Clouds, unstable Loop Current making oil spill prediction difficult

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 8:48 PM GMT on May 18, 2010

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It's cloudy over the Gulf of Mexico today, so it is difficult to tell how far into the Loop Current the Deepwater Horizon oil has penetrated using visible satellite imagery. Satellite imagery yesterday from NASA's MODIS instrument confirmed that a tongue of oil moved southeast from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and entered the Gulf of Mexico's Loop Current. However, Synthetic Aperture Radar imagery from the European Envisat satellite posted at ROFFS Ocean Forecasting Service shows that while some of the tongue of oil that entered the Loop Current appears to be circulating southwards towards the Florida Keys, perhaps 80% of the oil in this tongue is caught in a counter-clockwise circulating eddy along the north side of the Loop Current. This oil may eventually circulate around and enter the Loop Current, but not for at least three days.


Figure 1. Oil spill forecast for this Thursday night as simulated by the 6pm EDT Monday May 17 runs of the Navy Gulf of Mexico HYCOM nowcast/forecast system and the Global HYCOM + NCODA Analysis from the HYCOM Consortium. See the University of South Florida Ocean Circulation Group website for more information. There are considerable differences between the two models, due in part to the fact that they have much different depictions of the sea surface temperatures (SSTs) and ocean currents at the beginning of their runs. The warm Loop Current is visible as the red colors of the SST field that form a heart-shaped area in the Gulf.

How long will it be until oil reaches the Keys?
Once oil gets into the Loop Current, the 1 - 2 mph speed of the current should allow the oil to travel the 500 miles to the Florida Keys in 5 - 10 days. Portions of the Loop Current flow at speed up to 4 mph, so the fastest transport could be 4 - 5 days.

How much oil has made it into the Loop Current?
According to the latest trajectory forecasts from NOAA, the tongue of oil flowing southwards has, at most, "light" concentrations. The oil will grow more dilute as it travels the 500 miles to the Florida Keys, and most of the oil appears to be caught in a smaller counter-clockwise rotating eddy on the north side of the Loop Current. My present expectation is that the oil entering the Loop Current this week will cause only minor problems in the Keys next week. However, there is a lot of uncertainty regarding how much oil will get to the Keys, and we cannot rule out the possibility of an ecological disaster in the fragile Keys ecosystem.

How is the Loop Current changing?
The Loop Current has been highly chaotic and unstable over the past week, making it difficult to predict how the ocean currents near the spill will behave. According to ROFFS Ocean Fishing Service, which has done a tremendous job tracking the spill, the Loop Current surged 7 - 10 miles northward Sunday and Monday. The Loop Current has gotten more contorted since Friday, and may be ready to cut off into a clockwise-rotating Loop Current Eddy. This process occurs every 6 - 11 months, with the clockwise-rotating ring of water slowly drifting west-southwest towards Texas. The last eddy broke off ten months ago, so the Loop Current is due to shed another eddy in the next few months. The latest 1-month forecast from the U.S. Navy does not predict an eddy forming, but these forecasts are not very reliable. If a Loop Current Eddy does break off, oil getting entrained into it might orbit the center of the Gulf of Mexico for many months inside the eddy. However, this eddy will probably reattach and detach from the main Loop Current flow for at least a month following when it breaks off, so oil will continue to flow through the Keys during this initial month.

When will the flow of oil into the Loop Current shut off?
Winds over the oil spill location are expected to be light and onshore at 5 - 10 knots through Saturday. This means that the chaotic contortions of the Loop Current will primarily control how much oil gets into it, making it difficult to predict when the flow will shut off. The long range (and thus unreliable) forecast for next week from the GFS model calls for a continuation of light winds over the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Thus, the flow of oil into the Loop Current could occur intermittently for several weeks.

Who besides the Keys are at risk next week from the Loop Current oil?
As I discussed in an earlier post, the coast of Southwest Florida from Tampa Bay to the Everglades is a "Forbidden Zone" for surface-based transport of ocean water to the coast, and is probably not at risk from this week's Loop Current oil. The northwest coast of Cuba east of Havana and the coast of Southeast Florida from the Keys to West Palm Beach are at the most risk. The western shores of the western-most Bahama Islands and the U.S. coast north of West Palm Beach northwards to Cape Hatteras are at slight risk. It would likely take ocean eddies 2 - 9 weeks to transport the oil to these locations, and the oil would probably be so dilute that ecosystem damage would probably be minor, at most. At this point, I see no reason for cancellation of vacation plans to any of the beach areas that may potentially be affected by the oil.

