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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I can see it is going to be a loooong week with the remnants of Agatha.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting AllStar17:
TROPICAL DEPRESSION AGATHA
11 pm EDT Advisory: Graphics update
**Graphics by AllStar17


Good job with the graphics! Just as good as last years
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3305. hydrus
Quoting xcool:
i have bad feeeling
About what?
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Good Night everyone! God bless!
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21194
TROPICAL DEPRESSION AGATHA
11 pm EDT Advisory: Graphics update
**Graphics by AllStar17
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Quoting Levi32:


No response because there is nothing to say. The CMC will be the CMC....that scenario won't happen.



Hey... don't count those Canadians out they have good bacon
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3301. xcool



Member Since: September 26, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 15684
Looks like intensity could still be TD strength in the Atlantic as well, its all a matter of shear and convection.
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Quoting Ossqss:


My point is we have assets sitting on the sidelines. Those assets are not being used or demanded by our gov. with respect to clean up. The stuff that catches the oil prior to the shoreline. Why?

If we can do even part of what they did 25 year ago in the Arabian gulf, why don't we do it. Let alone Costner's equipment...
Have the pple in the govt who were there under the previous admin remained? has a MINDSET remained? Are the pple u are suggesting could do more to help ones against whom some official or officials hold a grudge?

My point: who do u get to try something new? I know I sound cynical, but it seems everybody out there is willing to sell their compadres down the river if it means a good financial deal...
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3298. Walshy
Quoting Weather456:
The president said his country would need to seek a US$85 million loan to cope with the twin natural disasters.



-_-
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Quoting P451:


Not going to happen.

People need to stop watching these ghost models. It happens every time early in the year the models take a disturbance and treat it like it's the peak of Hurricane season. Which of course it is not. So you're looking at ghost storms.

Stop putting faith into models and start forecasting with your knowledge of the current setup you see.

If you do that you can plainly see these models are out of control.

STOP trusting computers and then throwing your endorsement into them.

They are ghosts this time of year.



Well said. We need to understand that models are guidances, not forecasters.
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Quoting help4u:
If they had drilled at a thousand feet this would have been over weeks ago!!


Ixtoc took 9 months to stop, at 50 meters. Guess again.
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3295. Levi32
Quoting MrstormX:
3281.) If the GEM and CMC are the same then yes lol, either way ive been posting this thing like 5 times now with no response...

Edit: they are lol


No response because there is nothing to say. The CMC will be the CMC....that scenario won't happen.

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Quoting Ossqss:


So we should accept our deficiencies in response and clean up? I don't think so.....

It appears that Unfriendly got a new handle...
;-)

(not referring to Oss)
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3293. xcool
i have bad feeeling
Member Since: September 26, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 15684
A lot of rain is falling in Guatemala. I hope we don't get a "Mitch" redue as over 10,000 people died in Honduras and neighboring countries during that storm.
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Most models in agreement, Agatha should make its way into the Atlantic.
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3290. Ossqss
Quoting BahaHurican:
1. can't have Now without Then.... 2. Who does the current admin. get to solve this problem? the previous admin got all oil execs so deep in bed with them that they r prolly somewhere together between the matress and springbox.... 3. Interesting video posted earlier suggests that the INDUSTRY doesn't have any new solutions since the last major GoM oil spill back in 79... again, what should they do to solve the problem?

My take is that BP should pay for it all, and farm out the costs to the contracted driller and the subcontracted cementer (i'm still convinced Halliburton is the mad dog behind this whole thing, but that' just my $.02). But I also agree that govt. oversight should be greater. Problem is, who do they get to perform that oversight who's not already tarred (if u will pardon the pun) with the same oil?


Does pointing a finger clean the oil up? Think about it........
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The president said his country would need to seek a US$85 million loan to cope with the twin natural disasters.

"We believe Agatha could wreak more damage in the country than tropical storm Mitch (1998) and Hurricane Stan (2005)," said President Alvaro Colom's spokesman Ronaldo Robles.
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3287. xcool
i'm back busy day
Member Since: September 26, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 15684
3281.) If the GEM and CMC are the same then yes lol, either way ive been posting this thing like 5 times now with no response...

