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Posted at 5:00 PM ET, 10/12/2010

Hurricane Paula winding up in the Caribbean

By Greg Postel

* PM Update: Cooler days ahead | Farmer's almanac history *

Visible satellite image of Hurricane Paula at 1:15 p.m. today. Source: NOAA.

Hurricane Paula, located about 105 miles southeast of Cozumel Mexico, is the 16th named tropical cyclone of the year. Paula is a low-end Category 2 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale with maximum sustained winds near 100 mph. The system is moving toward the northwest at about 10 mph. Hurricane warnings have been posted for much of the Yucatan peninsula including Cancun, Cozumel and points southward.

The satellite presentation (as shown above) is reasonably impressive. The cloud field suggests Paula is a small, yet tightly wound, circulation associated with a cluster of intense thunderstorms that penetrate to altitudes above 60000 feet. With a pool of deep, warm water underneath the core and environmental wind shear (changing wind direction & speed with height) in its immediate vicinity that is not particularly strong, conditions appear favorable for some further intensification, at least in the short term.

History has shown that small tropical cyclones under the right conditions are quite capable of intensifying rapidly. Paula, in fact, underwent a cycle of rapid intensification unprecedented in the record books, as Weather Underground meteorologist Jeff Masters explained earlier today:

Paula intensified remarkably quickly, setting a modern record for the fastest intensification from the issuance of the first advisory to hurricane strength. The first advisory for Paula was issued at 5pm EDT yesterday, and Paula strengthened into a hurricane just twelve hours later, at 5am EDT this morning. Since reliable record keeping of intensification rates of Atlantic hurricanes began in 1970, when regular satellite coverage became available, no storm has ever intensified into a hurricane that quickly.

We will be watching Paula closely for any additional intensification.

Paula is expected to move slowly and somewhat erratically toward the Yucatan Channel over the next couple of days, as the steering currents remain weak. The official track forecast from the National Hurricane Center keeps the storm south of the Gulf of Mexico at or below Category 2 intensity.

Though Paula is situated over warm ocean waters capable of supporting a monster Category 5 storm, the atmosphere over this part of the world is, in general, not so hospitable. A band of strong westerly winds at high altitudes has settled across much of Gulf of Mexico and southwestern Atlantic. Partly associated with the annual southward shift of the jet stream during autumn, these winds exceed 60 mph in places. As shown in the picture below, which is a forecast of upper-level winds for Wednesday night, a swath of eastward-directed arrows (high winds) stretches from the eastern Pacific, across Mexico, to Bermuda and beyond.

Upper level winds from the central Pacific to central Atlantic. Source: University of Wyoming.

Paula is currently located a little south of this belt of high winds, called the 'subtropical jet stream', in one of the only tranquil zones in the map above ... just east of the Yucatan Peninsula. While the storm is (for now) sheltered from a windy environment, the march toward winter is shrinking that zone in which significant tropical cyclone development is possible.

If Paula were to migrate northward into the Gulf of Mexico, it would have to battle a wind regime that could easily tear it apart. We will be watching this closely over the next several days, and will alert you of the situation significantly changes.

By Greg Postel  | October 12, 2010; 5:00 PM ET
Categories:  Tropical Weather  
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Next: Forecast: Thursday rain, otherwise cooler but nice


Looks like Paul will smack Cuba and the Bahamas and then exit stage right into the Atlantic.

Except for rains in Texas and Wisconsin and some rip tides along the east coast, the U.S. hasn't been impacted much by tropical weather systems this year. Glad the folks in Louisiana caught a break.

Posted by: JerryFloyd1 | October 12, 2010 5:42 PM | Report abuse

Let's hope for a left turn once it passes through the Florida Straits so it can come up this way!

Posted by: bdeco | October 12, 2010 7:16 PM | Report abuse

"The cloud field suggests Paula is a small, yet tightly wound, circulation associated with a cluster of intense thunderstorms that penetrate to altitudes above 60000 feet."

The sky appears to turn black at about 60000 feet. Those are some high clouds.

Posted by: DAK4Blizzard | October 12, 2010 10:39 PM | Report abuse

Hi DAK4Blizzard

The overshooting tops to severe thunderstorms in midlatitudes (our area) can easily exceed 60000 feet during the warm season. In fact, I've seen radar estimated above 70,000. And I have talked to commercial pilots who have seen 80,000 foot Cbs.

It is sometimes easier to get tall storms in the tropics because the tropopause (i.e., the effective lid to the updrafts) is higher. But the fact that the updrafts are generally weaker there partly offsets the higher trop. effect.


Posted by: gregpostel | October 12, 2010 11:56 PM | Report abuse

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