A super rarity: Twin hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico?

The experts were calling for a strong finish to the 2020 hurricane season in the Atlantic basin, and it looks like things are about to get really interesting in the Gulf of Mexico.

It looks increasingly likely that there will be two organized tropical cyclones in the GOMEX simultaneously next week.

The first is Tropical Depression 14, which formed a few days ago and is currently getting its act together in the Caribbean. It may briefly reach hurricane strength before reaching the Yucatan Peninsula Saturday evening, and then is currently forecast to regain strength as it reemerges over the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico and takes aim at the Texas coast. The current forecast brings it ashore east of Houston late in the day on Tuesday as a weak, Category 1 hurricane.

The second is Tropical Depression 13. It actually formed first out of the two disturbances, and has been marching across the Atlantic high seas. It is likely to be a tropical storm by late Friday, as it deals an indirect blow to the northern Leeward Islands.

As Tropical Depression 14 is potentially making landfall near Houston, TD 13 could be preparing to make landfall somewhere along the Florida panhandle. Currently, it is forecast to make landfall as a weak, Category 1 hurricane. But if either of these storms is going to rapidly develop and become a stronger storm, it seems like TD 13 has the most potential.

The next few days will be interesting. TD 13 is traveling over some very warm waters that are ripe for development. However, there should be sufficient mid-level wind shear to inhibit that development somewhat. If and when that wind shear relaxes, then conditions will be better for this developing storm to become a hurricane. If it were to strengthen more than expected, or more quickly than expected, it could wind up dealing a direct blow to South Florida before it potentially gets into the Gulf of Mexico.

As of this evening, models showed a pretty wide range of possibilities with this storm. Some solutions actually sheared it apart completely, while others showed it becoming a major hurricane.

Having two hurricanes ongoing simultaneously in the Atlantic basin is somewhat unusual — though certainly not unheard of nor necessarily uncommon. But having two hurricanes at once in the Gulf of Mexico would be rare indeed. In fact, it appears that it’s never happened before.

The most interesting scenario with these two storms is the Fujiwhara Effect. That’s where two cyclones that are close together actually feed off one another and close the distance between themselves. It has happened only twice that meteorologists are aware of: In September 1933 and in June 1959. One important thing to note: If the Fujiwhara Effect were to happen, it would not cause the two storms to become one and form a monster hurricane; that’s the stuff of SciFi movies. In fact, just the opposite is likely: the Fujiwhara Effect would possibly cause one of the storms or even both of them to weaken.

Ben Garrett is a journalist from East Tennessee. He is publisher of the Independent Herald, a weekly newspaper serving the Big South Fork region of the Cumberland Plateau, with a sideline in website development and digital marketing. He is also an erstwhile blogger.

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