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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18z 144 hour CMC. The CMC is going a little crazy on the Bahamas hybrid system.

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Quoting Orcasystems:


Wayyyy up here... a Chief is Chief... Senior just means your old ;)
welcome to the ain't been there, ain't done that crowd....kinda like Patrick...a Chief is not a Chief...Y'all need to learn some respect
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This storm will not die...
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Severe Weather

Tornado Warning

Statement as of 8:44 PM CDT on May 18, 2010

The National Weather Service in Amarillo has issued a

* Tornado Warning for...
Dallam County in the Panhandle of Texas.
West central Sherman County in the Panhandle of Texas.

* Until 945 PM CDT

* at 844 PM CDT... National Weather Service meteorologists have
detected a severe thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado. The
most dangerous part of this storm was located near Ware... or about
15 miles northwest of Dalhart... moving east at 25 mph.

* Some locations near the path of this storm include Ware and Conlen.

Precautionary/preparedness actions...

A tornado may form at any time... take cover now! Abandon Mobile homes
and vehicles for more substantial shelter. Avoid windows.

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


Lat... Lon 3648 10229 3624 10200 3610 10272 3625 10284
time... Mot... loc 0144z 254deg 21kt 3622 10268


Clk


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Quoting Orcasystems:


For you buds...I will do one better...can't quote what you can't see :)

BTW, your name sake survived the winter :)
BRILLIANT!! on both counts. Good to see you, man.
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24674
Quoting HaboobsRsweet:
Hmm...not seeing strong support on NOGAPs to back up GFS run. Havent looked at others yet but NOGAPs has a weak broad low that fades away.


huh?

Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Quoting HaboobsRsweet:
Hmm...not seeing strong support on NOGAPs to back up GFS run. Havent looked at others yet but NOGAPs has a weak broad low that fades away.
Just posted the NOGAPS, here is the ECMWF (1005 MB low in the Caribbean)

12z ECMWF 168 Hours:



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Quoting snotly:


I've heard that people have gone crazy in WY 'cause the wind never stops.

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)...
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Some have inquired why no Tornado reports from Dupage.

This is the message.

Unfortunately



College of DuPage Temporary Power, IT and Telephone Disruption May 18 to 19
The following temporary shutdowns will occur as a result of ongoing construction work at the College of DuPage Glen Ellyn campus:

• A 12-hour power shutdown of the SRC is scheduled for Tuesday evening, May 18, starting at 6 p.m. and ending Wednesday morning, May 19, at 6 a.m.
• All College IT systems will be down starting at 5 p.m. Tuesday, May 18. These systems will not be restored until approximately 7 a.m. Wednesday, May 19.
• Although general power will be available in the TEC and HSC, there will be no telephone service in the TEC and HSC except for the Emergency Telephone Units.

NOTE: The power shutdown will affect the entire SRC. No power will be available from the normal ComEd power feed or onsite generators.

If you have questions, please contact Scott Fotré, Energy Manager, at (630) 942-4225 or Rod Schlenker, Program Manager, at (630) 942-4034.

We apologize for any inconvenience this interruption in services may cause. Thank you for your cooperation.


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Quoting pottery:

Greetings Orca.
Please avoid quoting that person if you can. Just for me. Thanks.


For you buds...I will do one better...can't quote what you can't see :)

BTW, your name sake survived the winter :)
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Quoting Patrap:


Ken Hayes who wrote that is our own wunderblogger
Stormken

Hokay. I wish he'd have let us know how he knows...

No service change notice, no TIN: http://www.weather.gov/os/notif.htm
But I am not sure there would be one for this.
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Hmm...not seeing strong support on NOGAPs to back up GFS run. Havent looked at others yet but NOGAPs has a weak broad low that fades away.
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More Hail... Big Hail.
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New ECMWF graph for the El Niño plumes comes out on May 22nd.
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tornadodude reports tennis sized hail on the ground at his 20 now.

HE arrived to it..
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Quoting Orcasystems:


A Chief is a Chief... a Senior Chief is someone as old as dirt... ummm like StormW :)

Greetings Orca.
Please avoid quoting that person if you can. Just for me. Thanks.
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24674
Quoting NttyGrtty:
Call a Senior Chief a Chief...tells me what happens...LOL!!!


Wayyyy up here... a Chief is Chief... Senior just means your old ;)
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Quoting weathersp:
Amazing ammount of hail in the TX storm.. In this picture.. anywhere whithin thePurple indicates marble size or larger hail and the white area is Hen Egg (2.00") or larger.

Neat.

And SPC reports from there are for 2.5 inch and 2.75 inch hail...
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Quoting atmoaggie:

True. Wyoming gets some pretty stout winds.

(my mom lives near Rawlins)


I've heard that people have gone crazy in WY 'cause the wind never stops.
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Quoting Weather456:


True but the GFS is not the only model expecting development, heck, it does not even have the strongest solution. The EURO, NOGAPS, and CMC all show development.
NOGAPS 18z 144 Hours:

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Quoting NttyGrtty:
Call a Senior Chief a Chief...tells me what happens...LOL!!!
now take that to Master Chief...or Command Master Chief...again, tell me what happens
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Quoting Patrap:


Ken Hayes who wrote that is our own wunderblogger
Stormken
Oh that's pretty cool.
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Quoting Orcasystems:


A Chief is a Chief... a Senior Chief is someone as old as dirt... ummm like StormW :)
Call a Senior Chief a Chief...tells me what happens...LOL!!!
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Quoting atmoaggie:

So far, the only source for this is a Sun-Sentinel blog: http://weblogs.sun-sentinel.com/news/weather/hurricane/blog/2010/05/noaa_delays_issuing_hurricane.h tml

Seeing it nowhere else so far...

