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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2707. Patrap
akrherz May 06, 2007 Time Lapse of gravity wave action from the Tama, Iowa KCCI-TV webcam on 6 May 2007.

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Quoting AstroHurricane001:


Can you see the outflow in terms of clouds, or does it feel like a front of wind? Is it possible for these boundaries to set up in intense storms in S. Ontario? Looking at the radar, these boundaries appear to intensify existing thunderstorms.

No cloud, just a sudden gust. Can and do aid in uplift of existing cells they collide with sometimes. Or the clash of 2 creates enough lift to generate a cell, like most any surface convergence does.

Or, they can be cool and dry enough to stop an existing cell...surface air doesn't want to lift when cool enough and warmer air above...inversion. Same as when a cell doesn't move and it's own cold pool outruns it's inflow...cutting off the warm, moist air.

Ontario? I dunno why not.
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Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
There is no way that Agatha can survive going over the Yucatan, those models are definetly overdoing how long Agatha will survive.


It is highly unlikely but it has happened before... take the 1949 Texas hurricane, Hurricane Six of 1923 or Cosme-Allison of 1989... occasionally this stuff happens. All though most of the time the tropical mountains along the Guatemala/Mexico border shred systems apart.
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It looks like Agatha is taking aim for the lowest mountains to cross central america
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Quoting MrstormX:


Technically if it did make it to the gulf, it would no longer be Agatha. It would either be unnamed, TD-1 or Alex. But if that scenario did happen I lean towards the first option.

names are retained if a storm stays together. It would be Agatha. If a piece of energy survives and that forms a TC, then it would be Alex. If it maintains identity it keeps its name.
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2702. xcool



Member Since: September 26, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 15648
Quoting Hardcoreweather2010:
Agatha wants to play in the oil




Technically if it did make it to the gulf, it would no longer be Agatha. It would either be unnamed, TD-1 or Alex. But if that scenario did happen I lean towards the first option.
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Quoting AstroHurricane001:


Can you see the outflow in terms of clouds, or does it feel like a front of wind? Is it possible for these boundaries to set up in intense storms in S. Ontario? Looking at the radar, these boundaries appear to intensify existing thunderstorms.

all of the above, though sometimes they arent sufficient enough to trigger clouds, they often can and do make what are known as roll clouds.
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Quoting Hardcoreweather2010:
Agatha wants to play in the oil


There is no way that Agatha can survive going over the Yucatan, those models are definetly overdoing how long Agatha will survive.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21109
Quoting atmoaggie:

The difference in density between 2 airmasses shows on radar. The difference can be from seabreeze front moving in (which is part of what you see SW of Houston yesterday, I think) or the outflow from a T-storm (far cooler than ambient).

We see the outflow boundary here all the time...well any time there is decently deep convective cell, fairly isolated.


Can you see the outflow in terms of clouds, or does it feel like a front of wind? Is it possible for these boundaries to set up in intense storms in S. Ontario? Looking at the radar, these boundaries appear to intensify existing thunderstorms.
Member Since: August 30, 2008 Posts: 8 Comments: 2835
Quoting USSINS:
Actually discussing nukes now?

Is this guy saying that the leak at the BOP well-site is really nothing compared to another leaking fissure discovered over seven miles away and leaking up to 120,000 bbls per day? Another open hole?



Nukes? And, if it blows a hole in the floor big enough, the whole reservoir of oil comes rushing into the GOM, onshore - perhaps in a black tsunami?

This mess seems to be getting far worse.


FFS every kid from louisiana knows the rocks in the mississippi fan are sedimentary.

Yeah, THOSE will react REAL well to a nuke.

I swear, These people need to STFU and GBTW.
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Quoting CaribBoy:

outflow boundaries results from previous thunderstorms that have cooled the air creating mini cold fronts. sometimes, the disturbances can also create gravity waves .. these are like the wave resulting from tossing a pebble in a pond. at the crest of the waves you have an uptick in severity as extra lift is added. Studies at UAH postulate that gravity waves can also increase tornado severity due to conservation of angular mementum. The same effect can sometimes be seen when a tornado moves from higher geographic terrain to lower. the column gets stretched and the wind speed increases, so the theory goes.
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2695. USSINS
Actually discussing nukes now?

