‘Major’ hurricanes: Pacific Ocean Hurricanes, Pali became the earliest hurricane on record in the central Pacific Ocean on Jan. 11, 2016, later dissipating as a tropical system on Jan. 14. In addition to being a rare January hurricane, Pali also took a peculiar track close to the equator. close to the equator for a tropical cyclone.
This was on the heels of a historically active 2015 tropical season in the Pacific Ocean, including a Tropical Depression Nine-C, which formed near the end of the year and dissipated on Jan. 1, 2016.
Pali defied odds, strengthening to a Category 2 hurricane for a time, all while moving in an unusual southward direction across the low latitudes. Around the time of Pali’s peak intensity on Jan. 12, the hurricane even displayed a fairly well-defined eye on satellite imagery.
The previous record for the earliest hurricane in the central Pacific was Hurricane Ekeka which reached hurricane status on January 30, 1992.
Dating to 1949, only two tropical storms had formed in the central Pacific in the month of January prior to Pali. Tropical Storm Winona was the first on Jan. 13, 1989, and the second was Ekeka on Jan. 28, 1992. Ekeka reached Category 3 hurricane intensity amidst the moderate El Niño of 1991-92.
According to the Central Pacific Hurricane Center, Pali’s track south of 5 degrees North latitude was “something rarely seen in the central Pacific.”
In general, most tropical cyclones do not form within 5 degrees latitude of the equator, due to the weakness of the Coriolis force needed to help generate the low-level spin needed.
Here are the “closest to equator” tropical cyclones of hurricane strength (74 mph or higher), according to hurricane specialist Michael Lowry.:
1) Typhoon Vamei: 1.5 degrees North latitude in the western North Pacific basin (Dec. 27, 2001)
2) Cyclone Agni: 2.7 degrees North latitude in the north Indian Ocean basin (Nov. 29, 2004)
3) Hurricane Pali: 3.4 degrees North latitude in the central North Pacific basin (Jan. 13, 2016)
Pali traveled even further south, while weakening, finally dissipating as a tropical cyclone around 1.7 degrees North latitude.
El Niño played a role in the formation of this unusual tropical cyclone. According to the discussion issued Thursday Jan. 7 by the Central Pacific Hurricane Center, “This low-latitude out-of-season system has tapped into significant directional shear of the low-level winds, with an El Niño related westerly wind burst south of the system, and prevailing easterly trade winds to the north providing the large scale conditions conducive for development.”