Dr. Jeff Masters' WunderBlog

Hurricane season draws to a close

By: JeffMasters, 3:23 PM GMT on November 30, 2009

It's November 30, and the inconsequential Atlantic hurricane season of 2009 is in the books. Residents all along the Atlantic coast can give thanks for this year's much-needed respite after the pummeling Mother Nature gave last year. The four direct deaths recorded this year represented the lowest death toll since the El Niño hurricane season of 1997, which also had four deaths. This year's season featured only nine named storms, three hurricanes and two major hurricanes, which was 61%, 38%, and 51% of the 1995 - 2008 average activity for named storms, hurricanes and major hurricanes, respectively, according to the end-of-season summary posted by the Colorado State University hurricane forecast team of Phil Klotzbach/Bill Gray. Higher than average wind shear, and lower than average relative humidity at middle levels of the atmosphere were primarily responsible for this year's reduced activity (Figures 1 and 2). These conditions are common during El Niño years, and this year's moderate El Niño undoubtedly contributed to the low levels of Atlantic hurricane activity observed. In addition, a stronger and more southerly than usual mid-Atlantic trough was active during much of hurricane season, contributing to high wind shear over the Atlantic.


Figure 1. Departure of relative humidity at mid-levels of the atmosphere (500 mb, about 18,000 feet) for the August - October peak portion of the 2009 hurricane season. Subsiding air due to El Niño conditions depressed the relative humidity up to 15% below average (red colors) over the tropical Atlantic. Image credit: end-of-season summary posted by the Colorado State University hurricane forecast team of Phil Klotzbach/Bill Gray, with data from NOAA/ESRL.


Figure 2. Departure of wind shear from average for the peak 60-day period of the Atlantic hurricane season. The August-October averaged 200-850 mb vertical wind shear across the Main Development Region (MDR, 10-20°N, 20-70°W) was 9.3 m/s, which was the highest vertical shear magnitude over this three-month period since the El Niño year of 2002. The 2009 August-October MDR value was also approximately 2 m/s greater than the 1995-2008 average vertical shear. Image credit: NOAA/CPC.


Some other notable feature taken from the Klotzbach/Gray report:

A late-starting season. Ana did not form until August 15. This was the latest "A" storm of the season since Andrew formed in 1992 on August 17. However, the 2009 season exploded into a flurry of action August 15 - 16, when the Atlantic featured a rare triple threat of simultaneous named storms beginning with the letters A, B, and C--Ana, Bill, and Claudette. The last time this occurred was in the slow-starting 1984 hurricane season, when Tropical Storms Arthur, Bertha, and Cesar were all active on September 1.

Nine named storms occurred during 2009. This is the fewest since 1997, when eight named storms formed.

27.25 named storm days occurred in 2009. This is the fewest named storm days since 1991, when only 24.25 named storm days were recorded.

Three hurricanes occurred in 2009. This is the fewest since 1997 when there were also three hurricanes.

Five named storms (Ana, Danny, Erika, Fred, and Henri) dissipated over the open ocean in the tropical and sub-tropical Atlantic this year. This is a fairly rare occurrence that typically only occurs in years such as this year that are characterized by high levels of tropospheric vertical wind shear.

11.25 hurricane days occurred in 2009. This is the fewest hurricane days since 2002 when 10.75 hurricane days were reported.

2 major hurricanes formed during the 2009 hurricane season. The last time that fewer than two major hurricanes occurred in a season was in 1997 when only one major hurricane (Erika) formed.

3.25 major hurricane days occurred in 2009. This is the fewest major hurricane days in a season since 2006 when only two major hurricane days were recorded.

The season accrued an Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) of 50. The 1951 - 2005 average is 102.3, and the 2009 ACE was the lowest since 1997 (41) and the 16th lowest of the last 66 years since the aircraft reconnaissance era began in 1944.

No Category 5 hurricanes developed in 2009. This is the second consecutive year with no Category 5 hurricanes. The last time that two or more years occurred in a row with no Category 5 hurricanes was 1999-2002.

No named storms formed in June or July. The last time that no storm activity occurred in June or July was 2004 (Alex formed that year on August 1). This is the 18th year of the past 66 years with no storm formations in June or July.

August had above-average ACE activity. 29 ACE units were recorded during the month, which is approximately 125% of the 1950-2000 average.

58% of seasonal ACE was generated during the month of August. The last time that more than 58% of seasonal ACE was generated during the month of August was in 1942.

September was very quiet with only 11 ACE units generated during the month. This is the quietest September since 1994 when only 3 ACE units were recorded.

No ACE was generated between September 13 and October 4. The last time that this occurred was 1991. Prior to that, one has to go all the way back to 1925 to see no ACE generated during three of the most active weeks of the Atlantic hurricane season.

October was also very quiet with only 2 ACE units occurring. This is the quietest October since 1994 when no tropical cyclone activity occurred.

Only 13 ACE units occurred during the combined September-October period. This is the fewest ACE units during this two-month period since 1994 (3), and the fifth fewest since the aircraft reconnaissance era began in 1944.

Hurricane Bill generated 26 ACE units, or 52% of the seasonal total. The last time that one storm generated that much of the seasonal total was Erika in 1997 which generated 63% of the total ACE observed that year.

Hurricane Fred became the third storm on record to reach major hurricane status east of 35°W, although prior to 1972 when Dvorak satellite estimates from polar-orbiting satellite reconnaissance became routinely available, some storms may have been missed in the eastern part of the Atlantic basin.

Hurricane Ida became only the second hurricane to reach hurricane status in the Caribbean in November during an El Niño year (where El Niño is defined to be all years since 1950 where the October Niño 3.4 SST anomaly is 0.5ñC or greater). The only other storm to reach hurricane status in the Caribbean in November in an El Niño year was Martha in 1969.

Ida became the second latest tropical cyclone to make landfall along the Gulf Coast, trailing only Hurricane Kate in 1985 (which made landfall on November 21).

Only two tropical storms (Claudette and Ida) made U.S. landfall this year while no hurricanes made U.S. landfall. This is the first time since 2006 and the 13th time in the last 66 years where no hurricanes made U.S. landfall.

No hurricanes made landfall along the Florida Peninsula and East Coast. This marks the fourth year in a row with no hurricane landfalls along this portion of the U.S. coastline. The last time that we went four years between hurricane landfalls along the Florida Peninsula and East Coast was 1980-1983.

No major hurricanes made U.S. landfall this year. Following seven major hurricane landfalls in 2004-2005, the U.S. has not witnessed a major hurricane landfall in the past four years. The four consecutive years between 2000-2003 also experienced no major U.S. hurricane landfalls. Since 1995, the Atlantic basin has had 56 major hurricanes but only 10 (18%) have made U.S. landfall. The long-period average is that approximately 30% of major hurricanes that form in the Atlantic basin make U.S. landfall.


Figure 3. The eye of Hurricane Bill on August 19 at 2157 UTC, from a NOAA P-3 Hurricane Hunter aircraft flying at 10,000 feet. Photo credit: Jack Parrish of NOAA's Aircraft Operations Center.

Hurricane Bill
Hurricane Bill was the strongest hurricane of the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season. Bill peaked in intensity as a lower-end Category 4 storm with 135 mph winds. Bill was a very large storm, and had the fifth largest diameter of tropical storm force winds on record (460 miles). Bill brought tropical storm force winds of 46 mph to the Bermuda airport as the storm passed about 175 mi west of the island at Category 2 strength, during the morning of 22 August. The hurricane then recurved and turned to the northeast with increasing forward speed, brushed the south coast of Nova Scotia early on 23 August, and made landfall as a tropical storm near the Burin Peninsula of Newfoundland.

Top winds on Newfoundland were measured at Cape Race, which recorded sustained winds of 58 mph, gusting to 76 mph, between 1:30 and 2:30 am NDT on 24 August. A storm surge of 1.2 meters (4 feet) was estimated by Environment Canada for Placentia Bay where Bill made landfall. Damage was minor on Newfoundland, with no major flooding reported. Bill dumped up to three inches of rain on Newfoundland.

There were two deaths associated with Bill. A 7-year-old girl died in Acadia National Park, Maine when she was swept into the water by large waves, and a 54-year-old swimmer drowned in New Smyrna Beach, Florida in rough seas caused by Bill. The large hurricane fueled high waves over a large portion of the Atlantic basin for several days. The Meteorological Service of the Dominican Republic reported that these waves produced coastal flooding and damage along the north coast of the Dominican Republic. Reports from Environment Canada indicate that in Nova Scotia power outages were common (tens of thousands of residences lost power) and there were road wash-outs and localized fresh water flooding. Coastal flooding from surge and waves was widespread along much of the Atlantic coast. On Long Island, NY, beach damage was severe; in some areas the damage was the worst since Hurricane Gloria in 1985. Along the coasts of North Carolina, waves averaging 10 ft (3.0 m) in height impacted beaches. In Wrightsville Beach, up to 30 rescues were made due to strong rip currents and large swells; however, only one incident resulted in hospitalization. Severe beach erosion took place at Bald Head Island, where 150 ft (46 m) of beach was washed away, resulting in the loss of the remaining sea turtle nests.


Figure 4. Radar reflectivity image of Tropical Storm Claudette as it approached landfall just southeast of Fort Walton Beach shortly after midnight on 8/17/09.

Tropical Storm Claudette
Tropical Storm Claudette made landfall at about 1:15 am EDT August 17, 2009, near the eastern end of Santa Rosa Island, just southeast of Fort Walton Beach in Florida. Claudette's top winds were around 50 mph. A Personal Weather Station in Eastpoint, FL recorded sustained winds of 49 mph, gusting to 66 mph as Claudette approached the coast. Heavy rains of 3 - 4 inches were confined to a narrow strip of coast, and Claudette did not cause any major flooding. Apalachicola received just over 4 inches of rain so far from Claudette. One death is being blamed on Claudette, a drowning off the Florida Panhandle coast.


Figure 5.. Hurricane Fred at peak strength, 8:55am EDT UTC 9/9/09. At the time, Fred was a Category 3 hurricane with 120 mph winds. Image credit: NASA.

Hurricane Fred
Fred became only the fourth major hurricane on record in the far southeastern portion of the Atlantic basin (south of 30°N and east of 40°W) and is the only hurricane on record in the basin with an intensity greater than 100 kt when located south of 30°N and east of 35°W. However, it is important to note that prior to 1972 (when routine Dvorak classifications from polar-orbiting satellites began), it would have been difficult to assess the intensity of most tropical cyclones in this part of the Atlantic basin.


Figure 6. Tropical Storm Ida at 1 pm EST November 5, 2009. In this MODIS image captured seven hours after landfall, Ida was a tropical storm with 65 mph winds. Image credit: NASA.

Hurricane Ida
Hurricane Ida made landfall over eastern Nicaragua on November 4 as a Category 1 hurricane with 75 mph winds--the first November Atlantic hurricane to make landfall in an El Niño year since 1925. Ida intensified at one of the fastest rates on record as it approached Nicaragua. It took just 24 hours from when the first advisory was issued for Tropical Depression Eleven until Ida reached hurricane strength. Since reliable satellite measurements began in 1970, Hurricane Humberto holds the record for fastest intensification from first advisory issued to hurricane strength--18 hours. (Actually, Humberto did the feat in 14 1/4 hours, but this was rounded off to 18 hours in the final data base, which stores points every six hours). Ida is now tied for second place for fastest intensification from first advisory to hurricane strength. There have been six other storms that accomplished the feat in 24 hours.

Ida survived its crossing of Nicaragua, and intensified once it emerged over the Caribbean, eventually reaching Category 2 strength over the Gulf of Mexico as it headed northwards towards the U.S. Gulf Coast. High wind shear and cool water temperatures caused Ida to weaken dramatically before landfall in Alabama, and Ida made landfall near Dauphin Island, Alabama at 5:40 am CST November 10, as a tropical storm with 45 mph winds. Winds at coastal locations during Ida's landfall were mostly below tropical storm force. One exception was Dauphin Island, where winds peaked at 40 mph, gusting to 50 mph, near midnight. Radar-estimated rainfall from Ida showed many regions received 3 - 5 inches of rain, which caused some minor river and street flooding. The main damage from Ida seems to have been beach erosion, as a 3 - 6 foot storm surge topped by battering waves affected a long stretch of coast, from Southeast Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle. Ida drove a 5.5 foot storm surge to Shell Beach, LA (on the east side of New Orleans). Ida was responsible for one death, a 70-year-old fisherman who knocked off of his boat in the Mississippi River by a wave as Ida approached.

The remnants of Ida merged with a Nor'easter that developed off the coast of North Carolina, and the Ida-energized Nor'easter brought the highest storm surges on record to the Atlantic coast between Norfolk, Virginia, and Lewes, Delaware.

Next year's hurricane season?
The Colorado State hurricane forecast team will be issuing their forecast for the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season on Wednesday, December 9. Expect them to forecast a more active season. Since 1950, there have been 17 El Niño events, and only one of them lasted through two full hurricane seasons. Thus, we can expect neutral or La Niña conditions for next year's hurricane season, which should lead to much higher levels of activity than in 2009.

Correction
In my previous post, on the Manufactured Doubt industry and the hacked CRU emails, I mistakenly referred to the George C. Marshall Institute as the George C. Marshall Foundation. I have corrected the error, and apologize for the confusion. The George C. Marshall Institute is an organization active in the Manufactured Doubt campaign against human-caused global warming, while the George C. Marshall Foundation is a charitable organization celebrating the legacy of the great American general and Secretary of State, George C. Marshall.

Major storm brewing for the Gulf Coast
There's a major extratropical storm brewing over the northern Gulf of Mexico that could be as damaging as Tropical Storm Ida was, for the Gulf Coast from New Orleans to the Florida Panhandle. The storm is expected to hit Tuesday through Wednesday. A storm tide of 4 - 6 feet is forecast for the Florida Panhandle, 3 - 5 feet for the Alabama coast, and 3 - 4 feet for the New Orleans area. Consult the NOAA extratropical storm surge forecast page for forecasts of the storm surge from this event. I'll have a new post Tuesday and/or Wednesday to discuss this storm.

Jeff Masters

Hurricane

Updated: 6:24 PM GMT on August 18, 2011

Permalink

The Manufactured Doubt industry and the hacked email controversy

By: JeffMasters, 3:07 PM GMT on November 25, 2009

In 1954, the tobacco industry realized it had a serious problem. Thirteen scientific studies had been published over the preceding five years linking smoking to lung cancer. With the public growing increasingly alarmed about the health effects of smoking, the tobacco industry had to move quickly to protect profits and stem the tide of increasingly worrisome scientific news. Big Tobacco turned to one the world's five largest public relations firms, Hill and Knowlton, to help out. Hill and Knowlton designed a brilliant Public Relations (PR) campaign to convince the public that smoking is not dangerous. They encouraged the tobacco industry to set up their own research organization, the Council for Tobacco Research (CTR), which would produce science favorable to the industry, emphasize doubt in all the science linking smoking to lung cancer, and question all independent research unfavorable to the tobacco industry. The CTR did a masterful job at this for decades, significantly delaying and reducing regulation of tobacco products. George Washington University epidemiologist David Michaels, who is President Obama's nominee to head the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), wrote a meticulously researched 2008 book called, Doubt is Their Product: How Industry's Assault on Science Threatens Your Health. In the book, he wrote: "the industry understood that the public is in no position to distinguish good science from bad. Create doubt, uncertainty, and confusion. Throw mud at the anti-smoking research under the assumption that some of it is bound to stick. And buy time, lots of it, in the bargain". The title of Michaels' book comes from a 1969 memo from a tobacco company executive: "Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the 'body of fact' that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy". Hill and Knowlton, on behalf of the tobacco industry, had founded the "Manufactured Doubt" industry.

The Manufactured Doubt industry grows up
As the success of Hill and Knowlton's brilliant Manufactured Doubt campaign became apparent, other industries manufacturing dangerous products hired the firm to design similar PR campaigns. In 1967, Hill and Knowlton helped asbestos industry giant Johns-Manville set up the Asbestos Information Association (AIA). The official-sounding AIA produced "sound science" that questioned the link between asbestos and lung diseases (asbestos currently kills 90,000 people per year, according to the World Health Organization). Manufacturers of lead, vinyl chloride, beryllium, and dioxin products also hired Hill and Knowlton to devise product defense strategies to combat the numerous scientific studies showing that their products were harmful to human health.

By the 1980s, the Manufactured Doubt industry gradually began to be dominated by more specialized "product defense" firms and free enterprise "think tanks". Michaels wrote in Doubt is Their Product about the specialized "product defense" firms: "Having cut their teeth manufacturing uncertainty for Big Tobacco, scientists at ChemRisk, the Weinberg Group, Exponent, Inc., and other consulting firms now battle the regulatory agencies on behalf of the manufacturers of benzene, beryllium, chromium, MTBE, perchlorates, phthalates, and virtually every other toxic chemical in the news today....Public health interests are beside the point. This is science for hire, period, and it is extremely lucrative".

