Ian strengthened to a powerful, category 4 hurricane with top windspeeds of 150 mph just before landfall on the southwest Florida gulf coast near Sanibel Island. Hurricanes are awesome and powerful low pressure systems that are the result of the intense heating in the equatorial regions of our planet. The imbalance of heating on Earth, where solar energy is at a maximum at the equator and minimum at the poles, is a major part of what drives our atmospheric circulation. Hurricanes derive a tremendous amount of heat energy from those equatorial waters and transport this energy northward toward the much colder polar regions. This transport of warm air and water through the middle latitudes, toward the poles, is our atmosphere’s attempt to balance temperatures across the planet.
Hurricanes are also massive regions of rising air, which we see in the familiar cloud formations displayed on satellite imagery. However, it’s the other part of this magnificent storm system that we may not consider when watching them on their journey into the higher latitudes, and that is the area around the hurricane where there are no clouds. In similar manner to the atmosphere’s effort to balance temperature across the planet, the atmosphere along with help from Earth’s gravitational pull, maintains balance in the vertical. What goes up, must come down. So, all that rising air descends back to Earth on the outer edges of the hurricane, and when air descends, it warms and dries out as it moves closer to the surface.
This subsiding air on the western side of Ian on its transit across Florida and farther northward through the Atlantic coastal states helped to dry out a large part of the Eastern and Central U.S. aloft. And, in the lower levels of the atmosphere, the dry continental, northeasterly flow around the still relatively strong low pressure system, formerly called Ian, helped to keep the beautiful weather pattern with full sunshine in place across the Four States region.
A week before Ian made an appearance in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, only a few hundred miles southwest of Florida, computer model forecasts were projecting a chance for a few showers and thunderstorms, in association with a cold front in the Four States area this past weekend, October 1st and 2nd. The front weakened greatly, and much of the moist air that was being lifted ahead of the boundary, evaporated due to the massive amount of drying aloft and the extremely dry east to northeasterly flow on the west side of the tropical system called Ian.
It’s difficult to consider that we benefited from a storm system that caused so much ruination and suffering across Florida and the southern Atlantic coast. That benefit was fantastic weather conditions that included sunshine and comfortable temperatures. The one aspect of Hurricane Ian that would have benefited the Four States, was the tropical system’s massive rains. Of course we would likely have problems with the foot of rain that fell along a part of Ian’s track from near Orlando, east to the Space Coast. However, we could probably handle half that amount without much problem, due to our limited rainfall this past summer. As we move into the Fall season, the combination of strengthening winds from increasingly stronger low pressure systems across drought stricken terrain, will lead to a high risk for the development of wild fires. We continue to wait for our next chance of rain. It’s been too long. We are badly in need of some soaking rainfall. Hopefully, we can get at least one decent soaking before the end of October.