The 8 a.m. update on tropical storm Isaac from the National Hurricane Center headlines it as “nearly a hurricane.” In fact, it’s about as close to being a hurricane as it can get without actually being a hurricane. It probably will be one by 11 a.m.
Its minimum pressure is 976 mb which is unusually low for a tropical storm. Characteristically, a storm with a pressure this low has significantly stronger winds.
“This does seem like an amazing outlier in terms of the pressure-wind relationship,” our tropical weather expert Brian McNoldy said in an email.
McNoldy sent along the image above - a scatterplot showing wind and pressure for Atlantic and Eastern Pacific tropical systems between 1989-2004. The diagonal line illustrates the average wind and pressure combination for a given storm. Isaac is represented by the red dot.
Usually, a storm with Isaac’s pressure would have maximum sustained winds closer to 80 knots or 90 mph.
Phil Klotzbach, a tropical weather researcher at Colorado State University, noted just a handful of tropical storms have had lower pressures than Isaac. The lowest pressure he could find for an Atlantic tropical storm was the 952 mb reading associated with Hilda in 1952 (which had maximum sustained winds around 70 mph).
Below is a list of other tropical storms with very low pressure Klotzbach compiled.
Note: in the above list - most of the tropical storms recorded the given pressure/wind combinations over land - so it’s not quite an apples-to-apples comparison with Isaac.
Why are Isaac’s winds so low relative to its pressure? Simply put, it’s a large storm whose wind field is spread out and has not yet consolidated. There are indication it’s trying to consolidate, hence some intensification of maximum winds is likely before landfall tonight.