Joining the specialized "product defense" firms were the so-called "think tanks". These front groups received funding from manufacturers of dangerous products and produced "sound science" in support of their funders' products, in the name of free enterprise and free markets. Think tanks such as the George C. Marshall Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Heartland Institute, and Dr. Fred Singer's SEPP (Science and Environmental Policy Project) have all been active for decades in the Manufactured Doubt business, generating misleading science and false controversy to protect the profits of their clients who manufacture dangerous products.

The ozone hole battle
In 1975, the chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) industry realized it had a serious problem. The previous year, Sherry Rowland and Mario Molina, chemists at the University of California, Irvine, had published a scientific paper warning that human-generated CFCs could cause serious harm to Earth's protective ozone layer. They warned that the loss of ozone would significantly increase the amount of skin-damaging ultraviolet UV-B light reaching the surface, greatly increasing skin cancer and cataracts. The loss of stratospheric ozone could also significantly cool the stratosphere, potentially causing destructive climate change. Although no stratospheric ozone loss had been observed yet, CFCs should be banned, they said. The CFC industry hired Hill and Knowlton to fight back. As is essential in any Manufactured Doubt campaign, Hill and Knowlton found a respected scientist to lead the effort--noted British scientist Richard Scorer, a former editor of the International Journal of Air Pollution and author of several books on pollution. In 1975, Scorer went on a month-long PR tour, blasting Molina and Rowland, calling them "doomsayers", and remarking, "The only thing that has been accumulated so far is a number of theories." To complement Scorer's efforts, Hill and Knowlton unleashed their standard package of tricks learned from decades of serving the tobacco industry:

- Launch a public relations campaign disputing the evidence.

- Predict dire economic consequences, and ignore the cost benefits.

- Use non-peer reviewed scientific publications or industry-funded scientists who don't publish original peer-reviewed scientific work to support your point of view.

- Trumpet discredited scientific studies and myths supporting your point of view as scientific fact.

- Point to the substantial scientific uncertainty, and the certainty of economic loss if immediate action is taken.

- Use data from a local area to support your views, and ignore the global evidence.

- Disparage scientists, saying they are playing up uncertain predictions of doom in order to get research funding.

- Disparage environmentalists, claiming they are hyping environmental problems in order to further their ideological goals.

- Complain that it is unfair to require regulatory action in the U.S., as it would put the nation at an economic disadvantage compared to the rest of the world.

- Claim that more research is needed before action should be taken.

- Argue that it is less expensive to live with the effects.

The campaign worked, and CFC regulations were delayed many years, as Hill and Knowlton boasted in internal documents. The PR firm also took credit for keeping public opinion against buying CFC aerosols to a minimum, and helping change the editorial positions of many newspapers.

In the end, Hill and Knowlton's PR campaign casting doubt on the science of ozone depletion by CFCs turned out to have no merit. Molina and Rowland were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1995. The citation from the Nobel committee credited them with helping to deliver the Earth from a potential environmental disaster.

The battle over global warming
In 1988, the fossil fuel industry realized it had a serious problem. The summer of 1988 had shattered century-old records for heat and drought in the U.S., and NASA's Dr. James Hansen, one of the foremost climate scientists in the world, testified before Congress that human-caused global warming was partially to blame. A swelling number of scientific studies were warning of the threat posed by human-cause climate change, and that consumption of fossil fuels needed to slow down. Naturally, the fossil fuel industry fought back. They launched a massive PR campaign that continues to this day, led by the same think tanks that worked to discredit the ozone depletion theory. The George C. Marshall Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Heartland Institute, and Dr. Fred Singer's SEPP (Science and Environmental Policy Project) have all been key players in both fights, and there are numerous other think tanks involved. Many of the same experts who had worked hard to discredit the science of the well-established link between cigarette smoke and cancer, the danger the CFCs posed to the ozone layer, and the dangers to health posed by a whole host of toxic chemicals, were now hard at work to discredit the peer-reviewed science supporting human-caused climate change.

As is the case with any Manufactured Doubt campaign, a respected scientist was needed to lead the battle. One such scientist was Dr. Frederick Seitz, a physicist who in the 1960s chaired the organization many feel to be the most prestigious science organization in the world--the National Academy of Sciences. Seitz took a position as a paid consultant for R.J. Reynolds tobacco company beginning in 1978, so was well-versed in the art of Manufactured Doubt. According to the excellent new book, Climate Cover-up, written by desmogblog.com co-founder James Hoggan and Richard Littlemore, over a 10-year period Seitz was responsible for handing out $45 million in tobacco company money to researchers who overwhelmingly failed to link tobacco to anything the least bit negative. Seitz received over $900,000 in compensation for his efforts. He later became a founder of the George C. Marshall Institute, and used his old National Academy of Sciences affiliation to lend credibility to his attacks on global warming science until his death in 2008 at the age of ninety-six. It was Seitz who launched the "Oregon Petition", which contains the signatures of more than 34,000 scientists saying global warming is probably natural and not a crisis. The petition is a regular feature of the Manufactured Doubt campaign against human-caused global warming. The petition lists the "Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine" as its parent organization. According to Climate Cover-up, the Institute is a farm shed situated a couple of miles outside of Cave Junction, OR (population 17,000). The Institute lists seven faculty members, two of whom are dead, and has no ongoing research and no students. It publishes creationist-friendly homeschooler curriculums books on surviving nuclear war. The petition was sent to scientists and was accompanied by a 12-page review printed in exactly the same style used for the prestigious journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A letter from Seitz, who is prominently identified as a former National Academy of Sciences president, accompanied the petition and review. Naturally, many recipients took this to be an official National Academy of Sciences communication, and signed the petition as a result. The National Academy issued a statement in April 2008, clarifying that it had not issued the petition, and that its position on global warming was the opposite. The petition contains no contact information for the signers, making it impossible to verify. In its August 2006 issue, Scientific American presented its attempt to verify the petition. They found that the scientists were almost all people with undergraduate degrees, with no record of research and no expertise in climatology. Scientific American contacted a random sample of 26 of the 1,400 signatories claiming to have a Ph.D. in a climate related science. Eleven said they agreed with the petition, six said they would not sign the petition today, three did not remember the petition, one had died, and five did not respond.

I could say much more about the Manufactured Doubt campaign being waged against the science of climate change and global warming, but it would fill an entire book. In fact, it has, and I recommend reading Climate Cover-up to learn more. The main author, James Hoggan, owns a Canadian public relations firm, and is intimately familiar with how public relations campaigns work. Suffice to say, the Manufactured Doubt campaign against global warming--funded by the richest corporations in world history--is probably the most extensive and expensive such effort ever. We don't really know how much money the fossil fuel industry has pumped into its Manufactured Doubt campaign, since they don't have to tell us. The website exxonsecrets.org estimates that ExxonMobil alone spent $20 million between 1998 - 2007 on the effort. An analysis done by Desmogblog's Kevin Grandia done in January 2009 found that skeptical global warming content on the web had doubled over the past year. Someone is paying for all that content.

Lobbyists, not skeptical scientists
The history of the Manufactured Doubt industry provides clear lessons in evaluating the validity of their attacks on the published peer-reviewed climate change science. One should trust that the think tanks and allied "skeptic" bloggers such as Steve McIntyre of Climate Audit and Anthony Watts of Watts Up With That will give information designed to protect the profits of the fossil fuel industry. Yes, there are respected scientists with impressive credentials that these think tanks use to voice their views, but these scientists have given up their objectivity and are now working as lobbyists. I don't like to call them skeptics, because all good scientists should be skeptics. Rather, the think tanks scientists are contrarians, bent on discrediting an accepted body of published scientific research for the benefit of the richest and most powerful corporations in history. Virtually none of the "sound science" they are pushing would ever get published in a serious peer-reviewed scientific journal, and indeed the contrarians are not scientific researchers. They are lobbyists. Many of them seem to believe their tactics are justified, since they are fighting a righteous war against eco-freaks determined to trash the economy.

I will give a small amount of credit to some of their work, however. I have at times picked up some useful information from the contrarians, and have used it to temper my blogs to make them more balanced. For example, I no longer rely just on the National Climatic Data Center for my monthly climate summaries, but instead look at data from NASA and the UK HADCRU source as well. When the Hurricane Season of 2005 brought unfounded claims that global warming was to blame for Hurricane Katrina, and a rather flawed paper by researchers at Georgia Tech showing a large increase in global Category 4 and 5 hurricanes, I found myself agreeing with the contrarians' analysis of the matter, and my blogs at the time reflected this.

The contrarians and the hacked CRU emails
A hacker broke into an email server at the Climate Research Unit of the UK's University of East Anglia last week and posted ten years worth of private email exchanges between leading scientists who've published research linking humans to climate change. Naturally, the contrarians have seized upon this golden opportunity, and are working hard to discredit several of these scientists. You'll hear claims by some contrarians that the emails discovered invalidate the whole theory of human-caused global warming. Well, all I can say is, consider the source. We can trust the contrarians to say whatever is in the best interests of the fossil fuel industry. What I see when I read the various stolen emails and explanations posted at Realclimate.org is scientists acting as scientists--pursuing the truth. I can see no clear evidence that calls into question the scientific validity of the research done by the scientists victimized by the stolen emails. There is no sign of a conspiracy to alter data to fit a pre-conceived ideological view. Rather, I see dedicated scientists attempting to make the truth known in face of what is probably the world's most pervasive and best-funded disinformation campaign against science in history. Even if every bit of mud slung at these scientists were true, the body of scientific work supporting the theory of human-caused climate change--which spans hundreds of thousands of scientific papers written by tens of thousands of scientists in dozens of different scientific disciplines--is too vast to be budged by the flaws in the works of the three or four scientists being subject to the fiercest attacks.

Exaggerated claims by environmentalists
Climate change contrarians regularly complain about false and misleading claims made by ideologically-driven environmental groups regarding climate change, and the heavy lobbying these groups do to influence public opinion. Such efforts confuse the real science and make climate change seem more dangerous than it really is, the contrarians argue. To some extent, these concerns are valid. In particular, environmentalists are too quick to blame any perceived increase in hurricane activity on climate change, when such a link has yet to be proven. While Al Gore's movie mostly had good science, I thought he botched the treatment of hurricanes as well, and the movie looked too much like a campaign ad. In general, environmental groups present better science than the think tanks do, but you're still better off getting your climate information directly from the scientists doing the research, via the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. Another good source is Bob Henson's Rough Guide to Climate Change, aimed at people with high-school level science backgrounds.

Let's look at the amount of money being spent on lobbying efforts by the fossil fuel industry compared to environmental groups to see their relative influence. According to Center for Public Integrity, there are currently 2,663 climate change lobbyists working on Capitol Hill. That's five lobbyists for every member of Congress. Climate lobbyists working for major industries outnumber those working for environmental, health, and alternative energy groups by more than seven to one. For the second quarter of 2009, here is a list compiled by the Center for Public Integrity of all the oil, gas, and coal mining groups that spent more than $100,000 on lobbying (this includes all lobbying, not just climate change lobbying):

Chevron $6,485,000
Exxon Mobil $4,657,000
BP America $4,270,000
ConocoPhillips $3,300,000
American Petroleum Institute $2,120,000
Marathon Oil Corporation $2,110,000
Peabody Investments Corp $1,110,000
Bituminous Coal Operators Association $980,000
Shell Oil Company $950,000
Arch Coal, Inc $940,000
Williams Companies $920,000
Flint Hills Resources $820,000
Occidental Petroleum Corporation $794,000
National Mining Association $770,000
American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity $714,000
Devon Energy $695,000
Sunoco $585,000
Independent Petroleum Association of America $434,000
Murphy Oil USA, Inc $430,000
Peabody Energy $420,000
Rio Tinto Services, Inc $394,000
America's Natural Gas Alliance $300,000
Interstate Natural Gas Association of America $290,000
El Paso Corporation $261,000
Spectra Energy $279,000
National Propane Gas Association $242,000
National Petrochemical & Refiners Association $240,000
Nexen, Inc $230,000
Denbury Resources $200,000
Nisource, Inc $180,000
Petroleum Marketers Association of America $170,000
Valero Energy Corporation $160,000
Bituminous Coal Operators Association $131,000
Natural Gas Supply Association $114,000
Tesoro Companies $119,000

Here are the environmental groups that spent more than $100,000:

Environmental Defense Action Fund $937,500
Nature Conservancy $650,000
Natural Resources Defense Council $277,000
Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund $243,000
National Parks and Conservation Association $175,000
Sierra Club $120,000
Defenders of Wildlife $120,000
Environmental Defense Fund $100,000

If you add it all up, the fossil fuel industry outspent the environmental groups by $36.8 million to $2.6 million in the second quarter, a factor of 14 to 1. To be fair, not all of that lobbying is climate change lobbying, but that affects both sets of numbers. The numbers don't even include lobbying money from other industries lobbying against climate change, such as the auto industry, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, etc.

Corporate profits vs. corporate social responsibility
I'm sure I've left the impression that I disapprove of what the Manufactured Doubt industry is doing. On the contrary, I believe that for the most part, the corporations involved have little choice under the law but to protect their profits by pursuing Manufactured Doubt campaigns, as long as they are legal. The law in all 50 U.S. states has a provision similar to Maine's section 716, "The directors and officers of a corporation shall exercise their powers and discharge their duties with a view to the interest of the corporation and of the shareholders". There is no clause at the end that adds, "...but not at the expense of the environment, human rights, the public safety, the communities in which the corporation operates, or the dignity of employees". The law makes a company's board of directors legally liable for "breach of fiduciary responsibility" if they knowingly manage a company in a way that reduces profits. Shareholders can and have sued companies for being overly socially responsible, and not paying enough attention to the bottom line. We can reward corporations that are managed in a socially responsible way with our business and give them incentives to act thusly, but there are limits to how far Corporate Socially Responsibility (CSR) can go. For example, car manufacturer Henry Ford was successfully sued by stockholders in 1919 for raising the minimum wage of his workers to $5 per day. The courts declared that, while Ford's humanitarian sentiments about his employees were nice, his business existed to make profits for its stockholders.

So, what is needed is a fundamental change to the laws regarding the purpose of a corporation, or new regulations forcing corporations to limit Manufactured Doubt campaigns. Legislation has been introduced in Minnesota to create a new section of law for an alternative kind of corporation, the SR (Socially Responsible) corporation, but it would be a long uphill battle to get such legislation passed in all 50 states. Increased regulation limiting Manufactured Doubt campaigns is possible to do for drugs and hazardous chemicals--Doubt is Their Product has some excellent suggestions on that, with the first principle being, "use the best science available; do not demand certainty where it does not and cannot exist". However, I think such legislation would be difficult to implement for environmental crises such as global warming. In the end, we're stuck with the current system, forced to make critical decisions affecting all of humanity in the face of the Frankenstein monster our corporate system of law has created--the most vigorous and well-funded disinformation campaign against science ever conducted.

Have a great Thanksgiving, everyone, and I'll be back Monday--the last day of hurricane season--with a review of the hurricane season of 2009.

Jeff Masters

Climate Change

Updated: 7:42 PM GMT on August 16, 2011

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QuikSCAT, 1999 - 2009: R.I.P.

By: JeffMasters, 2:34 PM GMT on November 24, 2009

The QuikSCAT satellite is no more. The sad new of QuikSCAT's demise came yesterday in a terse message from NASA:

Several hours ago, shortly past 7:00Z today (23Nov), telemetry received from QuikSCAT indicates that the antenna rotation rate has dropped to zero and remains at zero. The motor remains powered. The system can be operated safely in this state for an indefinite period. The QuikSCAT operations team will be meeting later this morning, but in all likelihood this is the end of the nominal mission".

Launched in 1999, the QuikSCAT satellite became one of the most useful and controversial meteorological satellites ever to orbit the Earth. Forecasters world-wide came to rely on QuikSCAT wind data to issue timely warnings and make accurate forecasts of tropical and extratropical storms, wave heights, sea ice, aviation weather, iceberg movement, coral bleaching events, and El Niño. Originally expected to last just 2-3 years, QuikSCAT made it past ten, a testament to the skill of the engineers that designed the satellite. To show you what a dweeb I am, I'll admit to tearing up a bit when heard yesterday that the venerable old bird had finally bitten the dust. It was like losing a valued friend.


Figure 1. NASA's QuikSCAT satellite, launched in 1999. Image credit: NASA.

Alternatives to QuikSCAT
Two valuable alternatives to QuikSCAT are available, but neither can come close to making up for the loss of QuikSCAT. The Windsat instrument aboard the Coriolis satellite (launched in 2003) measures wind speed and wind direction using a different technique. Evaluation of these data at NHC and NOAA's Ocean Prediction Center (OPC) shown the winds to be unreliable in and around the storm environment. There's also the European ASCAT satellite, launched in 2007. Like QuikSCAT, ASCAT can measure global wind speed and direction twice per day. However, the data is available at 25 km resolution (two times coarser than the 12.5 km QuikSCAT), and ASCAT covers only 60% of the area covered by QuikSCAT in the same time period. QuikSCAT sees a swath of ocean 1800 km wide, while ASCAT sees two parallel swaths 550 km wide, separated by a 720 km gap. I find it frustrating to use ASCAT to monitor tropical storms, since the passes miss the center of circulation of a storm of interest more than half the time. On the plus side, ASCAT has the advantage that the data is not adversely affected by rain, unlike QuikSCAT.