What is happening to the plumes of oil at depth?
Two research missions over the past week have detected substantial plumes of oil at depth, moving to the southwest. The deepest of the these plumes, near the site of the blowout at 5,000 feet depth, is in a region of slow ocean currents and has not moved much. At depths closer to the surface, the currents get stronger, and oil within a few hundred feet of the surface--if there is any--could potentially have been dragged into the Loop Current. At this point, we don't have a very good picture of how much oil is at depth and where it might be headed.

Oil spill resources
My post on the Southwest Florida "Forbidden Zone" where surface oil will rarely go
My post on what oil might do to a hurricane
NOAA trajectory forecasts
Deepwater Horizon Unified Command web site
Oil Spill Academic Task Force
University of South Florida Ocean Circulation Group oil spill forecasts
ROFFS Deepwater Horizon page
Surface current forecasts from NOAA's HYCOM model
HYCOM ocean current forecasts from LSU

The tropics
For those of you interested in a detailed look at the early season tropical weather outlook, consult the excellent wunderblogs of StormW and Weather456, who are now featured bloggers for the coming hurricane season. We have some models predicting a possible subtropical storm off the U.S. East coast next week, but this does not appear to be a significant concern for land areas at this time. More concerning is the possibility that an area of disturbed weather will develop across the Western Caribbean late next week. While wind shear will likely keep anything in the Western Caribbean from developing, several models are predicting that this disturbance may bring major flooding rains to earthquake-ravaged Haiti late next week.

I'll be back with a new post Wednesday afternoon.

Jeff Masters

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Quoting southfla:
atmoaggie -- it isn't that tar balls are washing up in the Keys -- it is the distribution of the tar balls all washing up from the Dry Tortugas to the middle keys in the same 24 hour period. That is a pretty wide stretch of coastline to suddenly have tar balls appear. I've never seen tar balls on Florida beaches bigger than a walnut -- so I am somewhat suspicious, but willing to wait on the testing.

I didn't know they were that widespread. Did a natural seep belch a bunch out? We have no way of knowing.
For a dean of a college of marine sciences to say things like "it is exceedingly unlikely that", is pretty strong to me, but he could be wrong...
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
I gotta go to bed, folks. Gotta be at work at 7:30 and it's 11:15 here. Going agin the grain, but I hope we don't have a busy cane season. We were quiet here for almost 50 years, then had Rita, Gustav, and Ike...Oh, and Humberto...I'm not evacuating for anything less than a C5. Still paying off Gustav and Ike evac costs.
Member Since: August 16, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 102
Quoting southfla:
atmoaggie -- it isn't that tar balls are washing up in the Keys -- it is the distribution of the tar balls all washing up from the Dry Tortugas to the middle keys in the same 24 hour period. That is a pretty wide stretch of coastline to suddenly have tar balls appear. I've never seen tar balls on Florida beaches bigger than a walnut -- so I am somewhat suspicious, but willing to wait on the testing.


Some, myself included, would say that correlation does not imply causation.
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Quoting RitaRefugee:
I did have a suspicious "ball" in my frozen Healthy Choice today. I think it was a strange little ball of spinach. It was green and leafy.

Well, I can advise to stay away from the mysterious ball of seasoning after cooking a Zatarain's boxed Jambalaya dinner...it's good, but notsomuch when you get half the box-worth in one bite.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
atmoaggie -- it isn't that tar balls are washing up in the Keys -- it is the distribution of the tar balls all washing up from the Dry Tortugas to the middle keys in the same 24 hour period. That is a pretty wide stretch of coastline to suddenly have tar balls appear. I've never seen tar balls on Florida beaches bigger than a walnut -- so I am somewhat suspicious, but willing to wait on the testing.
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I did have a suspicious "ball" in my frozen Healthy Choice today. I think it was a strange little ball of spinach. It was green and leafy.
Member Since: August 16, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 102
Quoting Levi32:


The elevation angle puts the radar beam at approximately 3000 feet near Laila's eyewall, or around the 900mb level. The 925mb flight wind speed reduction as dictated by the NHC is 75%, making the surface estimates for the maximum velocity readings 52-60 knots.


I came up with around the same #'s, when using IDA @ 987mb as the example... I think 52-60 is good estimate, thanks for finishing the job I started Levi.. :P
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Actually, pottery, I need to add a bit about weight differential between seawater and oil inside a pipe -- which also provides a substantial amount of lift.

