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 JamesSA:
Here is video of that incident... Link

Coast Guard Under 'BP's Rules'
Kelly Cobiella reports that a CBS News team was threatened with arrest by Coast Guard officials in the Gulf of Mexico who said they were acting under the authority of British Petroleum.

The US Coast Guard is working under the authority of BP?
Well, I'll be dammed...
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24927
569. txjac
Thanks for the info ...learn something here every day
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Which party believes in "drill baby drill" and low regulations? They really need to take responsibility. I will accept there apology if they admit they are wrong. Blaming others who know how capitalism works and realize it needs to be regulated is totally insane.
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Quoting StormW:


Also...notice the position of the mean trof over the east part of the U.S, and the steepness of the trofs for 2009, compared to 2005


Yes, well I wasn't going to comment on the longwave pattern due to those being snapshots of one hour of one day, not exactly a running mean.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26701
Here is video of that incident... Link

Coast Guard Under 'BP's Rules'
Kelly Cobiella reports that a CBS News team was threatened with arrest by Coast Guard officials in the Gulf of Mexico who said they were acting under the authority of British Petroleum.

I guess BP owns the Coast Guard too.
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Quoting AstroHurricane001:


Censorship of the press by BP?

I hope that the Authorities clear this up, fast.
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24927
562. txjac
And that makes a difference how StormW ...what affect does that have?
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Quoting JamesSA:


LOL! Oh no, never here.

"When CBS News tried to reach the beach, covered in oil, a boat of BP contractors with two Coast Guard officers on board told us to turn around under threat of arrest. Coast Guard officials said they are looking into the incident."


Censorship of the press by BP?
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559. txjac
Hi, another question from a novice ...does La Nina/El Nino have any effect on tornadoes?
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BP Prez says Gulf is a big place.
Not to worry.
over and out.
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Quoting StormW:


What else do you notice in those pics?


What really stands out to me is the upper ridge over the Caribbean in 2005. This was essentially the same for all of May that year, with anomalous upper easterlies across the Caribbean due to anomalous ridging at 200mb over the eastern Caribbean.

Also of note are the anomalous upper westerlies, and hence higher wind shear, in the eastern tropical Atlantic, which to some extent continued through the peak of the season, contributing to the almost nonexistant Cape Verde season in 2005.

2005 May vector wind anomalies:

Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26701
Quoting StormW:


What else do you notice in those pics?

waiting, waiting...
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24927
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
yes and as storm watch stated the final upgrade in june


Should be very interesting to see how it performs this year.
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Quoting pottery:

CAMERAS WERE TURNED AWAY????
That could NEVER happen here, guys. WOW!


LOL! Oh no, never here.

"When CBS News tried to reach the beach, covered in oil, a boat of BP contractors with two Coast Guard officers on board told us to turn around under threat of arrest. Coast Guard officials said they are looking into the incident."
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
KEY WEST, Fla., May 18, 2010
Heavy Sludge Oozes into Marshes of Louisiana
Governor Bobby Jindal Flew over Site and Reported "Heavy Oil;" CBS Cameras Turned Away by BP, Coast Guard


Yeah, it's too ugly.
If you don't look it's still there though.
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Quoting StormW:


What else do you notice in those pics?


Anti-Cyclone along the ITCZ?
Member Since: January 14, 2007 Posts: 17 Comments: 4140
Quoting Stormchaser2007:
The GFS received an upgrade this past December I believe.
yes and as storm watch stated the final upgrade in june
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 178 Comments: 56141
Current Severe Weather

Tornado Warning

Statement as of 9:11 PM CDT on May 18, 2010

... A Tornado Warning remains in effect until 945 PM CDT for west
central Sherman and eastern Dallam counties...

At 910 PM CDT... National Weather Service Doppler radar and storm
spotters were tracking a tornado. This tornado was located 14 miles
west of Conlen... or about 15 miles north of Dalhart... moving east at
30 mph.

* Locations impacted include...
Conlen...

Precautionary/preparedness actions...

If in Mobile homes or vehicles... evacuate them and get inside a
sturdy shelter. If no shelter is available... lie flat in the nearest
ditch or other low spot and cover your head with your hands.

To report severe weather... please call the National Weather Service
at 8 0 6 3 3 5 1 1 2 1.




Lat... Lon 3624 10200 3613 10257 3631 10268 3648 10229
time... Mot... loc 0210z 252deg 26kt 3628 10247


Clk
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Quoting JamesSA:
CBS is reporting heavy oil is going right under the booms into Louisiana marshland.

KEY WEST, Fla., May 18, 2010
Heavy Sludge Oozes into Marshes of Louisiana
Governor Bobby Jindal Flew over Site and Reported "Heavy Oil;" CBS Cameras Turned Away by BP, Coast Guard


Link

CAMERAS WERE TURNED AWAY????
That could NEVER happen here, guys. WOW!
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24927
Quoting snotly:


I was always bad at math in College but comparing one season to another as far as predicting outcomes, isn't that an incorrect way to predict outcomes statically?

