Meet Hector, the thunderstorm that can tell time

Have you ever had a friend tell you they’ll be 10 minutes, but you end up waiting half an hour for them? Chances are, you probably have. Unlike your friends however, a special thunderstorm known as ‘Hector the Convector’ shows up like clockwork over the Tiwi Islands at 3pm every day during the build-up season, between roughly September-December. Additionally, Hector remains prominent throughout the entire northern Australia wet season, whenever the monsoon is in a ‘break’ period.

Hector erupting over the Tiwi Islands. Photo by Djambalawa on Wikimedia Commons.

So what exactly makes Hector so special, and why is he so reliable?

Though weather phenomena are only typically named if they have the potential to impact the widespread community, Hector’s uncanny predictability make him one of only a few exceptions. Located just north of Darwin, over Melville and Bathurst islands, Hector’s reliability is the result of a unique set of conditions conducive to thunderstorm development.

These are:

  1. The presence of moist tropical air.
  2. Differential heating between the islands and the ocean, creating a Seabreeze (something you’ve probably experienced during the afternoon whilst at the beach).
  3. The pyramid shaped topography of Melville and Bathurst islands, generating a converging Seabreeze that forces moist air to shoot up into the troposphere.

As a result of these factors, Hector can reach up to 20km high in the atmosphere. That’s above the cruising altitude of a commercial aircraft!

 

      Schematic diagram of Hector’s formation

 

Where does the name Hector come from?

The name ‘Hector’ was coined by pilots and naval sailors travelling from Darwin to Papua New Guinea during WWII. This is because they used Hector as a point of navigation given his formation occurs more or less in the same spot, at the same time, every day from September-December. Locals later added their own flavour to the name, referring to him as ‘Hector the Convector’.

Author: The United Kingdom Government. Taken from Wikimedia Commons.

 

Is there more than meets the eye?

Whilst Hector produces some jaw-dropping thunder cloud formations, according to the Bureau of Meteorology, Hector’s reliability make it one of the most studied thunderstorms in the world. This is because thunderstorms vary tremendously in space and time, making them difficult to study. Hence, meteorologists/researchers analysing thunderstorm formation often have their eyes fixed towards the top end during its wet season, to further our knowledge of nature’s gift to humankind.

Hector appearing on the Bureau of Meteorology radar. Image by Fizzbear on Wikimedia Commons.

What are some other named weather systems?

Aside from those given to hurricanes, tropical cyclones and typhoons, there have been some quirky names assigned to weather systems and storm tracks In the United States. They include a ‘Pineapple express’, ‘Chattanoonga Choo-choo’, ‘Texas Panhandler’, ‘Nor’easter’ and an ‘Alberta Clipper’.  These nicknames describe storms or weather events that have distinct characteristics and meet a certain set of conditions. ‘East coast lows’ are a common example of this in Australia.

A ‘Nor’easter’ bears down on the east coast of the United States. Photo by Nasa Goddard Space Flight Centre on Flickr.

In a world filled with uncertainty, Hector dominates as natures very own body clock, showing up every day from September-December and right throughout the wet season. So whilst you mightn’t be able to rely on your friends all of the time, Hector is a thunderstorm you can always trust.


12 Responses to “Meet Hector, the thunderstorm that can tell time”

  1. Jake Herring says:

    Thanks Joshua! Good to hear there’s a fellow meteorologist in the cohort 🙂

  2. Joshua Sibbing says:

    Great article Jake! As an aspiring meteorologist as well I found this a great read. Excited to read more.

  3. Jake Herring says:

    Thanks for your comment Canis, I’m really glad you enjoyed it! No doubt most people wished the sunshine was this reliable in Melbourne, however Hector definitely appeals to the weather nerds out there haha. Also, I’m not 100% sure on an actual date regarding Hector’s discovery. But, I would say natives to the Tiwi Islands would have known about him well before WW2 when he was named by pilots and naval sailors.

  4. Jake Herring says:

    Thanks for your comment Lucy, I’m glad you were able to understand the diagram and enjoyed the content 🙂

  5. Jake Herring says:

    Thanks for your comment, I’m glad you enjoyed it 🙂

  6. Jake Herring says:

    Hi Kate, thanks for your comment. I’m sure most people when they hear the word “Pineapple Express” think of the movie, but its actually a really fascinating weather phenomenon. Interestingly, it’s known as an ‘atmospheric river’, feeding water vapour from the tropical pacific to the U.S and Canadian west coasts. As a result California can receive up to 120mm of rain in one day!

  7. Jake Herring says:

    Thanks William, I’m glad you enjoyed it. I’m not aware of any well known thunderstorms that occur as precisely as Hector, though there definitely would be areas around the world where thunderstorms would be fairly frequent during a specific time period. A similar phenomenon to Hector actually happens in Ontario around the Great Lakes!

  8. William Clayton says:

    really interesting read, are there any other examples of thunderstorms that occur so reliably in the world?

  9. Thanks Jake for a super interesting article! Would love to hear more about other fun-named weather phenomena like the “Pineapple Express”!

  10. cmasaeli says:

    I really like your post! It was amusing and informative at the same time and very enjoyable. I would never have known about this if not for your post.
    Thank you for the read!

  11. Lucy Wang says:

    Very interesting blog post! The title was very attention grabbing and the content delivered! The schematic diagram of Hector’s formation is very clean and easy to understand and the last section was hilarious to read. Great job!

  12. Canis Nugroho says:

    I really enjoyed reading this and I’m truly amazed at how consistent Hector is! Also, the article was very well written and the pictures complimented it really well. It’s just a shame that our most reliable ‘friend’ is not very pleasant – if only sunshine was this reliable…

    I was just wondering, do we know when Hector was first discovered?