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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If the system in sw carribena forms would it head NE and then out to sea?? What about the possible system near bahamas later?
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Quoting Weather456:


very plausible
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2.5 inch hail reported to SPC.
250 11 SW DUMAS MOORE TX 3575 10210 (AMA)

(watch yer head, t-dude)
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216. xcool
gfs ngp and ecmf wow
Member Since: September 26, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 15684
18z NOGAPS 120 Hours:

Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21194
Quoting IKE:
18Z NOGAPS
Yup, they're forecasting a pretty intense system in the SW Caribbean.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21194
Quoting IKE:
18Z NOGAPS


NOGAPS on board with a system in the SW Caribbean
Member Since: March 10, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 7874
NEXRAD Radar
Amarillo, Vertically Integrated Liquid Range 124 NMI

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 428 Comments: 129903
211. IKE
18Z NOGAPS
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210. xcool
Member Since: September 26, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 15684
Pretty bad weather over Cuba, Yucatan, and many more places.

Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21194
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 428 Comments: 129903
Quoting stormwatcherCI:
I saw that and it looks pretty healthy.
Oh my bad I didn't post the image. Here is the pic:

Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21194
YIPPEE
Happiness is water falling from the sky!
(right now, here in the Turks & Caicos)
If I remember correctly this is that stuff they call rain!
CRS
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192. pottery 4:18 PM PDT on May 18, 2010
Well, I am tired of waiting on Hippo's to appear. Got to go and cook.......



non-hubby!!! come back!
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Blue: Dying El Niño
White: Warming Gulf of Mexico
Red: Above average Atlantic and Caribbean SSTs
Green: Gulf of Guinea cooling
Pink: Hot, cold, hot Atlantic ocean tri-pole (Opposite to 2009, very similar to 1998).

Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21194
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I don't think that the storm will move that far east in the caribbean I think that it will reach aleast 15N before starting to move NNE maybe passing Jamaica or between Jamaica and Cayman and hit Cuba and weaking I think that the shear will ease up until the system hit Cuba and Bahamas then it will hit higher shear
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Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
Nice big wave embedded in the ITCZ in the Central ATL.

I saw that and it looks pretty healthy.
Member Since: October 9, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 8436
Has anyone herd any updates on oil spill? I wonder is the idea thay had on tryin to slow it with pumping mud into going to work??
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BP hands Louisiana $15 million for tourism grants

by Bradley Handwerger

wwltv.com

Posted on May 17, 2010 at 1:56 PM

NEW ORLEANS Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama each received $15 million from BP for tourism grants while Florida was given $25 million.

The company said the money is an attempt to mitigate the economic impact of the oil spill from the well blowout that occurred after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank.

The money is designed to help the governors of each state promote tourism for the coastal areas.

"The Gulf Coast is our home, too, BP's CEO Tony Hayward said. We are doing everything we can to plug the leak, contain the spill offshore and protect the shoreline. With the deployment of the riser insertion tool yesterday, we made important progress in containing the spill, and that will further strengthen our ability to keep oil off the shore.

He added, We understand the governors%u2019 concerns for the impact on the tourism industry, and are making funds available so that they can support the industry's efforts to provide accurate information about the state of the beaches across the region.

The company already has given $25 million to the four states on May 5 to help aid in cleanup plans.

BP said these grants do not affect BP's response to the Deepwater Horizon incident or existing claims process, but are supplemental to them.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 428 Comments: 129903
Man, these have such badly disagreeing SSTs (as Dr. M stated)!

Beginning of the particle tracking run:


End of the particle tracking run:

(20 C off the Cape in the global HyCOM?!?)

And I think I know why. They are not assimilating SST data and cold starting these models, they are hotstarting them off of their previous runs. So, as a model goes bad and generates less than 20 C SST values in the gulf, it's circulation modeling suffers (truly, the density of the whole column of sea water has a lot to do with surface currents, everything to do with it, in fact, outside of wind forcing).

So, I suppose this is the state of operational ocean modeling...

Maybe, (I hope) they are just plotting some funky SST field in the background and are using much better modeled current data...
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Quoting leo305:


wow lol


that and wherever it is high, that appears to be changing based on the forecasts and more favorable shear will be prevalent as we go into the next week
Member Since: March 10, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 7874
Quoting pottery:

Not loading for me. Will try again later. Would love to see them.


Here is the root link
Link

Scroll down until you see

· WFS ROMS model Oil Spill Subsurface Trajectory Hindcast New!

Good luck and take care -
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Quoting Hurricanes101:


shear is actually below normal to near normal in most places


wow lol
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Well, I am tired of waiting on Hippo's to appear. Got to go and cook.......
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Quoting atmoaggie:

When it is associated with the seabreeze, the storms build as they go inland. It is perfectly common for the heaviest rains to be ~5 miles inland from the coastline...in a seabreeze rain scenario, and be mostly dry or even sunny right at the coastline. (Dem Florida guys can tell you all about it).

