Loop Current Eddy cuts off; oil danger to Keys now greatly reduced

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:24 PM GMT on May 28, 2010

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A major ocean current re-alignment is underway the Gulf of Mexico right now, and the new configuration that is developing greatly reduces the threat of oil entering the Loop Current and affecting the Florida Keys and U.S. East Coast. As I explain in my Loop Current Primer, the Loop Current is an ocean current that transports warm Caribbean water through the Yucatan Channel between Cuba and Mexico. The current flows northward into the Gulf of Mexico, then loops southeastward just south of the Florida Keys (where it is called the Florida Current), and past the western Bahamas. Here, the waters of the Loop Current flow northward along the U.S. coast and become the Gulf Stream. With current speeds of about 0.8 m/s, the Loop Current is one of the fastest currents in the Atlantic Ocean. Every 6 - 11 months, the top bulge of the Loop Current cuts off, forming a 250-mile diameter circular eddy in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. This clockwise-spinning eddy is filled with warm water from the Loop Current, and is called a Loop Current Eddy. The main body of the Loop Current then takes a fairly direct eastward path from the Yucatan Channel to the Florida Keys.

Over the past two days, surface currents in the Gulf of Mexico have aligned to form a Loop Current Eddy, as seen in the analysis of surface currents done by the U.S. Navy (Figure 1, and see also a 30-day animation of the eddy forming.) It remains to be seen if the deep water currents have followed suit, and a stable Loop Current Eddy cannot exist until the deep water currents also cut off into a clockwise-rotating ring of water at depth. A NOAA Hurricane Hunter aircraft is out over the Gulf of Mexico today dropping expendable buoys and current probes to determine if a stable Loop Current Eddy has formed. Roffer's Ocean Fishing Forecast Service has a nice discussion on the Loop Current Eddy formation.


Figure 1. Comparison of surface currents in the Gulf of Mexico on May 19 (top) and May 27 (bottom) as simulated by the HYCOM model. On May 19, the Loop Current made a large northward loop into the Gulf, and was able to transport oil from the near the spill location southwards through the Keys. By May 27, this loop had cut off, and new oil moving southwards from the spill will now be trapped in the clockwise rotating Loop Current Eddy that is cut off from the Loop Current. Note on the west side of the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Texas, there is an old Loop Current Eddy that cut off from the Loop Current in July 2009. This eddy cut off in the same location as this week's eddy, and has drifted west-southwestward at 3 - 5 km per day over the past ten months. Image credit: U.S. Navy.

If the eddy does remain in place, it will greatly reduce the chances of oil making it to Cuba, the Florida Keys, and beyond. Any oil moving southwards from the spill location will now become entrained in the eddy, and will move in a 250 mile-wide clockwise circle in the east-central Gulf of Mexico. A small portion the oil will get shed away from the eddy's periphery and make it into the Loop Current and waters surrounding the eddy, but the concentrations of oil doing so will be small. Keep in mind, though, that during the first 1 - 2 months that a Loop Current Eddy forms, it is common for the eddy to exchange substantial amounts of water with the Loop Current, and in some cases get re-absorbed into the Loop Current. A 1-year animation of the Loop Current shows that the last Loop Current Eddy, which cut off in mid-July 2009, experienced a 2-week period in early August when it re-attached to the Loop Current. A significant portion of any oil entering the eddy during a period of re-attachment will be able to enter the Loop Current and flow past the Keys.

One bad result of the eddy breaking off is that now we have an extra source of heat energy for passing hurricanes during the upcoming hurricane season. Loop Current eddies have high-temperature water that extends to great depth, and hurricanes passing over such eddies often undergo rapid intensification. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita of 2005 both underwent rapid intensification as they passed over warm Loop Current eddies in 2005. The formation of a Loop Current Eddy during hurricane season means that a much greater portion of the Gulf of Mexico has deep, warm water capable of fueling rapid intensification of hurricanes.