Is this guy saying that the leak at the BOP well-site is really nothing compared to another leaking fissure discovered over seven miles away and leaking up to 120,000 bbls per day? Another open hole?



Nukes? And, if it blows a hole in the floor big enough, the whole reservoir of oil comes rushing into the GOM, onshore - perhaps in a black tsunami?

This mess seems to be getting far worse.
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Agatha wants to play in the oil


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Quoting AstroHurricane001:


What causes these "outflow boundaries"? I've never seen them before on radar prior to the Houston storms, but I know that the ULL swirl is firing up the storms.

Here's yesterday's radar map for Houston, watch the bow-shaped bands colliding over the city near the end of the radar archive.

The difference in density between 2 airmasses shows on radar. The difference can be from seabreeze front moving in (which is part of what you see SW of Houston yesterday, I think) or the outflow from a T-storm (far cooler than ambient).

We see the outflow boundary here all the time...well any time there is decently deep convective cell, fairly isolated.
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Quoting Tropicsweatherpr:


Good evening. When will this rainy pattern ends for the Caribbean?



My blog:

A plume of moisture continues to lift out of the Caribbean after dumping several inches from Jamaica to the Leeward Islands. Both personal and official weather stations reported between 1-8 inches across the islands, with the heaviest in Puerto Rico. Most islands reported some level of flooding. Expect another 1-3 inches as the moisture plume lifts out over the next 3 days.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Quoting Tropicsweatherpr:


Good evening. When will this rainy pattern ends for the Caribbean?

Another 24-30 hours, I think.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21109
Quoting Weather456:
Good evening all


Good evening. When will this rainy pattern end for the Caribbean?

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And the drumkit and strobe set!
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Quoting Patrap:
Now the N Shore Lake Storm is pumping out her own outflow boundary thats heading South to the Metro area,,we havent been cooled from any rain here so expect that Boundary and line to come around the
ULL flow and into the metro area next hour.





What causes these "outflow boundaries"? I've never seen them before on radar prior to the Houston storms, but I know that the ULL swirl is firing up the storms.

Here's yesterday's radar map for Houston, watch the bow-shaped bands colliding over the city near the end of the radar archive.
Member Since: August 30, 2008 Posts: 8 Comments: 2835
Someone just turned the hose on in Mobile
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Clear, hot, and sunny here now (just across the river from Belle Chase), but it was sure booming a while ago. No hail though.
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Looks like thunderstorms are playing tag your it there in New Oileans today.
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A state of emergency is declared and thousands are evacuated as a volcano erupts near Guatemala’s capital.

Guatemala City, Guatemala (CNN) -- The death toll from the eruption of a volcano in Guatemala has risen to at least three people, an official said Friday. Two villagers from El Bejucal and a reporter from CNN affiliate Noti 7 were killed as a result of Thursday's eruption of the Pacaya volcano, said David de Leon, a spokesman for the national disaster commission. The three victims were crushed by rocks strewn by the volcano.

i'm sure you all know about this, but this is the first details i have seen on it.
Member Since: August 11, 2008 Posts: 3 Comments: 1594
Quoting Weather456:
Good evening all
Good evening to you too.
Member Since: October 9, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 8322
Good evening all
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
2680. Patrap
Now the N Shore Lake Storm is pumping out her own outflow boundary thats heading South to the Metro area,,we havent been cooled from any rain here so expect that Boundary and line to come around the
ULL flow and into the metro area next hour.



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Quoting Patrap:
Watch that Outflow crash into the N Shore cell atmo..

U dont see dat everyday



Wow, exact same pattern as Houston yesterday: pop-up thunderstorms near a body of water moving southeast, combined with bow echoes moving northward clashing with a few moving southward. In addition Louisiana is being affected by the water vapor vortex near Mississippi that is drifting westward and which affected Houston yesterday around the edges.

