Unfavorable winds set to push Gulf of Mexico oil spill into Louisiana

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 12:53 PM GMT on April 29, 2010

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Work crews burned off oil on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico just 20 miles southeast of the Louisiana coast yesterday, in an effort to keep as much oil as possible from moving shoreward and fouling the beaches of the Gulf Coast. Relatively good weather, with moderate southeast winds of 10 - 15 knots, aided the efforts, and work crews were also able to use skimmers and dispersants to remove and thin the oil spill from the April 20 explosion and sinking of the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon. For now, it appears that the fires are not large enough to generate air pollution capable of causing health problems for those living downwind, according to the latest graphics from NOAA's Hazard Mapping System Fire and Smoke Product.

Oil continues to gush from the well head at 5,000 feet depth at a rate five times what was previously estimated--210,000 gallons per day. This is equivalent to about 2% of the total spilled oil from the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska entering the Gulf of Mexico each day. If 210,000 gallons per day has been leaking since the disaster began on April 20, over 2 million gallons of oil has already been spewed into the Gulf, about 18% of the 11,000,000 gallons spilled in America's previous worst oil spill, the Exxon Valdez disaster. With the winds expected to begin blowing the oil spill on shore this weekend, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill appears destined to become one of the most disastrous oil spills in U.S. history.


Figure 1. The oil spill on April 25, 2010, as seen by the MODIS instrument on NASA's Aqua spacecraft. Sun glint on the water at this hour happened to be just at the right angle to light up the spill dramatically. Image credit: NASA.


Figure 2. The oil spill on April 27, 2010, as seen by the MODIS instrument on NASA's Aqua spacecraft. The sun angle was not as favorable during this overpass to see the oil spill. The ability to detect oil slicks in photo-like satellite images is very sensitive to the viewing geometry--the angles between the surface, the Sun, and the satellite--at the time of the image. If the slick happens to be located in the sun glint part of the image, it may be very visible, but if not, it can be faint or even impossible to see.

The winds turn unfriendly
The winds have been relatively kind in the week since the Deepwater Horizon explosion, with offshore winds occurring frequently enough to keep the oil spill at least 20 miles from land. However, beginning today (Thursday), NOAA predicts that on-shore winds out of the southeast will increase to 15 - 20 knots, and strengthen to 20 - 25 knots tonight through Saturday night. These winds should be able to push the oil slick close to or on the coast by this weekend, along the Louisiana's Mississippi River "bird's foot" visible in the satellite images above. The winds will weaken to 10 - 20 knots on Sunday through Monday, but remain on-shore. It is not until Tuesday that offshore winds are expected, when a strong cold front should move into the Gulf of Mexico. These offshore winds will last for two days, then high pressure is expected to build in, bringing relatively light winds that should cause little transport of the oil spill for the final portion of next week. My guess is that the winds will not be able to push the oil all the way to the Florida Panhandle coast over the next ten days, but coastal areas from eastern Louisiana to Alabama will be at risk of getting oil.

Oil a long-range threat to southwest and southeast Florida, Cuba, and the Bahamas
The surface ocean currents that transport the oil are driven by the wind and by the large scale ocean current structure of the Gulf of Mexico. The latest surface ocean current forecast (Figure 3) from NOAA's RTOFS model indicates a complicated current structure along the Gulf Coast over the next seven days, making it difficult to predict exactly where the oil slick might go. The warm Loop Current enters the Gulf from the south and loops around to the southeast to exit through the Florida Keys. A counter-clockwise rotating cool eddy is located a few hundred miles south of the Florida Panhandle, and a clockwise-rotating warm eddy is located south of Louisiana's Mississippi Delta. If next Tuesday's cold front brings strong enough northwesterly winds to the oil spill region, it is possible that a portion of the spill will get caught in the circulation of these two eddies and sucked southwards into the Loop Current. If this occurs, the oil would be move relatively rapidly at 2 - 4 mph to the southeast and then eastwards through the Keys, potentially fouling beaches in the Keys, northwest Cuba, the southwest and southeast coasts of Florida, and the western Bahamas. Based on the movement of the spill earlier this week during offshore winds, I don't think the spill will be able to make it into the Loop Current next week. However, if the oil keeps spewing from the ocean floor for many months, eventually a wind pattern will set up that will take the oil into the Loop Current. This would most likely happen if a persistent trough of low pressure settles over the East Coast in May, or if a tropical storm makes landfall along the Florida Panhandle this summer. We're fortunate that there are no hurricanes to worry about right now, as the strong winds and storm surge of a hurricane would be able to drive the oil far inland along a wide swath of coast.


