The unusual track of Ike

September 7, 2008

I would like to take a moment to point out how unusual of a track Ike has taken.

If we had only past history to go on to predict the future of Ike at the time it formed, we would have concluded that it would miss land, or perhaps hit North Carolina.  These are the tracks of satellite-era storms that passed near Ike’s formation point:

Of course, we knew there was a ridge of high pressure that would keep Ike from going to sea. At one point, the forecast looked like Andrew’s track with the westerly and northwesterly runs of the track reversed. (compare Ike’s 11 PM Thursday forecast with Andrew’s track.  Hurricane watchers with a strong historical background will recall that there were  a few major hurricanes that took a course similar to Ike’s forecast in the 1920’s and 30’s:

However, of course, that scenario did not come to pass. Instead of south Florida, Ike is headed for the north-eastern coast of Cuba. If you are struggling to come up with an equal number of major hurricanes that hit that stretch of Cuban coast, (which is by no means tiny, it is is comparable to the east coast of Florida), it’s not due to ignorance or faulty memory.

It’s not like storms haven’t come close to this in recent years. If  Chris in 2006 had a more favorable atmosphere it would have come in as a hurricane.  Debby in 2000 was close. Georges of 1998, although it came from the south, just missed making landfall on the northeast coast.

We have to reach a little further back, to Kate of 1985 to find a hurricane hitting the northeast coast of Cuba.  But, it was a category two storm.  When was the last major hurricane (category three or higher) to cross that shore-line? Here’s a query of major hurricanes that passed within 200 miles of Ike’s 8 PM forecast point
Lots of those South Florida storms. A few that hit the south-east coast, including a couple that crossed the north-east coast on an out-bound path.  But there’s only one storm that (ever so barely!) made landfall on the north-east coast on an in-bound track.  That was the fourth storm of 1888.

You wouldn’t think a 3oo+ mile long coast-line in the Caribbean would be such a hard target for a major hurricane, but the average steering currents make that the case.  As we have seen, the steering for Ike has been anything but average.

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