What causes these unusual radar signals?
Member Since: August 30, 2008 Posts: 8 Comments: 2835
2:00 PM PDT Sat May 29
Location: 13.9°N 92.4°W
Max sustained: 45 mph
Moving: NE at 7 mph
Min pressure: 1000 mb
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2408 highndry1 "Also, here's a question: African dust acts as nucleation sites for moist air to turn into clouds and rain, but because it generally reflects light it's seen as an inhibitor for hurricane formation - right?
However, in the case of a petroleum spill the size of Pennsylvania, all those volatile compounds in the air should act as nucleation sites for any forming hurricane, but those chemicals DON'T generally reflect light.
Moreover, while the surface oil should have a net effect of water evaporation, any forming storm should disrupt the water and negate that effect so shouldn't this oil spill be a net positive for hurricane formation? Any comments?
"

A bit more complex than that.
Air (or rather the oxygen, nitrogen, and argon that composes 99.954% of dry air) can hold up to ~4times its saturation fraction of water at temperature without forming droplets large enough to be considered droplets rather than water*vapor (by anyone other than atmospheric chemists and others engaged in studies of water).
The overwhelming supermajority of dust, in&of itself, is surface-charged by sunlight in a manner that repels water vapor.

The interesting stuff occurs when the non-inert portions of the 0.036% trace atmospheric gases meet VolatileOrganicCompounds in photochemical reactions energized by UltraViolet light from the Sun.
eg UV reacts ozone with PolycyclicAromaticHydrocarbons to create molecules which are water-attracting at one end and water-repellant at the other end. ie The reaction creates a molecule that acts somewhat like the soap ya use in your washer.
There are many similar UV-triggered reactions between the non-inert trace gases and PAHS as well as other VOCs.

The water-repellant ends latch onto dust, and the water-attracting ends latch onto water molecules. Because a portion of the water molecule's charge is directed to the "soap" latching onto the dust particle, the portion away from the dust particle becomes attractive to other water molecules. Then the newly-attracted outside water molecules become similarly charge-oriented, and attract more water molecules.
And voila, ya got nucleation and the formation of large(enough)water droplets going at full blast.

Don't mean to give ya an education in atmospheric chemistry, there's isn't sufficient space in this blog. And even if there were, I'm not qualified to give it.
Just putting out some stuff I've picked up in recreational readings of scientific literature.
(And yeah, I am that weird.)

And tryin' to give folks the feeling that what's going on and what's gonna go on in the Gulf of Mexico (and beyond) is far too complex to be yes-or-no dismissive of conjectures regarding how the DeepwaterHorizon spill's crude oil will affect the weather... including tropical storms.

eg NOAA's found that the correlation between SaharanAirLayer dust and hurricane formation has broken down since 1996. Colorado's hurricane expert Dr.Gray puts the breakdown earlier, since 1992.
And the '90s are about when (?GlobalWarming or air pollution from Indian industrialization or ?) changes in normal rainfall patterns over NorthAfrica began.

As far as I know, while the dust has been continued to be closely monitored, the PAHs and VOCs arising from living and drying and decomposing vegetation have not.
And rainfall patterns definitely affect the vegetation, and thus PAHs and VOCs. Which has gotta have some effect on nucleation over the tropical NorthAtlantic.

I expect similar (though perhaps smaller scale) effects from crude oil evaporating in the Gulf.

* Water is really really weird stuff. People have devoted lifetimes studying just water, and still don't understand its behaviour as compared to how well other molecules are understood.
As solid, the ice surface shows molecular migrations indicative of both liquid and gaseous behaviour.
And as a gas, molecules will clump into nanoscopic droplets, disperse, clump, disperse... which may be why water in that state is referred to more often as a vapor rather than as a gas.
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BP set to announce top kill failure.
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2675. xcool
water covering high way 23 belle chasse
Member Since: September 26, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 15648
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.
Could any one tell me where the south eastern parts are for these countries i belive it should be south western
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2673. Patrap

825
WUUS54 KLIX 292127
SVRLIX
LAC103-105-292230-
/O.NEW.KLIX.SV.W.0079.100529T2127Z-100529T2230Z/

BULLETIN - EAS ACTIVATION REQUESTED
SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE NEW ORLEANS LA
427 PM CDT SAT MAY 29 2010

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN NEW ORLEANS HAS ISSUED A

* SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING FOR...
CENTRAL ST. TAMMANY PARISH IN SOUTHEAST LOUISIANA...
THIS INCLUDES THE CITIES OF...MANDEVILLE...COVINGTON...
SOUTHERN TANGIPAHOA PARISH IN SOUTHEAST LOUISIANA...
THIS INCLUDES THE CITY OF HAMMOND...