Had something to do with the discrete random variable or something like the independent random variable.... point is, that one outcome had no dependency on the other.

Was not trying to relate any of that to outcomes. Just found that this year the SAL seemed low to me for May. Still not sure if I am correct.
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24927
CBS is reporting heavy oil is going right under the booms into Louisiana marshland.

KEY WEST, Fla., May 18, 2010
Heavy Sludge Oozes into Marshes of Louisiana
Governor Bobby Jindal Flew over Site and Reported "Heavy Oil;" CBS Cameras Turned Away by BP, Coast Guard


Link
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The GFS received an upgrade this past December I believe.
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Quoting StormW:


The GFS will be upgraded in June...to include finer resolution, taking in to account effects of solar radiation, etc. I have the parameters in my blog archives, from the National Hurricane Conference.


Has anyone had any luck running the numerical forecast models on their own PC. I know that it was possible with Linux and the WRF model at some point.
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Hey Guys(and ladies) what's up with that system near the western tip of Cuba? Any potential for development there?
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looks as if shear is going to drop off things are coming together for a window of opportunity

Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 178 Comments: 56141
That's not where nadodude is, I hope!
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Wind shear today in 2009:



Wind shear today in 2005:

Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26701
Quoting Levi32:


Yeah I edited the post when I saw your earlier post. It's nice to see they added that archive.


Yup. Its pretty nice that it goes back to 2000.

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Quoting Stormchaser2007:


Actually there is an archive...

Link


Yeah I edited the post when I saw your earlier post. It's nice to see they added that archive.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26701
Current Severe Weather

Tornado Warning

Statement as of 9:11 PM CDT on May 18, 2010

... A Tornado Warning remains in effect until 945 PM CDT for west
central Sherman and eastern Dallam counties...

At 910 PM CDT... National Weather Service Doppler radar and storm
spotters were tracking a tornado. This tornado was located 14 miles
west of Conlen... or about 15 miles north of Dalhart... moving east at
30 mph.

* Locations impacted include...
Conlen...

Precautionary/preparedness actions...

If in Mobile homes or vehicles... evacuate them and get inside a
sturdy shelter. If no shelter is available... lie flat in the nearest
ditch or other low spot and cover your head with your hands.

To report severe weather... please call the National Weather Service
at 8 0 6 3 3 5 1 1 2 1.


Lat... Lon 3624 10200 3613 10257 3631 10268 3648 10229
time... Mot... loc 0210z 252deg 26kt 3628 10247


Clk
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Thanks for the update on the loop Doc.

Guess this comment is a little bit late for a new blog...oh well.
Another full day. Have a good one all.
Thanks for all the great info.
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New Video Could Provide More Answers On Oil Spill: http://www.npr.org/126911251
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Tis a Bad Nado ..its Large,,and some indication of debris cloud enveloping the core now.
Really bad situation..
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Do you all remember Hurricane Alberto in 1982? I remember the system formed into a Tropical Depression on the morning of June 2nd. I went to school and when I came home in the afternoon I turned on WeatherBand to find out we had Hurricane Alberto approaching the SW coast of Fla. Memories...
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Quoting pottery:

Thanks for that. Not very heavy SAL, but plenty further south than now.
I remember 09 as having major SAL in may, and into early june. Maybe I'm wrong.


I was always bad at math in College but comparing one season to another as far as predicting outcomes, isn't that an incorrect way to predict outcomes statically?

Had something to do with the discrete random variable or something like the independent random variable.... point is, that one outcome had no dependency on the other.

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I1 at 3.5" hail now, Wow!

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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
gfs was upgraded as well with most models upgrading as well lets keep with the program


When you say upgrade what is involved? Are you talking about an update or change in the equation? what parameters changed? change in resolution? Increase of data input?
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Quoting Stormchaser2007:


I know this want directed at me, but I was already looking through the archives.

May 18th 2009

Thanks for that. Not very heavy SAL, but plenty further south than now.
I remember 09 as having major SAL in may, and into early june. Maybe I'm wrong.
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24927
Quoting atmoaggie:

Hmm, mom is prolly not a good test subject for that as she was a lot crazy before she moved up there.

Then, again, doesn't it take at least a little crazy just to move there? That perception might be skewed by the population (or lack thereof)...


I was in WY back in 2002 and before that in 1987 (I think). I remember how amazing the change in landscape is once you get past the plains. It was amazing to know that the city I lived in had a larger population than the Entire State when I was up there in '87 . I remember some town had a summer population of 6 and a winter pop of 0.

My cousins friend spent a summer there and I recall that he was slightly off his rocker also... He always spoke of WY new amendment to the constitution 'As the right to arm bears..'

I wonder if it was the wind that had did him in.
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Quoting Levi32:


There is no archive for those maps, but from what I can tell it wasn't too bad at this particular time last year. Looks like there may have been a minor outbreak in the central-eastern Atlantic. I wouldn't know exactly how much SAL this map shows....there are others here with better sites for aerosols than I have.



Global MODIS Aerosol Optical Depth May 9


Actually there is an archive...

Link
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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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