The need for a new QuikSCAT
NOAA has been pushing for a QuikSCAT replacement for years. Former National Hurricane Center director Bill Proenza laudably made a big push in 2007 for a new QuikSCAT satellite. Unfortunately, he made claims about the usefulness of QuikSCAT for improving hurricane track forecasts that were not supported by scientific research, an error that may have ultimately led to his downfall. While there is evidence that QuikSCAT data may improve hurricane track forecasts of some computer models, NHC uses many models to make hurricane track forecasts, and some of these models are not helped by QuikSCAT data. For example, a 2009 model study by Dr. Jim Goerss of the Naval Research Lab found that QuikSCAT winds made no improvement to hurricane track forecasts of the NOGAPS model, one of the key models used by NHC to predict hurricane tracks. QuikSCAT is extremely valuable for many other aspects of hurricane forecasting, though. It provides early detection of surface circulations in developing tropical depressions, and for defining gale (34 kts) and storm-force (50 kts) wind radii. The information on wind radii from QuikSCAT is especially important for tropical storms and hurricanes outside the range of aircraft reconnaissance flights conducted in the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific basins, and for the regions where there are no reconnaissance flights (Central Pacific, Western Pacific, and Indian Ocean). Accurate wind radii are critical to the National Hurricane Center (NHC), Central Pacific Hurricane Center (CPHC), and Guam Weather Forecast Office (WFO) watch and warning process, since they affect the size of tropical storm and hurricane watch and warning areas. Between 2003 and 2006, QuikSCAT data were used at NHC 17% of the time to determine the wind radii, 21% of the time for center fixing, and 62% of the time for storm intensity estimates.

A QuikSCAT replacement
A replacement dual-frequency QuikSCAT satellite that has superior capabilities to old one is being explored by NOAA and NASA, in partnership with the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA). The new QuikSCAT instrument would fly on the Japanese GCOM-Water Cycle satellite, scheduled to launch in January 2016. However, funding must begin in 2010 in order to meet this launch deadline, and no funding for a new QuikSCAT has been put into the Administration's FY 2011 budget. The proposed QuikSCAT replacement would be able to measure winds as high as 100 mph (Category 2 hurricane strength), and have improved ability to measure winds in heavy rain. The new satellite would have a 20% improvement in spatial resolution. The cost would be less than usual, since the rocket and and satellite are already paid for. However, there are additional costs involved in adapting QuikSCAT to the Japanese engineering requirements. The final costs of such a replacement QuikSCAT have not been determined yet, but would probably be several hundred million dollars. According to the Palm Beach Post, in September, U.S. Representative Ron Kline, D-FL, introduced a bill in Congress to fund a new QuikSCAT satellite. Klein introduced a similar bill in 2007, which failed. "Today's news of its failure simply strengthens our commitment to ensure that a next-generation satellite is constructed and launched as quickly as possible", Klein said in a statement made yesterday.

Thanks to all of you who've written your Senators and Representatives. Let's hope that the final failure of QuikSCAT yesterday will finally motivate Congress to fund a replacement satellite.

Rest in Peace, QuikSCAT.

References
2007 NOAA QuikSCAT user impact study:


Figure 2. Surface weather map for the time when the UK's record 24-hour rainfall event occurred, Nov. 19, 2009. A cold front trailing from a powerful low pressure system with a central pressure of 955 mb stalled over the western UK and dumped prodigious amounts of rain. Image credit: National Weather Service.

Heavy rains on tap for hard-hit flooded regions of the UK
Heavy rains of up to four inches are expected today over regions of the UK still recovering from last week's deadly floods. An extremely moist Atlantic frontal system stalled over across Northern Ireland, Cumbria and south-west Scotland last Thursday and Friday, dumping prodigious amounts of rain that triggered severe flooding in Cumbria. Loops of precipitable water reveal that part of this moisture may have come from the Hurricane Ida-enhanced Nor'easter that brought record storm surges to the U.S. Mid-Atlantic coast. The 24-hour total at Seathwaite (ending 0045 on Friday 20 November) of 314.4 mm (12.37 inches) is a UK record for a single location in any given 24-hour period, according to the UK Met Office. Records go back to 1914. According to wunderground member "Former Aussie", who has been working at the scene of the disaster, "the centre of the small town of Cockermouth was up to the tops of shop windows in water. Downstream, at Workington, bridges were washed away. Police constable Bill Barker was standing on one, stopping traffic as it fell, and he drowned, but the prompt and in cases heroic action of the emergency services meant no other lives were lost, as far as we know. Cockermouth was the birthplace of the poet William Wordsworth. The house where he was born is still standing, but the contents are said to be seriously damaged. Cumbriafoundation.org is where anyone wanting to help some extremely distressed and hard hit people can go. Some thousands of people will be out of their homes for months, and as it's less that 14 months since some of them were flooded out the last time, some will be suffering uninsurable losses.

I'll have a new post on Wednesday.

Jeff Masters

P.S. wunderblogger Patrap attended yesterday's Cuban-American Hurricane Conference in New Orleans, and has posted a nice blog on the affair.

Hurricane

Updated: 6:20 PM GMT on August 18, 2011

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Globe has 2nd - 7th warmest October on record; U.S., 3rd coldest

By: JeffMasters, 2:30 PM GMT on November 23, 2009

The globe recorded its sixth warmest October since record keeping began in 1880, according to NOAA's National Climatic Data Center. NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies rated October 2009 as the 2nd warmest October on record, falling 0.06°C short of the record set in 2005, while the UK HADCRUT3 data set rated October the 7th warmest (this data set does not include most of the Arctic, Antarctic, and Africa, where there are few land stations). NOAA rated the year-to-date period, January - October 2009, as the fifth warmest such period on record. The October satellite-measured temperatures for the lowest 8 km of the atmosphere were 6th - 7th warmest on record. Global ocean Sea Surface Temperature (SST) anomalies were the 5th warmest on record.


Figure 1. Departure of temperature from average for October 2009. Image credit: National Climatic Data Center.

Third coldest and top wettest October on record for the U.S.
For the contiguous U.S., the average October temperature was 4.0°F below average, making it the 3rd coldest October in the 115-year record, according to the National Climatic Data Center. The cold was centered in the Midwest, where Oklahoma had its coolest October on record and ten other states had a top five coolest October. The nationwide precipitation of 4.15 inches was nearly double the long-term average of 2.11 inches. Three states (Iowa, Arkansas, and Louisiana) saw their record wettest October. Fourteen other states had precipitation readings ranking in their top five category. Only three states (Florida, Utah, and Arizona) saw below normal precipitation. Arkansas continued its remarkable run of wetness in 2009. The state has seen four months with top three precipitation ranks this year (May, 1st wettest; July, 3rd wettest; September, 2nd wettest; October, 1st wettest). As a result, the state's year-to-date average is the wettest in 115 years of record keeping. This contrasted with persistent dryness in Arizona, which saw its second-driest year-to-date period.

U.S. drought decreases
At the end of October, 12% of the contiguous United States was in moderate-to-exceptional drought. This is the second-smallest drought footprint of the decade, based on the U.S. Drought Monitor. Major drought episodes in California and South Texas improved significantly. Drought conditions emerged across much of Arizona. About 45% of the contiguous United States had moderately-to-extremely wet conditions at the end of October, according to the Palmer Index (a well-known index that measures both drought intensity and wet spell intensity). This is the largest such footprint since February 2005.

As I commented in a post earlier this year, drought, on average, has not been increasing in the U.S. over the past few decades. The exception is the Southwest U.S. Increased drought is my top concern in regards to the potential effects of climate change over the next 40 years, and I am pleased to see that so far we have not seen increased drought in the U.S. A recent paper by Andreadis et al., 2006, summed up 20th century drought in the U.S. thusly: "Droughts have, for the most part, become shorter, less frequent, and cover a smaller portion of the country over the last century. The main exception is the Southwest and parts of the interior of the West, where, notwithstanding increased precipitation (and in some cases increased soil moisture and runoff), increased temperature has led to trends in drought characteristics that are mostly opposite to those for the rest of the country especially in the case of drought duration and severity, which have increased."

However, drought may be increasing for the world as a whole. Dai and Trenberth (2004) showed that areas experiencing the three highest categories of drought--severe, extreme, and exceptional--more than doubled (from about 12% to 30%) since the 1970s, with a large jump in the early 1980s due to an El Niño-related precipitation decrease over land, and subsequent increases primarily due to warming temperatures. I've neglected drought in my blogs, and plan to do a thorough investigation and report on the latest research now that hurricane season is over.

U.S. fire activity
October, like September, saw below-normal fire activity in all respects. A total of 3,207 fires burned about 158,000 acres in October, according to the National Interagency Coordination Center. Each of these values is below this decade's average for October.

Strong El Niño conditions develop
El Niño conditions intensified from moderate to strong over the tropical Eastern Pacific in October. Ocean temperatures in the area 5°N - 5°S, 120°W - 170°W, also called the "Niña 3.4 region", were at 1.7°C above average on November 15, just above the 1.5°C threshold for a strong El Niño, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. NOAA's Climate Prediction Center is maintaining an El Niño Advisory. El Niño conditions appear to have stabilized over the past week, and no further intensification of El Niño is likely for the remainder of November. Model forecasts favor moderate to strong El Niño conditions during the Northern Hemisphere Winter of 2009 - 2010.

October sea ice extent in the Arctic 2nd lowest on record
October 2009 Northern Hemisphere sea ice extent was the 2nd lowest since satellite measurements began in 1979, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). Only 2007 saw lower Arctic sea ice extent. During the first two weeks of November, Arctic ice extent decreased below the 2007 record minimum, according to data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. The record low ice extent this month is the first extended period of record minimum Arctic sea ice since 2007. The new record minimum suggests that the gains in ice seen over the past two years were probably a temporary fluctuation due to normal year-to-year variability in the weather, and that the long-term Arctic sea ice decline observed since the 1970s is continuing.


Figure 2. Departure of Arctic sea ice from average for October 2009. Image credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).

References
Andreadis, K. M. Lettenmaier, D. P., "Trends in 20th century drought over the continental United States", Geo. Res. Letters 33, 10, L10403, DOI 10.1029/2006GL025711

Dai A., K.E. Trenberth, and T. Qian, 2004: A global data set of Palmer Drought Severity Index for 18702002: Relationship with soil moisture and effects of surface warming", J. Hydrometeorol., 5, 11171130.

Next post
I'm working on a rather lengthy analysis of the global warming scientist vs. skeptic controversy, including last week's hacked email affair. I'll post it when I get it done, most likely on Tuesday, but perhaps Wednesday.

Jeff Masters

Climate Summaries

Updated: 10:22 PM GMT on October 21, 2011

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Is more CO2 beneficial for Earth's ecosystems?

By: JeffMasters, 3:47 PM GMT on November 20, 2009

We should emit as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as possible and oppose efforts to regulate CO2 emissions, because more CO2 is good for the Earth. That's the take-home message of an audacious TV ad that was run this fall by the advocacy group, CO2isgreen.com. "Higher CO2 levels than we have today would help the Earth's ecosystems, and support more plant and animal life", the ad proclaims.

It's the brainchild of H. Leighton Steward, a retired oil industry executive, and Corbin J. Robertson, Jr., chief executive and leading shareholder in Natural Resource Partners, a Houston-based owner of coal resources that lets other companies mine, in return for royalties. According to an article in the Washington Post, the ad ran this fall in New Mexico and Montana, which have key Congressmen that CO2isgreen.com hopes to sway. The ads form part of a major PR campaign being waged by the fossil fuel industry and its allies in advance of the crucial U.N. Climate Change Conference, which will be held December 7 - 18 in Copenhagen, Denmark. At that meeting, the leaders of the world will gather to negotiate an agreement to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The new agreement will be the world's road map for dealing with climate change, and the stakes are huge.


Figure 1. Screen shot of the new ad by the advocacy group CO2isgreen.com.

Let's consider the scientific accuracy of the ad's three main points:

1) "Congress is considering a law that would classify CO2 as pollution. This will cost us jobs".
Well, this is a reasonable concern. Fossil fuels represent the foundation upon which modern civilization is built. The marvelous inventions of civilized life that have brought increased health, lifespan, and prosperity to billions of people are largely due to the use of fossil fuels. Regulating CO2 and moving to non-fossil fuel based energy sources won't be cheap or easy, and there is a potential for significant economic harm if our politicians bungle the job. The fossil fuel industry employs millions of people, and some of these jobs will no doubt be lost as new "green" energy sources are developed. However, the longer-term economic benefits of moving to a less fossil fuel-intensive economy, plus the jobs created as a result, must be weighed against the shorter term economic disruption that may occur.

2) "There is no scientific evidence that CO2 is a pollutant".
Webster's dictionary defines a pollutant as "man-made waste that contaminates an environment". Webster's defines "contaminate" as "to make inferior or impure". CO2 is man-made waste, and there is scientific evidence that added CO2 can make our atmosphere "inferior" to its present state, or else the EPA would not be considering regulations. As just one example, when CO2 is dissolved in the oceans, the water grows more acidic. Corals and other creatures that build shells out of calcium carbonate cannot form their shells if the acidity passes a critical level--their shells will dissolve. Thus, for these organisms, CO2 is definitely a pollutant. Several shell-building planktonic organisms, such as coccolithophorids, pteropods, and foraminifera, form an important basis of the food chain in cold ocean waters, and the continued increase in CO2 emissions have many scientists very concerned about a collapse of the oceanic food chain in these regions in coming decades. Presumably, CO2isgreen.com is taking the very narrow view that a pollutant is something that harms human health when breathed. The more important question is, how does CO2 emitted by fossil fuel generation, plus all the effects that come with it, impact human health and the health of Earth's ecosystems?

3) "Higher CO2 levels than we have today would help the Earth's ecosystems, and support more plant and animal life".
It is true that many plants grow faster under enhanced CO2--the so-called "CO2 fertilization effect". Just ask your neighborhood commercial indoor marijuana grower, who probably grows his or her plants in an enhanced CO2 environment. The 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report found that crop yields under unstressed conditions increased by 0 - 25% for a doubling of CO2, and that growth of young tree stands also increased. However, the IPCC noted that ground level ozone pollution will limit the CO2 fertilization effect. Ozone pollution is caused by emissions from fossil fuel burning, and will increase in a warmer world since the chemical reactions that create ozone act more efficiently at higher temperatures. Furthermore, the higher temperatures, increased drought, and increased insect pests that added CO2 is likely to bring to the atmosphere via greenhouse effect warming will induce major stresses to plants that will counteract the CO2 fertilization effect. A 2009 paper by Battisti and Naylor in Science titled, "Historical Warnings of Future Food Insecurity with Unprecedented Seasonal Heat", reported that the 2003 heat wave in Europe--featuring temperatures predicted to be the norm by the end of the century--reduced harvests of fruits and grains by 21 - 36%. The 2007 IPCC report noted, "even slight warming decreases yields in seasonally and low latitude regions". Most of the world's population at risk of starvation live in such regions (e.g., sub-Saharan Africa).

To get more CO2 in the air, we have to mine, transport, and burn fossil fuels, and potentially fight wars to protect them. This creates a host of effects highly detrimental to people and ecosystems:

1) Particle pollution, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides emitted as a result of burning coal and operating motor vehicles cause over $118 billion in health and other damages per year in the U.S., according to a Congressionally-ordered National Academy of Sciences study released last month. The study said this was a "substantial underestimate", as it did not consider climate change-related costs, or pollution emissions from a wide variety of other sources.

2) Oil and natural gas drilling and oil spills have had catastrophic effects on many ecosystems over the past century, and will continue to do so. Coal mining via mountaintop removal has laid waste to vast regions of the Appalachians, obliterating over 700 miles of rivers and streams. Failures of slurry ponds dams such as the one that failed in December 2008 in Tennessee have contaminated numerous ecosystems, and killed hundreds (the Buffalo Creek, WV dam failure of 1972 killed 125, and a 1966 slurry pond dam failure in Aberfan, Wales killed 144, including 126 schoolchildren). The Physicians for Social Responsibility put out a report this week called Coal's Assault on Human Health that details many more examples of how coal is bad for ecosystems and human health.

3) Coal mining accidents killed 65 miners in the U.S. in 2006, and kill tens of thousands of miners worldwide each year (China has averaged 6,000 deaths per year this decade). Tens of thousands of miners contract black lung disease each year, as well.

