Fueled by the very warm waters of an ever-strengthening El Niño, the 2015 Pacific hurricane season reached new heights over the weekend thanks to hurricanes Kilo, Ignacio and Jimena, whirling elegantly across the ocean — no threat to land.
For the first time on record, two major hurricanes — Category 3 or stronger — were churning in the central Pacific Ocean on Sunday. Hurricane Kilo, which formed as a tropical depression south of Hawaii 10 days ago, is now a powerful Category 4 hurricane tracking west. Hurricane Ignacio, which peaked on Sunday as a Category 4 with 145 mph winds, is skirting north of Hawaii. As of 11 a.m. Monday, Ignacio has weakened to a Category 2.
Even more astonishingly, if you add the easternmost Hurricane Jimena to the mix, Sunday was the first time that three Category 4 hurricanes have been present at the same time in the entire northeast Pacific Ocean.
Hurricane Jimena is a thing of beauty on satellite — near-meteorological perfection and spinning like a top as a Category 4 with sustained winds of 150 mph. Jimena is forecast to maintain its Category 4 intensity through Tuesday evening before gradually weakening as it turns northwest and away from Hawaii.
The best part of it all is that none of these storms threaten landfall.
With all of these powerhouse hurricanes, this season is now the second most-active on record in the central Pacific in terms of accumulated cyclone energy — a metric that combines hurricane strength and duration to measure the overall activity of a season.
The record for accumulated cyclone energy was set during the 1994 season, but it appears 2015 is close on its heels. The 1994 season was all but over by the end of August, while this season is still cranking with two current hurricanes and another — Jimena — tracking toward the region.
Of course, as El Niño continues to strengthen, the Pacific Ocean is ripe for tropical cyclones. El Niño itself is the presence of much warmer than average temperatures in the tropical Pacific, and warm water fuels hurricanes and typhoons.
“A couple of big factors have led to the very active Central Pacific season,” said Colorado State hurricane expert Phil Klotzbach. “We’ve had both anomalously warm waters near Hawaii as well as significantly reduced vertical wind shear in that same region.”
As of this week, El Niño has surpassed the 2 degree Celsius threshold in one of the key regions in the Pacific Ocean — something this region hasn’t done since the most powerful El Niño on record in 1997.