Figure 3. Surface ocean current forecast for 8pm Thursday from NOAA's RTOFS model. Forecast was made at 8 pm EDT on Tuesday, April 27, 2010.

Commentary
Oil and coal are essential to modern society, and we need to continue extracting and transporting these fossil fuels to sustain our economy. However, we also need to be aware that the price we pay at the pump for gasoline does not include such expenses as the environmental damage from oil spills, nor the pollution from burning fossil fuels. Any debate about the costs of moving to more expensive but cleaner forms of energy needs to be honest about the tremendous costs due to environmental destruction and pollution that the mining and transport of fossil fuels cause--not to mention the death toll from oil drilling operations, oil refinery accidents, crashes of oil tanker trucks, and wars fought over oil.


Figure 4. Fire boat response crews battle the blazing remnants of the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon, April 21, 2010. Note the list of the platform. Image credit: USCG.

Next post
I'll have an update Friday or Saturday. Keep an eye on the severe weather threat in the Plains today and over the Mississippi Valley on Friday. Our severe weather expert, Dr. Rob Carver, is following the action.

Jeff Masters

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1103. stillwaiting
1:41 PM GMT on April 30, 2010
Quoting Beachfoxx:
Well, I can find this.... there was more, I think.

REGIONAL - Workforce Escarosa, Inc. will host hiring events in effort to recruit and screen applicants on the following dates:

---Pensacola---

Friday, April 30, 2010
9 a.m. - noon
Workforce Escarosa
Pensacola One-Stop
3670-A North L Street
(850) 607-8700

Monday, May 3, 2010
9 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Workforce Escarosa
Pensacola One-Stop
3670-A North L Street
(850) 607-8700

Wednesday, May 5, 2010
9 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Workforce Escarosa
3670-A North L Street
(850) 607-8700

---Milton---

Tuesday, May 4, 2010
1 p.m. - 4 p.m.
Workforce Escarosa
Milton One-Stop
5725 Highway 90
(850) 983-5325

---Century---

Wednesday, May 5, 2010
9 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Workforce Escarosa
Century One-Stop
8120 North Century Boulevard
(850) 256-6259

Applicants attending any of the five hiring events must bring proof of U.S. citizenship, a valid driver's license, and any relevant credentials (HAZWOPER and TWIC certifications are preferred). Individuals with questions regarding the current openings or application methods are advised to visit
http://www.employflorida.com.



my point being that if BP knew they had zero control over the situation THEY should have contacted local fishermen in the area atleast 4 or 5 days ago....as it begins to wash ashore,its basically to late,IMO.....they need to cap the thing and fisherman cant do that as far as I'm aware of
Member Since: October 5, 2007 Posts: 20 Comments: 4970
1102. hurricanejunky
1:33 PM GMT on April 30, 2010
Remember this?
Member Since: August 28, 2006 Posts: 6 Comments: 2899
1101. Beachfoxx
1:30 PM GMT on April 30, 2010
Dr M just put up a new blog.
Member Since: July 10, 2005 Posts: 157 Comments: 29385
1100. MahFL
1:29 PM GMT on April 30, 2010
Oh god no, the new Mayor is the Senators brother ?
I hope he has more common scense than his stupid sister.
Member Since: June 9, 2004 Posts: 0 Comments: 3849
1099. hurricanejunky
1:28 PM GMT on April 30, 2010
Quoting stillwaiting:
a local shrimp fisherman wants to know why BP hasn't asked the local fisherman for help,for one to employ the fisherman to help the clean up,this would put the soon to be almost broke fisherman to work and they know the waterways better than anyone else......my opinion about British Prickoilium four words"THEY DON'T GIVE A f!CK"


I had read somewhere that they were going to do just that - get the local fisherman and shrimpers to help in the cleanup. It may keep them employed and busy but what a terrible plight. Those poor people who make their living on the health of the GOM get to see foundering sea life and witness the waterways they've come to love polluted with crude oil. What a heartbreaking tragedy.
Member Since: August 28, 2006 Posts: 6 Comments: 2899
1098. Beachfoxx
1:26 PM GMT on April 30, 2010
Well, I can find this.... there was more, I think.