Which I'll do in a little while... cuz I ran out of cigarettes, and can't type without smoke blocking the view much of the time.
Oddly, doing without doesn't bother me while engaging in any other activity.
Member Since: August 21, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 4860
Quoting RitaRefugee:
I've been to Holly Beach and Rutherford Beach (Cameron, LA)and fished Big Lake hundreds of times fishing, crabbing, looking for shells, etc. I have never found a TAR BALL.

I go so little, not sure I would know it if I did.

Just what the man said, and I would expect he knows what he is talking about. We'll know in the next day or so if it came from BP's problem.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
I've been to Holly Beach and Rutherford Beach (Cameron, LA)and fished Big Lake hundreds of times fishing, crabbing, looking for shells, etc. I have never found a TAR BALL.
Member Since: August 16, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 102
Quoting RitaRefugee:
Off topic, but check out my avatar of a Baton Rouge squirrel....GO LSU!

HAH! Love it.
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Quoting mikatnight:


The oil leak is not one thing. It's thousands, maybe millions of pieces, each drifting in its own way, in its unique form and consistency carried on various currents among thousands. Of course the tar balls being found in the Keys and elsewhere around the coast are from BP. I wouldn't be surprised to start finding them here (Lantana) sooner than expected. Because oil got into the loop current before the satellite provided evidence. It's just common sense.

Common sense might also include the notion that tar balls do wash up on beaches when there is no man made spill. They come from the natural seeps.

And the tar balls in the Keys are said to be "weathered", leading to the suspicion that they have been around a while.

The dean of the College of Marine Sciences at USF said both of the above in a interview this morning. But testing is going on to confirm or deny that the ones in the Keys came from BP's problem.

But I don't think we can say "of course the tar balls being found in the keys..."
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
Isnt it time we call BS on the 5k bpd 'estimate' BP, NOAA and the CG keep putting out?
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Quoting weathersp:


True.. but the elevation angle of that beam is .2 comapred to the WSR-88D which is .475 at lowest.

I have a spreadsheet for diffent elevation angles and radius's and a .2 angle with 100 km (62 miles) is appx. (3,680 ft AGL)so yeah it is up there but not crazy up there...

Right now I am looking up some cat 1 dropsonde reports and getting a pressure level for that altitude, then I can use a surface reduction factor to get the ground windspeeds.


The elevation angle puts the radar beam at approximately 3000 feet near Laila's eyewall, or around the 900mb level. The 925mb flight-level wind speed reduction as dictated by the NHC is 75%, making the surface estimates for the maximum velocity readings 52-60 knots.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26562
Quoting SevereHurricane:


Levi, I respect your superior knowledge in Meteorology, but wouldn't you thing those wind readings are probably above the surface since the radar site is relatively far away from the center of the TC?


True.. but the elevation angle of that beam is .2 comapred to the WSR-88D which is .475 at lowest.

I have a spreadsheet for diffent elevation angles and radius's and a .2 angle with 100 km (62 miles) is appx. 3,680 ft AGL so yeah it is up there but not crazy up there...

Right now I am looking up some Cat 1 dropsonde reports and getting average a pressure level for that altitude, then I can use a surface reduction factor to get the ground windspeeds.
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Quoting aspectre:
982 pottery "Very true. But that applies at atmospheric pressure (sea level).
In this case, the oil has pressure behind it and unless the pipe was sealed, there would be the pressure of 5000 ft. of water on it too. I think that is about 2500 psi at that depth.
"

Yes, but the question specificly asked about placing a "vacuum tube" over the leak. The usable pressure is the
oil field pressure minus the water pressure at the break point
When that differential is thousands of psi (pounds per square inch), adding 14psi (of vacuum) from the surface is hardly noticible.

Which is why ya hafta add an impeller pump at the bottom of the pipe to push the water (or crude oil) up the pipe to the surface.

However, there is presently no seal between the large diameter broken pipe and the pipe leading to the surface. So the overwhelming majority of the pressure into the surfacing pipe is that produced by the velocity of the crude oil hitting its intake.

And once an impeller pump starts pushing crude oil up the surfacing pipe faster than the velocity of the crude oil hitting its intake, the vacuum produced sucks more oil toward that intake until it reaches a maximum, past which it starts sucking ever more seawater into the mix.
ie Because of the lack of a seal and the (near)90degree offset between the pipeline and the surfacing line, some (and given the difference between the diameter of the surfacing pipe and the diameter of the pipeline break, probably most) of the oil will continue leaking into the surrounding ocean.

