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 , 2:09 PM GMT on May 11, 2010
Oklahoma residents are picking up the pieces and surveying the damage after a devastating tornado outbreak that left at least five people dead, dozens injured, and hundreds of millions in damage. Our severe weather expert, Dr. Rob Carver, has some amazing images and videos of the tornadoes in his blog. One solace Oklahomans can take in the disaster is that the data taken by scientists during the tornado outbreak may help forecasters issue better tornado warnings in the future. Usually, a proven way to reduce the incidence of dangerous weather phenomena is to schedule a multi-million dollar field experiment to study the phenomena. This is what happened last year, when the largest tornado field study ever conducted, Vortex2, kicked off. The $10 million study deployed an armada of over 100 storm chasing vehicles across the Great Plains, and were disappointed by one of the quietest tornado seasons in history. But it's pretty tough to have two consecutive record quiet tornado seasons in a row, so the Vortex2 program scheduled the study to run this year as well, beginning on May 1. Unfortunately for the residents of Oklahoma, the atmosphere unleashed one of its classic tornado outbreaks yesterday, in a region NOAA's Storm Prediction Center had outlined at "High Risk" for severe weather. The Vortex2 team was ideally positioned to intercept the tornadoes, according to the team of University of Michigan students that has been writing our featured Vortex2 blog, and I am told that they successfully collected what is probably the best data set even taken of a tornado outbreak. This was no mean feat, since yesterday's storms were moving 60 mph, making it extremely difficult to position the chase vehicles to capture the storm's secrets.
Figure 1. The Wakita, OK multiple-vortex tornado of May 10, 2010.
Oil spill may approach Texas early next week
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill has pushed steadily westward along the Louisiana coast, and is expected to reach central Louisiana near Atchafalaya Bay by Thursday, according to the latest trajectory forecasts from NOAA. Winds over the Gulf of Mexico this week will blow from the southeast at 15 - 20 knots, threatening to bring oil to large portions of the Louisiana coast. The Mississippi and Alabama coasts will also be at risk, but the risk to the Florida Panhandle is lower. It appears quite unlikely that oil will get into the Loop Current anytime over the next two weeks, and spread to the Florida Keys and beyond. However, the strong southeast winds are expected to shift more easterly late this week, and drive a westward-moving ocean surface current with a speed of 1 - 2 mph along the west coast of Louisiana late this week (Figure 2). This current may be capable of transporting oil all the way to the Louisiana/Texas border by Monday. However, the concentrations of oil in the water will be much less than what is present close to the blowout, and it is unclear what the potential danger is for the western Louisiana and eastern Texas coasts. The greatest danger is to the Eastern Louisiana coast.
Figure 2. Surface ocean current in the Gulf of Mexico on Friday, May 14, at 8pm EDT as forecast by the 8pm EDT run of the NOAA HYCOM model at 8pm EDT on Sunday, May 9, 2010. Note that a strong ocean current near 1 m/s (about 2 mph) is forecast to set up along the Western Louisiana coast, which could take oil close to the Texas offshore waters by Monday. Image credit: NOAA RTOFS.
I'm in Tucson for the American Meteorological Society's 29th Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology. I'll be posting Wednesday morning on some of the latest findings presented at the conference, or discussing yesterday's tornado outbreak.
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