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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i think flood a point a lot of people do not realize is the affects a tropical system in the gulf would have on the oil spill. a hurricane as we all know will pick up the seawater in this case mixed with oil and throw it into the inland bays rivers and esctutaires. in my opinion worse case senario would be a storm that took a track like george, through the keys, into the eastern gulf on a nw course to landfall on the north central gulf coast. with the various changes in wind direction with surge and waves would be catostrophic.
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Quoting Acemmett90:

the central atl wave looks too good this is may right? or are we in july


Can you give us a link or animation to this? Thanks.
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BTW...1893, 5 hurricanes in a 7 day span, with 4 simultaneous storsm in the Atlantic basin...4 of the 5 were majors and two of those made CONUS landfall
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 9922
Quoting Stormchaser2007:


Great to have you back extreme!


Hey! Glad to be back
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Quoting extreme236:


Hey! Yup I think I'm ready. Should be interesting.


Great to have you back extreme!
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Quoting Floodman:
He does have a tendency to over hype the tropics though, Reed...I'm afraid this year it may hard to overhype them...guess we'll see


Yeah, I remember when he predictd Gabrielle in 2007 to hit NYC as a category 3 storm lol... He also predicted Bill in 2009 to hit NYC as well, I just predicted it to get real close to the NE and it panned out right.
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Quoting Weather456:


and a passing TW.
right.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21194
Alex and Bonnie both in May? that is going to fast
Member Since: March 29, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2375
I have never been a beleiver in "analog years", particulalry for track, but there is something to it, maybe...ask me December 1st and I'll tell you
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 9922
Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
ROFLMAO!!!

That happens everyday, and it dies out at night. I believe it is associated with the Columbian heat low.


and a passing TW.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
1159. Patrap


Bill Nelson
Added by Paula Devlin, The Times-Picayune on May 18, 2010 at 6:09 PM

Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee member Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., shows a map of location of the Gulf oil spill, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, May 18, 2010, during the committee's hearing on response efforts to the Gulf Coast oil spill. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
This photo is part of the following galleries: Gulf Oil Spill May 18
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 427 Comments: 129457
Quoting Weather456:


Talk about dejavu.

1887 is also the third most active hurricane season with 19 storms. tied with 1995
wow.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21194
Quoting Floodman:
MiamiHurricanes, try 1890-1910...I don't think so, but I seem to remember something about that timeframe...AND NO, NOT BECAUSE I WAS THERE (nip that in the bud right now!)
ROFLMAO!!!

Quoting Acemmett90:
Heres the Low that the gfs may be picking up
That happens everyday, and it dies out at night. I believe it is associated with the Columbian heat low.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21194
He does have a tendency to over hype the tropics though, Reed...I'm afraid this year it may hard to overhype them...guess we'll see
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 9922
1155. Patrap


Gulf Oil Spill Florida Keys
Added by Paula Devlin, The Times-Picayune on May 18, 2010 at 6:09 PM

Crews collect sand samples at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park beach in Key West Fla.,Tuesday May 17, 2010. Twenty tar balls were found in Key West on Monday and are being analyzed to see if they came from the Deepwater oil spill. (AP Photo/The Citizen, Rob O'Neal)
This photo is part of the following galleries: Gulf Oil Spill May 18
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 427 Comments: 129457
Quoting Hurricanes101:
1887 had a storms form on May 15th and May 17th

1 Tropical Storm #1 15-20 MAY 60
2 Tropical Storm #2 17-21 MAY 50


oddly enough, 1st storm formed south of Bermuda went north and northeast and clipped Newfoundland. The 2nd storm formed south of Jamaica, moved north over Jamaica, hit Eastern Cuba and the Bahamas before dying out


I will look for other instances


Talk about dejavu.

1887 is also the third most active hurricane season with 19 storms. tied with 1995
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Quoting CybrTeddy:


Hey! I'm still here extreme.. ready for another active season?


Hey! Yup I think I'm ready. Should be interesting.
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Quoting Hurricanes101:
1887 had a storms form on May 15th and May 17th

1 Tropical Storm #1 15-20 MAY 60
2 Tropical Storm #2 17-21 MAY 50


oddly enough, 1st storm formed south of Bermuda went north and northeast and clipped Newfoundland. The 2nd storm formed south of Jamaica, moved north over Jamaica, hit Eastern Cuba and the Bahamas before dying out


I will look for other instances
I was about to post it.
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1150. Patrap


Jean-Michel Cousteau
Added by Paula Devlin, The Times-Picayune on May 18, 2010 at 6:09 PM

Jean-Michel Cousteau talks to media after he and his expedition team were turned away by the U.S. Coast Guard after arriving at the Breton Island National Wildlife Sanctuary to document the effects of oil on marine life in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of La., Tuesday, May 18, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Tags: oil spill gulf of mexico 2010
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 427 Comments: 129457
MiamiHurricanes, try 1890-1910...I don't think so, but I seem to remember something about that timeframe...AND NO, NOT BECAUSE I WAS THERE (nip that in the bud right now!)
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 9922
1148. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
India Meteorological Department
Tropical Cyclone Advisory NUMBER THREE
DEPRESSION ARB01-2010
20:30 PM IST May 19 2010
=======================================

At 15:00 PM UTC, Depression ARB01-2010 over southwest Arabian Sea off Somalia coast moved northwestward and lays centered near 11.5N 53.5E, or about 280 kms of Alula, Somalia. It is likely to intensify further and move slowly in a northwesterly direction towards Gulf of Aden.