Seen, and will have to read this tomorrow. My brain has quite quit.
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24084
982 pottery "Very true. But that applies at atmospheric pressure (sea level).
In this case, the oil has pressure behind it and unless the pipe was sealed, there would be the pressure of 5000 ft. of water on it too. I think that is about 2500 psi at that depth.
"

Yes, but the question specificly asked about placing a "vacuum tube" over the leak.
The usable pressure is the
oil field pressure minus the water pressure at the break point
When that differential is thousands of psi (pounds per square inch), adding 14psi (of vacuum) from the surface is hardly noticible.

Which is why ya hafta add an impeller pump at the bottom of the pipe to push the water (or crude oil) up the pipe to the surface.

However, there is presently no seal between the large diameter broken pipe and the small diameter pipe leading to the surface. So the overwhelming majority of the pressure into the surfacing pipe is that produced by the velocity of the crude oil hitting its intake.

And once an impeller pump starts pushing crude oil up the surfacing pipe faster than the velocity of the crude oil hitting its intake, the vacuum produced sucks more oil toward that intake until it reaches a maximum, past which it starts sucking ever more seawater into the mix.
ie Because of the lack of a seal and the (near)90degree offset between the pipeline and the surfacing line, some (and given the difference between the diameter of the surfacing pipe and the diameter of the pipeline break, probably most) of the oil will continue leaking into the surrounding ocean.
Member Since: August 21, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 4860
Quoting SevereHurricane:


Levi, I respect your superior knowledge in Meteorology, but wouldn't you thing those wind readings are probably above the surface since the radar site is relatively far away from the center of the TC?


Yes, you're correct....my bad for forgetting to mention that. It's been since 2008 that I tracked a landfalling storm on radar lol.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26562

Added it to My Photos. Don't know what else to do. Sorry.
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BAH! Now I've done it...
'tomorrow we will wake up'. I dont know where that came from, but it's convoluted meanings are going to haunt me into the wee hours.
See ya, Mike, and all.
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24084
649. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
India Meteorological Department
Tropical Cyclone Advisory NUMBER TWELVE
CYCLONIC STORM LAILA (BOB01-2010)
5:30 AM IST May 19 2010
====================================

Subject: Cyclonic Storm LAILA over southwest and adjoining westcentral Bay of Bengal

Cyclone Warning (Orange message)

At 0:00 AM UTC, Cyclonic Storm Laila over southwest and adjoining west central Bay of Bengal moved slightly northwards and lays centered over southwest and adjoining west central Bay of Bengal near 13.5N 82.0E, or about 190 kms east northeast of Chennai, 480 kms west southwest of Visahkapatnam, and 1200 kms southwest of Kolkata.

3 minute sustained winds near the center is 45 knots with a central pressure of 990 hPa. The state of the sea is very high around the system's center.

Satellite imagery indicates banding pattern of the system. The dvorak intensity of the system is T3.0. Associated broken intense to very intense convection observed over the Bay of Bengal between 9.0N to 16.0N. The lowest cloud top temperature due to convection is around -90C in association with the system.

Vertical wind shear of horizontal wind over the region is 10-15 knots. The system lies to the south of tropospheric ridge, which roughly runs along 17.0N. System is under the influence of anticyclonic circulation located to the northeast of the system center. Shear tendency over the past 24 hours is negative to the north of the system.

Considering all the above and numerical weather prediction model guidances, the system is likely to intensify further and move in a northwesterly to northerly direction and cross Andhra Pradesh coast between Ongole and Visakhapatnam in the early hours of Thursday.

Forecast and Intensity
=========================
12 HRS: 14.5N 81.5E - 60 knots (Severe Cyclonic Storm)
36 HRS: 17.5N 82.0E - 50 knots (Severe Cyclonic Storm)
60 HRS: 19.5N 84.5E - 40 knots (Cyclonic Storm)
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Quoting Levi32:
Laila's eyewall is trying to close off. Very intense spiral bands are raking Chennai and the nearby coastline.






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Anyway Y'all. I am going to take my chances with the Mandible Ants, and try to get some sleep.
Tomorrow we will wake up.
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24084
Pottery, we think alike. Given name's Mike. Watch the HAARP show on the History Channel. Interesting.
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645. xcool
noooooo more rain plzzz
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Quoting mikatnight:


Just tried for the 3rd time, but for some reason I can't see it. Thank God for saying what it was...couldn't figure it out.

Me too. I could NOT figure it and it would not open.
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24084
Quoting Levi32:
In fact, radar velocity images are recording maximum wind speeds of 35-40 m/s (70-80 knots) within the eyewall.