Should be a T-I-N for it, if true, now that you say that. Not finding one.

Possible we've been scammed...


Ken Hayes who wrote that is our own wunderblogger
Stormken
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Quoting HaboobsRsweet:


Not going to happen...I am just sayin. Dont trust the GFS in the tropics yet.
But I do trust the ECMWF and the NOGAPS, the GFS not so much, lol.
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Quoting HaboobsRsweet:


Not going to happen...I am just sayin. Dont trust the GFS in the tropics yet.


True but the GFS is not the only model expecting development, heck, it does not even have the strongest solution. The EURO, NOGAPS, and CMC all show development.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Quoting NttyGrtty:
Night all...Patrick, looking forward to hearing your explanation to not knowing the difference between a Chief and a Senior Chief. Just say'n sport...


A Chief is a Chief... a Senior Chief is someone as old as dirt... ummm like StormW :)
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Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
You said the 21st, along with xcool.

OK, thanks. 3 days to go then LOL.
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24674
Quoting Weather456:
GFS ITCZ reaches 10N - May 27.
Yup...

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Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
GFS indicating that we could be seeing our system pop up in the SW Carib. on May 21st:



* I predicted on May 12th that we were going to get our first system on May 29th. I think I should move it up to May 24th.
anytime after 20th between 21st and 23rd with 23rd being the greater chance
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 175 Comments: 54864
Quoting atmoaggie:

If they are using their own seasonal climate models, seems like there is a TON of uncertainty...


Exactly why I say there is less uncertainy than they're making it seem. The US-based models are mostly reactionary, only catching on to major changes in the ENSO after they've already started to happen. Take the ENSO forecasts from back in November, 2009, for example.

The European, a more proactive and better model was stellar all winter, as you can see in the November forecast. It correctly forecasted the peak of the El Nino in December and the steep fall thereafter.



The CFS, on the other hand, had no clue. Its forecast from December 1st (we'll even give it a month over the Euro) had the El Nino peaking in February, with El Nino conditions lasting through the summer months.



Only after the ENSO actually started turning around in February and March did the CFS start catching on, but the ECMWF was on top of it the whole time.

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Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
You said the 21st, along with xcool.


Not going to happen...I am just sayin. Dont trust the GFS in the tropics yet.
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Amazing ammount of hail in the TX storm.. In this picture.. anywhere whithin thePurple indicates marble size or larger hail and the white area is Hen Egg (2.00") or larger.
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GFS ITCZ reaches 10N - May 27.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Quoting pottery:

Now I cant remember if I said 20th or 21st. But around there for sure, I think.
You said the 21st, along with xcool.
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Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
GFS indicating that we could be seeing our system pop up in the SW Carib. on May 21st:



* I predicted on May 12th that we were going to get our first system on May 29th. I think I should move it up to May 24th.

Now I cant remember if I said 20th or 21st. But around there for sure, I think.
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24674
Quoting Weather456:
The waves are just loving it

This image is a little old, but you can see the full picture of the wave, looks pretty impressive.

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Night all...Patrick, looking forward to hearing your explanation to not knowing the difference between a Chief and a Senior Chief. Just say'n sport...
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Quoting Tropicsweatherpr:
I see some comments that NOAA will delay its May 20 forecast but I haven't seen any press release by them to notify that. Is that true about the delay or is a rumor or even a joke?
It is true, it was an article from the Sun-Sentinal.
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GFS indicating that we could be seeing our system pop up in the SW Carib. on May 21st:



* I predicted on May 12th that we were going to get our first system on May 29th. I think I should move it up to May 24th.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
The waves are just loving it

Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Quoting Acemmett90:

nope but we smell the natural gas a main broke in pbc

WOW! No Smoking.....
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24674
Quoting Tropicsweatherpr:
I see some comments that NOAA will delay its May 20 forecast but I haven't seen any press release by them to notify that.Is that true about the delay or is a rumor or even a joke?

So far, the only source for this is a Sun-Sentinel blog: http://weblogs.sun-sentinel.com/news/weather/hurricane/blog/2010/05/noaa_delays_issuing_hurricane.h tml

Seeing it nowhere else so far...

Should be a T-I-N for it, if true, now that you say that. Not finding one.

Possible we've been scammed...
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109 Patrap "Imagine Chinese BOP's..?"

But it was the Brits and the Americans who re-engineered them into a "fast test mode" that turned out not to work during an actual shutdown emergency.
Member Since: August 21, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 4860
Quoting Levi32:


If they're the ones that write it then they already know what's going on. There is not near as much "uncertainty" with the ENSO forecast for this summer as they're making it seem. I don't see why they'd wait 2 weeks to issue the hurricane forecast just for that.

If they are using their own seasonal climate models, seems like there is a TON of uncertainty...
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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.