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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2507. Patrap
Quoting theman13:
I just watched a large strange looking fish swim straight into the oil plume on the live footage...


Oarfish,,seen da sucka too
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125613
2506. Drakoen
Most of the models kept her off-shore for at least the next 24 hours. If she is making landfall now and has accelerated the better her chance of taking the eastern side of the guidance.
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2504. hydrus
Quoting Levi32:


She appears to have made a rather rapid jog toward the coast compared to her previously slow movement. Frictional effects of the mountainous terrain may have had a hand in that. She does appear to be making landfall at the moment.
Storms can wobble quite a bit during the formation stage.
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2503. Patrap
That Huge ULL in the Seast is gonna be a Playa..



Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125613
Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
The next full advisory should be out within the hour, I wonder what the NHC is saying.


A whole different timeline for starters
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I just watched a large strange looking fish swim straight into the oil plume on the live footage...
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2500. Levi32
Quoting kuppenskup:


Remember-If this system starts to move rapidly that means it's not going to be destroyed over land because it's gonna move out to open water sooner than expected which means there's gonna be more orginazation coming out into the gulf where as if the system moved slowly over the mountains.


I'm doubting she has enough of an eastward component to her movement to take her into the western Caribbean. A track over the Yucatan seems more likely.
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this really sucks that the top kill didn't work. so whats next?
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2496. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 165 Comments: 52262
Quoting kmanislander:


Downgrade by midnight to TD IMO
The next full advisory should be out within the hour, I wonder what the NHC is saying.
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2494. Patrap
Agatha Floater - RGB Color Infrared Loop
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125613
Quoting Levi32:


She appears to have made a rather rapid jog toward the coast compared to her previously slow movement. Frictional effects of the mountainous terrain may have had a hand in that. She does appear to be making landfall at the moment.


Remember-If this system starts to move rapidly that means it's not going to be destroyed over land because it's gonna move out to open water sooner than expected which means there's gonna be more orginazation coming out into the gulf where as if the system moved slowly over the mountains.
Member Since: August 26, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 411
Quoting FIU2010:
guys, will her accelerated spped increase chances of surviving?


A cat 5 would have a hard time surviving those mountains let alone a weak TS. No chance IMO
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2491. xcool
FIU2010 :0
Member Since: September 26, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 15603
2490. IKE
NHC didn't have her making landfall for 24-36 hours from the 10 am CDST discussion. It may be dissipated by then.
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But sir most of those models are headed towards S. Fl.
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Quoting Levi32:


She appears to have made a rather rapid jog toward the coast compared to her previously slow movement. Frictional effects of the mountainous terrain may have had a hand in that. She does appear to be making landfall at the moment.
Pretty crazy.
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Quoting Patrap:


The spill has no Impact on Oil prices,,they falling ,and the Overall Pump Gallon is down as well. Oil reserves worldwide are stable as consumption is down overall.




The Great American Bubble Machine


page 6 where this comes from;

page 6

But it wasn't the consumption of real oil that was driving up prices — it was the trade in paper oil. By the summer of 2008, in fact, commodities speculators had bought and stockpiled enough oil futures to fill 1.1 billion barrels of crude, which meant that speculators owned more future oil on paper than there was real, physical oil stored in all of the country's commercial storage tanks and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve combined. It was a repeat of both the Internet craze and the housing bubble, when Wall Street jacked up present-day profits by selling suckers shares of a fictional fantasy future of endlessly rising prices.
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2484. Patrap
Agatha Model Plots

my first,,"Check it out" 2010 moment
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125613
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
rapid forward motion since this morning this may not last long as a named system

still flooding rains main threat


Downgrade by midnight to TD IMO
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naplesdreamer - probably that there's no more mud in the pipe and now it's just oil gushing out. The top kill mud was brown, from what I understand, but the oil is obviously black when it comes out of the ground, although by the time it rises a mile through the ocean the light volatiles separate from the heavier chain monomers and what winds up floating ont he surface is reddish brown (remember though, there's just as much of the stuff floating just below the surface, and just as much floating in the air right near the surface.
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Quoting StormW:


I believe your first prog. is most likely.



Storm W-Is there anyway this system might have a new center reform over the Western Gulf or Caribbean if the center gets disrupted and is over land for too long? And if so what can cause that?
Member Since: August 26, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 411
2480. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting kmanislander:
Good afternoon

From observing the shortwave loop in zoom it appears to me that the COC is pretty much on the coast now.
rapid forward motion since this morning this may not last long as a named system

still flooding rains main threat
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 165 Comments: 52262
2479. Levi32
Quoting Drakoen:


So you think she is making landfall? That's what I am thinking based on the SAB coordinates and the surface observations.

Link


She appears to have made a rather rapid jog toward the coast compared to her previously slow movement. Frictional effects of the mountainous terrain may have had a hand in that. She does appear to be making landfall at the moment.
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2477. xcool
making landfall yeah..
Member Since: September 26, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 15603
Quoting Levi32:


I don't think Agatha is decoupling. She's pretty well-together at the moment, but her inner structure is now starting to deteriorate due to proximity to land.
Just a possibility, but I agree with you.
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2475. Patrap
The average price of a gallon of unleaded regular gasoline in central Ohio, according to GasPriceWatch.com and AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report:

Yesterday

$2.44

A month ago

$2.76

A year ago

$2.60

Highest gas price: $2.59

Speedway, 2735 Columbus-Lancaster Rd., Lancaster

Lowest gas price: $2.37

Speedway, 2875 Stelzer Rd., and others
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125613
2474. Drakoen
Quoting Levi32:


I don't think Agatha is decoupling. She's pretty well-together at the moment, but her inner structure is now starting to deteriorate due to proximity to land.


