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 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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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?
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Has anyone on the FL coast smelled the oil today?
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Quoting Weather456:


Actually Taz, all of the maps basically show the same thing. Remember this year we are dealing with exceptionally warm waters, warmer than 2005 so these maps may appear to be overdoing it but they just displaying measurements. Ff you don't believe them try looking at what the satellites are picking up....these are a more direct observations.







ok 456



and hi POT
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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.


I do not believe it is due to the ENSO. There is no discrepancies in that variable nor any other. Basically, forecasts should be easy to make for this year since all are favoring increase hurricane activity. So far, none of the forecasts have gone below 15 named storms.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Quoting swampliliy:


Howdy Atmo! I lived in Wy for 6 months couple years ago not far from Laramie and we had several tractor trailers blown off the road during regular, every day winds- no storms.

Year before I got there, during a blizzard, an empty coal train was blown off the tracks where I lived in Medicine Bow, Wy.

True. Wyoming gets some pretty stout winds.

(my mom lives near Rawlins)
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SST's around here are 84f, which is making it very difficult for the place to cool down at night these days. The island is aprox. 50 X 80 miles.
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Quoting Patrap:


Anyone else watching the storm chase on TWC? Glad to see they have some actual weather for a change.
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Quoting atmoaggie:
SPC wind report:

0041 90 BURNS LARAMIE WY 4119 10436 REPORTED BY A TRAINED SPOTTER. (CYS)

Umm, 90? That's a fairly significant wind gust. Wonder if that's right...more likely right than wrong, I suppose.


Howdy Atmo! I lived in Wy for 6 months couple years ago not far from Laramie and we had several tractor trailers blown off the road during regular, every day winds- no storms.

Year before I got there, during a blizzard, an empty coal train was blown off the tracks where I lived in Medicine Bow, Wy.
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Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128871
Quoting atmoaggie:

Or, they are holding out on the ENSO discussion...to be issued on June 3 (one week early).

I could see the desire to wait for that...


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.
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Noticeable things:

*EPAC SSTs cooling
*GOMEX, Caribbean, and Atlantic warming.

May 9, 2010


May 18, 2010
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Quoting Tazmanian:
if where going too be uesing sea temper maps i think we sould ues the sea temper maps that wont be too overe doing it or the kind of sea temper maps that can telll the oh story on whats going on


Actually Taz, all of the maps basically show the same thing. Remember this year we are dealing with exceptionally warm waters, warmer than 2005 so these maps may appear to be overdoing it but they just displaying measurements. Ff you don't believe them try looking at what the satellites are picking up....these are a more direct observations.



Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Quoting Levi32:


Lol, I wouldn't be surprised if the delay does actually have something to do with the season numbers. They may be reluctant to go with their guts on this one.

Or, they are holding out on the ENSO discussion...to be issued on June 3 (one week early).

I could see the desire to wait for that...
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keeper got to it first, here's closer up, 5.1 mag

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402, LOL, thanks.
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Member Since: October 1, 2007 Posts: 81 Comments: 26511
Quoting pottery:
The rains over the past few days has resulted in a swarm of flying ants, each one the size Nebraska, and with Mandibles of Death on their front ends. They have just come out.
I am sitting in a house with all the lights off, and spotlights shining into the garden to encourage them to stay out there. The only light in here is from this monitor screen.
If I go missing, call the Insect Vector Control Unit, then the Undertaker.
Thanks.

Okay i have posted maybe four or five times in 5 years but must say that "mandibles of death" is worth quoting over and over!
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Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128871
Magnitude 5.1 - SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
2010 May 19 00:38:59 UTC
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Quoting weathersp:
Northern TX Tornadic Storm (the one patrap has been posting about): I got this on GR2AE... Definite tornado.



Looks like a 4-legged clay demon stomping all over Texas. At least that's what came to mind as soon as I scrolled down to your post.
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Quoting Weather456:



Could be as a conservative organization, they can't accept the numbers they came up with. Probably defied the law the tropical meteorology.


Lol, I wouldn't be surprised if the delay does actually have something to do with the season numbers. They may be reluctant to go with their guts on this one.
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13 Days/314 Hours to go until June 1st.
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Quoting indianrivguy:


68 eh.. he sounds like a keel owner


Most likely.

He's been most continents and seas...irg.

Im just a lowly Blue nose from 84,..
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128871
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Quoting weathersp:
Northern TX Tornadic Storm (the one patrap has been posting about): I got this on GR2AE... Definite tornado.


That's Cool stuff there!
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6 TropicTraveler "...is the offshore drilling within American waters or international waters? How is it that a foreign country is drilling here, do we give permits for this?"

By international treaty for commercial exploitation of the ocean, it belongs to the US.
"Capitalists will sell us the rope to hang them with." Quote (and variations) written by an observant capitalist, then attributed to various early Communist leaders.

