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 StormChaser81:


OZ, check your yahoo email.


My goodness, Chaser! I am so thankful you are on our team! The work you do is so incredible!

I hope tornadodude looks at his copy as soon as possible.
Member Since: August 26, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 3684
just thought i'd let you guys know that anderson cooper is suppose to interview some exec from bp tonight. there is a blog going wanting questions that you would ask this guy.

is t-dude ready for today?
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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


ATTN...WFO...SHV...TSA...FWD...OUN...

LAT...LON 36249762 35909482 34089459 33529703 34249867 34939956
35939997 36249762
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Quoting SAINTHURRIFAN:
well this dum old conservative does know how to spell science lol. I guess i learned that from having a dumb old mba in business.And also have a dumb old job as executive vice president of ship building for NGSS.Thats the 2nd dumb old largest military contrator in the world.And with pride we build ships for our brave men and women who put thier lives on the line for this country so you can sit on the couch and insult all your fellow dumb conservative americans.GOd Bless.


GO AWAY. This is a weather related blog. This is not a place for you to preach your anger about how people don't see things the same way you do. You aren't changing anyone's mind by filling up this blog with your complaining
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1015. xcool
A CLASSIC SUMMER WEEK NEXT WEEK... HEAT AND THE TROPICS?

A quick post as I am on the road again, for an appearance in Phoenix this evening. I will try to post from Phoenix this afternoon. But just to let you know a wild week is in front of us next week with three aspects that deserved attention: 1. the major cold into the West; 2. a heat wave from the northern Plains into the interior Northeast; and 3. the threat of one or two developments in the tropics, a subtropical development east of the Bahamas that could swing west toward the Southeast coast, and the more conventional type early season development in the western Caribbean that would drift northeast as this went by to the north. Very complex, but with the huge high in the north Atlantic near 40 north, rather than farther south, it means easterlies are stronger than normal in the western Atlantic farther north than normal, lighter than normal farther south, and this should cause the "buildup" of heat needed to lower pressures in the southwest Atlantic and the Caribbean.

Ciao for now.

'Ladies and gentlemen,
by JOE .HEY
Member Since: September 26, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 15670
6 days

Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Quoting kanc2001:


well said...


Spot on
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Quoting Floodman:
**POOF**

Another one makes the list
Agreed and not a minute too soon.
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Quoting DestinJeff:


understand. sure enjoy your efforts and obvious enthusiasm, as well as that of others. i think taco is from this area, if i remember right.


BTW...I would never have had this "new" technology unless I had not been hit in the head by that 2x4 some weeks ago now during suit testing.

I would've had no way of linking up his cell phone calls with the internet!

Like my Mom always has said..."Everything works together for the good."
Member Since: August 26, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 3684
Quoting CycloneOz:


Yes, indeed Taco is from right around there in LA (that's Lower Alabama as we sometimes like to refer to the Gulf Coast. :)


OZ, check your yahoo email.
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
Well I only posted it a little while ago 456---


I guess monsoon troughs can play a seeding role in the west pac and the southern hemisphere needs old fronts and ULLs that have time to transition.


Not can, it does.

The monsoon trough by far accounts for the majority of typhoons and cyclones in the Indian and Pacific both north and south.

Other accounts, but smaller are fronts, ulls, and interactions with surface troughs.

The current cyclone in the Bay of Bengal formed out of the monsoon trough.

Monsoon troughs is a TC breeding ground and help played the role in the genesis of Mitch, Wilma, Lenny and Ida.

Currently, the monsoon trough is a factor in the SW Caribbean disturbance.

The monsoon trough is often confuse with the ITCZ by the TPC. They are two different creatures.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
1008. Levi32
Quoting reedzone:


What does this mean in terms of subtropical development?


Well as we just saw as the hours keep rolling out on the new Euro, it is much more aggressive with this system so far, and it remains to be seen if it takes this out to sea now on this run.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26647
Quoting DestinJeff:


understand. sure enjoy your efforts and obvious enthusiasm, as well as that of others. i think taco is from this area, if i remember right.


Yes, indeed Taco is from right around there in LA (that's Lower Alabama as we sometimes like to refer to the Gulf Coast. :)
Member Since: August 26, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 3684
1005. Levi32
12z ECMWF 144 hours:

Really winds up the Bahamas low and brings it farther north than before, up west of Bermuda by this time. The Caribbean low shows up as a broad entity after 120 hours.

Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26647
ECMWF develops a pretty big system now

and another low forms in about 6 days


It appears whatever happens in the Bahamas, will be the 1st thing to occur
Member Since: March 10, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 7687
Quoting CycloneOz:
If I were a potential viewer, I'd login just to listen to tornadodude and his reports, but I'd also load an OK City TV weatherman at the same time and mute the tv station's audio.

But that's just me.

If you'd like to sit there and watch me be ground support in my parked car for tornadodude's upcoming chase, that's good, too! :)


Link below to KFOR-TV OKC, OK. They covered the 5/10 outbreak, doing an awesome job:

Link
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Quoting Levi32:
12z ECMWF 48 hours:

The surface trough near the Bahamas is slightly more amplified at this time-frame than it was on the last run.



What does this mean in terms of subtropical development?
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Quoting Levi32:


Tropical waves are unique to the northern hemisphere, and only form over Africa. This is because they originate both baroclinically and barotropically within the African Easterly Jet, which is a setup that doesn't occur anywhere else in the world. The main reason for this is that Africa is the only place where you have a large area of land that the equator has to cross, but which also extends up to 30N. This orientation of the land mass creates a big zonal temperature gradient between the hot Sahara desert to the north and the cooler Gulf of Guinea to the south. It is this gradient and the resulting monsoon that creates the AEJ. Without it, tropical waves wouldn't exist. They are unique to our area of the world.
Interesting. Lucky us...Not.:)
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well this dum old conservative does know how to spell science lol. I guess i learned that from having a dumb old mba in business.And also have a dumb old job as executive vice president of ship building for NGSS.Thats the 2nd dumb old largest military contrator in the world.And with pride we build ships for our brave men and women who put thier lives on the line for this country so you can sit on the couch and insult all your fellow dumb conservative americans.GOd Bless.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Unfriendly:


Well... this is a sciance blog, and scientists tend to favor those who actually CARE about science, and support their needs.

Conservatives have a tendancy to blow off hard science, and support things that make money, such as OIL GIANTS. Who in turn don't give a hoo about... well, anything, except money.

We're here to learn and post about what we know, and though I'll stop short of saying that Liberals are more educated then Conservatives, I will say that because this blog is science based, you will likely see more liberals here, on a very general scale.


well said...
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:



Um.....okaaaay.


now that is how everyone else should handle it lol
Member Since: March 10, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 7687
tornadodude does have an HD video camcorder, so his videos will be available for viewing at some point in the future.
Member Since: August 26, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 3684
12z ECMWF 48 hours:

The surface trough near the Bahamas is slightly more amplified at this time-frame than it was on the last run.

Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26647
Quoting SAINTHURRIFAN:
just curious. why do the majority of the bloggers on here constantly bash anyone or anything that has to do with right wing ideals or supporters. the ones that constantly bash the tea baggers views, but never do you see them blast any liberal views.To the ones that find the teabggers, christians, supporters of the american flag and marriage between a man and a woman its open season on them. But if you critisize pelosi, obama ,gay rights or atheism you are a biggot.Its amazing how far this country has become prejudice in a opposite way.I know emaailing a lot of the old timers that used to populate this blog have said this is the very reason they left it.Now I know masters is a self proclaimed left wing liberal I guess the majority on here or liberals, so maybe this should not be called weatherunderground, but should be called the national left wing democratic weather site.I hope this does not bring ridcule and sarcasm but just maybe a look in the mirror for some.Have a good day and may GOD bless you all.


I respect an agree with this person, I am a strong Christian conservative. I believe in creation, not evolution. I dont bash on people who have different opinions. We are all free to say what we please, it is a free country! Kudos on this and GOD bless you as well!
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Quoting DestinJeff:


will t-dude have video or audio only?


tornadodude, unfortunately, is no where near as capable as me in the area of technology. Basically, he's cell phone only.

I'm using my technology to link up our cell phone audio with the internet. It's a jury rig, but that is the current, limited capability of bluetooth. Only one device at a time can be linked during transmission.

The jury-rigged audio works well. It's a bit cumbersome for me, and yes...I have already made BIG mistakes in operating the system. But it is all good, as our team is being given an opportunity for some "pre-season training"...which will practically guarantee that we will be fully ready to operate all this technology perfectly once the season starts.

I'm crossing my fingers for taco2me61 on his chase beginning next week. He has a bit more capability than tornadodude right now, but he hasn't had a chance to practice with it.