So you think she is making landfall? That's what I am thinking based on the SAB coordinates and the surface observations.

Link
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2473. IKE
BP, the Coast Guard, and federal officials are holding a press conference at 5 p.m. EST today. The Times-Picayune reports that, according to sources, there they will officially announce that the operation has failed and the company is setting to work on other plans:

BP is expected to announce that it will move on to its next option, known as LMRP. The procedure involves cutting off the failed, leaking riser at the top of the Lower Marine Riser Package on the blowout preventer to get a clean-cut surface on the pipe.

Then the company will install a cap with a sealing grommet that would be connected to a new riser from the Discoverer Enterprise drillship, with the hopes of capturing most of the oil and gas flowing from the well.
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2450. Patrap 7:58 PM GMT on May 29, 2010
Quoting pottery:

I would imagine so. But I dont think that should be a consideration at all.


The spill has no Impact on Oil prices,,they falling ,and the Overall Pump Gallon is down as well. Oil reserves worldwide are stable as consumption is down overall.


no but there are other side effects to consider. the changes that are going to occur throughout the oil industry are going to cause some serious effects.

THE BLOG IS STRESSING ME OUT I LOVE YA GUYS BUT I THINK I NEED TO GO BAKE.
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2471. Skyepony (Mod)
Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:


It was during Katrina. The night Wilma blew up most of us were on another blog.

There were not that many people here during Katrina, and in July 2005 many blog entries have less than 50 comments. Most are from CJNEW, EmmyRose, GetReal, Stormtop, me, IKE, Jedkins01, outrocket and HurricaneKing. With quite a few others from people who have completely disappeared from the blogs.


I remember 2005 pretty busy leading up to Katrina. Horrid family emergency about 2 hours before landfall so I missed most of that one..

I did how ever bookmark (& I don't remember who put this together) but it's a blog classic..THE RECORD OF STORMTOP’S “KATRINA” PREDICTIONS

I don't think it's in there but I remember encouraging him to stay..Ya know, find a safe spot, get on the 2nd Floor of a parking Garage somewhere & have fun, take pictures..
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 156 Comments: 36087
2470. Patrap
Quoting naplesdreamer28:
All I see is black oil coming out on the live feed. No more brown. What does that mean? Hmmmm


Oil well..
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125613
Quoting FIU2010:


obviously, that happens when they lose their ocean source.
I think I knew that JFV, lol.
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What year did they go from issuing Gale Warning to Tropical Storm Warnings when there was a Tropical Storm or Hurricane approaching land?
Member Since: August 26, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 411
Good afternoon

From observing the shortwave loop in zoom it appears to me that the COC is pretty much on the coast now.
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2466. Levi32
Quoting plywoodstatenative:
could we have two centers as if the center is trying to move away from land?


I don't think Agatha is decoupling. She's pretty well-together at the moment, but her inner structure is now starting to deteriorate due to proximity to land, very near landfall now.
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you know I think that the mountains will mess up the COC a bit but more so I think that it might turn the COC a bit more east so the movement would be more ENE for short term and would change the overall track south that curent forcasted track and mover some more lower land masses between El Salvador and Guatemala where this land hights at between 1000-5000 ft the re-emerge in the GOH between Belize, Guatemala and Honduras
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All I see is black oil coming out on the live feed. No more brown. What does that mean? Hmmmm
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Quoting Drakoen:
Either she's making landfall or her low level and mid level center are decoupled...



thats my thinking and on the rgb looks that way,I believe agatha's mlc is feeling the pull of the ULL in the East GOM being w/its MLC being pulled NNE;)
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It's quite obvious the Belching Polluter forgot the 7 P's. Proper Planning & Preparation Prevent Piss Poor Performance.
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Quoting Drakoen:
Either she's making landfall or her low level and mid level center are decoupled...
I think her low level and mid level center is decoupled. Maybe the proximity to land?
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2460. xcool
:0
Member Since: September 26, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 15603
hydrus -

true enough. It looks like they cut more corners than a kindergarten class with safety scissors, but that doesn't change the fact that there's a lake of oil the size of Pennsylvania floating around the Gulf of Mexico and while Jef Masters points out that it won't be a big deal anytime soon - at not like it would be if it actually got into the Gulf Stream and washed up everywhere from Castro's Costa del Fleabag around Florida, up the eastern US seaboard to the Kennedy Compound, and eventually to England and Ireland so that British Petroleum can have their oil back - all they need do is to scoop it of the black (formerly white) cliffs of Dover. There's literally that much oil in that reservoir to accomplish all this and more. Moreover, this couldn't have occurred at a worse time. There's a La Nina forming off South America, the waters around Cuba are already 90+ degrees and the rest of the MDR and Caribbean are at record SST levels while the trades have slowed amazingly and all that's needed to start TS's and hurricanes forming is for the air to settle down a bit - which should happen if that La Nina becomes full blown. My big question is how all that oil is going to affect hurricane formation - will it inhibit or reenforce them? Nobody here seems to want to hazard a guess or even acknowledge that there are other posters here with legitimate questions than the three or four who are posting to one another.
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could we have two centers as if the center is trying to move away from land?
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About JeffMasters

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