The Greening of Planet Earth
Fossil fuel industry-funded Public Relations campaigns focusing on the benefits of CO2 for life on Earth are nothing new. In 2006, I blogged about a TV ad run by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) that proclaimed, "as for carbon dioxide, it isn't smog or smoke, it's what we breathe out and plants breathe in. Carbon dioxide: they call it pollution, we call it life.". In 1991, coal giant Western Fuels founded an organization called "The Greening Earth Society" which spent $250,000 to produce the video, "The Greening of Planet Earth" (available on Youtube). The 30-minute movie features scientists who describe in glowing terms the tremendous increases in plant growth that will occur due to increased CO2. Set to appropriately stirring music, the movie concludes: "The future also holds great promise. And contributing to this promise is the positive effect that carbon dioxide has upon our world. Crop plants will continue to grow more productively, contributing to ever-greater supplies of food. Forests will extend their ranges. Grasses will grow where none grow now. And great tracts of barren land we be reclaimed. In fact, it is not inconceivable that the vitality of our biosphere could rise by a full order of magnitude over the next few centuries, to a new, greening Planet Earth". According to Boston Globe investigative reporter Ross Gelbspan in his book The Heat is On, the movie was shown extensively in Washington D.C. and in the capitals of OPEC nations, and was the favorite movie of President George H.W. Bush's chief of staff, John Sununu. It's interesting to note that The Greening Earth Society shares the same mailing address and fax number as the Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC), a fossil fuel industry front group that was given $35 million to fight climate change regulation in 2008. According to the creators of desmogblog.com, a website dedicated to "Clearing the PR Pollution that Clouds Climate Science", that money, plus an extra $5 million, was shuffled to a new industry front group called the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), and used to help fund the "Clean Coal" TV ads that dominated the airwaves during the November 2008 election. The details are in the excellent new book, Climate Cover-up, written by desmogblog.com co-founder James Hoggan and Richard Littlemore.

Commentary
The CO2isgreen.com ad is beautifully produced, with multiple windows depicting flowing pictures of flowers blooming, animals grazing, crops growing, and the sun shining over these grand scenes of nature's bounty, all set to the soothing sound track of some slick New Age music. Who wouldn't want to live in such a world? Unfortunately, this is a fantasy world created by fossil fuel industry Public Relations people, and we live in the real world where physics and science rule. Oil is not clean, coal is worse, and the extraction, transportation, and burning of fossil fuels that accompany the enhanced-CO2 world we live in are already causing massive environmental destruction. Add in the immense environmental damage likely to occur as a result of the coming climate change storm, and the fantasy that more CO2 will be good for the world dissolves into a nightmare for a huge proportion of Earth's ecosystems--and the people who depend upon them for life.

Hacked emails purport to show climate scientists' cover-up
A hacker broke into an email server at the Climate Research Unit of the UK's University of East Anglia this week and posted ten years worth of private email exchanges between leading scientists who've published research linking humans to climate change. Realclimate.org has an interesting response to the debacle, saying the emails are a "presumably careful selection of (possibly edited?) correspondence dating back to 1996 and as recently as Nov 12)". They show one example of a "cherry-picked" distortion of one of the emails that global warming contrarians are using to try to discredit the science of climate change, and successfully refute the distortion, in my mind. The realclimate groups adds:

"More interesting is what is not contained in the emails. There is no evidence of any worldwide conspiracy, no mention of George Soros nefariously funding climate research, no grand plan to "get rid of the Medieval Warm Period", no admission that global warming is a hoax, no evidence of the falsifying of data, and no "marching orders" from our socialist/communist/vegetarian overlords. But if cherry-picked out-of-context phrases from stolen personal emails is the only response to the weight of the scientific evidence for the human influence on climate change, then there probably isn't much to it".

There's not a person alive who would not look bad if their private emails made public, taken out of context, and subjected to attack. The reputations of all the scientists involved will suffer, as will understanding of the science of climate change. Global warming contrarians have not been able to effectively dispute the reality of human-caused climate change by publishing peer-reviewed scientific articles, so they've done what any effective (and unethical) politician would do--resort to personal attacks of dubious merit on their opponents, in an attempt to muddy the waters and distract people from the facts. That's politics, and it's not too surprising to see this sort of ugly episode in a game where the stakes are so high.

None of the so-called "smoking gun" emails the contrarians are excited about change what I pointed out in in my previous post: Arctic sea ice was at a new record low this month, human-emitted greenhouse gases are largely to blame, and the polar ice cap is expected to melt by 2030, throwing the climate into a dangerous new unstable mode.

I'll have a new post on Monday.

Jeff Masters

Climate Change

Updated: 2:14 AM GMT on February 27, 2010

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A new record minimum for arctic sea ice

By: JeffMasters, 3:07 PM GMT on November 18, 2009

Arctic sea ice reached a new record minimum during the first half of November, according to data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (Figure 1). The record low ice extent this month is the first extended period of record minimum arctic sea ice since 2007. The new record minimum suggests that the gains in ice seen over the past two years were probably a temporary fluctuation due to normal year-to-year variability in the weather, and that the long-term arctic sea ice decline observed since the 1970s is continuing.


Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent up to November 16, 2009, compared to the record low year of 2007 and the average from 1979 - 2000. Sea ice extent over the past ten days has fallen below the record minimum observed in 2007. Image credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center.

What caused the new record low?
The record low was due to very warm air invading the Arctic during October, in combination with the unusually warm ocean temperatures that have prevailed in the region over the past few decades. The warm air temperatures were primarily the result of an intense series of low pressure systems in the Arctic Ocean, north of Siberia, that worked in concert with a very strong high pressure system north of Alaska to drive warm air from Central Asia poleward over the past six weeks. The strong storms and unusual pressure pattern brought winds of about 5 mph above average to large regions of the Arctic Ocean, which helped break up existing ice and kept ice from freezing as much as usual. With all that warm air flowing into the Arctic, the cold air that was there had to go somewhere else, and that "somewhere else" was North America. The U.S. recorded its 3rd coldest October on record in 2009, thanks to cold air flowing out of the Arctic. The temperature and sea level pressure patterns over the Northern Hemisphere for October (Figure 2) were highly anomalous, with temperatures up to 27°F (15°C) above average over the Arctic Ocean, and sea level pressures up to 11 mb above average. The atmospheric circulation pattern has shifted over the past two weeks, with the result that warm air from Central Asia is no longer being pumped into the Arctic so vigorously, nor is cold air from the Arctic streaming southward into North America. As a result, temperature anomalies in the Arctic are beginning to decline, and sea ice extent later this month will probably rise above the record minimums observed in 2007.



Figure 2. Departure of surface air temperature and surface pressure from average for October 2009. Surface temperatures in the Arctic were up to 27°F (15°C) above average over the Arctic Ocean, due to sea ice loss. The strongest anomalies occurred where sea ice was missing from its usual position, though the entire Arctic was affected. The clockwise flow of air around the anomalously strong high pressure system north of Alaska (labeled "H" in the right-hand image) helped drive a flow of very warm air from Central Asia into the Arctic, and a very cold flow of air out of the Arctic southward into North America. Image credit: NOAA/ESRL.

How will the November sea ice loss affect next summer's sea ice loss?
A record 19% of the Arctic sea ice cover this summer in the Arctic was over 2 years old, far below the 1981 - 2000 average of 52%. In the summer of 2009, NASA researcher Ron Kwok and colleagues from the University of Washington in Seattle published satellite data showing that mean winter arctic ice thickness declined by 48% between 1980 and 2008. The loss accelerated over the past five years, with the ice losing 0.68 meters (2.2 feet) of thickness between 2004 and 2008, finishing at 6.2 feet thick. This remarkable thinning was confirmed in May 2009 by the Catlin Arctic Survey, a 9-week, 435 km expedition across the Canadian Arctic led by polar scientist Professor Peter Wadhams of the University of Cambridge. Wadhams' expedition found that most of the route had first year ice just 5.9 feet (1.8 meters) thick. With El Niño conditions crossing from the moderate to strong category over the past two weeks in the Eastern Pacific, the prospects for a much warmer than usual winter in the Arctic have increased, likely setting the stage for continued record or near-record minimum sea ice extent and thickness into next spring. The arctic sea ice will be very vulnerable to a new record minimum next summer if warmer than average temperatures are seen over the Arctic.

Sea ice loss causes stronger storms in the Arctic
The stronger storms over the Arctic Ocean this fall were due, in part, to the loss of sea ice. In a 2009 article titled, Extraordinary September Arctic sea ice reductions and their relationships with storm behavior over 1979-2008, Simmonds and Keay found that September storms over the East Arctic intensified by about 1 mb over the past 30 years and had grown about 50 miles larger in diameter, thanks to all the extra heat energy supplied by more open water due to recent losses in Arctic sea ice. These stronger storms may create a positive feedback loop that will lead to even more sea ice loss: reduced sea ice drives stronger storms, whose winds break up sea ice, creating even more warm water to feed stronger storms with stronger winds, and so on. Now that the arctic sea ice is 48% thinner than 30 years ago, this effect will increase in importance, since thinner ice breaks up more readily in strong winds.

Expect an ice-free Arctic by 2030
In a press release put out by the Catlin Arctic Survey, Professor Wadhams said, "The Catlin Arctic Survey data supports the new consensus view--based on seasonal variation of ice extent and thickness, changes in temperatures, winds and especially ice composition--that the Arctic will be ice-free in summer within about 20 years, and that much of the decrease will be happening within 10 years". In their 2009 report on this year's Arctic sea ice minimum, National Snow and Ice Data Center Director and Senior Scientist Dr. Mark Serreze said, "It's nice to see a little recovery over the past couple years, but there's no reason to think that we're headed back to conditions seen back in the 1970s. We still expect to see ice-free summers sometime in the next few decades". At the December 2008 American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting, the world's largest climate change conference, sea ice expert Dr. Wieslaw Maslowski of the Navy Postgraduate School blamed 60% of the melting during the past decade on heat brought in by ocean currents, and projected that summertime arctic sea ice would completely disappear by 2016. Dr. Jim Overland of NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory was more conservative, projecting a 2030 demise of arctic sea ice. He thought we would be "hanging around where we are for a while", and thought it would take two more unusual summers like the "perfect storm" of 2007 to push the system to an ice-free state.

The consequences
There were 88 presentations on arctic sea ice at the 2008 AGU conference. None of the presenters expressed the view that the current long-term decline in arctic sea ice was almost entirely natural, or that we can expect the decline to reverse this century. Sea ice experts do blame part of the decline on natural variability in the weather, but we wouldn't be where we are now without the warming caused by human-emitted greenhouse gases. One view (Stroeve et al., 2007) is that human-emitted greenhouse gases are responsible for 47 - 57% of the arctic sea ice loss since 1979. Heat-absorbing black soot from fires and pollution settling on the white ice is thought to also be a significant contributor.

The consensus I heard at the AGU conference among arctic sea ice experts was that the summertime sea ice will be gone by 2030. If they are correct, we can expect a period of significantly accelerated global climate change to begin 10 - 20 years from now. Arctic sea ice is one of the critical components maintaining the stability of our current climate. Once the the ice is gone, the climate will become unstable, with highly unpredictable results. It is true that Earth's past has many examples of warmer climates that evolved due to natural causes where life flourished, and we shouldn't fear the new, stable climate we will eventually arrive at centuries from now. However, life on Earth is adapted to the current climate. The changes that will occur during the transition will be extremely disruptive to Earth's ecosystems and the humans that rely on them for life. If one were to rate the destructive capability of climate change the way we rate hurricanes, I would rate current climate change at the "Invest" or "tropical disturbance" stage--the climate change storm is just beginning to organize. But the coming climate change storm is destined to hit our children with the full fury of intensifying hurricane.

References
Kwok, R., and D. A. Rothrock. 2009, "Decline in Arctic sea ice thickness from submarine and ICESat records: 1958-2008", Geophys. Res. Lett., 36, L15501, doi:10.1029/2009GL039035

Simmonds, I., and K. Keay (2009), Extraordinary September Arctic sea ice reductions and their relationships with storm behavior over 1979.2008, Geophys. Res. Lett., 36, L19715, doi:10.1029/2009GL039810.

Stroeve, J., M.M. Holland, W. Meier, T. Scambos, and M. Serreze, Arctic sea ice decline:Faster than forecast", GRL 34 L09501, doi:1029/2007GL029703, 2007.

The road to Copenhagen
By some accounts, the future of the world will be at stake this December, when the crucial U.N. Climate Change Conference will be held December 7 - 18 in Copenhagen, Denmark. At that meeting, the leaders of the world will gather to negotiate an agreement to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The new agreement will be the world's road map for dealing with climate change, and the stakes are huge. Dr. Ricky Rood, author of Wunderground's climate change blog, will be there, and Wunderground has given the University of Michigan a grant to send a student who will also blog for us. I have a number of posts I'm planning in the run-up to Copenhagen, including:

- Impact of arctic sea ice loss on Northern Hemisphere winter weather
- The Manufactured Doubt industry
- What global warming skeptics say about arctic sea ice
- Is higher CO2 more beneficial for Earth's ecosystems?

I'll also have an end-of-hurricane season summary on November 30, plus posts on whatever breaking weather stories occur. My next post will be Friday, when I plan to summarize the global weather last month, which was the 2nd - 6th warmest October on record.

Jeff Masters

Climate Change Sea Ice

Updated: 7:43 PM GMT on August 16, 2011

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The Atlantic hurricane season is effectively over; heavy rains in the Northwest

By: JeffMasters, 3:22 PM GMT on November 16, 2009

Only two weeks remain in the Atlantic hurricane season, but the hurricane season of 2009 is effectively over. While the Western Caribbean is still warm enough to support development of a hurricane--as it is year-round--wind shear over the entire North Atlantic has risen to levels prohibitively high for tropical storm formation to occur. Wind shear is forecast to remain very high for at least the next ten days (Figure 1). This is a fairly typical occurrence in the Atlantic for this time of year, though it usually occurs sooner in El Niño years. As you probably know, El Niño conditions in the Eastern Pacific commonly create high levels of wind shear over the tropical Atlantic. This year was no exception, though the shear created by El Niño was not as strong as we've seen in other recent El Niño years. Wind shear was uncharacteristically low in the first half of November, allowing Hurricane Ida to form. Within the past ten days, though, El Niño conditions over the Eastern Pacific have intensified from moderate to strong, and wind shear over the tropical Atlantic has increased significantly, making it unlikely any significant tropical cyclones that affect land will occur the remainder of this hurricane season. Formation of a subtropical storm over the open Atlantic far from land is still a possibility, but such a storm would only be a concern to shipping.


Figure 1. Wind shear forecast for the Atlantic for ten days from now made by last night's 00Z run of the GFS model. The GFS model is forecasting very high wind shear over the entire North Atlantic over the next ten days.

Late season tropical storms in El Niño years
In the 17 hurricane seasons since 1950 where an El Niño event has been present, only three of those years featured named storms that formed after November 15. Tropical Storm Otto formed on November 29, 2004, from the remains of an extratropical storm that got cut off from the jet stream over the middle Atlantic. Otto meandered for a few days far from land before dissipating. Category 1 Hurricane Frances formed on November 19, 1986 in the open Atlantic south of Bermuda, and died after three days without affecting land. Category 1 Hurricane Martha formed on November 21, 1969 in the extreme southwestern Caribbean, off the coast of Panama. Martha weakened to a tropical storm before making landfall in Panama, and was the only named storm in the Atlantic ever to make landfall in Panama.

Typhoon season not over yet
Note that typhoon season in the Western Pacific is not over--we commonly get typhoons well into December. In fact, the ECMWF model is predicting formation of yet another typhoon east of the Philippines, sometime late this week or early next week. Tropical cyclone season is also not over in the Bay of Bengal near India, where some models are predicting an enhanced chance of a tropical storm forming late this week. And in the Southern Hemisphere, hurricane season is just beginning, with the formation of Category 3 Tropical Cyclone Anja near Maritius Island off the coast of Madagascar.


Figure 2. Category 3 Tropical Cyclone Anja in the South Indian Ocean at 1 am EST Monday November 16, 2009. Image credit: NASA.

Heavy rains hit Washington and British Columbia
A strong branch of the polar jet stream laden with moisture is streaming into Washington State and Canada's British Columbia today, and is forecast to bring heavy rains, high winds, and the threat of avalanches to the coastal mountains today through Wednesday. Heavy rains in the Pacific Northwest this time of year are often dubbed the "Pineapple Express" due to Hawaiian origin of the air, and these events are common during El Niño winters, and can strike from Southern California to British Columbia. However, I've been told by Doug McCollor, a forecaster with BC Hydro, that this rain event is not a true Pineapple Express, since the airflow is more west-to-east, rather than from the southwest. He adds, "also, freezing level at Quillayute WA was only 1800m this morning...not that high. In a Pineapple Express the freezing level would be 3500 to 4000m or so. The media here is calling it a Pineapple Express because they look out the window and it's raining all day. It is raining moderately here, no doubt, but it's because there is a downstream Rex block forming over central North America that is impeding the usual west-to-east progression of these storms".

Rainfall amounts in excess of three inches have already been recorded over Vancouver Island, and rains of up to seven inches (Figure 3) are forecast for the region over the next three days. Wind gusts of 44 mph have been recorded at La Push this morning on Washington's Olympic Peninsula.


