Hurricane Barbara continues to roar in Eastern Pacific, peaked close to Category 5 strength
By Alex Sosnowski, AccuWeather senior meteorologist
July 04, 2019, 1:26:30 PM EDT
This story has been updated. For the latest information on Barbara's track and impact on Hawaii, please consult this entry.
Soon after becoming the Eastern Pacific's first major hurricane of the season, Barbara reached Category 4 status on Tuesday and teetered near Category 5 strength Wednesday morning.
On Tuesday, Barbara quickly became the first major hurricane of the 2019 season in the Eastern Pacific, just 24 hours after it was a tropical storm. The storm is still a major hurricane, but weakening is ongoing as it currently is a Category 3 storm.
Essentially, Tropical Storm Alvin, which was late to form as the first storm of the season in the East Pacific, helped to pave the way for Barbara and pull a plume of tropical moisture farther north from the equatorial region.
This created an ideal environment for a tropical storm to ramp up quickly through hurricane rankings.
Barbara came close to becoming the third earliest Category 5 hurricane to form in the Eastern Pacific during the satellite era, according to the National Hurricane Center. The earliest was Ava in 1973 and Celia in 2010. Ava became a Category 5 hurricane on June 7, and Celia strengthened into a Category 5 on June 25.
A Category 5 hurricane is the most powerful tropical storm on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind scale.
Barbara's northwesterly track will bring the hurricane into progressively cooler waters well east of Hawaii through this weekend, leading to weakening.
"We believe that Barbara has peaked in strength and we expect Barbara to weaken to a tropical storm on Friday and then become a non-tropical storm this weekend," according to AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski.
Maximum sustained winds around Barbara's eye were estimated at 155 mph and just 2 mph below that of Category 5 strength early Wednesday morning local time. Since then, it is estimated that maximum winds have slipped to 120 mph, but that is still solidly a Category 3 hurricane.
Waters are warmer than average around Hawaii, but they are not be warm enough to sustain a tropical storm, let alone a hurricane at this point of the season.
Even so, Barbara, as a disturbance, is likely to bring showers and thunderstorms to parts of Hawaii from Monday night to Wednesday of next week.
Residents and visitors on the islands should monitor the progress of Barbara.
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"During Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, there can be localized flooding downpours and gusty thunderstorms with rough seas and surf that spread westward over parts of the islands," according to AccuWeather Tropical Meteorologist Adam Douty.
However, the exact track and strength of the feature next week will determine the extent and intensity of the conditions.
Barbara could arrive and bring impacts just days after an unusual rain event in Hawaii. During the last week of June, a non-tropical storm system brought drenching downpours and produced localized flooding over parts of Hawaii.
Honolulu received more than 5.50 inches of rain spanning June 25 and 26. Normal monthly rainfall for Honolulu during June is a mere 0.26 of an inch. The city is typically in the rain shadow of mountains to the north and northeast.
In the Northern Hemisphere, there is a belt of prevailing winds that blow from the northeast in the tropical regions. Hawaii experiences the northeasterly trade winds which cause frequent rain on the northern- and eastern-facing shoreline and very little rain on the southern- and western-facing shores. Tropical and non-tropical storms can disrupt this pattern.
Barbara could potentially spread rainfall into areas that typically do not receive rainfall during this time of the year.
At this time, Barbara's main threat is to ships, including those that approach or depart from the Panama Canal over the Pacific Ocean.
Swells will slowly propagate outward from the hurricane and can create rough surf conditions along the western coast of Mexico later this week and eventually part of Southern California and the west-facing shoreline of the Big Island of Hawaii this weekend.
The most recent Category 5 hurricane in the East Pacific was Willa during late October of 2018, but the storm did not reach Hawaii. Overall, there were 10 major hurricanes in the Eastern Pacific last year. The first Category 4 hurricane to form in the basin was Aletta in early June. Later, Hurricane Lane reached Category 5 status during August and went on to impact Hawaii in a greatly weakened state.
Meanwhile, conditions in the Atlantic basin remain unfavorable for tropical development into this weekend. However, some parameters that have been inhibiting tropical development over the Atlantic may weaken toward the middle of July.
Download the free AccuWeather app to keep track of the latest tropical activity. Keep checking back for updates on AccuWeather.com and stay tuned to the AccuWeather Network on DirecTV, Frontier and Verizon Fios.
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