Edit: they are lol
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3285. Ossqss
Quoting smarterthanyou:

Huh?


My point is we have assets sitting on the sidelines. Those assets are not being used or demanded by our gov. with respect to clean up. The stuff that catches the oil prior to the shoreline. Why?

If we can do even part of what they did 25 years ago in the Arabian gulf, why don't we do it. Let alone Costner's equipment...
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Quoting PcolaDan:


HMMMM who knows ;)

Traffic police spent nearly two hours trying to clear the frogs from the highway.

Experts were at a loss to explain the bizarre phenomenon.
---------------------
Thessaloniki. Turkey is in panic because of the invasion of frogs along a motorway with Greece, because it fears a strong earthquake, Greek online edition Zougla reports. The Turkish newspapers comment that the millions of frogs, which stopped the traffic along the Egnatia Motorway in Northern Greece, are a herald of a strong earthquake in Turkey and Greece.


They're fearful because they've already had a strong earthquake. Link
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Quoting P451:


Possible but unlikely IMO.

Conditions aren't there. Models want them to be there. But like 90L, they just aren't there at this time.

They will be soon but not in time for this one.


Actually shear there isn't too bad... although I should probably move my TC formation zone up a little.

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3279. help4u
AND NOW HAS DONE WHAT.Give awards to BIG BP and letting them slide.Remember Obama was for more drilling and the enviromentalist made big oil drill miles off coast so deep that now the disaster cannot be fixed!!So i quess yesterday caused today! If they had drilled at a thousand feet this would have been over weeks ago!!
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3278. xcool
hey whats last news
Member Since: September 26, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 15684
NEVERMIND
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Quoting Ossqss:


Like I said, where is the action now, not then. Then, does not fix now!
1. can't have Now without Then.... 2. Who does the current admin. get to solve this problem? the previous admin got all oil execs so deep in bed with them that they r prolly somewhere together between the matress and springbox.... 3. Interesting video posted earlier suggests that the INDUSTRY doesn't have any new solutions since the last major GoM oil spill back in 79... again, what should they do to solve the problem?

My take is that BP should pay for it all, and farm out the costs to the contracted driller and the subcontracted cementer (i'm still convinced Halliburton is the mad dog behind this whole thing, but that' just my $.02). But I also agree that govt. oversight should be greater. Problem is, who do they get to perform that oversight who's not already tarred (if u will pardon the pun) with the same oil?
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This model predicts a possible hurricane near the Carolinas coming from the remnants of Agatha. Start at plus 96...
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I'm out for tonight. Good night all

Back tomorrow
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 15948
Quoting Ossqss:


So we should accept our deficiencies in response and clean up? I don't think so.....

Huh?
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3270. Ossqss
Quoting smarterthanyou:


"Then"
caused
"now"


So we should accept our deficiencies in response and clean up? I don't think so.....
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Quoting BahaHurican:
Caribboy... some1 mentioned that earlier.... we're likely to see 10000+ posts daily at the height of the season, when the doc may update his blog as many as 2 times a day...

10,000!! Wouldn't that be a record.
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Quoting AstroHurricane001:


I'm the one who updated that on Wikipedia, you're welcome.
The only numbers I've gotten from wikipedia are the ones from El Salvador and Nicaragua, so no thank you. LOL Just kidding, the darker the night the bitter I get, I'm sounding like an old man. (cough, cough, spit phlegm)
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21194
3235. Patrap 2:19 AM GMT on May 30, 2010
Oh..one more before I head up..

Lah,lah,lah..

Agatha early cycle Model guidance




ACCESS FORBIDDEN?
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Quoting Ossqss:


Like I said, where is the action now, not then. Then, does not fix now!


"Then"
caused
"now"
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
3265. Ossqss
Quoting Patrap:


Like I said, where is the action now, not then. Then, does not fix now!

Cheney on CNN


Point being? How does that fix us now. After the fact. Does it really matter ? Is he in charge???
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000
WTPZ31 KNHC 300229
TCPEP1
BULLETIN
TROPICAL DEPRESSION AGATHA ADVISORY NUMBER 4
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL EP012010
800 PM PDT SAT MAY 29 2010

...TROPICAL DEPRESSION AGATHA MOVING FARTHER INLAND...TORRENTIAL
RAINS EXPECTED TO CONTINUE...

