Hurricane Michael

I am ambivalent over having one of nature’s catastrophic wonders as a namesake, especially for the death and destruction in its path. Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida panhandle shortly before we made the annual snowbird migration from chilly Bavaria to warm and sunny Florida. As I crossed the Atlantic westbound, Ex-Michael was moving eastbound toward the Iberian Peninsula. The former hurricane was now a tropical depression pouring rain on European shores. The coincidence of the namesake led me to explore the naming of weather patterns in America and Europe.

Since 1953, Atlantic tropical storms had been named from lists originated by the U.S. National Hurricane Center. They are maintained and updated through a strict procedure by an international committee of the World Meteorological Organization. Six lists of alternating female and male names are used in rotation and re-cycled every six years, i.e. the 2018 list will be used again in 2024. The only time that there is a change in the list is if a storm is so deadly or costly that the future use of its name on a different storm would be inappropriate for reasons of sensitivity. If that occurs, then at an annual meeting by the WMO committee the offending name is stricken from the list and another name is selected to replace it. Several names have been retired since the lists were created.

If a storm forms in the off-season, it will take the next name in the list based on the current calendar date. For example, if a tropical cyclone formed on December 28th, it would take the name from the previous season’s list of names. If a storm formed in February, it would be named from the subsequent season’s list of names.

In the event that more than twenty-one named tropical cyclones occur in the Atlantic basin in a season, additional storms will take names from the Greek alphabet.

Since 1954, Central European weather maps have named both high- and low-pressure areas — there are no hurricanes in this area. The Meteorological Institute of the Free University of Berlin, since 1998, has named low-pressure areas (Tief) in even numbered years with female names and high-pressure areas (Hoch) in odd-numbered years with male names. Once the alphabet has been run, they start again at “A”. Ex-Michael is with the female contingent in 2018.

It was a relief to find Sabra, my on-and-off liveaboard sailboat for the past thirty-four years, had dodged another bullet. She remained unharmed by Category 4 Hurricane Michael. The eye of the storm and its dangerous outer fringes had passed well to the west on its deadly path northward in the Gulf of Mexico. What concerned me was the wind-driven tides that contribute to extreme high tides in Tampa Bay. These high tides occur due to the counter-clockwise rotation of low-pressure areas associated with hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico. Extreme low tides occur during high-pressure clockwise rotations when waters are pushed out of Tampa Bay.

Boats are normally held in their slips by mooring lines connected to pilings and fixed pier cleats — floating docks are less common. There are generally bow lines and stern lines as well as fore and aft spring lines to keep the boat well centered in its slip during normal tidal ranges. Typically, a total of six lines secure a 32-foot boat in the middle of a slip. The number of lines is doubled during hurricane season from November to May. Because I’m away for long periods, my lines are doubled year around.

During extreme high or low tides, lines are sometimes stretched beyond their normal length and either leave the boat hanging by her cleats or overly strain the pier cleats. Enough slack has to be given the lines for extreme tides but not too much slack that the boat collides with neighboring boat or piers when normal tides return. It is a very tricky geometric problem solved by experienced boat owner, marina personnel, or a helpful neighbor loosening or tightening the lines in the owner’s absence. (Note the finger pier underwater in the picture of Sabra due to an extreme high tide from former Hurricane Debby.)

Everything on the boat was in ship-shape order when we arrived for another pleasant winter season. The boat was fortunate. The Panhandle of Florida was not so lucky with the 13th hurricane of the 2018 season.

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Migrations between a small farming village in Bavaria and a Gulf of Mexico port on the west coast of Florida — the Sunshine State

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Michael Frankel

Michael Frankel

A snowbird from Bavaria

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