Levi, I respect your superior knowledge in Meteorology, but wouldn't you thing those wind readings are probably above the surface since the radar site is relatively far away from the center of the TC?
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Quoting RitaRefugee:
Off topic, but check out my avatar of a Baton Rouge squirrel....GO LSU!


Just tried for the 3rd time, but for some reason I can't see it. Thank God for saying what it was...couldn't figure it out.
Member Since: October 18, 2005 Posts: 4 Comments: 3052
Funny, Pat. I heard a few exchanges between him and the good wife a week or so ago. All I can say is .... I'm never taking my wife storm chasing!
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Quoting RitaRefugee:
http://www.haarp.net/

Big time conspiracy theory about the government using ELF waves to manipulate the atmosphere. Interesting and somewhat disturbing.

Thanks, I googled it.
Yeah, why not press the dam knob. Lets see what happens.
You know, we keep talking about 'when doomsday comes'.
Not convinced that we are not here, just now, in free-fall.
All things considered.
Forget I said that.
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24084


Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 421 Comments: 127636
Off topic, but check out my avatar of a Baton Rouge squirrel....GO LSU!
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http://www.haarp.net/

Big time conspiracy theory about the government using ELF waves to manipulate the atmosphere. Interesting and somewhat disturbing.
Member Since: August 16, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 102
In fact, radar velocity images are recording maximum wind speeds of 35-40 m/s (70-80 knots) within the eyewall.

Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26562
Quoting RitaRefugee:
Dolphins with mops!!!ROFLMAO!


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Quoting pottery:
Levi, is that the COC in the NE quad of the radar?


Yes this is the eye. Laila is now at hurricane strength, 65-knot sustained winds, minimal Cat 1 as of 3 hours ago, although I think she's approaching 80 knots now.


Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26562
Quoting RitaRefugee:
Watchin hx channel. They're talking about HAARP changing the Gulf Stream....among other things.

Explain HAARP. ??
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We can set up Like a spring Fair with a Dunkin Booth in the Keys over the Oil, with RUSH Limbaugh out there with a G-String and a Cigar..


..tozz dem balls and dunk a Whale.

Bring a bottle a dawn and get 5 free Tozz's Kids.!!
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 421 Comments: 127636
Watchin hx channel. They're talking about HAARP changing the Gulf Stream....among other things.
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Quoting RitaRefugee:
This might have been mentioned earlier, but I swear I thought I heard one of the talking heads insisting this morning that the oil "IS NOT IN THE LOOP CURRENT" yeah, right.


The oil leak is not one thing. It's thousands, maybe millions of pieces, each drifting in its own way, in its unique form and consistency carried on various currents among thousands. Of course the tar balls being found in the Keys and elsewhere around the coast are from BP. I wouldn't be surprised to start finding them here (Lantana) sooner than expected. Because oil got into the loop current before the satellite provided evidence. It's just common sense.
Member Since: October 18, 2005 Posts: 4 Comments: 3052
Personally, I think the cozy relationship between the government and the oil companies will result in a full fledged Warp 10 firing of HAARP, in hopes that the oil will be pushed toward the Bahamas and away from the politically sensitive area of Miami. Just sayin.
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AMZ089-190930-
SYNOPSIS FOR CARIBBEAN SEA AND TROPICAL N ATLC FROM 07N TO 22N
BETWEEN 55W AND 65W
1130 PM EDT TUE MAY 18 2010

.SYNOPSIS...TRADES WILL DIMINISH TONIGHT THROUGH SUN WITH THE
ATLC RIDGE WEAKENING AS A TROUGH MOVES TO THE EAST N OF THE
WINDWARD ISLANDS. MEANWHILE A MID TO UPPER LEVEL TROUGH OVER THE
EASTERN GULF OF MEXICO WILL MAINTAIN UNSETTLED WEATHER OVER THE
NW CARIBBEAN TONIGHT THROUGH FRI. WEAK LOW PRES AND AN ATTENDANT
SURFACE TROUGH MAY FORM IN THE SW CARIBBEAN WED NIGHT THROUGH
SUN.
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Levi, is that the COC in the NE quad of the radar?
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Quoting RitaRefugee:
Dolphins with mops!!!ROFLMAO!

And why not?? Everything else has failed..
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Dolphins with mops!!!ROFLMAO!
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Laila's eyewall is trying to close off. Very intense spiral bands are raking Chennai and the nearby coastline.

Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26562

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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.