Figure 3. Forecast precipitation for the 3-day period ending 7 am EST Thursday, November 19, 2009. Up to seven inches of rain are predicted for Washington State and coastal British Columbia. Image credit: NOAA/HPC.

I'll have a new post Tuesday or Wednesday.

Jeff Masters

Hurricane

Updated: 6:49 PM GMT on December 19, 2011

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Record storm surges hit Mid-Atlantic coast

By: JeffMasters, 4:22 PM GMT on November 13, 2009

Record storm surges have caused major flooding along the North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware coasts over the past 24 hours, thanks to the powerful winds of a slow-moving Nor'easter energized by the remains of Hurricane Ida. Norfolk, Virginia, suffered its highest storm surge on record last night, when a surge of 5.96 feet hit the Sewells Point tide station. The previous record was 5.62' during Hurricane Isabel of 2003, with the Chesapeake-Atlantic Hurricane of 1933 close behind at 5.61'. Last night's peak surge did not hit at high tide, and the storm tide--the combination of surge plus the tide--peaked at 7.74' above Mean Lower Low Water (MLLW), slightly below the 7.89' storm tide of Hurricane Isabel.


Figure 1. Rain gauge-measured precipitation from Ida-extratropical for the 24 hours ending at 7 am EST this morning. The storm dumped copious amounts of rain over a wide swath of coast. Image credit: NWS Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service.

The highest storm surges at Sewell's Point tide gauge in Norfolk, Virginia since 1927:

5.96' Nov 2009 Ida-extratropical
5.62' Sep 2003 Hurricane Isabel
5.61' Aug 1933 Chesapeake-Atlantic Hurricane
4.73' Sep 1933 Hurricane 13, Cat 1)
4.66' Mar 1962 Ash Wednesday Nor'easter
4.05' Sep 1936 (Hurricane 13, Cat 2)

Top storm tides in Norfolk history:

1933 hurricane (Aug 23rd 1933)..............8.9 feet MLLW
April 11th 1956 Nor'easter..................8.0 feet MLLW
Hurricane Isabel (Sep 18th 2003)............7.9 feet MLLW
Ida-extratropical (Nov 12th 2009)...........7.8 feet MLLW
Ash Wednesday storm (Mar 7th 1962)..........7.8 feet MLLW

Serious coastal flooding is occurring from northern North Carolina to the Delaware/New Jersey border, with record high storm surges recorded at many locations. The storm surge at Lewes Point, Delaware at 9:48 pm EST last night reached 4.63 feet, beating the record high of 4.17' set during the January 4, 1992 Nor'easter. Tide records go back to 1919 at Lewes Point. The highest surge at any of the NOAA-maintained tide gauges from Ida-extratropical was 6.74' at 9:24 pm EST at Money Point, Virginia, located on an inlet about five miles south of downtown Norfolk.

Ida-extratropical also brought hurricane-force wind gusts to the Virginia coast yesterday, with a gust of 75 mph recorded at the Oceana NAS. The Norfolk airport recorded sustained winds of 52 mph, gusting to 70 mph, at the height of the Nor'easter last night. Heavy rains of 6 - 11 inches since Tuesday have created flooding on most of the the rivers along the entire North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland coasts. Ida-extratropical is slowly weakening and pulling away to the northeast, and the rains have ended along most of the coast, though. Virginia has now seen its highest storm surges, but this afternoon's high tide cycle is likely to bring another round of record or near-record storm tides to the coasts of Maryland, Delaware, and extreme southern New Jersey. This afternoon's high tide is forecast to bring a storm tide of 7.6' to Atlantic City, NJ, which would be the 10th highest tide there since 1911, but well short of the record 8.98' storm tide during the December, 1992 Nor'easter. By Saturday, Ida-extratropical will be on its way out to sea, and the storm surges and rains will finally abate.


Figure 2. Predicted storm tide (height above Mean Lower Low Water (MLLW, the lowest tide measured in a full 19-year natural tidal cycle, black line) for Lewes, Delaware (at the mouth of Delaware Bay), as predicted by the GFS model. A storm tide of 8.0 feet is forecast this afternoon during the high tide. For a full description of this plot, see the NOAA Extratropical Surge web site.


Figure 3. Tide gauge trace from the Sewell's Point gauge in Norfolk, VA, shows a storm surge of nearly 6 feet (green line) hit at 8:30 pm EST, with a maximum storm tide of 7.8 feet above MLLW occurring at high tide. Image credit: NOAA Tides and Currents.

Storm surges and sea level rise
The storm surge flooding in the Norfolk area was exacerbated by the fact that sea level has risen and the land has subsided significantly over the past century. Over the past 60 years, absolute sea level along the coast of Virginia has risen by about 2.6 mm/year. However, the relative sea level has risen by 4.44 mm/year since 1927 (Figure 4), meaning that the land has sunk by about 1.84 mm/year. The net result is that the ocean is now about 1.16 feet higher at Norfolk than it was in 1927. The Norfolk tide gauge shows the highest rate of relative sea level rise of any gauge on the U.S. East Coast (though relative sea level rise is much higher along the Gulf Coast, with rises near 3 feet/century at New Orleans). Thus, today's 5+ foot storm surge brought water more than a foot higher in Norfolk than the 5+ foot storm surge of the 1933 hurricane. Storm surge damages will steadily increase along the entire coast this century as sea level rise accelerates and coastal development continues. It is urgent that government take action in coming years to limit development in vulnerable coastal regions. The ocean is going flood our sand castles that we are building in harm's way, at an ever increasing rate.


Figure 4. Monthly mean sea level at the Sewells Point, VA tide gauge in Norfolk, without the regular seasonal fluctuations due to coastal ocean temperatures, salinities, winds, atmospheric pressures, and ocean currents. The long-term linear trend is also shown, including its 95% confidence interval. Relative sea level has increased by 1.16 feet since 1927, the highest rate of rise on the U.S. East Coast. Image credit: NOAA Tides and Currents.

Portlight responding to the flooding in Virginia
Portlight.org is deploying up to 3 self-sufficient mobile kitchens capable of feeding over 2000 people a day to the Virginia coast. They will be providing meals for first responders, volunteers, and, of course, affected residents. Donations are welcome--visit the portlight blog to learn more and make a PayPal donation. Thanks!

Take action: sign the QuikSCAT letter
The QuikSCAT satellite, launched in 1999, provides crucial measurements of surface wind speed and direction over Earth's oceans twice per day. Forecasters world-wide have come to rely on data from QuikSCAT to issue timely warnings and make accurate forecasts of tropical and extratropical storms, wave heights, sea ice, aviation weather, iceberg movement, coral bleaching events, and El Niño. QuikSCAT's antenna is expected to fail within the next six months, according to engineers at NASA/JPL, and QuikSCAT data has already been removed from our global weather forecast models, due to concerns about data reliability.

There exists a narrow window of opportunity in the next few days to get the wheels in motion to launch a QuikSCAT replacement instrument on a Japanese satellite in 2015. The funding for this must start within the next budget cycle, and there is currently no funding in place for a replacement QuikSCAT. If we miss this this opportunity, it may be ten years or more before a QuikSCAT replacement can be launched. To this end, I urge all of you to sign the QuikSCAT funding letter being presented to John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The letter is at: http://coaps.fsu.edu/scatterometry/statement/.

If you agree with the letter, please sign it (via the web site) as soon as possible: there is a very small window of opportunity to influence the next budget cycle, with this window closing within a few days.

Note that to validate your signature you must type the validation code in the bottom box. This code is the word that appears after 'code =', then click on the sign button.

For more information on QuikSCAT, see my post, The case for a new QuikSCAT satellite.


Figure 5. NASA's QuikSCAT satellite, launched in 1999. Image credit: NASA.

Expect a new blog until Monday, when I'll discuss the outlook for the remainder of hurricane season. It is finally over?

Jeff Masters

Hurricane Winter Weather

Updated: 6:24 PM GMT on August 18, 2011

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Historic Nor'easter pounds Mid-Atlantic coast

By: JeffMasters, 3:55 PM GMT on November 12, 2009

A historic Nor'easter, energized by the remains of Hurricane Ida, is pounding the coast form North Carolina to New Jersey with heavy rain, tropical storm-force winds, and a destructive storm surge. Wind gusts of 64 mph were reported at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel and at Cape Henry, VA this morning. The high winds, combined with the slow movement of the Nor'easter are acting to push near-record storm surges onto the coast in Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware. At Norfolk, Virginia, the storm surge from Ida-ex was 5.0 feet at 10 am EST, the third highest storm surge there since tide gauge records began in 1927. Only Hurricane Isabel in 2003 and the Chesapeake-Atlantic Hurricane of 1933 have brought higher storm surges to Norfolk. Serious coastal flooding is occurring from northern North Carolina to the Delaware/New Jersey border, and the storm surge at Lewes Point, Delaware at 10 am this morning was 4.0 feet, just below the record high of 4.17' set during the January 4, 1992 Nor'easter. Tide records go back to 1919 at Lewes Point.


Figure 1. The Ida-ex Nor'easter at 9:31 am EST 11/12/09. Image credit: NASA/GSFC.

The highest storm surges on record at the Sewell's Point tide gauge in Norfolk, Virginia are:

5.62' Sep 2003 Hurricane Isabel
5.61' Aug 1933 Chesapeake-Atlantic Hurricane
5.00' Nov 2009 Ida-ex
4.73' Sep 1933 Hurricane 13, Cat 1
4.66' Mar 1962 Ash Wednesday Nor'easter
4.05' Sep 1936 Hurricane 13, Cat 2

And the highest water levels, measured above Mean Lower Low Water (MLLW, the lowest tide measured in a full 19-year natural tidal cycle):

1933 hurricane (Aug 23rd 1933)..............8.9 feet MLLW
April 11th 1956 Nor'easter..................8.0 feet MLLW
Hurricane Isabel (Sep 18th 2003)............7.9 feet MLLW
Ash Wednesday storm (Mar 7th 1962)..........7.8 feet MLLW

The water level during high tide this morning at 5 am EST reached 6.7' MLLW in Norfolk at Sewell's Point, but the storm surge of Ida-ex has increased by a full foot since then. The next high tide at 5 pm may see water levels near 8.2 feet. The tremendous amount of rain Ida-ex is dumping over the coast is adding to the storm surge, since the drainage of the rivers into the coastal bays raises the water level above what the wind pushes in.


Figure 2. Predicted storm tide (height above Mean Lower Low Water (MLLW, the lowest tide measured in a full 19-year natural tidal cycle, black line) for Sewell's Point, Virgina in Norfolk, as predicted by the GFS model. A storm tide of 8.0 feet is forecast this afternoon during the 5 pm EST high tide. For a full description of this plot, see the NOAA Extratropical Surge web site.


Figure 3. Tide gauge trace from the Sewell's Point gauge in Norfolk, VA, shows a storm surge of 5 feet (green line) at 10 am EST, and a maximum tide of 6.7 feet above MLLW so far today. Image credit: NOAA Tides and Currents.


Figure 4. Radar-estimated rainfall from the Norfolk radar shows a large area of 4 - 5 inches of rainfall over coastal Virginia and North Carolina. The band of very high rainfall amounts of 5 - 8 inches shown in the northeast part of the radar display is not real; rainfall amounts in that region have been closer to 2 - 4 inches. The error results because at that distance from the radar, the beam is about 8,000 feet above the ground, and is hitting a "bright band" of highly reflective precipitation, where snow is melting and forming rain. The highly reflective rain/snow area reflects much more of the radar beam back, making the software algorithm used to estimate precipitation amounts fail.

You can follow the storm today with our Severe Weather Page.

Jeff Masters

Hurricane Winter Weather

Updated: 7:05 PM GMT on January 05, 2012

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Ida's remnants pounding North and South Carolina; El Salvador flooding toll at 160

By: JeffMasters, 3:06 PM GMT on November 11, 2009

The remnants of Tropical Storm Ida have pushed off the coast of Georgia, and are adding fuel to a developing extratropical storm that is pounding North and South Carolina with heavy rain and high winds. Over two inches of rain has fallen across much of the region, and NOAA's Hydrometeorological Prediction Center (Figure 1) predicts that up to eight inches of rain could fall in coastal North Carolina by Saturday. Adding to the rainwater flooding problems from all this rain will be coastal flooding from tropical storm-force winds of 40 mph expected to build tonight through Thursday along the Outer Banks of North Carolina. High tides up to four feet above normal are expected from the strong winds. North Carolina will end up getting a more severe pounding from Ida's remnants than Ida gave to the Gulf Coast. You can follow the storm with our Severe Weather Page.


Figure 1. Forecast precipitation for the 5-day period ending at 7 am EST Saturday November 14, 2009. Image credit: NOAA/Hydrometeorological Prediction Center

Invest 98L no threat
Another extratropical storm (Invest 98L), currently spinning over the Atlantic a few hundred miles northwest of Puerto Rico, is showing no signs of development, and will be entering a region of very high wind shear of 30 - 40 knots on Thursday. It currently appears that 98L will swing northward and northeast out to sea on Friday and Saturday, and not merge with the extratropical remnants of Ida currently pounding North Carolina.

Gulf Coast cleans up after Ida
Tropical Storm Ida left mostly minor damage across the Gulf Coast, with the heaviest damage being reported on the west end of Alabama's Dauphin Island. Roads there were covered with sand and water, and moderate beach erosion was reported. At Gulf State Park at Orange Beach, Alabama, the new fishing pier--the longest on the Gulf of Mexico--suffered heavy damage, and will be closed indefinitely. The pier was replaced after being destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, and just opened in July. "We may have significant losses," said Phillip West, Orange Beach coastal resources manager, discussing beach erosion from Ida. "Not catastrophic or devastating, but significant."

In the Florida Panhandle near Pensacola, Ida washed huge amounts of sand over Fort Pickens Road in Gulf Islands National Seashore, and over heavily traveled J. Earle Bowden Way, which connects Pensacola and Navarre beaches. Both roads are closed indefinitely. Fort Pickens Road was washed out by Hurricane Opal in 1995, and moved to a new location. Hurricane Ivan washed the road out in 2004. It was rebuilt, but was destroyed and rebuilt three more times in 2005, thanks to Tropical Storm Arlene and Hurricanes Cindy and Dennis. The most recent rebuilding of the road put it at a lower elevation, to allow sand to wash over it. It is hoped the cost of this latest repair will be under $1 million.

Editorial comment: perhaps having a low-lying road along a barrier island that regularly washes out, requiring millions in taxpayer repair money to fix, is a bad idea?? Seems to me like this is taxpayer money ill-spent. The 1988 Stafford Act, authorizing the rebuilding of damaged infrastructure after presidentially declared emergencies, has resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money being spent to rebuild infrastructure damaged by tropical storms and hurricanes on barrier islands. In an era of rising sea levels, and with the U.S. in the midst of an active hurricane period expected to last at least another decade, the Stafford Act just doesn't make sense. Those living in areas subject to a very high level of repeated coastal hazards should pay the bills for their willingness to live in harm's way, rather than depending on Uncle Sam.

In a interview in the New York Times after the last time Fort Pickens Road was washed out, Dr. Orrin Pilkey, professor emeritus in the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University and author of the excellent 2009 book The Rising Sea, said, "People say, 'What are you going to do, let the road fall in? The correct answer, of course, is yes."

Food shortages in El Salvador after floods kill at least 160
A tropical disturbance that dumped up to 17.4" (442 mm) of rain in 24 hours over central El Salvador on Sunday has triggered the need for urgent food aid after flood and landslides destroyed huge swaths of crops during harvest season, according to the U.N. World Food Program. The storm killed at leat 160 people, with dozens more still missing. About 13,000 people are homeless after the disaster.


Figure 2. Collapsed bridge at Santa Cruz La Libertad, El Salvador, with people trying to cross the river. Image credit: Wunderphotographer DiegoSagrera

For those interested in making a donation to assist in disaster relief for El Salvador, Portlight.org has a Paypal donation page set up for this. All funds raised will be forwarded to José Luis Escobar Alas, Catholic Archbishop of San Salvador, and used to assist flooding victims at the discretion of the Archbishop.

Jeff Masters

Hurricane Winter Weather

Updated: 6:25 PM GMT on August 18, 2011

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Ida pulls its punch; El Salvador floods kill 130

By: JeffMasters, 3:01 PM GMT on November 10, 2009

A weakening Tropical Storm Ida limped ashore near Dauphin Island, Alabama at 5:40 am CST this morning, as a tropical storm with 45 mph winds. Winds at coastal locations during Ida's landfall were mostly below tropical storm force. One exception was Dauphin Island, where winds peaked at 40 mph, gusting to 50 mph, near midnight. Radar-estimated rainfall from Ida showed many regions received 3 - 5 inches of rain (Figure 1), which has caused some minor river and street flooding. The main damage from Ida seems to have been beach erosion, as a 3 - 6 foot storm surge topped by battering waves affected a long stretch of coast, from Southeast Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle. Ida drove a 5.5 foot storm surge to Shell Beach, LA (on the east side of New Orleans). Ida did not spawn any tornadoes, and the Storm Prediction Center Discussion for today maintains that the airmass in place over the Gulf Coast is relatively stable, and the prospects for severe weather today are low.

