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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 07/17/2008

It's a Thingamabobbercane

By Steve Tracton

Radar image of the remnants of Tropical Storm Erin over Oklahoma on Aug. 19. 2007. Courtesy NOAA.

In August 2007, Tropical Storm Erin gradually dissipated after making landfall in Texas. But a confluence of environmental factors, including abundant low-level moisture and an area of low pressure approaching from the west, set the stage for a rare (but not unprecedented) re-intensification over Oklahoma.

As seen in the adjacent radar image from Aug. 19, the so-called "ghost" of Tropical Storm Erin developed a distinct eye-like structure with sustained winds reaching 50 knots and gusts to 70 knots. Ironically, the inland storm was stronger and looked more like a tropical storm than when it was over the Gulf of Mexico. But no one knew quite what to call it.

Keep reading for more on the unusual reincarnation of Erin. For local weather, see our full forecast into early next week.

CNN said the remnants of Erin unexpectedly turned central Oklahoma into a "wash basin" with helicopters rescuing people from flood waters and rooftops. Rainfall and flooding associated with the invigorated storm resulted in seven deaths and millions of dollars in damage. However, a few hours later, the storm began losing strength again, and late on Aug. 19, Erin weakened significantly as the circulation dissipated over northeastern Oklahoma.

Track of Erin -- from a tropical storm over the Gulf of Mexico to "something else" by the time the remenants reached Oklahoma -- from Aug. 15 to Aug. 19, 2007.

So, what was Erin? The official report on Erin released by the National Hurricane Center could not come up with an official answer. The prevailing opinion was that Erin was NOT a tropical cyclone while over Oklahoma, because the "organized deep convection" (i.e., intense thunderstorms) did not last long enough to be classified as such. And with no frontal structure it could not be classified as an extratropical storm, either. What about a subtropical storm? NHC says its duration over Oklahoma was too short to be categorized as such.

That seems to leave only one other possibility, namely a "Thingamabobbercane," a term coined by Weather Underground blogger Jeff Masters.

Whatever it's called, the storm's characteristics and the mechanisms responsible for its redevelopment are undoubtedly ripe for future study.

By Steve Tracton  | July 17, 2008; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Tracton, Tropical Weather  
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It classifies as a "tropical storm", even inland over Oklahoma [provided it retained warm-core tropical characteristics]. This happens occasionally over the very humid Indian subcontinent during the summer monsoon. Tropical cyclones have been known to attain tropical storm strength of 60 knots well inland over India. The same should happen here.

As I posted during the last month, "Hazel" maintained hurricane force inland here on Oct. 15, 1954 and tropical storm force over Lake Ontario, causing heavy damage and considerable loss of life in the Toronto area. Whether "Hazel" maintained tropical (warm-core) characteristics over this path is a matter of some dispute since the hurricane interacted with a cold frontal boundary on its inland journey towards Canada. I believe it came ashore in the area from Wilmington to Myrtle Beach as a Category 4 hurricane.

Posted by: El Bombo | July 17, 2008 12:12 PM | Report abuse

El Bombo, I'll be addressing what is and is not a tropical storm (and why) in a feature article in the near future.

Does it make a difference weather wise and otherwise? Sure does - and in ways you might not expect: stay tuned.

Posted by: Steve Tracton, Capital Weather Gang | July 17, 2008 1:09 PM | Report abuse

I remember this naming ordeal last year. It was quite comical (and also a bit disturbing) to hear broadcasters' different descriptions of Erin. I wonder if there are other weather events and phenomena out there that have not yet been identified and named...

Posted by: Ann, Capital Weather Gang | July 17, 2008 4:29 PM | Report abuse

Bertha aiming at another longevity record.

Posted by: CapitalClimate | July 17, 2008 4:55 PM | Report abuse

This reminds me of a question I've always had. How did Hurricane Ivan in 2004 make landfall in Georgia, move north along the Appalachians, then reappear in the Gulf of Mexico and make landfall again in Texas? At least that's what the track I saw at the time seemed to show. Did it make a huge loop of some kind?

Posted by: Greenbelter | July 17, 2008 6:04 PM | Report abuse

Ivan was another storm which did a few strange things. I believe it got close enough to us in order to cause a couple of tornadoes, including one in the Chantilly/Dulles area, then moved south, passed back over the Gulf and intensified slightly before making a second landfall in Texas.

Ivan's course may have been influenced by an upper-air ridge in which it was embedded. The jet stream at the time was far to the north, making it unable to capture Ivan and pull it northeast.

Posted by: El Bombo | July 17, 2008 6:25 PM | Report abuse

Yes, Ivan was quite the oddity as it developed twice. Ivan's mid-level circulation held together as it moved inland and back out to sea off the east coast where it moved southward and eventually crossed FL and entered the Gulf and intensified. Since it was still Ivan's circulation, they did not rename it, and Ivan was reborn.

Posted by: Brian, Capital Weather Gang | July 17, 2008 6:26 PM | Report abuse

Some of you younger folks might not have heard the term "Neutercane". This nomenclature was introduced in 1972 by the former director of the National Hurricane Center (NHC) ,Bob Simpson, to identify what were thought to be circulation systems with both tropical and extratropical characteristics.

Suffice it to say objections arose that the term in might be perceived as sexist. At the time, all hurricanes had woman's names and the "neuter" component was misunderstood as gender related rather than what was intended, namely the term for neutral (neither tropical or extratropical).

Given the controversy, "neutercane" was "retired" from the NHC lexicon after only one year in 1973. Since then, these hybrid systems are referred loosely to as sub-tropical storms

Posted by: Steve Tracton, Capital Weather Gang | July 17, 2008 7:12 PM | Report abuse

Re "neutercane":
Small size, less than 100 miles in diameter, was also a component of the definition.


Posted by: CapitalClimate | July 17, 2008 8:51 PM | Report abuse

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