Our "storm meister" is Cruise Critic senior contributor Steve Faber, who, like many of our members, also happens to live in the "zone." Steve came to the study of meteorology out of necessity, learning the skills out of an aversion to death and dismemberment -- his own! For years he was a private pilot with ratings in single engine, instruments and gliders, and for those endeavors understanding weather is a basic survival skill.... More
Forming out in the southern Atlantic as the calendar page flipped from July 31 to August 1, Tropical Storm Chris began a westward trek that sent shivers through Florida residents and Western Caribbean cruisers as well. The storm rapidly intensified, growing from tropical wave to tropical depression to tropical storm in barely 24 hours. Initial path predictions had Chris threading the needle between Cuba and the Florida peninsula, and had it done so, the track would have kept Chris over water and away from land masses that would have helped tear the storm apart and deprive it of the warm water that fuels hurricanes. Based on that projection, the National Hurricane Center predicted that Chris would grow to Category 1 hurricane status by August 5 or 6. One factor that was handled differently by the various computer models was the development of a high-pressure ridge over the southeastern states and neighboring Atlantic waters. That ridge developed faster, stronger and larger than most models anticipated, stretching all the way from over the Gulf of Mexico. A high-pressure ridge can affect hurricane steering in three ways. First, it is, as the name implies, an area of the atmosphere where the air is "piled" higher than surrounding areas. More air equals a greater weight of air as measured below it on the ground, hence "high pressure." And like terrestrial ridges that turn away winds that collide with them, atmospheric ridges form a barrier that can deflect a storm system.
Secondly, wind directions around a high-pressure system move in a clockwise direction. In other words, at the north end of the system winds come from the west; on the east edge they move blow from north to south; across the bottom of the system they move from east to west; and at the western boundary they move from south to north. Since the ridge extended farther west than models predicted, that kept Chris in the east to west wind pattern, never getting into the northward component, and therefore staying on a more westerly track.
Lastly, ridges can produce high amounts of wind shear, that is to say, horizontal winds at high altitudes which can tear apart the upper layers of a tropical storm, disrupting the mechanism that feeds strengthening.
With Chris committed to a more southerly track put it's projected movement directly over the western tip of Cuba, further increasing the probability of downgrading the storm's power and potential for growth. But these are all still projections and those with interests in the region affected should closely monitor Chris.
Cruises that haven't had their itineraries changed can expect to find seas up to 16 feet in the Western Caribbean and southern Gulf of Mexico next week.