Oil spill update
Light offshore northwesterly winds are expected to blow over the northern Gulf of Mexico today through Saturday, resulting decreased threats of oil to the Louisiana shore, according to the latest trajectory forecasts from NOAA. These offshore winds may be able to transport oil southwards into the Loop Current Eddy that just formed; a streamer of oil moving southeastward into the Loop Current Eddy is visible in yesterday's NASA MODIS imagery (Figure 2). Winds will shift to onshore out of the south on Saturday night, then shift to southwesterly by Tuesday. The long-range forecast from the GFS model indicates continued southwesterly winds all of next week. If this forecast verifies, we will see our greatest chances yet of significant amounts of oil reaching the beaches of Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle.


Figure 2. Visible satellite image of the Gulf of Mexico taken at 2:55pm EDT Thursday May 27, 2010, by the MODIS instrument on NASA's Aqua satellite. Thin streaks of oil can be seen moving southeast and then southwest around the eastern side of the new Loop Current Eddy. Image credit: NASA.

Oil spill resources
My post, What a hurricane would do the Deepwater Horizon oil spill
My post Wednesday with answers to some of the common questions I get about the spill
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
Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery from the University of Miami

Central American disturbance
The Atlantic is currently quiet, with none of our reliable global forecast models predicting tropical cyclone development over the next 6 days. There is an area of disturbed weather (90E) just off the Pacific coast of Mexico that will be a major concern for southern Mexico and much of Central America over the next 3 - 4 days. The disturbance will bring heavy rains to Central America during the weekend, potentially bringing serious flooding rains to portions of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. NHC is giving the disturbance a high (>60% chance) of the disturbance developing into a tropical depression by Sunday. Wunderbloggers Weather456 and StormW have more on the tropics.


Figure 3. Satellite image of the Central American disturbance 90E this morning.

Join the "Hurricane Haven" with Dr. Jeff Masters: a new Internet radio show
Beginning next week, I'll be experimenting with a live 1-hour Internet radio show called "Hurricane Haven." The show will be aired at 4pm EDT on Tuesdays, with the first show June 1. Listeners will be able to call in and ask questions. Some topics I'll cover on the first show:

1) What's going on in the tropics right now
2) Preview of the coming hurricane season
3) How a hurricane might affect the oil spill
4) How the oil spill might affect a hurricane
5) New advancements in hurricane science presented at this month's AMS Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology
6) Haiti's vulnerability to a hurricane this season

I hope you can tune in to the broadcast, which will be at http://www.wunderground.com/wxradio/wubroadcast.h tml. If not, the show will be recorded and stored as a podcast.

I'll be back with at least one update over the coming 3-day Memorial Day weekend. Have a great holiday!

Jeff Masters

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3407. Patrap
2km Storm Relative IR Imagery with BD Enhancement Curve

0245 UTC



2km Storm Relative IR Imagery with BD Enhancement Curve

The same infrared imagery shown in the earth relative framework is displayed in a storm relative framework, with a 2km resolution and enhanced with the "BD Curve" which is useful for directly inferring intensity via the Dvorak Enhanced IR (EIR) technique. Scaling is provided by two lightly hatched circles around the center. The two circles have radii of 1 and 2 degrees latitude, respectively.
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3405. Patrap
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was just on BP.com clicked on response in pictures then command center at the bottom. Look at this clearly photoshopped pic of the "command center" Link

//zoom in on the heads of the 2 guys in the back of the room, you can see the image on the large projection screen was manipulated.
Member Since: May 30, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 39
I'm gonna call it a night. Unfortunately it does not look good for our neighbors in Guatemala but they are in our prayers.

Later
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3401. Patrap
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Live video link from the ROV



This is really ugly.....I think its even worse now.....OMG!
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3398. Patrap
Agatha Model Plots,,early cycle
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3397. Patrap
Quoting FIU2010:
pat, do you think thad allen is doing a good job, thus far?


