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article imageEl Nino cause of rare occurrence — Three hurricanes at once

By Karen Graham     Sep 1, 2015 in Environment
It has never happened before, at least since weather records have been kept, but this past weekend, the world saw three very powerful category 4 tropical cyclones swirling in the central and eastern basins of the Pacific Ocean.
It was unusual, and some weather forecasters say it was "insane," but hurricanes Ignacio, Jimena, and Kilo were each recorded in the region, with winds between 130mph and 156mph, though Ignacio was later downgraded to a Category 2, according to the Weather network.
According to the latest update, issued on September 1, at 4:27 p.m. Pacific time, hurricane Ignacio is a Category 1 hurricane located about 275 miles north-northeast of Hilo, Hawaii. The storm is expected to miss a direct hit on Hawaii, but officials have put in place emergency procedures just in case. There are high surf warnings.
East Pacific satellite map
Hurricane Jimena is located more than 1,000 miles east of Hilo, Hawaii. Jimena weakened slightly to a Category 3 hurricane. Jimena and Kilo are not tracking toward land, but Kilo could continue to be a category 3 storm into the coming weekend.
El Nino is partially responsible for the cluster of storms
We have read about the 2015 El Nino, and the forecasts are already being put out. Rain is forecast for Southern California, lots of rain, with a chance of flooding and mudslides. In parts of Eastern Africa, there will be a rise in malaria cases while in India, crops will wither in the fields.
With the tropical cyclones brewing, one after the other, in the Pacific Ocean, we can see the impact on our weather from the rising sea temperatures. There are usually 16 storms per year in the pacific region. The highest number of storms occurred in 1992 when 28 were recorded. Though this year's forecast was 15 to 22 named storms, 14 have been recorded already.
Sea temperatures as of Sept. 1  2015
Sea temperatures as of Sept. 1, 2015
Tropical cyclones typically form over water with temperatures above 27.7 degrees C. (81.8 degrees F.). When sea surface temperatures get above this threshold, hurricanes are more likely to form, and they also are apt to be more powerful.
There is another part of El Nino that is contributing to the number of powerful tropical cyclones in the pacific. It has to do with sheer. Sheer is the difference in wind speeds at different altitudes. With Atlantic storm Erika, wind sheer caused the storm to break apart, eventually downgrading it to a tropical depression.
But in the central and eastern Pacific basins, the sheer is less than normal, and this lower level of wind sheer is allowing the storms to endure for a much longer period of time. One problem with dealing with what is turning out to be a strong El Nino is the lack of information. We have not seen that many of them, so meteorologists are still learning.
The Daily Beast talked with Mike Halpert, Deputy Director of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center. In talking about our knowledge of El Nino and its likely impact on weather Halpert said, "from my experience, when you think you have something like this figured out, you’re thrown a curveball and learn you don’t have it all figured out.”
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