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 weathersp:
SPC has issued a HIGH RISK for South-central Oklahona today.


The latest Public Statement from SPC:

ZCZC SPCPWOSPC ALL
WOUS40 KWNS 191634
OKZ000-200200-

PUBLIC SEVERE WEATHER OUTLOOK
NWS STORM PREDICTION CENTER NORMAN OK
1134 AM CDT WED MAY 19 2010

...SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS EXPECTED OVER PARTS OF THE SOUTHERN PLAINS
THIS AFTERNOON AND TONIGHT...

THE NWS STORM PREDICTION CENTER IN NORMAN OK IS FORECASTING THE
DEVELOPMENT OF A FEW STRONG TORNADOES OVER PARTS OF OKLAHOMA LATER
THIS AFTERNOON AND EARLY TONIGHT.

THE AREAS MOST LIKELY TO EXPERIENCE THIS ACTIVITY INCLUDE

PARTS OF OKLAHOMA

ELSEWHERE...SEVERE STORMS ARE ALSO POSSIBLE ACROSS THE CENTRAL AND
SOUTHERN PLAINS TO THE LOWER MISSISSIPPI VALLEY

MORNING THUNDERSTORM COMPLEX ACROSS NORTHERN AND CENTRAL OKLAHOMA
WILL CONTINUE TO GRADUALLY WEAKEN EARLY THIS AFTERNOON AS IT
PROGRESSES EAST INTO THE OZARKS REGION OF SOUTHERN MISSOURI AND
NORTHERN ARKANSAS. IN THE STORMS WAKE...AN OUTFLOW BOUNDARY WILL
STALL ACROSS CENTRAL OKLAHOMA WHILE A DRYLINE SHARPENS FROM WESTERN
OKLAHOMA AND CENTRAL TEXAS DURING THE AFTERNOON.

A VERY MOIST AND UNSTABLE AIR MASS WILL CONTINUE TO FLOW NORTHWARD
THIS AFTERNOON TO THE OUTFLOW BOUNDARY AND EAST OF THE
DRYLINE...SETTING THE STAGE FOR AN ACTIVE SEVERE WEATHER DAY FOR
PORTIONS OF THE SOUTHERN PLAINS.

STRONG HEATING AND THE APPROACH OF AN UPPER AIR DISTURBANCE WILL
HELP INITIATE THUNDERSTORMS OVER CENTRAL AND WESTERN OKLAHOMA AHEAD
OF THE DRYLINE AND ALONG THE OUTFLOW BOUNDARY BY MID-AFTERNOON.
SUPERCELLS WILL BE LIKELY WITH TORNADOES...VERY LARGE HAIL AND
DAMAGING WIND GUSTS. A FEW OF THE TORNADOES MAY BE
STRONG...ESPECIALLY FROM NEAR/JUST WEST OF OKLAHOMA CITY METRO AREA
EAST-SOUTHEAST INTO PORTIONS OF EAST-CENTRAL OKLAHOMA.

THE STORMS WILL CONTINUE EAST AND SOUTHEAST INTO EASTERN
OKLAHOMA...NORTH CENTRAL AND NORTHEAST TEXAS AND WESTERN ARKANSAS BY
MID-EVENING WITH CONTINUED THREATS FOR TORNADOES...LARGE HAIL AND
DAMAGING WINDS.

STATE AND LOCAL EMERGENCY MANAGERS ARE MONITORING THIS POTENTIALLY
VERY DANGEROUS SITUATION. THOSE IN THE THREATENED AREA ARE URGED TO
REVIEW SEVERE WEATHER SAFETY RULES AND TO LISTEN TO
RADIO...TELEVISION...AND NOAA WEATHER RADIO FOR POSSIBLE
WATCHES...WARNINGS...AND STATEMENTS LATER TODAY.

..RACY.. 05/19/2010
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ESL by LSU

Envisat Image from CSTARS, May 18, 2010
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128736
Quoting Levi32:


Overall the Caribbean system will have the better chance of organizing. It has the advantage of more heat available and in a concentrated area. The Bahamas system could end up just being a mess with different pieces of energy split every which way, not to mention that it won't be fully tropical. I do think there is a strong likelyhood of getting an interesting feature out of the trough-split, but the odds of getting Alex are in favor of the Caribbean.


Florida is good at getting non-tropical messes in May, so even if it doesnt have a name, anything that forms near the bahamas could still give a big headache to those it affected

Of course that is IF whatever develops moves towards Florida
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Quoting Hurricanes101:


ok so as of right now, which system do you feel is more likely to develop?


Overall the Caribbean system will have the better chance of organizing. It has the advantage of more heat available and in a concentrated area. The Bahamas system could end up just being a mess with different pieces of energy split every which way, not to mention that it won't be fully tropical. I do think there is a strong likelyhood of getting an interesting feature out of the trough-split, but the odds of getting Alex are in favor of the Caribbean.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26661




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Quoting Levi32:


Yeah it's going to be a very interesting week next week. Getting both to develop would be quite something, and isn't very likely. If this was August both systems would probably develop.


ok so as of right now, which system do you feel is more likely to develop?
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Quoting Hurricanes101:
Levi it appears to me we are starting to see more and more evidence of 1 or even 2 storms forming in the next 10 days


Yeah it's going to be a very interesting week next week. Getting both to develop would be quite something, and isn't very likely. If this was August both systems would probably develop.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26661
SPC has issued a HIGH RISK for South-central Oklahona today.

