Eastern Pacific Hurricane Watch - Season Wrap-up
October 31, 2012 The Baja Hurricane Season ended with a crescendo with speedy Tropical Storm Norbert and record setting Hurricane Paul which lashed the Pacific coast on October 16 & 17. The Eastern Pacific Hurricane Season officially runs through the end of November, but the threat to Baja ends about usually ends about 45-50 days before that... usually.
Paul was an interesting storm, one that surprised me for certain. Our Baja Hurricane season seemed all but over. Cold air from the north had pushed south a week before Paul began to develop. Humidity levels in Baja California Sur had dropped, winds from the north had resumed and overnight lows were dropping below 70°F. The Pacific high had migrated south and was located several hundred miles west of San Diego. As Paul began to develop as a weak Tropical Storm even the folks at the NHC speculated that the storm would dry up well before reaching the Baja peninsula. But the lesson here is to never say never with Mother Nature.
Statistically, by the second week of October the Baja Hurricane season was on the cusp. No tropical cyclone had made landfall in Baja after the 15th of October in the past 64 years, (The NHC database for the Eastern Pacific currently goes back to 1948) Only a handful of storms have even made landfall in Baja after the first week of October.
The second runner up in latest hurricanes to make landfall in Baja was Hurricane Norbert in 2008. Norbert came ashore on October 10 as a Category 1 Hurricane near Magdalena Bay and cross the peninsula wrecking havoc through the same region as Paul, to Loreto and Mulege.
Hurricane Olivia in 1967 (1967 was in the same name cycle as 2012) which made landfall as a Tropical Storm near Magdalena Bay, and crossed the peninsula to emerge in the Sea of Cortez.. Once over the warm waters of the Sea in mid-October the storm strengthened quickly to a Category 2 Hurricane, turned and made landfall again near Mulege on October 15. Olivia holds the record for the most powerful hurricane to make Baja landfall in October at Category 2 and remains the latest seasonal landfall of a hurricane or tropical storm since 1948.
WHAT? Didn't Hurricane Paul lash the Baja California Sur on the 16th and 17th of October? Although I will admit to being wrong about how far north Paul would venture, my forecast of only a tropical depression landfall of Paul proved 100% correct. You have to read on to find out why Paul will be cheated from the record books.
Paul bloomed quickly, jumping from a Tropical Storm to become a Category 3 Hurricane, one of the seasonally latest Major Hurricanes (Category 3) to form in the Eastern Pacific and the fifth of the season.
In that Paul became so powerful so fast is part of what allowed the hurricane to overcome the less than favorable conditions to the southwest of Cabo San Lucas and make it to Baja. The furry of Paul allowed it to bring along with it the climate, humidity and warm temps a tropical cyclone requires.
Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies in the Eastern Pacific
SST Anomaly Graphic for the Eastern Pacific
Another factor in the late season attack of Paul was the warmer than normal Sea Surface Temperatures right along the path of Paul. As Paul developed late in the week, the SST graphics showed water as much as 5°F above normal to the southwest of Magdalena Bay. But waters between the position of the developing system and Baja were below 26°C, that required to support cyclonic action. With this data some models showed Paul remaining weak and fizzling well southwest of Baja.
But new data became available on the 15th, showing continued warming of the Eastern Pacific and the over temperature region had not only expanded but also warmed to as much as 7°F above normal. This warmer than normal water gave Paul a clear shot at making landfall as a tropical cyclone on the Pacific coast of Baja Sur that had not existed the week before.
On the 15th conditions for Paul became exceptionally favorable, with decreased upper level winds while moving over very warm 28°to 29°C waters. Despite the rapid forward speed of Paul at 14-17kts, the system blew up quickly to become the 5th Major Hurricane of 2012. The continued rapid forward speed allowed Paul to roll right toward the Baja coast and tropical storm watches were quickly upgraded to hurricane warnings. The average tropical cyclone in the Eastern Pacific is 7.4kts, Paul moved as fast as 17kts. The Eastern Pacific is not only the worlds smallest hurricane basin, but also the slowest.
As Paul approached the Pacific coast of Baja, north of Todos Santos the storm turned again, this time to the north-northwest. Although Paul was a Category 1 Hurricane at the time the most powerful quadrant passed over Magdalena Bay and the port town of San Carlos, the center of the storm remained about 30 miles west of landfall.
Through the day on the 17th the storm diminished quickly, falling from Category 1 Hurricane status in the dawn hours to Tropical Storm status by mid day. By midnight of the 17th Paul had dissipated near Punta Eugenia and the Cedros Islands. The cold dry air over Baja destroyed Paul quickly, but about a day slower than I had expected. Despite the pounding the Comondu region recieved from the powerful northeast quadrant of the storm, Paul will go in the history books as making landfall as just a tropical depression, and then only for a few miles before turning back to sea, near Punta Abreojos west of San Ignacio.