* UNTIL 530 PM CDT

* AT 426 PM CDT...NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE METEOROLOGISTS DETECTED A
LINE OF SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS CAPABLE OF PRODUCING QUARTER SIZE
HAIL...AND DAMAGING WINDS IN EXCESS OF 60 MPH. THESE STORMS WERE
LOCATED ALONG A LINE EXTENDING FROM 6 MILES EAST OF PONCHATOULA TO
MANDEVILLE...AND MOVING SOUTH AT 10 MPH.

* OTHER LOCATIONS IN THE WARNING INCLUDE BUT ARE NOT LIMITED TO
LACOMBE

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS...

THIS IS A DANGEROUS STORM. IF YOU ARE IN ITS PATH...PREPARE
IMMEDIATELY FOR DAMAGING WINDS...DESTRUCTIVE HAIL...AND DEADLY CLOUD
TO GROUND LIGHTNING. PEOPLE OUTSIDE SHOULD MOVE TO A SHELTER...
PREFERABLY INSIDE A STRONG BUILDING BUT AWAY FROM WINDOWS.

A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WATCH REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 800 PM CDT
SATURDAY EVENING FOR SOUTHEAST LOUISIANA AND SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI.
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2671. Patrap
Marine Warning with Penny sized hail in that N shore cell heading into the Lake atmo..NOAA radio
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2670. xcool
storng wind head to n.o look out...
Member Since: September 26, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 15648
Looks like we have a severe t-storm warning now for SW St Tammany and southern Tangi.

Mostly for that cell in Tangi showing 55 dbz, I think, but that Covington cell is getting a little stronger.
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2668. Patrap
Watch that Outflow crash into the N Shore cell atmo..

U dont see dat everyday

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2667. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting pottery:
I think that it is Wungerful, that the first 2 Items on the Agenda this year (90L, 90e/Agatha0 have been the subject of so much "will it/wont it" already.
Neither has been easy to forecast, (I know, early season etc), but maybe this will be the Year of Uncertain Outcomes.
Would suit me, actually.
Perhaps 2010 will prove that all forecasts were wrong!?
(wishcasting!, with a negative bias)
wouldn't that be something
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 170 Comments: 53517
Quoting errantlythought:


Looks like a storm is blowing up ontop of covington as we type. :P

Yep. That one will not miss me at the house. We were at Franco's earlier...got our swimsuits all wet. Did you get some of that cell? Was raining hard right up until we got to Fairway Dr when we went through.
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2665. pottery
I think that it is Wungerful, that the first 2 Items on the Agenda this year (90L, 90e/Agatha0 have been the subject of so much "will it/wont it" already.
Neither has been easy to forecast, (I know, early season etc), but maybe this will be the Year of Uncertain Outcomes.
Would suit me, actually.
Perhaps 2010 will prove that all forecasts were wrong!?
(wishcasting!, with a negative bias)
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24233
Quoting Patrap:




I bet..a lot of the Storms had 100% showing

Neat dynamics of cells generating a outflow, outflows running into other cells or being deflected by another outflow, convergence at outflow boundaries, etc.

Lots to see in that radar plot...
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Quoting atmoaggie:

Still dry in Covington...(pool in Mandeville)


Looks like a storm is blowing up ontop of covington as we type. :P
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2662. Michfan


Nice train of storms for us today. God knows weve been needing it.
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Well, I went outside to see all this weather surrounding me. Heard thunder W/N/E of me. Radar shows it everywhere. I think someone may have spit on me. It had to come from somewhere. :)
Member Since: August 22, 2008 Posts: 12 Comments: 6010
My Mandevillian friends got the rain they have been griping about not getting...

That would be errantlythought and sarajola.
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Nice boomers over my area..
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2658. Patrap
Quoting atmoaggie:
Hail report at Belle Chasse, too:

1944 100 BELLE CHASSE PLAQUEMINES LA 2985 9000 (LIX)




I bet..a lot of the Storms had 100% showing
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Quoting Patrap:


Yeah,,we were ,are in the Middle of a lotta outflows,,bone dry still Here At Mag & Jeff

Still dry in Covington...(pool in Mandeville)
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About

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.