Ida's remnants and Invest 98L
Ida is expected to transition to a strong extratropical storm later today, then move off the U.S. Southeast coast by Thursday. Minor to moderate coastal flooding is possible along the Atlantic coast from Georgia to North Carolina beginning Thursday, as the counter-clockwise flow of air around Ida's extratropical version brings winds of 25 - 35 mph to the coast.

Joining the fun on Thursday may be another extratropical storm (Invest 98L), currently spinning over the Atlantic a few hundred miles north of Puerto Rico. This disturbance is under 30 - 40 knots of wind shear, and will not be able to develop today. However, wind shear will fall to the moderate range, 10 - 20 knots, Wednesday through Thursday, and the storm may begin to acquire some subtropical traits as it moves northwest towards the Southeast U.S. coast. There won't be enough time for 98L to develop into a subtropical storm, since by Thursday night it will be interacting with the remains of Ida, which will bring prohibitively high wind shear over 98L.


Figure 1. Estimated precipitation for Ida, from the Mobile, Alabama radar.


Figure 2. Observed vs. predicted water levels at Shell Beach, LA (just east of New Orleans). The green line shows how high above normal the water is. For Shell Beach, it peaked at 5.5 feet above normal between 8 - 10 pm EST last night, and is now falling. Image credit: NOAA Tides and Currents.

El Salvador floods kill at least 130
Heavy rains that began on Thursday due to tropical disturbance 96E have killed at least 130 people in El Salvador, with 60 people still missing. The flooding hit the capital of San Salvador and rural areas to the east. The heavy rains were due to tropical disturbance 96E, which formed off the coast of El Salvador on Wednesday, November 4. The counter-clockwise flow of air around the disturbance pulled large quantities of moist, Pacific air over the coastal mountains in El Salvador, dumping steady rains of up two inches over central El Salvador, Thursday through Friday. On Saturday evening, November 7, an extremely intense thunderstorm complex developed over central El Salvador, dumping up to 17.4" (442 mm) of rain on the slopes of the Chichontepec volcano just east of the capital of San Salvador. Huge mudslides rumbled down the mountain, burying the the town of Verapaz, some 30 miles (48 km) east of San Salvador.


Figure 3. Collapsed bridge at Santa Cruz La Libertad, El Salvador. Image credit: Wunderphotographer DiegoSagrera

This weekend's flooding disaster was the second deadliest weather disaster in El Salvador history. The deadliest was from Category 5 Hurricane Mitch, which killed 240 people in 1998. Ranking third is Category 1 Hurricane Stan of 2005, which brought heavy rains that killed at least 72 people. El Salvador is very vulnerable to flash flooding, since the nation is the second most deforested country in the Americas, next to Haiti. Approximately 85% - 90% of the nation's forests have been destroyed since the 1960s, and the rate of destruction--now 1.7% per year--has accelerated since 2000. Most deforestation in El Salvador results from the country's high population that relies heavily on the collection of fuel wood and subsistence hunting and agriculture. Although the government has protected areas of forest, forestry laws go unenforced due to lack of funds and management. Salvanatura.org, the Ecological Foundation of El Salvador, is working on efforts to help protect the forests of El Salvador from continued destruction. Expect to hear of more frequent flooding disasters in El Salvador in the coming decades, as the country loses more of its forests, and as global warming brings an increase in heavy precipitation events due to higher amounts of water vapor in the atmosphere.


Figure 4. Rainfall for the period 7 am Saturday, November 7, through 7 am Sunday, November 8, over El Salvador. Rainfall amounts in excess of 300 mm (about 12 inches, black colors) occurred over central El Salvador, near the capital of San Salvador. Image credit: El Salvador Weather Service (SNET).

For those interested in making a donation to assist in disaster relief for El Salvador, Portlight.org has a Paypal donation page set up for this. All funds raised will be forwarded to José Luis Escobar Alas, Catholic Archbishop of San Salvador, and used to assist flooding victims at the discretion of the Archbishop.

Jeff Masters

Hurricane

Updated: 6:25 PM GMT on August 18, 2011

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Ida lashing the Gulf Coast; no change in strength

By: JeffMasters, 12:16 AM GMT on November 10, 2009

Tropical Storm Ida is pounding the coasts of southeast Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle with high winds, huge waves, and heavy rain. At 6 pm EST, the Mobile, AL NWS office reported that coastal flooding had begun on Dauphin Island and at Fort Pickens in the Florida Panhandle. Surf heights of 5 - 8' are expected tonight on Dauphin Island as Ida storms ashore, and heights of 10 - 15' are possible from Fort Morgan, Alabama to Destin, Florida. Sustained winds of 40 mph were reported at buoy 42007 22 nm miles south of Biloxi, MS at 4:50 pm EST, and winds of 40 mph, gusting to 51 mph, were recorded at Dauphin Island, AL, at 7:06 pm EST.


Figure 1. Estimated precipitation from the Mobile, AL radar shows that up to four inches of rain has fallen over the Louisiana bird's foot of the Mississippi River. Heavy rains are falling in MS, AL, and FL, and will exceed four inches in many locations.

The highest surface winds seen by the Hurricane Hunters since 3 pm have been 70 mph. Infrared satellite loops show that the big thunderstorm blow-up responsible for the small patch of hurricane-force winds recorded at 3 pm this afternoon has waned, and it is unlikely Ida has any hurricane-force winds.

The intensity forecast for Ida
There is no change to the intensity forecast for Ida. The high wind shear of 40 knots currently affecting the storm is forecast to increase to 50 knots by midnight, when the center of Ida should be crossing the coast. With Ida now over waters near 24°C, some weakening is to be expected before landfall. We can't rule out the possibility of an isolated tornado when Ida makes landfall, but the Storm Prediction Center Discussion maintains that the airmass in place over the Gulf Coast is relatively stable, and prospects for an appreciable severe weather threat appear low. Winds of tropical storm force will be extend from Southeast Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle (Figure 2), but will not extend very far inland.


Figure 2. Cumulative wind forecast for Ida, issued by the HWRF model at 1 pm EDT today, 11/09/09. The HWRF forecasts that winds in excess of 50 knots (58 mph, dark green colors) will affect a swath of ocean from the tip of the Louisiana bird's foot to the coast near Alabama. Tropical storm force winds of 34 - 50 knots (39 - 57 mph) will affect a larger region, but will not penetrate very far inland. Image credit: NOAA/GFDL.

The storm surge forecast for Ida
Tides are almost 5.0' above normal at Shell Beach, LA (on the east side of New Orleans), 2.2 feet above normal at Dauphin Island, AL, and 1.7 feet above normal at Pensacola, FL (Figure 3). NHC is calling for a storm surge of 3 - 5 feet above ground level, which is a reasonable forecast even if Ida weakens further. A large stretch of coast will be subject to very high water levels for an extended period of time today and tomorrow, with battering waves on top of the surge likely to cause a significant coastal erosion event.




Figure 3. Observed vs. predicted water levels at three coastal stations. Top: Shell Beach, LA (just east of New Orleans); middle: Dauphin Island, Alabama; bottom: Pensacola, FL. The green line shows how high above normal the water is. For Shell Beach, it was 4.9 feet above normal at 6 pm CST, 2.2 feet at Dauphin Island, and 1.7 feet at Pensacola. Image credit: NOAA Tides and Currents.

Links to follow:
U.S. Severe Weather Page
Wundermap for the Gulf Coast of Alabama.
Long-range radar out of New Orleans, LA.
Coastal observations from the University of South Alabama.
Coastal observations from LSU.

Update on portlight.org charity errorts
The portlight.org disaster relief charity is gearing up to respond to any disaster needs from Tropical Storm Ida, and has sent a self-sufficient kitchen capable of serving 2000 meals per day to the Florida Panhandle region. They have another mobile kitchen ready to respond, if needed, as well as a truck filled with durable medical equipment and clinical/surgical supplies. Donations are welcome!

I'll have an update Tuesday morning.

Jeff Masters

Hurricane

Updated: 6:26 PM GMT on August 18, 2011

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Ida not weakening; spreading heavy rains inland

By: JeffMasters, 8:31 PM GMT on November 09, 2009

Data from the Hurricane Hunters this afternoon indicates that Ida has not weakened, and remains near hurricane strength. AT 3 pm EST, an Air Force airplane reported that the pressure had fallen to 991 mb, and a small area of hurricane force winds of 75 - 80 mph had developed in the outflow from a intense burst of thunderstorm activity on the southwest side of the eye. Surface winds elsewhere in the storm were 60 - 70 mph, so NHC decided that the hurricane-force winds seen by the Hurricane Hunters were a short-lived phenomena not worthy of upgrading Ida to hurricane strength for. In any case, heavy rains and storm surge, not wind, will be the primary threats from Ida. Heavy rains from the storm are lashing the Gulf Coast from southeast Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle. Rainfall amounts so far have been less than an inch, but radar estimated rainfall over the offshore waters show a core of 5 - 6 inches of rain associated with Ida's heaviest thunderstorms. Winds along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle were 20 - 35 mph this afternoon, and will steadily increase tonight as Ida draws near. Winds at the Mississippi Canyon buoy 150 miles south of Gulfport, MS were sustained at 65 mph at 1:40 pm EST, with 27 foot waves. This oil rig measures the wind at a height of 122 meters above the water, so one must reduce the winds by a factor of roughly 15% to correct the winds to the standard measurement height of 10 meters (see the journal article, GPS Dropwindsonde Wind Profiles in Hurricanes and Their Operational Implications, for more info on how to do corrections like this). This correction results in a surface wind speed of about 55 mph.


Figure 1. Long range radar out of Mobile, AL shows the eye of Ida, with the heaviest rains to the north side of the storm.

Infrared and visible satellite loops show that Ida has been holding on against high wind shear this afternoon, with heavy thunderstorm activity staying active in Ida's northern eyewall. Most of Ida's heavy thunderstorms have been displaced to the north of the storm, due to strong upper-level winds out of the southwest creating 35 knots of wind shear. Water vapor satellite imagery reveals a large area of dry air to the southwest of Ida, and the shear has now driven this dry air deep into the core of the storm, significantly disrupting it.

The intensity forecast for Ida
There is not much change to the intensity forecast for Ida. The high wind shear of 35 knots currently affecting the storm is forecast to increase to 40 knots early this evening, and 50 knots by midnight. With Ida now over waters near 26°C, which is barely enough to support a hurricane, and with water temperatures decreasing to 23°C near the coast, continued weakening is to be expected. However, Ida is beginning to transition to an extratropical storm (Figure 2). The spiral band on its east side no longer spirals around the storm, but instead hooks to the southeast like a giant comma, looking more like a front than a spiral band. It is often the case that during such a transition the winds will not die down much. I expect another bout of weakening will take Ida's top winds down to the 50 - 60 mph range along the coast tonight through Tuesday morning, though, since Ida is still partially tropical. Regardless of Ida's strength at landfall, the storm will be able to dump 4 - 8 inches of rain along the Gulf Coast and well inland. We can't rule out the possibility of an isolated tornado when Ida makes landfall, but the Storm Prediction Center Discussion maintains that the airmass in place over the Gulf Coast is relatively stable, and prospects for an appreciable severe weather threat appear low.


Figure 2. Afternoon satellite image of Ida, showing the classic signature of a tropical storm undergoing transition to an extratropical storm. There is heavy thunderstorm activity near the center, but the long band of clouds to the east of Ida doesn't look much like a spiral band--it looks more like a front.

The storm surge forecast for Ida
Tides are almost 4.0 above normal at Shell Beach, LA (on the east side of New Orleans) 2.0 feet above normal at Dauphin Island, AL, and 1.5 feet above normal at Pensacola, FL (Figure 3). NHC is calling for a storm surge of 3 - 5 feet above ground level, which is a reasonable forecast even if Ida weakens further. A large stretch of coast will be subject to very high water levels for an extended period of time today and tomorrow, with battering waves on top of the surge likely to cause a significant coastal erosion event.




Figure 3. Observed vs. predicted water levels at three coastal stations. Top: Shell Beach, LA (just east of New Orleans); middle: Dauphin Island, Alabama; bottom: Pensacola, FL. The green line shows how high above normal the water is. For Shell Beach, it was 3.6 feet above normal at 2 pm CST, 2.0 feet at Dauphin Island, and 1.5 feet at Pensacola. Image credit: NOAA Tides and Currents.

Comparing to Hurricane Kate
The last November hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico was Hurricane Kate. Kate struck the Florida Panhandle near Mexico Beach on November 21, 1985 as a Category 2 storm with 105 mph winds. According to Wikipedia, Kate killed five people in Florida and did $300 million (1985 dollars) in damage. Ida will cause relatively minor damage compared to Kate.

Links to follow:
U.S. Severe Weather Page
Wundermap for the Gulf Coast of Alabama.
Long-range radar out of New Orleans, LA.
Navarre Beach, FL webcam.
Coastal observations from the University of South Alabama.
Coastal observations from LSU.

Update on portlight.org charity errorts
The portlight.org disaster relief charity is gearing up to respond to any disaster needs from Tropical Storm Ida, and has sent a self-sufficient kitchen capable of serving 2000 meals per day to the Florida Panhandle region. They have another mobile kitchen ready to respond, if needed, as well as a truck filled with durable medical equipment and clinical/surgical supplies. Donations are welcome!

I'll have an update between 7 - 8 pm tonight.

Jeff Masters

Hurricane

Updated: 6:26 PM GMT on August 18, 2011

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Ida weakens to a tropical storm; tropical disturbance 96E kills 124 in El Salvador

By: JeffMasters, 3:20 PM GMT on November 09, 2009

Tropical Storm Ida is steadily weakening as it hurtles northwards towards the Gulf of Mexico coast. Rains from Ida have already pushed into south-central Louisiana, where radar estimates indicate up to an inch of rain has fallen. Winds along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle were 20 - 25 mph this morning, and will steadily increase today as Ida draws near. Winds at the Mississippi Canyon buoy 150 miles south of Gulfport, MS were sustained at 45 mph at 8 am EST this morning, with 19 foot waves.


Figure 1. Microwave "radar in space" image of Ida taken at 7:15 am EST on Monday, 11/9/09. The eye is visible as a dark spot, but the eyewall has partially collapsed. The strongest echoes are on the north side of the storm, and Ida's heaviest rains and highest winds will hit the coast tonight, well in advance of the arrival of the center. Image credit: Navy Research Lab, Monterey.

Infrared and visible satellite loops show that wind shear has substantially degraded the appearance of Ida, and there is very little heavy thunderstorm activity in the storm's eyewall. Most of Ida's heavy thunderstorms have been displaced to the north of the storm, due to strong upper-level winds out of the southwest creating 30 knots of wind shear. Water vapor satellite imagery reveals a large area of dry air to the southwest of Ida, and the shear has now driven this dry air deep into the core of the storm, significantly disrupting it. The latest 6:30am EST vortex report from the Hurricane Hunters reported that the eyewall was ragged, and the pressure had risen to 997 mb. A recent microwave satellite image of Ida (Figure 1) shows that the eyewall is weak and has partially collapsed. Ida's most intense thunderstorms are on the north side of the storm, and the heaviest rains and highest winds will hit the coast tonight, well in advance of the arrival of the center.

The intensity forecast for Ida
The intensity forecast models predict that Ida's winds will range between 50 - 65 knots (58 - 74 mph) at landfall. The high wind shear of 30 knots currently affecting Ida is forecast to increase to 40 knots by late afternoon, and 55 knots by midnight. With Ida now over waters near 26°C, which is barely enough to support a hurricane, and with water temperatures decreasing to 23°C near the coast, the combination of high wind shear and cold waters will act to significantly weaken Ida. However, Ida is beginning to transition to an extratropical storm, and it is often the case that during such a transition the winds will gain energy from the process, though that's looking unlikely in this case. I expect Ida's top winds will be in the 50 - 60 mph range along the coast tonight and Tuesday morning. Regardless of Ida's strength at landfall, the storm will be able to dump 4 - 8 inches of rain along the Gulf Coast and well inland. We can't rule out the possibility of an isolated tornado when Ida makes landfall, but the Storm Prediction Center Discussion maintains that the airmass in place over the Gulf Coast is relatively stable, and prospects for an appreciable severe weather threat appear low.


Figure 2. Maximum storm surge (depth of water above ground) for a Category 1 hurricane with 85 mph winds moving north-northeast at 15 mph. Ida is expected to be moving at this speed and direction at landfall, but will be much weaker, so surges will not be this high. Furthermore, the storm will not create this level of surge along the entire coast--the image above is a composite worst-case scenario for all the storms shown by the black tracks with arrows. Image credit: NOAA SLOSH model run for Mobile Bay, 2008 version. Heights are given relative to the NAVD88 datum.