Paul will go down in memory anyway, as the latest/most powerful storm to affect the peninsula. On November 30, 1951 a no-name tropical storm died about 50 miles east of East Cape and delivered some foul weather to the region, but nothing like this year's Paul. In 1970 Tropical Storm Selma died about 100 miles west of Cabo San Lucas on November 6 and heavy showers were reported in the tiny dried up, dusty little pueblo of Todos Santos on the 7th, as the remains of the storm moved over Baja. (the spring in the pueblo had died up and did not reopen until a small earthquake a couple of decades later) Another Tropical Storm Paul passed about 40 miles south of Cabo San Lucas on October 25, 2006.
An interesting side note: Many summer cruisers in the Sea begin the migration south from the Bay of L.A. in the Sea in October. Over the past 20 years one of the most tropical cyclone prone regions in the state has been between Loreto and Santa Rosilia with 7 storms crossing that region from late September to mid October.
Looking at 2012
Click to enlarge
The Eastern Pacific Hurricane Season officially runs through the end of November, but November storms are pretty rare. But in the category of "Never Say Never", last year's Hurricane Kenneth became the latest season Major Hurricane, spinning harmlessly off into the Pacific on November 19th through 25th. We might get another weak system or two develop before the end of November and see it move off into the Pacific well south of us, but not too likely.
2012 was predicted to be a slightly below normal year for tropical cyclones. In fact, it is shaping up a slight to major margin ahead of normal. If compared to the 50 year average of 16.4 named storms per year, we are right on target with 17. But, compared to the past 10 years, which has been a quiet cycle for the Eastern Pacific, we were well ahead of the 13.77 named storms per season.
On Major Hurricanes, this is the second year in a row we have had 5 Major Hurricanes develop in the Eastern Pacific, this only happens about 20% of the past 40 years, but 4 of the past 10 years have had 5 or more Major Hurricanes. 3.4 is the norm for the past 63 years.
This was one of the wettest summers in Baja California Sur history and the benefit is a green desert like hasn't been seen in decades. La Paz was enjoying the wettest summer in 26 years, prior to the arrival of Paul, although no official tabulation has been released I would expect we surpassed the all time record by a good margin last week.
Time to look into the crystal ball, roll the bones and consult the Ouija board one last time. As I said above, the season looks over for Baja California Sur for 2012. Sea Surface Temps are cooling off fast and the all important 26°C thermo cline retreated south to dearly Todos Santos following the passage of Paul. In the Sea of Cortez the 30°C water is gone and with nights in the upper 60's that too will fall below 26° very soon. With a tear in my eye, it appears summer is nearly over.
There are no tropical waves in the pipeline of the ITCZ flowing from Africa and the flow appears to be stalling, as TS Rosa is almost stationary. In a few weeks a Pineapple Express flow will develop, bringing cloudy days to the peninsula from time to time throughout the winter months.
The Eastern Pacific as a whole flat-lines on hurricane production in November and we may get one more out of this season. Probably another weak and wandering tropical storm, much like today's TS Rosa will form and move harmlessly off into the Pacific. It will be about another 9 or 10 months before Baja has another serious tropical cyclone threat.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami has really nailed down their hurricane predictions in the Eastern Pacific. This year the path forecasts became even more accurate and for the first time intensity predictions following the first 18hrs of the storm became far more dependable.
The 2012 Hurricane Season rested on the cusp of a neutral to slightly El Niño year. Baja has the highest probability of a tropical cyclone affecting the peninsula in neutral years by a statistical broad margin over El Niño or La Nina years.
I would like to thank the readers of this article, now finishing up the 9th season. I learned a great deal about these monster storms, Baja weather and weather in general. In no small way writing these has inspired me to complete another step in my education. In early 2013, following a proctored state-side exam and years of online course study, I will receive a degree in metrological science.
Over the past 9 years I have issued 146 Hurricane Watch Reports and 8 seasonal predictions. My batting average this year was pretty good, about 80%, but I miss big on the one that mattered. My Seasonal call was off too, I predicted a tropical cyclone landfall in late September when the only cyclone we endured was a late entry in October where we technically didn't even have a landfall. But that puts me slightly better than the professionals long range prediction.
The End of the Road
With that said, and thanks given, this will be the last ever BajaInsider Hurricane Watch Report. Over the winter months I will compile the dozens of articles into one or more tropical cyclone information pages and I intend to continue covering tropical cyclones storm by storm next year. But I feel the ink well has run dry for interesting and informative articles and weekly analysis, and this season became more of a labor than a labor of love. You have made this the single most popular series on our site and one of the all-time most read pages on the Insider and I thank you all again.