As Earl churns, hurricane season heats up
Weather experts agree: The 2010 hurricane season is shaping up as one of the more active ones in recent years.
"The water temperatures down in the southern North Atlantic, once you get east of the Leeward Islands and over to the coast of West Africa, are actually running a couple degrees above normal," said Brian Edwards, a meteorologist with www.accuweather.com. "So, that, combined with the fact that the winds aloft aren't very strong, provides all the ingredients for tropical storms."
He said that the statistical peak of the season occurs Sept. 10, "and we haven't even hit that yet."
At present, there are three named storms. The first, Danielle, a hurricane that weakened to become a tropical storm Monday, was headed east in the direction of the British Isles after making a westward march toward Bermuda.
It's expected to turn north-northwesterly and eventually make landfall on the southern tip of Greenland.
The second storm, Earl, became a hurricane Sunday, meaning it has sustained winds in excess of 74 mph. It strengthened considerably and became a Category 4 storm Monday, with sustained winds of 135 mph as of 8 p.m. Tuesday.
The third, Fiona, a tropical storm, is expected to spin north, well north of the United States. It had sustained winds of 40 mph as of Tuesday evening.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell said the state is closely monitoring Earl.
Rell's spokeswoman said the governor is meeting with state emergency managers and local officials about the state's readiness in case the storm hits.
She said they will continue to observe Earl's movements before taking significant action.
Director of Emergency Preparedness for New Canaan Dave Jonker said the town is currently in a monitoring phase as the storm track appears to take Earl too far east to impact the area. However, Jonker is advising all New Canaan residents to register with the town's Emergency Call Out System so they can be notified of any changes. Residents who have already registered, should also consider registering cell phone numbers and an email address.
"If the phone lines go down and we only have a home phone number, we won't be able to contact them," Jonker said.
New Canaan is not planning on activating their EOC system, but if the storm track changes, Jonker said be ready to activate the system.
Federal officials said Tuesday that evacuations may be required in the U.S. if the Category 4 storm tracks too close to the East Coast.
The hurricane is being forecasted to remain over open ocean before turning north and running parallel to the U.S. coast by late Thursday or early Friday.
It is projected then to curve back out to sea, perhaps brushing New England or far-eastern Canada.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration "expects an active Atlantic hurricane season," said Ross Dickman, of the National Weather Service's Upton, N.Y., office, which is in charge of issuing forecasts and warnings for southern Connecticut, southeastern New York, northeastern New Jersey, Long Island and New York City.
"The forecast is looking at 14 to 20 named storms, 12 hurricanes and six of those being major," Dickman said.
He added that "the Atlantic is lit up like a Christmas tree right now," noting that besides the three named storms, there is a tropical depression that's off the coast of Africa, just south of the Cape Verde Islands.
Dickman said that forecasting tropical storms has improved considerably in the last decade, both in ascertaining how storms will strengthen or weaken and where they will go.
"The computer models have gotten a lot better in the last 10 years," he said.
"There's something interesting going on," said WTNH-TV meteorologist Gil Simmons. "Three of the five busiest hurricane seasons have occurred during a La Niña weather pattern in the Pacific Ocean like we have right now."
Simmons was referring to the large-scale condition in which the Pacific surface temperature is as much as 7 degrees cooler than normal; La Niña is the opposite of El Niño. These can cause global effects that range from subtle to extreme, depending on location.
According to Simmons, La Niña causes wetter-than-normal winters in the Northwest and drier-than-normal winters in the Southeast.
Another factor is that the Atlantic along the Eastern Seaboard is warmer than normal, Simmons said.
"By the time they get close to us, they are through intensifying, but a warmer Atlantic can help to maintain a hurricane's strength as it heads our way," he said.
As for Earl, Simmons said that there probably won't be much in the way of wind for southwestern Connecticut, "but on the side of the storm that we'll be on, we can get flooding rain, and I think that could be much more of a problem for us," he said.
Still, because Earl's path is forecasted to parallel the Eastern Seaboard, "even a slight deviation from that forecast could have huge effects," according to Bill Read, of the National Hurricane Center.
Earl has already caused problems in Puerto Rico, where on Monday and early Tuesday, power was interrupted for 200,000 customers and 160 people showed up at shelters, according to FEMA's Tito Hernandez.
Also, any evacuation would have to be ordered by local officials. Fugate said FEMA response teams have been assembled and are ready to spring into action up and down the Eastern Seaboard, as far north as Maine.
"This is a major storm, and it's really important to stay on top of this one," Fugate said of Hurricane Earl. "You need to know what you're going to do now, so when the time comes, you'll be ready."
As for Labor Day, it might be wise to have a fleece pullover handy.
"We're going to get a piece of cool air right out of Canada -- 70s for highs and lows in the 40s and 50s," Simmons said.
-- Ben Holbrook contributed to this story