The storm surge forecast for Ida
Storm surge is the other major concern for Ida. With a strong high pressure system anchored over the U.S. today, the pressure difference between this high and Ida is creating a strong pressure gradient that was driving tides 2.5 feet above normal at Shell Beach, LA (on the east side of New Orleans) this morning, one foot above normal at Dauphin Island, AL, and one foot at Pensacola, FL (Figure 3). NHC is now calling for a storm surge of 3 - 5 feet above ground level, which is a reasonable forecast even if Ida weakens further. A large stretch of coast will be subject to very high water levels for an extended period of time today and tomorrow, with battering waves on top of the surge likely to cause a significant coastal erosion event. A particular concern is the western end of Alabama's Dauphin Island, when even a strong tropical storm can cause significant damage to the low-lying, heavily developed barrier island. The tidal range along the Gulf Coast varies by about 1.5 feet between low and high tide, and high tide is near 2 am EST on Tuesday.




Figure 3. Observed vs. predicted water levels at three coastal stations. Top: Shell Beach, LA (just east of New Orleans); middle: Dauphin Island, Alabama; bottom: Pensacola, FL. The green line shows how high above normal the water is. For Shell Beach, it was 2.5 feet above normal at 9am CST, while it was just over 1.0 feet above normal at the other two locations. Image credit: NOAA Tides and Currents.

Comparing to Hurricane Kate
The last November hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico was Hurricane Kate. Kate struck the Florida Panhandle near Mexico Beach on November 21, 1985 as a Category 2 storm with 105 mph winds. According to Wikipedia, Kate killed five people in Florida and did $300 million (1985 dollars) in damage. Ida will cause relatively minor damage compared to Kate.

Links to follow:
U.S. Severe Weather Page
Wundermap for the Gulf Coast of Alabama.
Long-range radar out of New Orleans, LA.
Navarre Beach, FL webcam.
Coastal observations from the University of South Alabama.
Coastal observations from LSU.

El Salvador floods kill 124
Heavy rains that began on Thursday due to tropical disturbance 96E have killed at least 124 people in El Salvador, with 60 people still missing. The flooding hit the capital of San Salvador and rural areas to the east. The heavy rains were due to tropical disturbance 96E (Figure 4), which formed off the coast of El Salvador on Wednesday, November 4. The counter-clockwise flow of air around the disturbance pulled large quantities of moist, Pacific air over the coastal mountains in El Salvador, dumping heavy rains of up to five inches, according to satellite estimates. The rains must have been much heavier over a small area that the satellite could not resolve. The terrible devastation I'm seeing in news photos indicates much higher rains of perhaps 10 - 15 inches must have fallen in a concentrated area in the mountains.


Figure 4. Satellite image of tropical disturbance 96E, which moved over El Salvador Thursday through Saturday, bringing heavy rains. Also pictured is Tropical Depression Eleven, which intensified into Tropical Storm Ida later that day. Ida was not responsible for the flooding in El Salvador, though it may have helped pull 96E into El Salvador. NASA has a nice zoom image> of 96E from November 5.

I'll have an update on Ida this afternoon.

Jeff Masters

Hurricane

Updated: 6:27 PM GMT on August 18, 2011

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Ida takes aim at the U.S. Gulf Coast

By: JeffMasters, 11:17 PM GMT on November 08, 2009

Hurricane Ida burst into the Gulf of Mexico as a Category 2 hurricane with 100 mph winds this afternoon, and is poised to deliver a solid blow to the U.S. Gulf Coast between Southeast Louisiana and the Florida Panhandle on Tuesday morning. Radar imagery out of Cancun reveals that Ida has retained its tight inner core this afternoon, with only limited rain bands affecting Mexico and western Cuba. Top winds at Cancun, Mexico today were only 15 mph, despite the fact that Ida passed just 60 miles east of the city. Infrared and visible satellite loops show little change in the intensity of Ida's heavy thunderstorms this afternoon, but the cloud pattern is beginning to become distorted due to strong upper-level winds from the southwest that are creating 20 - 25 knots of wind shear over the hurricane. Water vapor satellite imagery reveals a large area of dry air to the southwest of Ida, but this dry air has not yet intruded into Ida's core. The latest 5:30 pm EST vortex report from the Hurricane Hunters showed that the central pressure had risen 1 mb, to 977 mb, but that the surface winds were still near 100 mph. They noted that the eyewall was open to the east, a sign that Ida's inner core may be in trouble.


Figure 1. MODIS satellite image from NASA's Terra spacecraft, taken at 1:35 pm EST 11/08/09. Image credit: NASA.

The intensity forecast for Ida
The high wind shear of 20 - 25 knots currently affecting Ida is forecast to persist at that level until Monday night. With the storm now beginning to show a distortion of the cloud pattern due to this shear, it would not be a surprise of the shear managed to inject some dry air into Ida's core Monday morning, significantly weakening the storm. Aiding this process will be cooler waters. Early Monday morning, Ida will be crossing over waters of 26°C, which is barely enough to support a hurricane. By Monday night, wind shear is expected to increase to 40 knots, which ordinarily would begin to tear the storm apart. This wind shear is due to an extratropical low pressure system over the western Gulf of Mexico, and this low will begin dumping cold, stable air into Ida Monday night through Tuesday. This will cause Ida to begin transitioning to an extratropical storm, and it is possible that during the transition Ida's winds will die down relatively slowly, despite the wind shear. The intensity forecast has a high amount of uncertainty, and I wouldn't be surprised at a landfall strength anywhere in the range of 45 mph - 80 mph. My personal best guess is a 50 - 60 mph tropical storm at landfall. Regardless of Ida's strength at landfall, the storm will be able to dump 4 - 8 inches of rain along the Gulf Coast, from New Orleans to Panama City. Isolated tornadoes will also be possible, primarily to the right side of Ida's track.


Figure 2. Maximum storm surge (depth of water above ground) for a Category 1 hurricane with 85 mph winds moving north-northeast at 15 mph. Ida is expected to be moving at this speed and direction at landfall, but will probably be weaker, so surges will not be this high. Image credit: NOAA SLOSH model run for Mobile Bay, 2008 version. Heights are given relative to the NAVD88 datum.

The storm surge forecast for Ida
Storm surge is the other major concern for Ida. With a strong high pressure system anchored over the U.S. today, the pressure difference between this high and Ida is creating a strong pressure gradient that will drive tides 3 - 5 feet above normal from New Orleans to the Florida Panhandle tonight. As Ida approaches on Monday, an additional rise in water will occur, and a large stretch of coast will be subject to very high water levels for an extended period of time. With battering waves building Monday afternoon into Tuesday morning, a significant coastal erosion event is shaping up. A particular concern is the western end of Alabama's Dauphin Island, where storm surges from four hurricanes over the past fifteen years have caused heavy damage to the low-lying heavily developed island. If Ida makes a direct hit on Mobile Bay as a Category 1 hurricane with 85 mph winds, a storm surge of up to six feet is possible there, assuming the storm hits at mean tide. The tidal range along the Gulf Coast varies by about 1.5 feet between low and high tide (Figure 3). High tide is near 2 am EST on Tuesday, but the official NHC forecast currently has the storm hitting between 6 am - 9 am, when the tide will be going out, so the storm may indeed be hitting at about mean tide.


Figure 3. The tide forecast for the Gulf Coast calls for high tide to occur around 2 am EST Tuesday morning. Ida is expected to hit later that morning, while the tide is going out.

I'll have an update Monday morning.

Links to follow:

U.S. Severe Weather Page
Cancun radar

Jeff Masters

Hurricane

Updated: 6:27 PM GMT on August 18, 2011

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Hurricane Ida churns into the Gulf of Mexico

By: JeffMasters, 3:21 PM GMT on November 08, 2009

Hurricane Ida is threading the gap between Cuba and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula as a Category 1 hurricane, and now appears poised to bring a punishing combination of high tides and heavy rain Monday night and Tuesday morning to the U.S. Gulf Coast. Ida is a compact hurricane, and radar imagery out of Cancun (Figure 1) reveals a tight inner core, with only limited rain bands affecting Mexico and western Cuba as the storm shoots through the Yucatan Channel. Top winds at Cancun, Mexico this morning have only been 15 mph, despite the fact that Ida is passing just 60 miles east of the city. Infrared and visible satellite loops show little change to Ida's heavy thunderstorm over the past six hours, and the hurricane appears to have changed little since the last Hurricane Hunter aircraft left at 6:30 am. A new Hurricane Hunter mission is scheduled for 1 pm EST this afternoon.

Wind shear has increased over the storm since yesterday, and is now a high 20 - 25 knots. However, the storm is over some of the warmest waters in the Atlantic, with SSTs at 29°C, and the total ocean heat content a very high 100 kJ/cm^2.


Figure 1. Radar image of Ida from 9:28 am EST 11/08/09 from the Cancun, Mexico radar. Image credit; CONAGUA.

The forecast for Ida
The high wind shear of 20 - 25 knots currently affecting Ida is forecast to persist at that level until Monday night. Some slow intensification is still possible while Ida remains over the exceptionally warm water of the Loop Current in the Gulf of Mexico, through tonight (Figure 2). Late tonight, Ida will be crossing over waters of 26°C, which is barely enough to support a hurricane. With shear still expected to be at 20 -25 knots, I expect weakening to begin early Monday morning and accelerate on Monday afternoon. At that time, Ida will encounter 40 knots of wind shear associated with a cold front over the Gulf of Mexico, and begin transitioning to an extratropical storm. Exactly how strong Ida will be when it reaches the coast early Tuesday morning--and indeed if Ida even does reach the coast--is a forecast with high uncertainty. The computer models have a tough time forecasting the evolution of a tropical cyclone into an extratropical cyclone, and the models are all over the place on what will happen. Most of the models foresee a landfall near 1 am EST Tuesday between Mississippi and Pensacola, Florida, then a path northeastward over the Southeast U.S. However, Ida could come to halt before reaching the coast and turn east towards Tampa (the UKMET model's forecast), or turn south back over the Gulf of Mexico (the NOGAPS model's forecast). In any case, storm surge and heavy rain appear to be the main hazards from Ida. The GFDL model (Figure 3) is forecasting rain amounts of 4 - 8 inches for a large swath of the Gulf Coast, and there is a risk of tornadoes if the warm air from the core of Ida pushes ashore.


Figure 2. SSTs in the Gulf of Mexico, with the forecast track of Ida from Sunday's 10 am EST NHC forecast superimposed. Image credit: NOAA/AOML.

Storm surge is the other concern. With a strong high pressure system anchored voer the U.S. today, the pressure difference between this high and Ida is creating a strong pressure gradient that will drive tides 3 - 5 feet above normal from New Orleans to the Florida Panhandle tonight. As Ida approaches on Monday, an additional rise in water of another two feet is possible, and a large stretch of coast will be subject to very high water levels for an extended period of time. With high winds of 45 - 55 mph likely to build Monday afternoon into Tuesday morning, significant coastal erosion event is shaping up. A particular concern is the low-lying, heavily developed western end of Alabama's Dauphin Island, where storm surges from four hurricanes over the past fifteen years have caused heavy damage.


Figure 3. Total rainfall amounts from the 1 am EST Sunday 11/08/09 run of the GFDL model. Image credit: Morris Bender, NOAA/GFDL.

I'll have an update later today.

Links to follow:

U.S. Severe Weather Page
Cancun radar

Jeff Masters

Hurricane

Updated: 6:28 PM GMT on August 18, 2011

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Ida strengthens, could be a hurricane for the Yucatan

By: JeffMasters, 3:19 PM GMT on November 07, 2009

Tropical Storm Ida is slowly strengthening, as it heads north-northwest towards an encounter with Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. Infrared satellite loops show that Ida's heavy thunderstorms are expanding in area, and the cloud tops are cooling, indicating that the updrafts in the storm are growing stronger and pushing higher into the atmosphere. Wind shear is a moderate 15 - 20 knots, and is forecast to remain moderate through Sunday night. SSTs are a warm 29°C, and the total ocean heat content is over 100 kJ/cm^2, which is very favorable for intensification. The rains have ended over Nicaragua and Honduras, and Ida dumped up to eleven inches of rain along the coast in Nicaragua, causing flooding that damaged thousands of homes, but caused no deaths or injuries as of yet.


Figure 1. Satellite-estimated rainfall from Ida. The dark red colors (275 mm) represent rainfall in excess of about eleven inches. Image credit: NASA/TRMM project. Wunderground meteorologist Dr. Rob Carver presents another estimate of Ida's precipitation in his blog today.

The forecast for Ida
The moderate wind shear of 15 - 20 knots should allow for continued slow but steady intensification of Ida through Sunday afternoon, as long as the center remains over water. I give Ida a medium (30 - 50% chance) of reaching Category 1 hurricane strength before arriving at the Yucatan, since the total heat content of the ocean in the Western Caribbean is so high. We'll have a better idea of Ida's current strength early this afternoon, when the Hurricane Hunters have had time to investigate the storm.

The current wind speed probabilities for Cozumel give the Mexican resort island a 46% chance of receiving tropical storm-force winds of 39 mph of higher, Sunday or Monday. The odds of receiving hurricane force winds are given as 3%. Given the current trend in organization of Ida, these numbers should probably be bumped up to about 60% and 5%, respectively.

Once Ida crosses into the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday night, the storm will encounter much cooler SSTs and a strong trough of low pressure that will dump cold air into the storm and bring 40 knots of wind shear. This will cause Ida to lose its tropical characteristics and become a powerful extratropical storm with 45 - 55 mph winds. It is highly unlikely that Ida will hit the U.S. as a tropical storm, but it could still bring tropical storm-force winds of 45 mph to the coast next week as an extratropical storm.

I'll have an update later today, or on Sunday morning.

Jeff Masters

Hurricane

Updated: 6:28 PM GMT on August 18, 2011

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Ida survives its Central American crossing

By: JeffMasters, 3:04 PM GMT on November 06, 2009

Hurricane Ida rumbled ashore over eastern Nicaragua yesterday morning as a Category 1 hurricane with 75 mph winds--the first November Atlantic hurricane to make landfall in an El Niño year since 1925. Now just a tropical depression, Ida has crossed over into Honduras, dumping heavy rains of 6 - 10 inches along the coast of Nicaragua and northeast Honduras, according to satellite estimates. The rains have pretty much ended over Nicaragua, thanks to the collapse of Ida's heavy thunderstorm activity on the south side of the center. Thunderstorm activity is still strong to the north of the center, over coastal Honduras and the waters of the Western Caribbean. Satellite loops show that Ida still has a vigorous circulation, and with the center due to move offshore tonight, it is apparent that Ida will survive the crossing of Nicaragua and Honduras.


Figure 1. Tropical Storm Ida at 1 pm EST November 5, 2009. In this MODIS image captured seven hours after landfall, Ida was a tropical storm with 65 mph winds. Image credit: NASA.

The forecast for Ida
Ida will dump another 1 - 2 inches of rain over northeastern Honduras today. The Cayman Islands, Belize, and the rest of the Honduras coast can expect occasional heavy rains of 1 - 4 inches over the next two days as spiral bands from Ida bring squally weather. Much heavier rains of 4 - 8 inches are likely to affect Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and Western Cuba beginning Saturday, as Ida heads north towards the Yucatan Channel. Higher rain amounts may occur if Ida intensifies more than forecast.


Figure 2. Total heat content of the ocean (the Tropical Cyclone Heat Potential, TCHP) for November 4, 2005 compared to November 4, 2009. TCHP values in excess of 80 - 90 kJ/cm^2 (yellow, orange, and red colors) are often associated with rapid intensification of hurricanes. This year has higher heat content in the Western Caribbean than the record-breaking Hurricane Season of 2005. The higher heat content this year is partially because we haven't had any tropical cyclone activity in the Western Caribbean, while 2005 had some record strong storms--particularly Hurricane Wilma--that churned up cold water from the depths. Image credit: NOAA/AOML.

Moderate wind shear of 15 - 20 knots and warm waters await await Ida when it emerges over the Western Caribbean tonight, and some modest strengthening is likely. It is a concern that Ida could reach Category 1 hurricane strength before it reaches the Yucatan, as the total heat content of the ocean in the Western Caribbean is very high this year (Figure 2). However, given Ida's current disorganized state and the presence of 15 - 20 knots of shear, the odds of the storm reaching hurricane strength before passing the Yucatan on Sunday night are probably low, less than 30%.

The current wind speed probabilities for Cozumel give the Mexican resort island a 26% chance of receiving tropical storm-force winds of 39 mph of higher, Sunday or Monday. I expect Ida will be a tropical storm with 45 - 65 mph winds as it passes Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and enters the Gulf of Mexico on Monday. Passage over the Yucatan or western Cuba may cause significant weakening. With the shear expected to increase to a high 20 - 30 knots once Ida reaches the Gulf of Mexico on Monday, and with cooler water temperatures there, landfall of Ida as a hurricane on the U.S. coast is unlikely. The long-term fate of Ida once it reaches the Gulf of Mexico is hard to guess at this point, with the models offering a wide range of solutions. While a landfall along the Gulf Coast of Florida is a good bet, the trough of low pressure pulling Ida to the north may speed eastwards fast enough to strand Ida in the Gulf, where it would be forced westwards or southwestwards away from Florida, eventually hitting Texas or Mexico, or simply dissipating in the Gulf due to high wind shear. I give Ida a 50% chance of eventually hitting the U.S. Gulf Coast.