Thad iz a seasoned Incident Commander and he is a Good leader.

But this disaster is at 5K down,..the CG can only assist and stay in the Loop. BP has the ball..and they have to deliver.

Or the Impacts now bad,,will only worsen in time.
And time is running..and the TCHP is rising.



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3396. hydrus
Quoting Ossqss:


Does pointing a finger clean the oil up? Think about it........
If I have an idea on how to stop the oil spill, where would I post it?
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22316
Quoting Halyn:
MrstormX .."Thats the problem, thousands upon thousands of people have sent ideas and none looked into."

Are you sure about that ?? I know Costner's machines are being readied .. they had to give "top" a chance .. and I know that a lot of the ideas sent in were just plain simplistic. I can't believe that BP is willingly watching their own demise .. (maybe they already sold out to Shell) .. :)We can't afford to try something without checking it out very thoroughly .. BP has shown us what happens when you do that type of thing .. :( This blog knew that BP's "top" idea wasn't working last night .. a lot of sharp people on here .. :) My heart is broken, too, MrstormX.


Yes its very sad, I personally suggested they try this "diaper idea". Basically instead of divers they would have to use robots, due to the pressure. I doubt they have even had the time to see it yet.
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3392. Patrap
Agatha Floater AVN Color Imagery Loop

Check the TFP"S and the MSLP Boxes
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3391. Levi32
Quoting AllStar17:


Levi: Do you think Agatha has any shot at reforming on the Atlantic side?


I find that unlikely. I believe Agatha's remnants will stay mostly over Central America, eventually trekking into the Gulf of Mexico, but re-development there is pretty much impossible due to the subtropical jet. Due to Agatha's unprecedented acceleration towards the coast today, she may now have the time to make it closer to the eastern coast of the Yucatan, and may play around there over the next couple days, but I don't expect her to fully emerge into the Caribbean.
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3390. EricSFL
Quoting FIU2010:



Pudrete.


There's no need to be offensive Mr FIU2010.
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3388. EricSFL
Quoting Weather456:


It did by 2C

5-day sst change




OK thanks, I did not notice that.
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3385. Patrap
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3383. xcool
june 1 or june 5
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3382. Halyn
MrstormX .."Thats the problem, thousands upon thousands of people have sent ideas and none looked into."

Are you sure about that ?? I know Costner's machines are being readied .. they had to give "top" a chance .. and I know that a lot of the ideas sent in were just plain simplistic. I can't believe that BP is willingly watching their own demise .. (maybe they already sold out to Shell) .. :)We can't afford to try something without checking it out very thoroughly .. BP has shown us what happens when you do that type of thing .. :( This blog knew that BP's "top" idea wasn't working last night .. a lot of sharp people on here .. :) My heart is broken, too, MrstormX.
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Quoting FIU2010:
anyone want to take a stab at when our first storm will form?


It depends on your definition of "our"
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3380. EricSFL
Quoting FIU2010:
anyone want to take a stab at when our first storm will form?


In Hialeah, over the Amelia Earhart lake.
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Quoting FIU2010:
anyone want to take a stab at when our first storm will form?


First or second week of June - in the bubbling SST's of the Caribbean. There you go.
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Quoting EricSFL:


How come the area where 90E was meandering for days hasn't cooled down?


It did by 2C

5-day sst change


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Quoting Levi32:
Moderate rainfall from Agatha spreading over northern Guatemala, Belize, and the northern coast of Honduras:



Levi: Do you think Agatha has any shot at reforming on the Atlantic side?
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3375. Patrap
U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry, BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles, MMS Gulf of Mexico Region Mike Prendergast and Unified Area Command Scientific Support Coordinator Charlie Henry hold a press briefing May 29, 2010 to update media on ongoing operations.

AUDIO: To download the audio from the press briefing, click HERE

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3374. Levi32
Moderate rainfall from Agatha spreading over northern Guatemala, Belize, and the northern coast of Honduras:

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Quoting EricSFL:


I wonder why.


