Tropical Storm Karen: “No Such Thing as Just a Tropical Storm!”

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Tropical Storm Karen threatens Gulf

October 3, 2013 satellite image of Tropical Storm Karen when her winds reached 60 mph as she neared the Yucatan Channel. Photo by Naval Research Laboratory.

Reports that Tropical Storm Karen has weakened should not encourage residents in the Gulf Coast region to cease their preparations for a severe storm. According to Dennis Feltgen, meteorologist and spokesman for the National Hurricane Center, “We need residents to keep in mind that there is no such thing as ‘just a tropical storm.’

We don’t want anyone letting their guard down,” Feltgen continued. “Tropical storms can become extremely dangerous. We have the same safety hazards from tropical storms as a hurricane.”

Tropical storm safety hazards include damaging winds, storm surges and inland flooding from heavy rainfall.

Karen: A Healthy Tropical Storm

Concerns that Tropical Storm Karen might reach hurricane status have lessened on Friday, October 4, 2013, along with her average wind speed, but the National Hurricane Center continues to stress there is a possibility that Karen could regain her strength and become a “healthy tropical storm” before reaching land on late Saturday or early Sunday.

There is the possibility of wind shear with this storm,” Dennis Feltgen told Decoded Science, “of strong winds coming in from the west pushing the top of the storm away from the bottom of the storm.” This would increase Tropical Storm Karen’s strength.

As of 5 o’clock on Friday, Karen’s thunderstorms were pushing toward the east side, which does not make for a healthy tropical storm, Feltgen explained. This is why some are saying that Karen is losing her strength. In a “healthy” tropic storm system the thunderstorms are wrapped around the storm’s center.

Experts expect Tropical Storm Karen to make landfall early Saturday in Louisiana, where Louisana’s Governor Bobby Jindal has already issued a state of emergency. Hurricane watches stretch from Grand isle, La., east to Indian Pass, Florida.

Most of the moisture is coming from the east side of the storm, and according to Dennis Feltgen, residents in these areas should be prepared for the worst. “There is always concern about flooding from both storm surge and inland flooding. There is also the possibility of hazardous winds, storm surges, and heavy winds,” he said.

Gulf Storm Tracking From the Air

Tropical Storm Karen has been under careful observation since her formation. According to Dennis Feltgen, she’s had continuous aircraft tracking from the United States Reserve and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – aircraft that actually fly into the storm to track its growth and wind speeds. As of 5 o’clock on Friday, Tropical Storm Karen’s wind speeds were verified at 50 mph, down from the 60 mph speeds verified on October 3, 2013.

 Viewing a Tropical Storm From the Ground

Tropical storms and hurricanes both have mixed layers of cumulus and cumulonimbus clouds that can appear from the ground as long, curved lines or rows of clouds. If the storm has reached hurricane status, these clouds may even stretch across the eye of the hurricane, which is an area of nearly calm winds in the center of the storm that sometimes deceive people into believing the storm has ended. When the eye has passed over a certain area the winds resume.

Hurricane Karen? Not Likely

Feltgen did say it is highly unlikely that Tropical Storm Karen will reach hurricane status at this point. Hurricanes proceed through a set sequence of becoming tropical depressions and tropical storms before reaching hurricane status. Tropical depressions have winds under 39 mph; tropical storms have winds ranging from 39 mph to 73 mph; and meteorologists declare hurricane status when winds reach 74 mph. Tropical storms tend to lose their strength when they reach land, and Tropical Storm Karen is now at 50 mph.

The strongest tropical storms and hurricanes generally occur in late summer, so Tropical Storm Karen is getting a slow start. These strong storms are most likely to occur along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts. The effects of these storms, including strong, damaging winds, can extend inland for a great distance. According to The National Audubon Society’s Field Guide to North American Weather, strong winds can extend for hundreds of miles inland from where the storm reaches landfall so it is best to be prepared.

Resources

David M. Ludlum. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Weather. (1991). Alfred A. Knopf. New York.

National Weather Service. National Hurricane Center. (2013). Accessed October 4, 2013.

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