SUMMARY OF 800 PM PDT...0300 UTC...INFORMATION
----------------------------------------------
LOCATION...14.9N 92.0W
ABOUT 25 MI...45 KM...ENE OF TAPACHULA MEXICO
MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS...35 MPH...55 KM/HR
PRESENT MOVEMENT...NNE OR 25 DEGREES AT 5 MPH...7 KM/HR
MINIMUM CENTRAL PRESSURE...1003 MB...29.62 INCHES


WATCHES AND WARNINGS
--------------------
CHANGES WITH THIS ADVISORY...

AT 8 PM PDT...0300 UTC...ALL TROPICAL STORM WARNINGS HAVE BEEN
DISCONTINUED.


FOR STORM INFORMATION SPECIFIC TO YOUR AREA OUTSIDE UNITED
STATES...PLEASE MONITOR PRODUCTS ISSUED BY YOUR NATIONAL
METEOROLOGICAL SERVICE.


DISCUSSION AND 48-HOUR OUTLOOK
------------------------------
AT 800 PM PDT...0300 UTC...THE CENTER OF TROPICAL DEPRESSION AGATHA
WAS LOCATED NEAR LATITUDE 14.9 NORTH...LONGITUDE 92.0 WEST. THE
DEPRESSION IS MOVING TOWARD THE NORTH-NORTHEAST NEAR 5 MPH...7
KM/HR. ON THIS TRACK...THE DEPRESSION WILL CONTINUE TO MOVE FARTHER
INLAND OVER CENTRAL AMERICA DURING THE NEXT DAY OR TWO.

MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS HAVE DECREASED TO NEAR 35 MPH...55
KM/HR...WITH HIGHER GUSTS. ADDITIONAL WEAKENING IS ANTICIPATED AS
AGATHA MOVES OVER THE HIGH TERRAIN.

ESTIMATED MINIMUM CENTRAL PRESSURE IS 1003 MB...29.62 INCHES.


HAZARDS AFFECTING LAND
----------------------
WIND...A FEW TROPICAL STORM FORCE WIND GUSTS IN SQUALLS ARE STILL
POSSIBLE PRIMARILY OVER WATER TONIGHT.

RAINFALL...THIS SYSTEM IS EXPECTED TO PRODUCE TOTAL RAIN
ACCUMULATIONS OF 10 TO 20 INCHES OVER EXTREME SOUTHEASTERN
MEXICO...GUATEMALA...AND MUCH OF EL SALVADOR...WITH POSSIBLE
ISOLATED MAXIMUM AMOUNTS OF 30 INCHES THROUGH SUNDAY. THESE RAINS
COULD CAUSE LIFE-THREATENING FLASH FLOODS AND MUD SLIDES.

STORM SURGE...THE LARGE WAVES OCCURRING TO THE SOUTHEAST OF THE
CENTER IN AREAS OF ONSHORE FLOW SHOULD BEGIN TO GRADUALLY DECREASE.


NEXT ADVISORY
-------------
NEXT COMPLETE ADVISORY...200 AM PDT.

$$
FORECASTER AVILA/CANGIALOSI

Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21194
Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
Current Fatality Count

Costa Rica 0
El Salvador 1
Guatemala 12
Mexico 0
Nicaragua 1
--------------------
Total 14


I'm the one who updated that on Wikipedia, you're welcome.
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Well im going to call it a night bye guys see you tomorrow lets see how agatha does over central america and if it does go into the caribbean as a remnant low theres a slim chance of developing into alex but lets see what happens! Bye.
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This is what I suspect is going to happen...
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Quoting MyrtleCanes:


seriously dude?

Lol of course Im serious ;)
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Quoting USSINS:


CIMSS's new, experimental "IR/WV Difference" graphics.


If the storm heads southeast after passing the Bahamas...where will it go?
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Quoting AstroHurricane001:


Are you from the US or Guatemala?


I think he left. But he said American Indian and only the US uses that term. And the BIA is a US agency.
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3257. Patrap
3 waves of the Wand over the Modem..

and...

"POOF !!!!"
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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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