I'll have an update Saturday morning, or this afternoon if there's some interesting development to report.

Jeff Masters

Hurricane

Updated: 6:28 PM GMT on August 18, 2011

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Hurricane Ida hits Nicaragua

By: JeffMasters, 3:31 PM GMT on November 05, 2009

Hurricane Ida intensified at one of the fastest rates on record, and plowed ashore this morning in central Nicaragua as a Category 1 hurricane with 75 mph winds. It took just 24 hours from when the first advisory was issued for Tropical Depression Eleven until Ida reached hurricane strength. Since reliable satellite measurements began in 1970, Hurricane Humberto holds the record for fastest intensification from first advisory issued to hurricane strength--18 hours. (Actually, Humberto did the feat in 14 1/4 hours, but this was rounded off to 18 hours in the final data base, which stores points every six hours). There have been six storms that accomplished the feat in 24 hours--Hurricane Florence of 2000, Hurricane Erin of 1995, Hurricane Bonnie of 1992, Hurricane Earl of 1986, Hurricane Kate of 1985, and Hurricane Kendra of 1978. Ida now joins that short list of rapidly intensifying storms.

Ida will dump very heavy rains of 10 - 15 inches over northern Nicaragua and northeastern Honduras over the next two days, which will likely make it the deadliest storm of the 2009 hurricane season. However, Ida is a relatively small storm, and has not tapped the Pacific Ocean as a source of moisture. I think the NHC forecast of 15 - 20 inches of rain is overdone. The greatest rainfall disasters in Honduras history--caused by Hurricane Fifi of 1974 and Hurricane Mitch of 1998--were caused because these were large storms that were able to pull in moisture from both the Atlantic and Pacific. Ida will not approach these disasters in magnitude.


Figure 1. Microwave "weather radar in space" image of Ida at landfall this morning, at 6:17 am EST. Image credit Navy Research Lab, Monterey.

The forecast for Ida
Ida will likely spend a full two days over Nicaragua and Honduras, and there is a chance that Ida will dissipate. The HWRF and ECMWF don't show much surviving of Ida after crossing into the Western Caribbean. However, the other models like Ida's chances of surviving, and it is the case that the storm's core will be tracking over relatively low elevation land (Figure 2), increasing the chances that Ida can survive the crossing intact. If Ida survives the crossing and emerges into the Western Caribbean on Saturday, moderate wind shear of 15 - 20 knots and warm waters await it, and some modest strengthening is likely. A trough of low pressure in the Gulf of Mexico this weekend should be able to propel Ida northwards into the Gulf of Mexico. The long-term fate of Ida if it reaches the Gulf of Mexico is hard to guess at this point, though the odds are against Ida hitting the U.S. as a hurricane, due to high wind shear.


Figure 2. Projected track from the 10am EST NHC advisory from Thursday, 11/05/09, overlaid on a topographical map of Central America. Image credit: Wikipedia.

Looking at the past to predict the future
Perhaps the best way to estimate the chances of Ida surviving the crossing of Nicaragua and Honduras is to look at past storms that have followed similar tracks, to see if they dissipated or not. History favors Ida surviving the crossing. The two best analogue storms occurred in 1906 and 1908. Hurricane Eight of October 10, 1906, hit Nicaragua as a Category 3 hurricane, spent two days over land, weakening to a tropical storm, then emerged into the Western Caribbean and re-intensified into a Category 3 hurricane that hit Cuba and South Florida. On the other hand, Hurricane Nine of October 18, 1908, which hit Nicaragua as a Category 2 hurricane, dissipated after spending 1.5 days over land. Three other weaker systems have followed paths similar to Ida's, and all survived the crossing and re-intensified once over the Western Caribbean. Tropical Storm Gert of 1993 hit as a 40 mph tropical storm, spent two days over land, and survived to re-intensify to a tropical storm before hitting the Yucatan Peninsula. Hurricane Alma of June 1996 hit Nicaragua as a tropical depression, spent two days over land, and survived. Alma later intensified into a major Category 3 hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. Tropical Storm Six of 1940 hit Nicaragua as a 45 mph tropical storm, spent 1.5 days over land, and survived the crossing. So, of the five storms to follow a path similar to Ida's projected path, four survived to re-intensify over the Western Caribbean.

I'll have an update Friday morning.

Jeff Masters

Hurricane

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Tropical Storm Ida a major flood threat for Nicaragua and Honduras

By: JeffMasters, 9:33 PM GMT on November 04, 2009

Tropical Storm Ida has arrived, the ninth named storm of the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season. Visible satellite loops show that Ida continues to steadily organize, with surface spiral banding and upper-level outflow now obvious over the northern portion of the storm. An Air Force hurricane hunter aircraft is in the storm, and found a large area of surface winds in the 45 - 50 mph range, with a smaller area of 60 mph winds, prompting NHC to upgrade the storm.


Figure 1. Afternoon satellite image of Ida.

Ida is currently under low wind shear, 5 - 10 knots, and shear is expected to remain in the low to moderate range in the Western Caribbean for the remainder of the week. Sea Surface Temperatures (SSTs) are 29°C and the Tropical Cyclone Heat Potential is about 40 kJ/cm^2, which is enough energy for a hurricane to form, if the center remains over water long enough. The Western Caribbean is plenty moist, and dry air is not an issue for Ida. Ida is currently too small to be affected by tropical disturbance (Invest 96E) 500 miles to its west, over the Eastern Pacific.

The forecast for Ida
The 1 - 3 day forecast for Ida has come into better focus now that the storm has formed, and models have come into better agreement. The current west to northwesterly motion of Ida should carry it inland over northeastern Nicaragua early Thursday morning. Ida is too small to tap the Pacific as a source of moisture, and it is just the northeastern portions of Nicaragua and Honduras that need to be concerned with heavy rains and mudslides. With Ida expected to spend a full two days over land, rainfall amounts of 10 - 15 inches over northeastern Nicaragua and Honduras will likely make Ida the deadliest storm of the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season. There is a medium chance (30 - 50%) that Ida will dissipate while over land. If Ida survives the crossing and emerges into the Western Caribbean on Saturday, low to moderate wind shear and warm waters await it, and strengthening is likely. An extratropical storm is forecast by GFS and ECMWF models to form in the Gulf of Mexico's Bay of Campeche on Saturday, and the counter-clockwise flow of air around this storm may propel Ida northwards into the Gulf of Mexico by Monday. However, both of these models show a high pressure ridge building in and forcing Ida southwards, back into the Caribbean, by the middle of next week. The long term fate of Ida, should it survive the crossing of Nicaragua and Honduras, remains murky.

Jeff Masters

Hurricane

Updated: 6:29 PM GMT on August 18, 2011

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Tropical Depression Eleven forms

By: JeffMasters, 3:13 PM GMT on November 04, 2009

Tropical Depression Eleven has formed in the Southwestern Caribbean, off the coast of Costa Rica, and appears poised to intensify into Tropical Storm Ida later today. TD 11 has increased its organization and heavy thunderstorm activity this morning, and visible satellite loops clearly show the rotation of TD 11's cloud pattern. The presence of a surface circulation was not evident in this morning's QuikSCAT pass, but the satellite presentation of TD 11 was convincing enough to allow NHC to declare this a tropical depression. QuikSCAT saw top winds in the 25 - 30 mph range this morning, and winds at San Andreas Island, about 80 miles north of the center of TD 11, were easterly at 28 mph at 9am EST.


Figure 1. Morning satellite image of TD 11 over the Atlantic off the coast of Costa Rica, Invest 96E over the East Pacific off the coast of Guatemala, and cloudiness over the Gulf of Mexico's Bay of Campeche associated with the remains of an old cold front.

TD 11 is currently under moderate wind shear, 10 - 15 knots, and shear is expected to remain in the moderate range as long as the storm remains south of 14N latitude (central Nicaragua). Sea Surface Temperatures (SSTs) are 29°C and the Tropical Cyclone Heat Potential is about 40 kJ/cm^2, which is plenty of energy for a hurricane to form, if the center remains over water long enough. There is dry air over the northern Caribbean, but this is too far north to slow down development. A limiting factor for development may be the formation of a tropical disturbance (Invest 96E) 500 miles to its west, over the Eastern Pacific south of Guatemala. If this new disturbance grows strong enough, it may compete with TD 11 for moisture.

The forecast for TD 11
The forecast for TD 11 is highly complex with high uncertainty. Steering currents are weak in the Southwest Caribbean, and TD 11 will move slowly over the next two days. The future steering of TD 11 will strongly depend upon the development and track of the Invest 96E disturbance 500 miles to its west. If 96E develops and tracks northwards towards Guatemala, as suggested by the GFDL model, TD 11 would likely be steered northwards later this week, remaining over water as it approaches the Cayman Islands on Monday. If, on the other hand, 96E moves due west away from 97E, as suggested by the NOGAPS model, 97E might also move due west, over Nicaragua, and emerge over the Eastern Pacific early next week. Another complicating influence might be the development of an extratropical or subtropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico's Bay of Campeche on Saturday or Sunday. The GFS and ECMWF models are predicting the formation of a low pressure system over the Bay of Campeche this weekend, along the remains of an old cold front. This low is expected to track northwards towards Louisiana, and might act to also pull TD 11 northwards. The exact amount of steering influence this extratropical low and 96E might have on TD 11 depends strongly on how large and intense TD 11 becomes. At present, TD 11 is a very small system, and so is only being affecting by steering influences in its immediate vicinity.

If TD 11 intensifies into a tropical storm in the next three days, as seems likely, the storm will probably tap into moisture from the Pacific Ocean. This moisture will flow over Costa Rica, western Panama, and southern Nicaragua into TD 11's circulation, bringing 3 - 6 inches of rain today through Friday. Heavier rains are likely along the east coast of Nicaragua, where an intense spiral band of rainfall has formed this morning. An Air Force Hurricane Hunter mission is scheduled to investigate TD 11 this afternoon to see if it has become Tropical Storm Ida.


Figure 2. Estimated rainfall amounts from Typhoon Mirinae. Rainfall in excess of eight inches (200 mm, red colors) affected portions of central Vietnam. Image credit: NASA TRMM project.

Typhoon Mirinae kills at least 90 in Vietnam
Typhoon Mirinae hit Vietnam Monday as a Category 1 typhoon, dumping rains responsible for at least 90 deaths, with 22 people missing. Over 200,000 people were stranded, 700 homes destroyed, and 13,000 homes damaged by the typhoon. Mirinae intensified suddenly just before landfall, bringing rainfall in excess of 8 inches (200 mm) to portions of central Vietnam (Figure 2). In the Philippines, rainfall amounts were lower--generally less than six inches. Mirinae killed at least 27 people in the Philippines.

Jeff Masters

Hurricane

Updated: 6:30 PM GMT on August 18, 2011

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Western Caribbean disturbance 97L likely to become a tropical depression

By: JeffMasters, 3:39 PM GMT on November 03, 2009

An area of low pressure with a surface circulation has developed in the Southwestern Caribbean, off the coast of Costa Rica. This disturbance, designated Invest 97L by the National Hurricane Center this morning, appears likely to develop into a tropical depression over the next two days. Satellite loops clearly show that 97L has a surface circulation, and low-level spiral bands have begun to develop. There is not very much heavy thunderstorm activity, though it is steadily increasing. An ASCAT pass from 10pm EST last night showed top winds of about 30 mph in the heaviest thunderstorms.


Figure 1. Morning satellite image of Invest 97L.

The disturbance is currently under moderate wind shear, 10 - 15 knots, and shear is expected to remain in the moderate range for the next five days over the Western Caribbean. Sea Surface Temperatures (SSTs) are 29°C and the Tropical Cyclone Heat Potential is about 40 kJ/cm^2, which is plenty of energy for a hurricane to form. There is dry air over the northern Caribbean, but this is too far north to slow down development over the next three days. The main limiting factor for development will be the slow movement of the 97L, which will allow it to stir up cold water from the depths, cooling surface SSTs.

The forecast for 97L
Steering currents are weak in the Southwest Caribbean, and 97L will move little over the next three days. If the disturbance intensifies into a tropical storm in the next three days, as seems likely, 97L will tap into moisture from the Pacific Ocean. This moisture will flow over Costa Rica, western Panama, and southern Nicaragua into 97L's circulation, bringing 4 - 8 inches of rain to these areas Wednesday through Friday. There is a high potential for life-threatening flash flooding and mudslides in these regions. By Friday, steering currents are expected to pull 97L north or northwest, along the coast of Nicaragua or inland over northeastern Nicaragua and Honduras. By Monday, 97L may pass over Western Cuba and enter the Gulf of Mexico, as predicted by the ECMWF model; an alternate solution, provided by the GFS model, keeps the storm farther south, pushing it into Belize and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. With the storm just beginning to organize and steering currents weak, it is impossible to rate the likelihood of these scenarios. NHC is currently giving 97L a medium (30 - 50% chance) of developing into a tropical depression by Thursday. I rate 97L's chances at high (greater than 50%). An Air Force Hurricane Hunter mission is scheduled to investigate 97L on Wednesday afternoon.

Typhoon Mirinae kills at least 40 in Vietnam
Typhoon Mirinae is no more, but has left in its wake serious flooding in the Philippines and Vietnam. Mirinae hit Vietnam yesterday as a Category 1 typhoon, dumping rains responsible for at least 40 deaths, with 11 people missing. Vietnam is still recovering from the effects of Typhoon Ketsana last month, which left 163 dead and $801 million in damage.

In the Philippines, residents are cleaning up the mess left by Mirinae, which hit Luzon Island on Saturday as a borderline Category 1 or 2 typhoon with 95 - 100 mph winds. Mirinae killed at least sixteen people in the Philippines. Rainfall amounts from the typhoon in the Philippines were less than six inches, but that was enough to create substantial flooding, due to the saturated soils left by two previous typhoons.

Jeff Masters

Hurricane

Updated: 6:30 PM GMT on August 18, 2011

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Invest 96L fizzles; Mirinae slams Vietnam; Western Caribbean heating up?

By: JeffMasters, 2:47 PM GMT on November 02, 2009

A non-tropical low pressure system in the middle Atlantic Ocean, about 350 miles east-northeast of Bermuda, has lost its opportunity to become Subtropical Storm Ida. This storm (Invest 96L) did develop a modest amount of heavy thunderstorm activity last night, and appeared on its way towards being named. However, high wind shear of 40 knots has now attacked 96L, driving large amounts of dry air into its core. The storm has now lost all of its heavy thunderstorms, and I give a low (less than 30% chance) that 96L will develop into Subtropical Storm Ida.


Figure 1. Morning satellite image of Invest 96L, east of Bermuda.

Time to keep an eye on the Western Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico
Moisture is on the increase over the Western Caribbean, and the GFS model is suggesting a tropical depression could form in the Western Caribbean or in the Gulf of Mexico's Bay of Campeche west of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, 6 - 8 days from now. The other reliable models for forecasting formation of tropical storms--the ECMWF, NOGAPS, and UKMET--do not support this. However, the less reliable Canadian model also suggests a Western Caribbean development 6 - 8 days from now. Despite the presence of moderate El Niño conditions, wind shear over the Western Caribbean is expected to fall into the low to moderate range, 5 - 20 knots, late this week and most of next week. Hurricane season is not over, and we should keep a watchful eye on the Western Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico over the next few weeks.

Typhoon Mirinae slams into Vietnam
Typhoon Mirinae tricked forecasters this morning by unexpectedly intensifying into a Category 1 typhoon just before landfall in central Vietnam. Mirinae made landfall as a Category 1 storm with 75 mph winds at 02 UTC this morning, but weakened quickly as it moved inland. Mirinae is expected to dump 8 - 12 inches of rain along a narrow strip through central Vietnam, causing major flooding and crop losses. Vietnam is still recovering from the effects of Typhoon Ketsana last month, which left 163 dead and did $801 million in damage.

In the Philippines, residents are cleaning up the mess left by Mirinae, which hit Luzon Island on Saturday as a borderline Category 1 or 2 typhoon with 95 - 100 mph winds. Mirinae killed twenty in the Philippines, with four people still missing. Rainfall amounts from the typhoon in the Philippines were less than six inches, but that was enough to create substantial flooding, due to the saturated soils left by two previous typhoons.


Figure 2. Filipinos struggle to salvage the remains of a destroyed home during the landfall of Typhoon Mirinae on Saturday. Image credit: James Reynolds, typhoonfury.com. Reynolds and fellow storm chaser Jim Edds of extremestorms.com, recorded video of the impressive waves of Mirinae slamming the coast of the Philippines, and of some Filipinos struggling to salvage smashed housing materials in rough waters.

Jeff Masters

Hurricane

Updated: 6:30 PM GMT on August 18, 2011

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About

Dr. Masters co-founded wunderground in 1995. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990. Co-blogging with him: Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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