Convective clouds in association with the system has organized during the past 12 hours. The estimated dvorak intensity is T1.5. 3 minute sustained winds near the center is 25 knots. Broken intense to very intense convection is seen over west Arabian Sea between 8.0N to 11.0N and west of 56.0E.
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1147. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
India Meteorological Department
Tropical Cyclone Advisory NUMBER SEVENTEEN
SEVERE CYCLONIC STORM LAILA (BOB01-2010)
20:30 PM IST May 19 2010
====================================

Subject: Severe Cyclonic Storm LAILA over west central and adjoining southwest Bay of Benga:

Cyclone Warning (Red message)

At 15:00 PM UTC, Severe Cyclonic Storm Laila over west central and adjoining southwest Bay of Bengal remained practically stationary and lays centered near 14.0N 81.5E, or about 150 kms northeast of Chennai, 250 kms south southeast of Machilipatnam, and 500 kms south southwest of Visakhapatnam.

3 minute sustained winds near the center is 55 knots with a central pressure of 986 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 is T3.5. Associated broken intense to very intense convection observed over the Bay of Bengal between 10.0N to 18.0N. 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 center.

Considering all the above and numerical weather prediction model guidance, the system is likely to intensify further and move in a northwesterly to northerly direction and cross Andhra Pradesh coast between Kavali and Kakinada, close to Machilipatnam by afternoon/evening hours on Thursday.

Forecast and Intensity
=========================
21 HRS: 16.0N 81.0E - 65 knots (Very Severe Cyclonic Storm)
45 HRS: 18.5N 83.5E - 45 knots (Cyclonic Storm)
69 HRS: 20.5N 86.5E - 30 knots (Deep Depression)
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Quoting HurricaneSwirl:


997 and 996?? I've never heard of the GGEM model before.


It's one of the composites...
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 9922
1887 had a storm form on May 15th and May 17th

1 Tropical Storm #1 15-20 MAY 60
2 Tropical Storm #2 17-21 MAY 50


oddly enough, 1st storm formed south of Bermuda went north and northeast and clipped Newfoundland. The 2nd storm formed south of Jamaica, moved north over Jamaica, hit Eastern Cuba and the Bahamas before dying out

1887 had 19 storms, 11 hurricanes and 2 recorded major hurricanes. The 3rd storm of 1887 formed on June 11th

I will look for other instances
Member Since: March 10, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 7874
1144. Patrap

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 427 Comments: 129457
The global models always overstate pressures when it comes to tropical cyclones. For example, a 1012 mb low is normally a 1005 depression. A 1000 mb low is often a 995 mb low. Felix nearing cat 5 status analyzed at 1000 mb.

Global models can handle mid-latitude cyclones well but they handle pressures associated with TC poorly. That is because they are not dynamic enough to account such low pressures over a relatively small grid.

Specialize computer models like the GFDL and HWRF are better at handling TC's pressures.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Quoting Weather456:


To some degree, but other models appear aggressive on the hybrid low as well.

I think the SW Carib low is a little overdone considering shear as the moderator down there.



Nothing from memory.
I'm going to look from 1851 to 2009 to see if we have had 2 systems in the preseason at the same time.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21194
Levi let me look into it for you about the storms in May

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1140. Ossqss
From about an hour ago...



MESOSCALE DISCUSSION 0623
NWS STORM PREDICTION CENTER NORMAN OK
0122 PM CDT WED MAY 19 2010

AREAS AFFECTED...OK AND EXTREME NRN TX

CONCERNING...SEVERE POTENTIAL...WATCH LIKELY

VALID 191822Z - 192015Z

MID-LVL SHORTWAVE RIDGING IN WAKE OF THE MORNING MCS WAS BEGINNING
TO MIGRATE INTO ERN OK AND ACCELERATED COOLING ALOFT IS EXPECTED TO
SPREAD EWD THROUGH THE NEXT FEW HOURS. 18Z VSBL SATL ALREADY SHOWS
EVIDENCE OF TCU INVOF THE TRIPLE POINT OVER ERN HEMPHILL/WHEELER
COUNTIES IN THE TX PNHDL AND MAY MARK THE BEGINNING OF AN ACTIVE
MID-LATE AFTN/EVENING DOWNSTREAM.