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Levi it appears to me we are starting to see more and more evidence of 1 or even 2 storms forming in the next 10 days
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Quoting Weather456:
The 12Z GFS ensemble had trouble getting the hybrid low out to sea...



It appears to split a piece of energy out into the longwave trough as a baroclinic system while leaving a piece of energy behind. This makes sense to me, as I can't see everything being completely and neatly cleaned out of the area without something lingering, assuming the longwave trough even pulls something out at all.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26661
Quoting Floodman:


A lot of us will miss him...got too political in here though and I see his point
Flood, I WU mailed you a comment on the spill. I don,t like politics. when I start to see more positive spin on them, maybe I will change my mind.
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7658.48569 sq miles of Oil Slick derived from MODIS Pass May 18.
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The 12Z GFS ensemble had trouble getting the hybrid low out to sea...

Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Cuba is getting some decent rains from this batch of showers and thunderstorms extending from the NW Caribbean through the Bahamas and south Florida.

Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26661
Quoting Skyepony:
CMC has the one in the Caribbean at the end of the run headed right for Haiti.. It would be before NOAAs final numbers were out. Stocks could shift a bit with an opener like that.


Laina's Lashing has begun..
HYDERABAD, India - A southern Indian state declared a cyclone alert and evacuated thousands of people Wednesday as the region braced for the worst storm in 14 years.

Cyclone Laila was expected to slam into the coast of Andhra Pradesh state from the Bay of Bengal on Thursday. Heavy rains and strong winds killed at least eight people Tuesday night, including four workers when an industrial workshop collapsed due to heavy rain, authorities said. At least 19 fishermen have been reported missing.
more...

I hope Dr. Masters mentions this in his next blog.

Goodnight all. Anyone doing chases, Stay safe, Anyone in any severe weather risk area's stay safe and have ya NOAA radio's on, They may just save ya life..
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Quoting CycloneOz:


Both of you stay safe. The projected outlook for this afternoon, to say the least, is grim.

You are approved to go live at 6:15 PM CDT today.

Best wishes and God speed...

Oz---
Please exercise the utmost in caution, PLEASE. This is a potential life threatening situation for portions of central Oklahoma.
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951. IKE
From the latest TWD....

"A CARIBBEAN SEA TROPICAL WAVE IS ALONG 78W TO THE SOUTH OF 12N
MOVING WEST 10 KT. SHOWERS ARE IN COASTAL COLOMBIA ON THE
EASTERN PACIFIC OCEAN SIDE TO THE SOUTH OF 9N ALONG 76W.
NUMEROUS STRONG SHOWERS ARE IN THE WATERS FROM 4N TO 8N BETWEEN
THE COAST OF COLOMBIA AND PANAMA...BETWEEN 78W AND 81W."
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Paul will be posting under the generic "Portlight" in the portlight blog as he updates the Relief Mission in Haiti, and other if they arise.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128736
Quoting Kearn:


Glenn Beck wonders how the journalists even tie their shoes in the morning...


Coming from Beck, that's a blazing endorsement, given his "high" intellect. One has to love a professional demagogue
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947. Skyepony (Mod)
CMC has the one in the Caribbean at the end of the run headed right for Haiti.. It would be before NOAAs final numbers were out. Stocks could shift a bit with an opener like that.


Laina's Lashing has begun..
HYDERABAD, India - A southern Indian state declared a cyclone alert and evacuated thousands of people Wednesday as the region braced for the worst storm in 14 years.

Cyclone Laila was expected to slam into the coast of Andhra Pradesh state from the Bay of Bengal on Thursday. Heavy rains and strong winds killed at least eight people Tuesday night, including four workers when an industrial workshop collapsed due to heavy rain, authorities said. At least 19 fishermen have been reported missing.
more...
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Quoting Levi32:


It is. The upper shortwave over the eastern Gulf of Mexico on water vapor imagery is exactly what the GFS uses as a catalyst for the formation of a surface trough near the Bahamas.



Yep
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Quoting hydrus:
I will miss Presslord. I hope he comes back occasionally to inject some of his good humor into the blog.


A lot of us will miss him...got too political in here though and I see his point
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RE: 937.

I agree Aussie. I dont even think there should be a cap. If you cant afford to clean up the mess that you make, maybe you shouldnt even be in the game. Why is it that the Republicans seemed determined to stick the taxpayers with this bill? Where are the teabaggers now?
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Quoting Jeff9641:
Things might get very interesting for Florida if some of these models pan out. This maybe something people in Florida might want to start watching. Weather456 brought up a great point that the disturbance moving east right now toward Florida maybe the one that gets a low going east of the Bahamas.