BUT, today was not that. Today was just (un)luck of the draw, really (depending on your perspective). No particular reason the storms in southern Tangipahoa earlier went around Mandeville that I can come up with.

wow. so there is an actual reason. lol! i thought it was just a weird thing that just happens. thanks for the info. ya'll are awesome on here.
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Quoting NttyGrtty:
Not just A dog, but a dog WITH glasses in front of a computer...it's like the department of the navy started trying to educate more than just the Marines



She does most the post,..its just my handle NG.
Im watching TWC usually.

Good movies as of late.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 428 Comments: 129903
Quoting NttyGrtty:
Evening all...I take a short break to marry off my step son, come back, Pat is no longer iron man, there's tar balls down south, wtf over?


Roger that! We must be near The End :)
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Quoting leo305:
My god, there is so much shear over the atlantic.. is shear typically this high in the latter portions of MAY


shear is actually below normal to near normal in most places
Member Since: March 10, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 7874
My god, there is so much shear over the atlantic.. is shear typically this high in the latter portions of MAY
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Quoting mikatnight:


I know what you mean...volcanoes, earthquakes, it's all a sign. The dog avatar is especially disturbing.
Not just A dog, but a dog WITH glasses in front of a computer...it's like the department of the navy started trying to educate more than just the Marines
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Quoting sarahjola:
its so weird that the storms always seem to separate or fade out over mandeville. we are right by the causeway and it will be getting hammered by storms and covington will be getting hammered with storms while we are in sunshine. every now and then we get light rain. anyone know why that happens?

When it is associated with the seabreeze, the storms build as they go inland. It is perfectly common for the heaviest rains to be ~5 miles inland from the coastline...in a seabreeze rain scenario, and be mostly dry or even sunny right at the coastline. (Dem Florida guys can tell you all about it).

BUT, today was not that. Today was just (un)luck of the draw, really (depending on your perspective). No particular reason the storms in southern Tangipahoa earlier went around Mandeville that I can come up with.
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Quoting mikatnight:


I know what you mean...volcanoes, earthquakes, it's all a sign. The dog avatar is especially disturbing.

More so than the lizzard?
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Where's tornadodude and them? Dalhart?
Edit: SRV radar image removed.
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Nice big wave embedded in the ITCZ in the Central ATL.

Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21194
Quoting leo305:
There is a surface low on the yucatan, and there is alot of convection flaring up over it and over the northwestern caribean..



There is a surface trough over the Yucatan, but the convection is being caused by large-scale upper divergence in the subtropical jetstream flow, and this jet is the reason why there is no threat for tropical development. Those areas are getting some decent rains though.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26701
Quoting NttyGrtty:
Evening all...I take a short break to marry off my step son, come back, Pat is no longer iron man, there's tar balls down south, wtf over?


I know what you mean...volcanoes, earthquakes, it's all a sign. The dog avatar is especially disturbing.
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Quoting Weather456:


I don't know about Alex or Bonnie but we have two chances of Alex, that's pretty high.
I agree.
Quoting HurricaneSwirl:


I'm having trouble reading that. Is that 1004 mb???
Yes it is.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21194


BP OK's Costner's oil-cleaning device
by Bradley Handwerger / Eyewitness News

wwltv.com

Posted on May 18, 2010 at 3:32 PM

Updated today at 3:51 PM


NEW ORLEANS ― Kevin Costner's oil cleaning device is in the wilderness no more.

BP approved Costner’s Ocean Therapy device to help the company attempt to clean up the Gulf of Mexico after its Deepwater Horizon drill rig exploded, sank and began gushing copious amounts of oil into the water.

The machine, described as a centrifugal processing device that separates oil from water, was developed by a consortium of scientists hired by Costner following the Exxon-Valdez oil spill in 1989.


Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 428 Comments: 129903
Hey many times do you think the Weather Channel will go into Storm Alert this year and do you think they will send Paul Goodloe into a hurricane?
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its so weird that the storms always seem to separate or fade out over mandeville. we are right by the causeway and it will be getting hammered by storms and covington will be getting hammered with storms while we are in sunshine. every now and then we get light rain. anyone know why that happens?
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There is a surface low on the yucatan, and there is alot of convection flaring up over it and over the northwestern caribean..

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Evening all...I take a short break to marry off my step son, come back, Pat is no longer iron man, there's tar balls down south, wtf over?
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Quoting ElConando:
That looks like a November track than a June one even though were not in June yet.


I was thinking the same. May-June storms tend to move NW into the gulf, november storms move NE into the atlantic.
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Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
-18z GFS 132 Hours-



Might we have Alex and Bonnie in May??? Guess we'll find out.


I'm having trouble reading that. Is that 1004 mb???
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Quoting Tazmanian:
124. IKE 3:31 PM PDT on May 18, 2010 Hide this comment.
Dr. Masters may be correct about a system in the SW Caribbean affecting Haiti.


this what they need


LOL!
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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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