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Is it a Hurricane?

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Spiral storm swirls toward southern Brazil, but scientists disagree on whether it's a hurricane

By Bernd Radowitz, Associated Press, 3/27/2004 20:22

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) A large storm spiraled toward the southern Brazil on Saturday as a debate raged between Brazilian and U.S. meteorologists over whether it was a hurricane.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Florida estimated the storm was a full-fledged, Category I hurricane with winds of between 75 and 80 mph, making it the first hurricane ever spotted in the South Atlantic. AccuWeather, Inc., a private forecasting company, said it also considered the storm a hurricane.

Brazilian scientists disagreed, saying the storm had top winds of 50 to 56 mph, far below the 75 mph threshold of a hurricane. The state of Santa Catarina put its civil defense on alert Saturday night, warning of high waves.

The U.S. forecasters said the worst part of the storm would hit Brazil early Sunday somewhere between the cities of Florianopolis and Porto Allegre, a span of about 130 miles. The Brazilians said the storm could peter out before then.

''Winds and rains will not be significant, so we don't need to alarm the population,'' said meteorologist Dr. Gustavo Escobar of the Brazilian Center for Weather Prediction and Climatic Studies.

U.S. scientists said they were baffled by the Brazilian position.

''We think the Brazilians are, quite frankly, out to lunch on this one,'' said Michael Sager, an AccuWeather meteorologist. ''I think they're trying to play it down and not cause a panic. I don't know what they're doing, but they're obviously wrong.''

All sides said they were basing their estimates on satellite data, since the United States has no hurricane hunter airplanes in the area and Brazil doesn't own any.

Satellite images showed a spiral-shaped mass of clouds with an open area in the center. Escobar called it an ''extra-tropical cyclone.''

Sager said the storm had a clear, well-defined eye and that it had lasted for more than 36 hours. Storms that are not hurricane-strength sometimes form strong eyes, but not for that long, he said.

Kelen Andrade, another meteorologist with the Brazilian center, said the storm was swirling only in a clockwise motion and was not showing motion in the opposite direction at higher altitudes, another mark of a hurricane. Sager disagreed.

''If you know what you're looking at, you can see that counterrotating quite readily,'' he said.

He predicted the storm would make landfall at hurricane strength just before dawn near the town of Torres.

Earlier Saturday, the outer edges of the storm brushed the coast of Brazil's southern Santa Catarina state with winds estimated at about 25-30 mph and moderate rains, Escobar said. The area is about 430 miles south of Rio de Janeiro.

Winds in nearby Florianopolis, a city of 700,000, were only about 12 mph, rainfall was mild, and no damage was reported, said meteorologist Kelen Andrade.

Jack Beven, a hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said the eye of the storm was near 29 degrees south latitude and 48 degrees west longitude by Saturday evening. That would place it about 50 miles east of the city of Laguna.

''To us, it has all the satellite appearance and intensity of a hurricane,'' Beven said. ''I don't know what data (the Brazilians) are looking at. They may have data services locally that don't go out on the national data service.''

He said no agency is sending out regular hurricane advisories on the storm.

''Down there, this is such a rare and unique event. The whole situation is strange,'' Beven said. ''We're trying to help out, but because of the uniqueness of this event, it may be out of their expertise to some degree.''

From Boston.com

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I'm also interested in this story. I guess I hear it was, then it wasn't. It is so confusing. I don't know why they can't label it. I'm no scientist, but it definitely had the perfect formation of a classic hurricane. It was even named "Hurricane Cantarina." I don't think this storm was simply a tropical low-pressure system as those are not such tightly coiled as a hurricane is.

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