REGIONAL - Workforce Escarosa, Inc. will host hiring events in effort to recruit and screen applicants on the following dates:

---Pensacola---

Friday, April 30, 2010
9 a.m. - noon
Workforce Escarosa
Pensacola One-Stop
3670-A North L Street
(850) 607-8700

Monday, May 3, 2010
9 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Workforce Escarosa
Pensacola One-Stop
3670-A North L Street
(850) 607-8700

Wednesday, May 5, 2010
9 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Workforce Escarosa
3670-A North L Street
(850) 607-8700

---Milton---

Tuesday, May 4, 2010
1 p.m. - 4 p.m.
Workforce Escarosa
Milton One-Stop
5725 Highway 90
(850) 983-5325

---Century---

Wednesday, May 5, 2010
9 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Workforce Escarosa
Century One-Stop
8120 North Century Boulevard
(850) 256-6259

Applicants attending any of the five hiring events must bring proof of U.S. citizenship, a valid driver's license, and any relevant credentials (HAZWOPER and TWIC certifications are preferred). Individuals with questions regarding the current openings or application methods are advised to visit http://www.employflorida.com.
Member Since: July 10, 2005 Posts: 157 Comments: 29385
1096. Beachfoxx
1:25 PM GMT on April 30, 2010
Still waiting - there was an announcement on the news last night. They gave out numbers that people could call so they could be hired to help with the clean up.
Give me a minute & I'll see if I can find it.
Quoting stillwaiting:
a local shrimp fisherman wants to know why BP hasn't asked the local fisherman for help,for one to employ the fisherman to help the clean up,this would put the soon to be almost broke fisherman to work and they know the waterways better than anyone else......my opinion about British Prickoilium four words"THEY DON'T GIVE A f!CK"
Member Since: July 10, 2005 Posts: 157 Comments: 29385
1094. MahFL
1:24 PM GMT on April 30, 2010
The skimmer boats can't work because of the sea and wind conditions for at least 2 days.
Member Since: June 9, 2004 Posts: 0 Comments: 3849
1093. Patrap
1:24 PM GMT on April 30, 2010
For all the Grey Matter in the room,..ya tink some brain trust would know Nagin is a Goner Monday as Mitch Landrieu is Sworn In as the New Mayor.

Seems Nagin was the last man standing from K in 05.
Bush is playing Haiti with Clinton,Blanco is replaced with Jindal.

So,..those who are right sided should be Jubilant.

But the New Mayor is Sen Mary Landrieu's Brother so there's something for them to moan about.

But,itsa time to geet.

The Wife is really happy he's leaving on her B-day.

So..,

back to whats important.

Oil..and the impact.

Oh,and G'morning
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 428 Comments: 129902
1091. stillwaiting
1:21 PM GMT on April 30, 2010
a local shrimp fisherman wants to know why BP hasn't asked the local fisherman for help,for one to employ the fisherman to help the clean up,this would put the soon to be almost broke fisherman to work and they know the waterways better than anyone else......my opinion about British Prickoilium four words"THEY DON'T GIVE A f!CK"
Member Since: October 5, 2007 Posts: 20 Comments: 4970
1090. tornadodude
1:18 PM GMT on April 30, 2010
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8360
1089. hurricanejunky
1:18 PM GMT on April 30, 2010
Quoting presslord:
what's coming ashore now is miniscule in comparison to what's coming...


You got that right! Top O' the morning to ya Press!
Member Since: August 28, 2006 Posts: 6 Comments: 2899
1088. presslord
1:16 PM GMT on April 30, 2010
what's coming ashore now is miniscule in comparison to what's coming...
Member Since: August 13, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10492
1087. tornadodude
1:16 PM GMT on April 30, 2010
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8360
1086. tornadodude
1:15 PM GMT on April 30, 2010
Morning Cybr, aquack

Lafayette, Purdue University Airport
Lat: 40.43 Lon: -86.93 Elev: 623
Last Update on Apr 30, 8:54 am EDT

Fair

68 °F
(20 °C)
Humidity: 59 %
Wind Speed: S 13 G 23 MPH
Barometer: 29.67" (1004.5 mb)
Dewpoint: 53 °F (12 °C)
Visibility: 10.00 mi.
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8360
1085. CybrTeddy
1:11 PM GMT on April 30, 2010
Quoting southlouisiana:


The point where you saw "Mayor of New Orleans" is the point you should have burst out laughing.


