Hurricaniac Digest Chapter 3

Big Possums Walk Late

3 August 2007: Dateline, Ft. Collins, CO: Dr Phillip Klotzbach, team leader of the Tropical Meteorology Project at Colorado State University, has called for "...a very active October." ¹ Looking out over the quietness that is the tropical Atlantic Basin tonight, these words might well ring back an ominous echo for the historically perceptive listener. In my opinion, there is much credibility in this sentiment as expressed by Dr. Phil, both scientifically, as in his conclusions, and historically, as expressed anecdotally and in the track files. I have long believed that October is prime-time for momentous events tropical weather offering no particular exception. Those today that sigh with relief at the uneventful passing of September do so at their peril. Several extremely important events in hurricane histoire have occurred in October. Starting with this edition, HD will offer a series of essays on those it is my contention are among the most important, namely Big Possums Walk Late: the most catastrophic hurricane ever recorded; the most intense cyclone ever observed in the Atlantic Basin; the most powerful storm to ever strike the Florida Gulf Coast; the greatest hurricane in the history of the Outer Banks and the most catastrophic cyclone of Canada; the most-intense hurricane to ever landfall on the Georgia Coast.

The most catastrophic hurricane ever recorded: In 1780, a mid-October hurricane is known to have affected The New World with calamitous results. The exact number of casualties in the Antilles is only rank speculation, but it is thought that tens of thousands died in the storm, possibly even 50,000. Of local interest is the existence of evidence purporting that a cyclone also impacted Florida shortly thereafter, circa the 21st-22nd, known today as Solano's H. and one of three that October. It therefore remains possible, however remotely, that the disastrous Windwards hurricane of 1780 is also part of Floridaís hurricane history. Obviously, there are no best track summaries dating back to 1780 but the timing is right so that it is possible that some remant of the Great Hurricane of 1780 regenerated in the Gulf of Mexico. One only needs to have borne witness to the circumlocution of H. Jeanne (14-27 Sept 2004) to understand how this could have happened. I havenít as yet found the confirmation after which Iíve been seeking but remain hopeful. If indeed an historical fact, it was most likely a westward-moving Atlantic cyclone of Cape Verde origin and, in late October, phenomenal in and of itself.

The most intense Atlantic Basin hurricane: 19 October 2005, H. Wilma moved into the NW Caribbean crucible and exploded. NHC in their officious capacity called the bottom-out at 882mb, but it is documented that recon actually saw 881.²  Three aspects of Wilma are useful to consider: One is that she was not a Cape Verde storm.³  Another tidbit (perhaps more interesting) requires a brief departure from format in order to invoke the most intense cyclone ever observed on the planetís surface, the legendary T. Tip, bottoming out at 870mb as it stalked the open WestPac, 12 October 1979. Seeing The Tipperís satellite presentation (widely available) says it all; an Australia-sized cloud mass engulfing a tiny, almost indiscernable eye. Enough to make Camille turn suddenly obsequious by comparison (no disrespect intended). As of this writing, Wilma was the last tropical cyclone of consequence to hit anything in the Western Hemisphere which at the very least ought to tell us something about the status of the Atlantic Thermohaline Circulation in real-time. Lastly, I raise the question: Was Wilma in phase with the MJO and thereby enhanced? And by inference The Tipper, too? Readers who think they know are encouraged to comment.

1 [Extended Range Forecast of Atlantic Hurricane Activity, Individual Monthly Forecasts and U.S. Landfall Probabilities, 3 Aug 2007]

2 [NHC forecaster James Franklin, 1500z, 19 Oct 2005; 881mb extrapolated down from a 700mb aircraft recon pass]

3 [It is beyond authorís comprehension why anyone cares about the ďCape Verde season;Ē the residents and occupants of Cancun were unlikely to have appreciated that distinction at Ground Z, 21 October 2005]