NWS: Macon ‘way overdue’ for tropical system

lfabian@macon.comMay 31, 2014 

As the Atlantic Hurricane Season kicks off, the National Weather Service warns Macon to be ready.

“Really, we’re way overdue for tropical systems to affect that area, going on seven years now,” said Jason Deese, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service warned in his weekly briefing from the Peachtree City office.

Since 1851, 53 storms have tracked within 75 miles of Macon, which averages out to be about one every three years.

The last storms to directly affect Macon came in 2004 with hurricanes Frances and Jeanne.

Long-range weather forecasting relies on climatology, the historical record of weather events that are analyzed for trends.

History indicates the Atlanta metro area is also vulnerable this season.

Since 1990, 18 tropical systems have tracked within 125 miles of Atlanta, which boils down to at least one every two years.

Tropical Storm Lee in 2011 was the last one to track near the state capital.

“The Atlanta area is due for a close call from one of these systems,” Deese warned. “We just wanted everybody to be cautious that it only takes one.”

The National Hurricane Center predicts eight to 13 named storms, three to six hurricanes with one or two of those to reach major strength.

An average season yields a dozen named storms and six hurricanes, including three strong storms.

The nation’s tropical forecasters expect a below normal number of storms because an El Niño pattern is developing. Pacific Ocean waters are warming and that can alter the jet stream pattern across the country.

“El Niño’s stronger wind shear reduces the number and intensity of tropical storms and hurricanes,” Deese noted.

Atlantic Ocean waters are trending cooler, which can hinder tropical development that is intensified by warmer water, said Bill Murphey, Georgia’s climatologist.

El Niño typically has a greater effect on the Southeast in late fall and winter when shifting storm tracks can bring more precipitation, Murphey said.

Looking to climatology to predict trends for Middle Georgia this summer, the three-month outlook shows a slightly greater probability of above normal temperatures, he said. The region is as likely to get above-normal precipitation as it is below-normal, or normal amounts of rain, Murphey said.

“It’s going to depend on the Bermuda High,” he said.

The clockwise circulation of air around high pressure can draw moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, but a stronger ridge axis can cut off the flow.

Unlike other seasons when much of Georgia was banking on a tropical storm to ease drought conditions, the state is in great shape with only one tiny sliver of Walker County in northwest Georgia that is abnormally dry.

“The state is pretty much drought-free and the hydrology looks good, the rivers and streams and ground water looks good,” Murphey said.

In April, Macon received 7.46 inches of rain, which is the sixth-wettest April since records were kept beginning in 1892.

Looking back the past 12 months, Macon had its second-wettest June to May period in history after the 2013 calendar year was the wettest on record.

“Really, the farmers need a little break from the heavier rainfall to dry out,” Murphey said.

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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