Features — 02 December 2014 — by Adele Ramos
Belize spared, 2014 hurricane season closes

BELIZE CITY–Chief Meteorologist Dennis Gonguez reported today, following the close of the 2014 Atlantic Hurricane Season, that Belize had a rather uneventful rainy season, but an extended 6-to-7-week dry spell in the heart of the rainy season (which coincides with the Atlantic Hurricane season spanning June 1 to November 30) which he said could be attributed to changing weather patterns associated with climate change.

Gonguez said that normally in August, Belize experiences a dry period for about 9 to 10 days, but this year’s dry spell started earlier and lasted longer than usual.

The rainy season started off on cue, with rains descending on June 1, but June and July were mostly dry. It was not until August that the rains stated to normalize, Gonguez recounted.
The rainy season ended this weekend with persistent frontal rains, resulting from a moist northeasterly air flow. Gonguez said that the rains are expected to persist for a few days, clearing up on Wednesday and Thursday of this week.

In October, stormy weather spawned a freak tornado-like event in Maskall, which destroyed a few homes in the area. Gonguez said, though, that although there was a very intense storm, the Met office’s radar observation did not show any signature to indicate any tornadic activity.

Apart from the unusual dry spell and some thunderstorm activity, the season was rather quiet in Belize, as it was in most other places in the Atlantic, although our sister Caribbean country, Bermuda, experienced an unprecedented double hit from two cyclones only days apart.

In reviewing the 2014 season, the Weather Channel noted that this year was the sparsest Atlantic hurricane season since 1997, with eight named and nine total tropical cyclones. However, the Eastern Pacific season was the most active since 1992.

“It was a season that saw near or just a little below average activity, as was predicted by the major prediction centers,” Belize’s Chief Meteorologist, Gonguez, said.

He noted that during this year’s hurricane season, there were one unnamed cyclone (Tropical Depression #2) and 8 named storms, with 6 of these becoming hurricanes, two of which were major hurricanes. This was below average, as a typical season sees on average 12 named systems, with 6 reaching hurricane status and 2 to 3 developing into major hurricanes, of categories 3, 4 or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Scale. The 8 named storms were Arthur, Bertha, Cristobal, Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gonzalo and Hanna. Edouard and Gonzalo became major hurricanes.

On September 16, Edouard was the first major Atlantic Hurricane formed in 2014. It peaked at category 3 strength, with winds as high as 115 miles per hour, but never made landfall, but two persons reportedly died near the coast of Maryland in strong rip currents coming in the wake of the storm.

Gonzalo became the second major hurricane of the season, forming in mid-October in the Caribbean, where it devastated Bermuda, after peaking at category 4 with winds exceeding 130 mph – the strongest storm for 2014. It became an extra-tropical storm and its remnants struck the UK, allegedly resulting in two fatalities in that area resulting from gale-force winds and torrential rains.

The last named storm, Hanna, emerged out of a tropical disturbance which crossed Belize in October.

“Here at home, Belize was not threatened by any systems this past hurricane season. The remains of tropical depression nine crossed the country on its eastward journey between the 23rd and 24th October. These remains later regenerated and on the 26th October became Tropical Storm Hanna. During the following day, Hanna weakened and dissipated over the mountains of Honduras,” Gonguez said.

The Weather Channel said that Hurricane Arthur, the first named storm this year, was the strongest hurricane to make landfall on the US mainland in six years. It made landfall in eastern North Carolina late on July 3 and caused damages in excess of US$3 million. However, it was the first hurricane to make landfall on the US mainland without causing any direct fatalities in 12 years, since Hurricane Lili hit Louisiana in 2002, the report added.

Bermuda experienced an unprecedented double whammy in 2014, with Hurricane Gonzalo, the strongest of the 2014 Hurricane season, slamming the country right on the heels of Tropical Storm Fay. Fay struck the country on October 12 and Gonzalo followed six days later, on October 18.

Hurricane Cristobal is considered the deadliest hurricane of the 2014 Atlantic Hurricane season, resulting in 7 deaths – 2 drownings off the US East Coast alone and 5 flood-related deaths on Hispaniola and Providenciales.

“A combination of atmospheric conditions acted to suppress the Atlantic hurricane season, including very strong vertical wind shear, combined with increased atmospheric stability, stronger sinking motion and drier air across the tropical Atlantic,” said Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “Also, the West African monsoon was near to below average, making it more difficult for African easterly waves to develop,” he added.

“Although Belize did not see a threat this past season, citizens are advised not to become complacent thinking that next year’s hurricane season will be the same as this past season,” he stressed.

The 2015 hurricane season begins June 1 for the Atlantic Basin and NOAA will issue seasonal outlooks in May 2015.
“We at the National Meteorological Service will continue to work diligently to improve on our products, forecasting skills and services so as to be better able to provide even more timely and accurate tropical cyclone forecasts in addition to the improvements already being made on the other routine services,” said Gonguez.

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