30 Patrap "Where is the Trieste ..and The Navy submersibles, the Mariana Trench ones?"

Interestingly during interviews surrounding news that the US House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee had unanimously approved authorizing a Visitor Center for the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument, the Trieste aquanauts bemoaned the fact that the last manned deepsea mission was over 50years ago, before the first manned space flight.

DSRV-2 Avalon was decommissioned in 2000 and DSRV-1 Mystic was decommissioned in 2008. Though both could have probably operated safely at the depth of the DeepWaterHorizon wellhead, I fail to see how that would help.
Neither is equipped with useful manipulators. And even if they were, such manipulators are all "fly-by-wire", so having the operators at depth would be no different than having them on a surface ship.

And while they could have taken scuba divers to that depth, the deepest wetpool dive pressure ever attempted was to only 700metres/2300feet on Hydreliox. Even then there was evidence of strong hydrogen narcosis taking effect.
So anything deeper is totally out of the question.
Fortunately that test was conducted in a wetpool pressure chamber. The deepest actual working-exercize dive has been to only 534metres/1750feet. For dives below ~300metres/1000feet, saturation&decompression times are measured in weeks.
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Thats a spiffy look at the cell weathersp
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128871
Quoting Patrap:
I trench out round slabs for a Termite man with a bad back,hes a former Navy Seal,68 years young,who I dont tick off to much.

Cuz I fear the Guy mostly.

Plus he pays well..and like to go to Bar after.





68 eh.. he sounds like a keel owner
Member Since: September 23, 2006 Posts: 1 Comments: 2582
Quoting Stormchaser2007:
Looks like the floodgates to La Nina have been opened.

WOW.
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Hi TAZ!
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Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128871
Quoting Patrap:
I trench out round slabs for a Termite man with a bad back,hes a former Navy Seal,68 years young,who I dont tick off to much.

Cuz I fear the Guy mostly.

Plus he pays well..and like to go to Bar after.





Termidor, works wonders...Edit, but does nothing for the Dry wood boyz...... they don't touch it....

They do make a pellet form also I use that keeps the fire ants down for over a year. I don't like the fire ants, and they do like me :)

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Northern TX Tornadic Storm (the one patrap has been posting about): I got this on GR2AE... Definite tornado.

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if where going too be uesing sea temper maps i think we sould ues the sea temper maps that wont be too overe doing it or the kind of sea temper maps that can telll the oh story on whats going on
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Quoting Patrap:




Seems some one has a lil space rented in their head for me.

Always a flattering moment.

Thanks,..

One can so easily use the iggy feature.

Watch..I'll show ya..

"Boing"..............................
Aw Patrick...best, and quickest, use of the modify feature I've seen since you did it last time. Well done sailor...
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SPC wind report:

0041 90 BURNS LARAMIE WY 4119 10436 REPORTED BY A TRAINED SPOTTER. (CYS)

Umm, 90? That's a fairly significant wind gust. Wonder if that's right...more likely right than wrong, I suppose.
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A new vortex may be back building here
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128871
I trench out round slabs for a Termite man with a bad back,hes a former Navy Seal,68 years young,who I dont tick off to much.

Cuz I fear the Guy mostly.

Plus he pays well..and like to go to Bar after.



Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128871
Quoting Patrap:


Formosan termites are the feared species here locally.
They bad mojo


Ah yep, concrete eaters. The dry wood are the one's to watch. They make their house from above ground contact. Checkum, not hard to tell the difference.
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Looks like the floodgates to La Nina have been opened.

Member Since: June 9, 2007 Posts: 4 Comments: 15921
Quoting Weather456:


how about these:











What about one more?

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Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128871
Quoting Ossqss:


Not good if they are dry wood boyz. Big difference for sure.


Formosan termites are the feared species here locally.
They bad mojo
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128871
Quoting stormhank:
I want to thank all of you in here that replies to my many questions,,,Ive been interested in urricanes since the mid 1980's when my area was affected by elena and kate .i have no degrees or anything but find tropical weather so interesting..actually today found and old storm tracks book that goes back to the late 1800's there were some bad storms back then also...just a note of thanks to all of you who take the time to reply to my questions.. god bless yu all


Dr Masters has a hurricane archive here that goes back to 1851. For my personal use as Florida pioneer historian, I went through it and created a 90 page file of every storm that has affected Florida since 1851. Some of them of interest I have plotted on google earth to discern forward speeds and distance from center of storm.
Member Since: September 23, 2006 Posts: 1 Comments: 2582
367 LMAOLOL
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Quoting Patrap:
Termite Swarms began in Ernest here last night.

Big Uns.

The Chimps really dig Um..as they working on the GFS solution and their MJO forecast.

They love a 40 Watt bulb too,really brings um in


Not good if they are dry wood boyz. Big difference for sure.
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Quoting StormW:
Good evening,

I have put together some indicators that we look at as far as determining an active season vice below average season. I tried not to get into too much detail, just briefly mentioning
some of the parameters I utilize. I hope it is arranged that you can make some sense of it.

2010 HURRICANE SEASON ACTIVITY INDICATORS


Evening Storm. :)
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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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