July 2, 2019

Hurricane Barbara Grew From A Tropical Storm To A Cat. 4 Hurricane In 21 Hours

Hurricane Barbara rapidly strengthened into a category four hurricane on Tuesday as it spun over the eastern Pacific Ocean. "Rapid" isn't an exaggeration in this case—the storm grew from a tropical storm to a category four hurricane in just 21 hours. The hurricane is likely near its peak strength and will weaken over open waters later this week. 

The latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center shows the storm at or very near its peak strength. The hurricane will soon start losing steam as it moves over cooler waters to its north. While Hawaii is in the frame on the forecast map above, take note of the scale on the bottom-right—even by Sunday, the storm will be hundreds of miles from Hawaii, and the storm or its remnants should be weak (or even non-existent) by the time it reaches Hawaii.

Barbara was quite the healthy hurricane this afternoon. The storm has a well-defined eye surrounded by a thick eyewall. The classic "buzzsaw" appearance of the storm—those cirrus clouds radiating clockwise from the center of the storm—are indicative of good upper-level outflow, which is an essential to maintaining a storm's strength.

The storm took advantage of calm winds, warm waters, and decent organization to get going in a hurry. Barbara was a tropical storm with 70 MPH winds at 11:00 AM PDT on Monday. The storm nearly doubled in strength by the following morning. This is another point on a long list of hurricanes that underwent rapid intensification. Thankfully, this event occurred well away from land, but rapid intensification is a prime reason folks along coast need to pay extremely close attention to the latest forecasts when future storms threaten land.

The eastern Pacific hurricane season got off to an unusually late start this year. I wrote over at Forbes last week that the season's first tropical depression—which eventually strengthened into Alvin—was tied for the latest first tropical system since reliable records began in the mid-1900s. As we've learned so many seasons before, a late start doesn't necessarily mean a quiet season. There's likely another storm forming on Barbara's heels, and, like Barbara, it should also head out to sea without affecting land.

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I graduated from the University of South Alabama in 2014 with a degree in political science and a minor in meteorology. I contribute to The Weather Network as a digital writer, and I've written for Forbes, the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang, Popular Science, Mental Floss, and Gawker's The Vane. My latest book, The Skies Above, is now available. My first book, The Extreme Weather Survival Manual, arrived in October 2015.