and livelihoods.

Notwithstanding, it has the potential to create some unnecessary stress. This will be so when disturbances designated PTCs do not actually become cyclones. I expect, this be a rare occurrence. In any event, preparations for PTCs are deemed low-regret actions at worse.

Happily, we are off to a good start. The historic first PTC became TS Bret less than 6 hours before making landfall in Trinidad. Under the old policy, many persons would have been caught off guard and unprepared, not so this time around.


Earl as a potential tropical cyclone forecast to be near or over Jamaica in a day or two with no watch or warning issued

This new policy may have been hastened into being by the actions of the Jamaica Meteorological Service (JMS) last year, as it related to TS Earl. Whereas the NHC made history by issuing its first TC warnings based on a PTC, they were not the first to do so. The JMS, quite bravely, “took the bull by the horn” and made the tough, unprecedented but right decision to issue TS warnings for Jamaica in the face of TS Earl of 2016, when it was what we are now calling a PTC, approaching the island.

So, well done to Jamaica for setting the stage for the first ever PTC bulletin by NHC – both are a success stories – mission accomplished, congratulations!

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