Tropical cyclone withdrawal symptoms in full force. The first cyclone of either season.
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3372. leo305
Quoting MrstormX:
Funny how an EPAC system has gotten this much attention from the Wunderblogger community... In the past these have largely been ignored.


because of the fact it's moving into the atlantic =P
Member Since: April 17, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1753
3371. xcool


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Quoting P451:


Yep.

I don't know why every season people get duped by the ghost storms but they do.

Anticipation?
WishCasting? (wanting to track a storm)?

I don't know what it is but it happens every year.

Remember early last year where the GFS took every single cloud off of Africa in June and July and turned it into a Hurricane just west of the Cape Verdes?

And folks took it as gospel instead of researching the current conditions and the future 72HR conditions to see that it was indeed a ghost model storm?

Eh...I dunno what else to say.


Well, unfortunately, I do not believe that there will be much wishcasting this season. It appears a devastating season could lie ahead, and there many not be any opportunities to wishcast.
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3369. EricSFL
Quoting MrstormX:
Funny how an EPAC system has gotten this much attention from the Wunderblogger community... In the past these have largely been ignored.


I wonder why.
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Funny how an EPAC system has gotten this much attention from the Wunderblogger community... In the past these have largely been ignored.
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The heaviest rainfall is occurring along the mountain chain where Pacaya is located. Mother nature an be cruel.

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3365. Patrap
Statement by the President on the Latest Efforts to Contain the BP Oil Spill



Today, I’ve spoken with National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen, as well as Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, and senior White House advisors John Brennan and Carol Browner regarding the ongoing efforts to stop the BP oil spill. From the beginning, our concern has been that the surest way to stop the flow of oil – the drilling of relief wells – would take several months to complete. So engineers and experts have explored a variety of alternatives to stop the leak now. They had hoped that the top kill approach attempted this week would halt the flow of oil and gas currently escaping from the seafloor. But while we initially received optimistic reports about the procedure, it is now clear that it has not worked. Rear Admiral Mary Landry today directed BP to launch a new procedure whereby the riser pipe will be cut and a containment structure fitted over the leak.



This approach is not without risk and has never been attempted before at this depth. That is why it was not activated until other methods had been exhausted. It will be difficult and will take several days. It is also important to note that while we were hopeful that the top kill would succeed, we were also mindful that there was a significant chance it would not. And we will continue to pursue any and all responsible means of stopping this leak until the completion of the two relief wells currently being drilled.



As I said yesterday, every day that this leak continues is an assault on the people of the Gulf Coast region, their livelihoods, and the natural bounty that belongs to all of us. It is as enraging as it is heartbreaking, and we will not relent until this leak is contained, until the waters and shores are cleaned up, and until the people unjustly victimized by this manmade disaster are made whole.
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3364. EricSFL
Quoting DentalPainDMD:
oh gosh heres a good one. was just on BP.com clicked on response in pictures then command center at the bottom. Look at this clearly photoshopped pic of the "command center" Link

//zoom in on the heads of the 2 guys in the back of the room, you can see the image on the large projection screen was manipulated.


Could they have done it more obvious?
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3363. xcool


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3362. help4u
Night everyone.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
oh gosh heres a good one. was just on BP.com clicked on response in pictures then command center at the bottom. Look at this clearly photoshopped pic of the "command center" Link

//zoom in on the heads of the 2 guys in the back of the room, you can see the image on the large projection screen was manipulated.
Member Since: May 30, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 39
3360. USSINS
Quoting Ossqss:
Night all, Save a Prayer for us, we need it!


Have a good sleep, Oss. Many of share your same concerns, sentiments.
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3359. help4u
How can he stay engaged when he is on vacation,golfing playing basketball flying to california to $17'500 a plate dinner for Boxer!Jindal asked to build barrier islands on may 11!This is May 29!
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3357. Ossqss
Night all, Save a Prayer for us, we need it!
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8188

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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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