I'm not trying to make a joke out of this but..
isn't this the same mayor that said almost 2 years that Gustav was going to be the 'Storm of the Century'?
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 24576
1083. aquak9
1:03 PM GMT on April 30, 2010
1082- I agree, JF. Let's keep the politics on ignore right now. They WANT a response. Don't give'm what they want.

Don't stoop to their level. Much greater issues than men in suits right now.
Member Since: August 13, 2005 Posts: 178 Comments: 26674
1081. hurricanejunky
12:55 PM GMT on April 30, 2010
Here in Florida we could make every home self sufficient from a power standpoint if we had the money to equip them all with solar panels. With the amount of sun we get here if the majority of homes had solar panels we'd be feeding so much power back into the grid there would be a substantial decrease in the fossil fuel consumption by the power companies. Of course, the money doesn't go for that. It goes to subsidize corporations, pay for obsolete weapons systems and other wasteful things. We spend more on defense than the next 16 countries COMBINED! How about we cut our defense budget in half and spend more than the next 8 countries? That would be half a trillion dollars a year or more. Our defense budget right now is in large part welfare for defense contractors. You wanna be outraged about something? Start there.
Member Since: August 28, 2006 Posts: 6 Comments: 2899
1079. aquak9
12:54 PM GMT on April 30, 2010
post 1070- JFlorida, that was mean! this is a national- soon to be international disaster. Lets keep on the coverage, and not take cheap shots.

Let's not be mean to each other. We've got enough problems on our hands here.
Member Since: August 13, 2005 Posts: 178 Comments: 26674
1078. greentortuloni
12:51 PM GMT on April 30, 2010
What's the rational for why cows follow cowboys? Something like "all the other cows are doing it"? It's not about 'magical solutions', it's about getting the critical herd mass to learn something new. The technology is here and sufficient.
Member Since: June 5, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1220
1077. Bonedog
12:50 PM GMT on April 30, 2010
everyday the amount jumps.

This is definatly a blow-out, and its depressurizing which means everyday the amount will increase. The last major blow out was in the BOC in 1979, the Ixtoc-1. Over 140 million gallons spilt during that blow-out. It took over 9 months to stop the leak.

This is going to be a major disaster and looks to be a multi national one at that. This will make its way into the Loop Current, something we all do not want to see, and will start affecting far reaching shores. Cuba and the Bahamas have to keep a keen eye on this one.

Another problem, not much talked about is the evacuations of other rigs. As the spill reaches other rigs they will need to cease production and possibly evacuate due to the increased risk of fire or explosion.

Sad times ahead, sad sad times
Member Since: July 14, 2005 Posts: 14 Comments: 7418
1076. hurricanejunky
12:49 PM GMT on April 30, 2010
Quoting southlouisiana:


That isnt the worst case scenario. Worst case scenario is the Obama regime and comp. use this to further restrict oil production costing millions of jobs and crippling the economy further.


Are you seriously trying to politicize this? This oil spill is a non partisan issue man! Any rational human being should be outraged at the ecological effects this will have on the Gulf of Mexico. It's not like we haven't had decades to break away from oil. We just haven't had the political or monetary will to do so.
Member Since: August 28, 2006 Posts: 6 Comments: 2899
1075. IKE
12:48 PM GMT on April 30, 2010
***heads out the door***
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37860
1056. Bonedog
12:24 PM GMT on April 30, 2010


EO-1 Sat Image from yesterday.

Looks eerily familiar
Member Since: July 14, 2005 Posts: 14 Comments: 7418
1054. aquak9
12:20 PM GMT on April 30, 2010
with a well depth of 35,000 feet, and it pouring out like this...uncontrolled...gotta wonder what this is gonna do to the earth, seismologically...
Member Since: August 13, 2005 Posts: 178 Comments: 26674
1053. Bonedog
12:15 PM GMT on April 30, 2010
here is the time lapse of the spill =(


















Member Since: July 14, 2005 Posts: 14 Comments: 7418

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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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