It takes a lot of unusual weather to surprise the director of the National Weather Service. But speaking on Sunday from a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration office in College Park, Maryland, Louis Uccellini couldn’t contain his shock.
“I tell people to look at the two forecasts we’ve made over the last two weeks,” he told me.“We forecast 50 inches of rainfall over eastern Texas. That was a forecast that we kept on trying to wrap our heads around as we made it. And then it verified—and we had to wrap our heads around that, too.”
He continued: “And then, for [Irma], we were predicting a significant right turn in the track. This right turn was being advertised days ahead of time. And that verified, too.”
It has been a stirring month for weather in North America. After a decade-long drought, two major hurricanes made landfall in the continental United States. Record-setting fires raged across the Pacific Northwest. The largest earthquake in a century struck southern Mexico.
There was so much unusual weather that The New York Times ran a front-page story lightly chiding people for thinking that “the End Times were getting in a few dress rehearsals.”
One image from last week seems to best encapsulate the historic weather insanity. It was taken by the newest weather satellite in NOAA’s fleet, known as GOES-16, on the afternoon of Friday, September 8.
In this image, you can see three hurricanes spin across the tropical Atlantic. Left to right, they are: Hurricane Katia, which made landfall in Mexico that night; Hurricane Irma, which was passing between Cuba and the Bahamas; and Hurricane José, which still churns in the open ocean.