Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.
By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:10 PM GMT on March 10, 2010
A rare weather event is underway in the South Atlantic Ocean, where the basin's 7th recorded tropical or subtropical cyclone of all-time has formed. An area of disturbed weather (Invest 90Q) off the coast of Brazil, near 30S 48W, attained a well-defined surface circulation, top wind speeds of tropical depression strength (35 mph), a warm core in the bottom portion of the atmosphere, and a cold core aloft last night. If this storm had been in the North Atlantic, there is a good chance it would have been named Subtropical Depression One. However, tropical and subtropical storms are so rare in the South Atlantic that there is no official naming of depressions or storms done. The cyclone had top winds of at least 35 mph as seen on an ASCAT pass at 7:02 am EST this morning (Figure 2), and satellite estimates of the storm's intensity topped out at 40 mph (minimum subtropical storms strength) last night. This morning, the satellite estimates are showing that the system has weakened to a 35 mph tropical depression. There is some moderate wind shear interfering with development, and sea surface temperatures are about 25°C, which is about 1°C below what is typically needed to support a tropical storm. The storm is headed eastward out to sea, and is not a threat to any land areas. The models show the storm will lose its tropical characteristics and get absorbed by a frontal system by Saturday.
Figure 1. Afternoon visible satellite image of the Brazilian Invest 90Q.
Figure 2. Satellite-measured winds from ASCAT clearly show the circulation of the cyclone in this pass from 7:02 am EST on March 10, 2010. Top winds as seen be ASCAT were 30 knots (35 mph), just below the 40 mph needed for it to be a tropical storm. Image credit: NOAA/NESDIS/ORA.
Brazil has had only one landfalling tropical cyclone in its history, Cyclone Catarina of March 2004. Catarina is one of only six known tropical or subtropical cyclones to form in the South Atlantic, and the only one to reach hurricane strength. Tropical cyclones rarely form in the South Atlantic Ocean, due to strong upper-level wind shear, cool water temperatures, and the lack of an initial disturbance to get things spinning (no African waves or Intertropical Convergence Zone exist in the proper locations in the South Atlantic to help spawn tropical storms). Today's storm is located close to where Catarina formed.
Severe weather season begins
It's March, and that means severe weather season will get underway in earnest for the Midwest U.S., and powerful spring storm systems draw warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico northward, to collide with cold, dry air from Canada. It's been a quiet early season, with only 42 tornadoes reported thus far this year (as of Sunday), compared to a normal 70 - 100 twisters. There was only one tornado in the U.S. in February, in a San Joaquin Valley oilfield in California two weekends ago. A year ago, there were 36 February tornadoes, and the year's deadliest tornado occurred on Feb. 10, 2009, in Lone Grove, Oklahoma, where eight people died in a storm with winds estimated at 170 mph. But thanks to a very wet winter and a continued active jet stream pattern that will pull strong storms through the Midwestern U.S. this month, expect at least an average March for severe weather. NOAA's Storm Prediction Center is forecasting a "slight" chance of severe weather across a large portion of the Mississippi Valley today, in association with a strong cold front that will be plowing through the region. Strong thuderstorms capable of generating damaging winds and large hail should develop along the front from southeast Kansas through eastern Oklahoma into NE Texas by middle/late afternoon. The storms should consolidate into broken bands and move into Missouri and and Arkansas by early evening. Isolated tornadoes are also possible in the entire "slight" risk area.
Figure 3. Severe weather forecast for today from the NOAA Storm Prediction Center.
Hurricane Hugo talk
I'm presenting a talk to a class at the University of Michigan this morning on my 1989 flight through Hurricane Hugo. You can listen in live starting at about 10:10 - 10:15 am EST by pointing your browser to http://samson.lecturetools.org/. You'll need to have Apple Quicktime installed. If all goes well, the talk will be recorded and you can view it later, as well.
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