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Dennis’ Tidbits

By DENNIS McTIGHE

Guillermo, the hurricane that wouldn’t die     

Dennis 5It was August 7, 1997 and Category 5 hurricane Guillermo (Bill) was two weeks old now and showing absolutely no signs of losing steam anytime soon. After all, he was swimming in abnormally hot waters in the high 80s, fueled by arguably the strongest El Niño event of the 20th century. 

On this date, Bill was centered about 650 miles SSW of Baja’s tip, a zone where normally tropical systems begin their demise as they’re usually in much cooler waters. However, we’re talking a mega El Niño here and it’s a whole new ballgame whenever Senor El Niño is on steroids and really flexing his muscles. Monster hurricane Bill was still a Cat. 5, the longest ever that any eastern Pacific system of this caliber has maintained that strength – and he continued to crawl to the WNW at 8 mph. His current position and forward direction placed him on a beeline course to strike the Big Island of Hawaii, but that was at least a week in the future, and as you know, a lot can happen in that span of time.

Five days later on August 12, 1997, Bill was centered about 950 miles ESE of Hawaii and was now a high-end Cat. 4 storm. For the next five days, he continued on his crash course to the west and WNW, still setting his sights on the Big Island of Hawaii. By the 15th, Bill was only around 300 miles ESE of the Big Island as hurricane warnings were now posted for the entire Island Chain. He was still a low end Cat. 4 with sustained winds of 132 mph with gusts up to 145 and continued to be a monster at 550 miles across. Huge swells began marching into the SE and eastern shores of the islands, and residents were really starting to squirm, preparing for the worst. 

Then on the 16th with Bill’s center less than 200 miles to the ESE, the unthinkable happened as Bill abruptly made a sharp right turn and was now moving straight to the north. Tropical storm-force winds were buffeting parts of the Big Island from Bill’s outer bands, but at least there were no hurricane-force winds as Bill continued his course to the north. 

By the 18th, Bill found himself about 300 miles to the NE of Hilo and still moving to the north while picking up forward speed so the islands were now out of harm’s way. Whew. Hawaii had really dodged a bullet in a huge way! On the 21st, Bill was now situated about 2,000 miles west of San Diego, still a Category 2 hurricane with winds in excess of 100 mph. It was moving straight to the north at 12-15 mph and was still surrounded by 80 degree water this far north. Late on the 23rd, Bill was 1,800 miles due west of the California-Oregon border, a Cat.1. 

The very next day, on the 24th, Bill was finally now a post tropical system, having hooked up with a super intense, early-in-the-season deep low that was plowing to the SE. These two systems joined forces as they began to ride a west-to-east moving jet stream on steroids while setting sights on making landfall on the extreme northern coast of Oregon near Astoria. This huge low with a one-two punch raced to the east, riding on this hyper jet stream and on the 27th, made landfall near Astoria. It boasted a central pressure of 970 millibars, resulting in gale force winds and up to 5-8 inches of rain up in the Pacific Northwest. Ahead of this low, large swells from the NW were pushing into places like Rincon with near double-overhead sets which has never happened in late August. Rincon is strictly a winter break that only works properly on west and NW swells from the North Pacific.

Imagine surfing epic Queen of the Coast waves with no wetsuits in El Niño fueled by 75-degree water. And check this out – the very same storm that sent us an epic one weeklong south swell, delivered an equally epic NW classic three weeks later. That’s never happened. That’s one big reason why El Niño is our dear friend!

See you on Tuesday, ALOHA!