Chris Fogarty and his team at the Canadian Hurricane Centre call September the “insane period.” And it lived up to the billing as tropical storm Leslie made landfall on Newfoundland and Labrador, bringing 130-kilometre-an-hour winds, eight-metre-high waves, pounding rain and downed trees and power lines.
“We knew it was a serious threat with rainfall and flooding potential,” Dr. Fogarty said Tuesday in an interview from the centre, which is located in a nondescript office building on the main street in Dartmouth, N.S.
Hurricane season runs from June to November but reaches its zenith in September. In fact, Dr. Fogarty said that Tuesday was the exact “peak of the hurricane season.”
“If you add up all the storms over the last 150 years of data, the date with the most likelihood to have a hurricane on the go somewhere in the Atlantic basin works out to be Sept. 11,” he said.
Leslie was clearly not as destructive as Igor was two years ago, when one person died and Newfoundland suffered an estimated $100-million in damages.
For about four hours, Leslie blew its way across the province and then exited north of Gander. The storm, which landed near the town of Fortune on Tuesday morning, was characterized as a “post-tropical storm” because of the way it’s structured – the strong winds and rains spread out from its centre.
“If the storm had come a few hours earlier it would have been worse for the southern part of the province due to the storm surge and high tides,” Dr. Fogarty said.
By late afternoon, it was racing across the Atlantic toward Greenland and then heading for Scotland or England, where it will be less destructive and totally distinct from a tropical storm. The storm pretty much bypassed the three Maritime provinces, although flooding in central Nova Scotia Monday was, in part, blamed on the tropical storm. About 160 millimetres of rain fell in six hours.
Dr. Fogarty, who has been looking up at the sky and marveling at hurricane clouds since he was a boy growing up in Halifax, is running on adrenalin right now. He and his team members, who work on 12-hour shifts during this intense hurricane period, have had little sleep since last Wednesday when they started to monitor the developments of tropical storm Leslie.
Back then it was sitting just over Bermuda and Dr. Fogarty said it seemed like they were watching it – and willing it – to do something “for days.” The storm was unique, he said, because it was stalled for so long, knocking up against a high-pressure system that wasn’t allowing it to move anywhere.
This made forecasts very tricky.
For the meteorologists, getting it right is key. Their challenge is not to be the kids who cry wolf all the time but to warn Canadians accurately about what potential weather they are facing.
Dr. Fogarty says that while “people got hit pretty hard,” he and his team are “quite happy how things worked out” with their forecasts.
So excited are they about the hurricanes that when they’re not in the office – which is basically just a large room with computers and two big monitors on the wall that track the storm – they’re at home talking to other meteorologists and amateur weather watchers on blogs, by e-mail or BlackBerry.
While it’s been a busy few years on the hurricane front, Dr. Fogarty will not attribute this to global warming. Rather, he says there are “different things at play,” acknowledging humans are causing warming of the planet but noting, too, that there are also “natural cycles in temperature and even storminess.”
Looking at the “hurricane record,” Dr. Fogarty says there was an active period in the 1950s and 1960s, then it went “quite quiet” in the 1980s and 1990s.
“It’s never that simple. You can attribute those extra busy seasons to anything,” he said.
Although the worst has passed with Leslie, Dr. Fogarty says the Atlantic region is not yet out of the woods. He has his eye on a storm that is brewing deep down in the tropics just west of Africa.
“That’s where a lot of September storms first develop,” he said.