Hopefully, he finds time to practice before he leaves.
Member Since: August 26, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 3684
StSimonsIslandGAGuy,

didn't realize you presented the question at my blog but Levi basically covered it.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Latest podcast from the NWS Norman, OK office on the expected 5-19-10 Severe Weather event:

Link
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Quoting SAINTHURRIFAN:
just curious. why do the majority of the bloggers on here constantly bash anyone or anything that has to do with right wing ideals or supporters. the ones that constantly bash the tea baggers views, but never do you see them blast any liberal views.To the ones that find the teabggers, christians, supporters of the american flag and marriage between a man and a woman its open season on them. But if you critisize pelosi, obama ,gay rights or atheism you are a biggot.Its amazing how far this country has become prejudice in a opposite way.I know emaailing a lot of the old timers that used to populate this blog have said this is the very reason they left it.Now I know masters is a self proclaimed left wing liberal I guess the majority on here or liberals, so maybe this should not be called weatherunderground, but should be called the national left wing democratic weather site.I hope this does not bring ridcule and sarcasm but just maybe a look in the mirror for some.Have a good day and may GOD bless you all.


I am a liberal and I believe in guns, God, Christ, marriage between a man and woman,and the american flag. I also work hard and I am not on welfare. But I believe in the american family even if they are gay or buddhist. and in fact, I think the difference between you and me is that i believe you have a right to your opinion and your beliefs. Gay people love each other deeply just like straight people. I just dont understand why you want to get inside everybodys bedrooms, or why you want to tell everybody what they should believe in.
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Quoting Floodman:
hydrus, I never received your WUMail...send it again?
Yes indeed. It will be a while. I must tend to the Hounds.:)
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
Good to know Levi32. So there are no tropical waves in the southern hemisphere then?


Nope, the necessary factors to spawn them do not exist down there. The equator crosses two land masses, South America and Africa, but the southern half of those continents pretty much go straight south and then taper-off, with no "Gulf of Guinea" to create a significant temperature and moisture gradient from north to south. Their size is also small compared to the northern half of the African continent. The massive size of the Sahara Desert is another contributing factor. Anything smaller wouldn't work as well.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26647
Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
Aside from the Ethiopian highlands, where else do tropical waves in the northern hemisphere come from? Where do tropical waves in the southern hemisphere come from?


tropical waves are unique to the Atlantic. They are not found anywhere else.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
nvm, troll
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hydrus, I never received your WUMail...send it again?
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Quoting DestinJeff:
just a plug for xtremehurricanes.com ...

per oz, don't forget that tornadodude will be webcasting live (I think around 6 CST).

should be some great action there and we all wish the team well and utmost safety.


If I were a potential viewer, I'd login just to listen to tornadodude and his reports, but I'd also load an OK City TV weatherman at the same time and mute the tv station's audio.

But that's just me.

If you'd like to sit there and watch me be ground support in my parked car for tornadodude's upcoming chase, that's good, too! :)
Member Since: August 26, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 3684
Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
Aside from the Ethiopian highlands, where else do tropical waves in the northern hemisphere come from? Where do tropical waves in the southern hemisphere originiate?


Tropical waves are unique to the northern hemisphere, and only form over Africa. This is because they originate both baroclinically and barotropically within the African Easterly Jet, which is a setup that doesn't occur anywhere else in the world. The main reason for this is that Africa is the only place where you have a large area of land that the equator has to cross, but which also extends up to 30N. This orientation of the land mass creates a big zonal temperature gradient between the hot Sahara desert to the north and the cooler Gulf of Guinea to the south. It is this gradient and the resulting monsoon that creates the AEJ. Without it, tropical waves wouldn't exist. They are unique to our area of the world.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26647
just curious. why do the majority of the bloggers on here constantly bash anyone or anything that has to do with right wing ideals or supporters. the ones that constantly bash the tea baggers views, but never do you see them blast any liberal views.To the ones that find the teabggers, christians, supporters of the american flag and marriage between a man and a woman its open season on them. But if you critisize pelosi, obama ,gay rights or atheism you are a biggot.Its amazing how far this country has become prejudice in a opposite way.I know emaailing a lot of the old timers that used to populate this blog have said this is the very reason they left it.Now I know masters is a self proclaimed left wing liberal I guess the majority on here or liberals, so maybe this should not be called weatherunderground, but should be called the national left wing democratic weather site.I hope this does not bring ridcule and sarcasm but just maybe a look in the mirror for some.Have a good day and may GOD bless you all.
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12Z UKMET - low aloft with trough as the surface reflection

+72hrs




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

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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.