Hurricane Chris Has Left a Mark in the Atlantic: Cooler Water

Linda Lam
Published: July 11, 2018

Impacts with Hurricane Chris so far have been limited to rip currents and elevated surf along the U.S. East Coast, but Chris has left a mark on the ocean.

(MORE: Hurricane Central)

The hurricane left a short-lived change in sea-surface temperatures off the Southeast Coast. 

Before Chris developed off the East Coast, water temperatures from South Carolina to southern New England were warmer than average.

Chris began its life as a tropical depression July 6 and strengthened into a tropical storm a couple days later. The storm continued to spin off the Carolina coastline before becoming a hurricane July 10, when it began to track northeastward.

Sea surface temperatures decreased after Chris meandered off the Southeast Coast in early July 2018.

Water temperatures in the area where Chris was were near- to-slightly-cooler than average after Chris began to track away from the coast.

Chris remaining over the same area for an extended period of time brought cooler water to the ocean surface. The images above compare water temperatures before the hurricane and after it began to pull away from the area.

The process of cooler ocean water rising to the surface is called upwelling. It's caused by strong winds from tropical systems that churn up waters along their paths.

When a tropical cyclone remains over the same area for several days, the effect is more pronounced. The cooler water can ultimately lead to the system weakening.

Upwelling Has Occurred With Other Recent Storms

Upwelling occurs fairly regularly but is most noticeable with strong and slow-moving or meandering tropical cyclones.

As Chris was churning the waters in the western Atlantic, Super Typhoon Maria was tracking across the western Pacific. Along portions of Maria's path, cooler water temperatures were also brought to the surface.

Hurricane Harvey in 2017 did the same thing. Before the storm, water temperatures in the western Gulf of Mexico were 1.5 to 4 degrees Celsius warmer than average, according to NASA. As Harvey churned in the Gulf and dumped tremendous amounts of rainfall on Texas and Louisiana, waters cooled near the coasts. 

Sea surface temperatures cooled near the Texas coast due to Hurricane Harvey in August 2017.
(NASA)

In 2016, Hurricane Nicole had an unusual track that also led to noticeably cooler water temperatures along portions of its path.

This map shows sea surface temperature anomalies as Hurricane Nicole passed through the Atlantic Ocean in October 2016.
(NASA)

Nicole formed south of Bermuda on Oct. 4, 2016, and then meandered in the generally the same area for several days. In addition, Nicole was a strong hurricane that rapidly intensified to a Category 4 hurricane and remained a major hurricane as it passed close to Bermuda.

Due to the strong winds from the powerful hurricane and its wandering path, Nicole mainly left colder-than-average water temperatures in its wake, as shown on the map above.


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