Just like with people, the history of tropical cyclones is replete with oddballs and eccentrics. Cyclones that for one reason or the other just seemed to be listening to their own compass, rather than the larger plane stream around them, so to speak.
There was Hurricane Ophelia in 2005, which built two complete loops-the-loops off the coast of the Southeastern United States in 2005. Then there was Hurricane Esther in 1961, which neared southern New England, turned around in a holding pattern like a airplane approaching JFK Airport at rush hour, and then resumed its marching toward land.
It is suggested that Hurricane Matthew, which is hammering the Bahamas with fierce winds and storm upsurge flooding and inspiring massive evacuations in the Southeast, may join this elite pantheon of iconoclastic hurricanes.
Since Wednesday morning, multiple computer models’ blizzard track projections indicate Hurricane Matthew will hit Florida starting on Thursday, and then return for round two by early next week.
These simulations are believable, albeit unwelcome news in Florida, where a hurricane of Category 3 intensity or greater has not struck since 2005. So, what would drive a hurricane to behave like this?
Hurricanes may be extremely powerful cyclones, but when it comes to their movement, they are like pebbles caught in a river forced to move along with the persist currents. In the case of Hurricane Matthew, a cold front moving into the Northeast will bump the blizzard to the east on Saturday, preventing it from riding up the East Coast and making New York or Boston. However, a high pressure region house across the western Atlantic could then block its eastward progress.
This atmospheric traffic jam could direct the blizzard to the south, and then eventually it is possible to shunted westward in part by its interaction with Tropical Storm Nicole, and partly from encountering the easterly trade winds that blow just north of the equator.
The Global Forecast Model, or GFS, which is the top U.S. model, demonstrates this scenario, as does the European model, which is the top performing model in the world, and the top musician in so far with Hurricane Matthew.
There are some big caveats to the blizzard boomerang scenario, however.
First of all, Hurricane Matthew is unlikely to return to Florida as a Category 3 or greater cyclone, in part because wind shear may interrupt its circulation as it builds its turn to the south. Also, if the cyclone traverses its former track, it will find the ocean has a memory of it, and it’s not a pleasant one either.
That memory will be imprinted in the form of an area of cooler ocean waters that were stirred up by Hurricane Matthew’s strong breezes and towering waves, projected to be at least 40 feet high, the first time the storm was there.
This isn’t to say that the cyclone won’t pose a second threat to Florida, but rather that it may not be as serious of security threats as it is now.
The bottom line with hurricanes is that they’re nature’s most powerful, but temperamental storms. That’s what makes them so fun to try to predict, but terrible to live through once, let alone twice.