18Z MESOANALYSIS DEPICTS AN OUTFLOW BOUNDARY VERY NEAR I-40 WITH A
WRMFNT EXTENDING ESE FROM THE TRIPLE POINT ACROSS NORMAN TO SERN OK.
A PRE-FRONTAL TROUGH SEEMINGLY HAS EVOLVED AND WAS LOCATED A COUPLE
ROWS OF COUNTIES W OF I-44...WELL-AHEAD OF THE DRYLINE. TO THE W OF
THIS FEATURE...CU FIELD WAS INCREASING AND STRATUS WAS ERODING TO
THE N OF THE OUTFLOW BOUNDARY FROM ABOUT EL RENO WWD TO THE STATE
LINE.

AS THE SFC LOW BEGINS TO DEEPEN THIS AFTN...EXPECT THAT THE SFC-H85
FLOW WILL BACK SOMEWHAT AND MAINTAIN SUFFICIENT CONVERGENCE ALONG
THE DRYLINE TO SUPPORT TSTM INITIATION IN THE 19-21Z TIME
FRAME...PERHAPS EVOLVING FROM CURRENT BUILD-UPS ENTERING WCNTRL OK.
OTHER STORMS MAY ALSO INITIATE EWD ALONG THE OUTFLOW OR EVEN PERHAPS
THE PRE-FRONTAL TROUGH FROM OKC METRO WWD ALONG/JUST N OF I-40 AFTER
21Z. MATURE STORMS WILL TRACK ROUGHLY 250/30 KTS.

INGREDIENTS ARE BEGINNING TO CONGEAL FOR THE POSSIBILITY OF STRONG
TORNADOES FROM N OF KCSM ESE THROUGH KOKC METRO IN THE 21Z-02Z AND
POSSIBLY FARTHER ESE INTO ECNTRL OK BY MID-EVENING. HERE...0-1KM
SRH WILL GENERALLY BE 250-300 M2/S2 AMIDST LOW LCL/S AND A HIGH
PROBABILITY FOR DISCRETE STORMS. OTHERWISE...VERY LARGE HAIL AND
DMGG WIND GUSTS CAN ALSO BE EXPECTED.

..RACY.. 05/19/2010
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Quoting HurricaneSwirl:


997 and 996?? I've never heard of the GGEM model before.
It's the canadian.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21194
Quoting HurricaneSwirl:


997 and 996?? I've never heard of the GGEM model before.

The GGEM is just the CMC under a different name.
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Ohh, thanks, I've heard the Canadian model mentioned several times before but have never seen it written out by its actual name.
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1135. soloco
1061: *poof*
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Quoting Levi32:


I'm not the best hurricane history dude but as far as I know there has never been 2 named storms recorded in the Atlantic at the same time during the preseason, including May.
Damn we might break a record and the season hasn't even started! lol.
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Quoting HurricaneSwirl:


997 and 996?? I've never heard of the GGEM model before.


The Canadian Global Model.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
1132. Levi32
Quoting HurricaneSwirl:


997 and 996?? I've never heard of the GGEM model before.


It's the Canadian.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26699
Quoting Hurricanes101:


GGEM overdoing the intensity on both most likely


To some degree, but other models appear aggressive on the hybrid low as well.

I think the SW Carib low is a little overdone considering shear as the moderator down there.

Quoting Levi32:


I'm not the best hurricane history dude but as far as I know there has never been 2 named storms recorded in the Atlantic at the same time during the preseason, including May.


Nothing from memory.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
1130. xcool
joe It's OK
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Quoting Weather456:
GGEM.....Alex and Bonnie



997 and 996?? I've never heard of the GGEM model before.
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Quoting Weather456:
GGEM.....Alex and Bonnie

I think Alex will be the Sub-tropical system and Bonnie the one in the Caribbean. Why? Well the NHC does lean more towards subtropical systems in May. Plus the hybrid one seems to be much more aggressive.
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Quoting Patrap:


Me?

LOL

Well since you asking,and I've listened in on a few calls and PC"s on their site.
I'd ask this.

.."Why cant we use the US Naval Deep sea assets to help in the well action plans and why are they using corexit dispersant when a less evil water Based EPA product is available""..?

Since u asked..


well then you better post it.
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1126. Patrap


New video shows oil still gushing from Gulf

Posted on May 19, 2010 at 7:25 AM

New video from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico shows that despite efforts to siphon some of the oil to a containment ship on the surface much of it continues to gush out of that busted pipeline.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 427 Comments: 129457
1125. Levi32
Quoting Weather456:
GGEM.....Alex and Bonnie



I'm not the best hurricane history dude but as far as I know there has never been 2 named storms recorded in the Atlantic at the same time during the preseason, including May.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26699
Quoting Weather456:
GGEM.....Alex and Bonnie



GGEM overdoing the intensity on both most likely
Member Since: March 10, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 7874
Quoting Floodman:


"New York destroyed by Category 5 Hurricane Alex"


LOL, although he did nail the 2010 winter forecast..
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Quoting alexhurricane1991:
Xcool posted what joe had to say this morning
Yeah I agree, GFS usually doesn't have a handle on things as well as the ECMWF.

I am also cocerned of that pretty intense system affecting Georgia/ N. Florida.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21194
1121. Patrap
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 427 Comments: 129457

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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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