It is. The upper shortwave over the eastern Gulf of Mexico on water vapor imagery is exactly what the GFS uses as a catalyst for the formation of a surface trough near the Bahamas.

Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26661
Quoting DestinJeff:


self-imposed retirement of the "Presslord" handle due to association with Portlight ...

Presslord entries and mission of Portlight were being unfairly connected, which he thought would be harmful to the greater cause: Portlight.

that's it in a nutshell

Ok i can understand that decision, what's his new handle?
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Quoting stillwaiting:
may be the eastpacs first TD developing south of panama,IMO


So far it just looks like an area of heavy convection associated with a tropical wave interacting with the monsoonal trough. Though that area has naturally high low-level vorticity, there is nothing significant appearing there yet. The convection does, however, signify the heat that is beginning to build up in that area as all these tropical waves come across South America. It is this heat that will be released next week and cause that broad area of low pressure to develop in the southern Caribbean.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26661
Quoting lickitysplit:
CBS News:

"Republicans for the second time blocked legislation that would increase oil companies' liability for oil spill damages, setting off criticism from Democrats seeking to make BP pay for the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) on Tuesday blocked a bill Democrats have put forward to raise the liability cap from $75 million to $10 billion. He said on the Senate floor he agrees the cap should be raised, but the Senate should "wait and see where the cap should be." "

Nice.


The cap should be at $10 trillion not $10 Billion.
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Quoting stillwaiting:
may be the eastpacs first TD developing south of panama,IMO


That area is illustrating what is going to happen this weekend. That intense area of thunderstorm south of Panama is being stimulated by a passing tropical wave.

The area of greatest anomalous low pressure is over the SW Caribbean, that is where thunderstorms will tend to form.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Zactly my thoughts irg. When you rob a wetland of its primary watershed source like the Miss River here,..and Lake O there, The Whole Wetland replenish system is starved, and saltwater intrusion and many other factors kick in, and surge eventually will win.

All it takes is the right Storm, and track,and a High surge height.

Hopefully,2010 wont line up the sights on anyone in that manner.

We shall see real soon I feel though.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128736
Quoting AussieStorm:

What happened to Press?
I,m not sure, but it may have had something to do with his work with Portlight. Too busy working for Portlight maybe?
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CBS News:

"Republicans for the second time blocked legislation that would increase oil companies' liability for oil spill damages, setting off criticism from Democrats seeking to make BP pay for the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) on Tuesday blocked a bill Democrats have put forward to raise the liability cap from $75 million to $10 billion. He said on the Senate floor he agrees the cap should be raised, but the Senate should "wait and see where the cap should be." "

Nice.

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Quoting hydrus:
I will miss Presslord. I hope he comes back occasionally to inject some of his good humor into the blog.

What happened to Press?
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Quoting hydrus:
I will miss Presslord. I hope he comes back occasionally to inject some of his good humor into the blog.


did he "retire"? missed this.
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may be the eastpacs first TD developing south of panama,IMO
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Quoting Patrap:
County commissioners urged the Corps on Tuesday to fix the 143-mile-long dike faster. The project isn't expected to be completed until 2022.

Commission Chairman Burt Aaronson questioned why the repairs are taking so long.

The answer: the project's $1 billion cost.



Best call the Corps of engineers NOLA office with dat one.


The dike came very close to breaching in Wilma. She crossed us at right around 28 mph, and the lake was in north eye wall conditions of 75-100mph sustained as Wilma passed. I believe that had Wilma crossed at even half that speed the dike might have been breached. The backside of the storm was the strongest and it had a good fetch causing 10-12 feet of surge against the dike. Okeechobee is the second most vulnerable place after Nawlins.

some good pdf's

LLoyds Risk Report Hoover Dike

Hurricane Effects on South Florida Water Management System: A Case Study of Hurricane Wilma of October 2005
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Quoting DestinJeff:


Need to pour some out for Press ...

I will miss Presslord. I hope he comes back occasionally to inject some of his good humor into the blog.
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Some of the energy from the mess over the NW Caribbean, along with the frontal boundary along the E USA and a surface trough that is now east of the Bahamas, all help serve initiate a disturbance. This is the surface, since there are other mechanism aloft.

Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
that closed ULL that'll form to the east of the bahamas will be retro-grading back towards and over the FL peninsula by mid-end next week the ridge will build to its north and force it westward,IMO.....not going to be fun if sheer drops as it enters the GOM.....
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Tuesday, 25 May 2010 22:00:00 GMT+1000 (AUS Eastern Standard Time)

Interesting what NOGAPS has devoloping in the SW Caribbean.
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Quoting Weather456:
Also notice that we have no trough-like pattern, which one would expect for late May.

The storms over the CONUS go straight into Canada due to the blocking high. It seems the GFS uses as an existing cold front to kick the system out to sea. Other than that, there appears to be no frontal troughs for a while.



Surely agree with that. Personally, I have to side with the models painting a stronger high.
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This is too cool! Can you share this link?

Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
northern hemishere water vapour image latest as of 1201 pm

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921. IKE
UKMET at 60 hours....

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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.