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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Looks like we can expect Agatha to spend a solid couple of days over land, little of it low-land marsh. Should emerge just about destroyed. Regenerating depends on conditions being right enough to develop a new system.

The tough one is how much vorticity will remain.

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2306. pottery
2300 posts in 24 hrs here.
It's gonna get a little crazed.....
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2305. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting seflagamma:
#2296. TS Agatha is looking pretty good huh?
first spinner of the season epac should veer nne till overland then wobbly n nw and disapate DDC onshore s of BOC
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2275 Bordonaro "...BP execs should be deeply ashamed of themselves for making heartless comments..."

Ever get the feelin' that BP sends its execs to Foot-in-Mouth finishing school for etiquette training?
That or they screen for Tourette's, and hire only the worst cases for executive positions.
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Quoting Weather456:
2274. cg2916 1:51 PM AST on May 29, 2010

30 inches? Yikes....I was expecting 15-20 inches.


I think it might be because of the orographic lift maybe enhancing the rainfall?
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2301. pottery
Quoting Weather456:


Yeah there is an upper anticyclone over the wave but there is little amplification (weak spin) along the wave axis so development is unlikely. Another reason why development is unlikely is that the northern extent of the wave is at 12N and forecast to remain inland over N SA. If the wave was further north, it likely would develop because shear is expected to lower in the Caribbean basin over the next week.

OK thanks.
I wondered if the wave would remain over SA. Glad you think so as well.
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sorry about dup.
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#2296. TS Agatha is looking pretty good huh?
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Quoting pottery:
456, can you make a comment on the wave over the South Caribbean islands now?
A large upper level rotation is evident there. Do you think that there is a possibility that the rotation could get into the mid and lower levels as this wave migrates west into the Carib Sea?
TIA.


Yeah there is an upper anticyclone over the wave but there is little amplification (weak spin) along the wave axis so development is unlikely. Another reason why development is unlikely is that the northern extent of the wave is at 12N and forecast to remain inland over N SA. If the wave was further north, it likely would develop because shear is expected to lower in the Caribbean basin over the next week.

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2296. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
.999
Not even 1%? I think chances are higher, but not by much. Maybe 20%.
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My first Blog of the 2010 TC season featuring Agatha!!!,All are welcome!!!
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2293. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting WaterWitch11:
can someone tell me what are the chances that agatha will enter the caribbean? honestly?
.999
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2291. pottery
Post 2289. Comments from others are welcomed as well, obviously!
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can someone tell me what are the chances that agatha will enter the caribbean? honestly?
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2289. pottery
456, can you make a comment on the wave over the South Caribbean islands now?
A large upper level rotation is evident there. Do you think that there is a possibility that the rotation could get into the mid and lower levels as this wave migrates west into the Carib Sea?
TIA.
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Quoting IKE:
12Z CMC


Yea ok...too much shear in the southern GOM.
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Quoting scottsvb:


The Oil problem is huge... we can really say anything cause of the changing wind patterns and loop currents. Its a mess!

I think there is only StormW that is a Met in here, I , and I think 456,levi are in college for it? Am I wrong? I guess there might be others I dont know of.
There are a few of us that have met degrees. Haboobs is one.
Though it is not much of a surprise anymore how much some of these hobbyists can pick up on. At first, it was a little amazing.
Quoting Levi32:


If I lived down there I certainly would. It wouldn't come from the NHC though. NOAA would do it. The NHC are not experts on oil.

Actually, the local NWS office for NOLA was told that NOAA HQ and the NOS would be handling all communications concerning the oil spill. And told to not talk publicly about it.

Guessing here, but I can imagine them wanting to be perfectly consistent, which requires a limit to the number of folks talking out loud.
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Entering into the cool spectrum of the scale.. dead on neutral.

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Just read the 11AM advisory, localized 30 inch rains is insane.
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Hello,

Looks Agatha pretty much organized, models puts this storm in the Caribbean sea.

ADT:
Date : 29 MAY 2010 Time : 164500 UTC
Lat : 13:09:31 N Lon : 93:04:53 W

CI# /Pressure/ Vmax
2.8 / 993.4mb/ 41.0kt
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2283. BVI
From the British Virgin Islands:
29th May 2010 - The grounds of the Virgin Islands are soaked after two days of heavy showers, which will persist as a broad surface trough lingers over the Territory. In addition, a moist and unstable air mass, in combination with local heating effects, will continue to produce plenty of cloudiness, showers and thunderstorms. The potential for heavy rainfall and flooding of low lying areas is still possible, leaving the Flash Flood Watch in effect until this evening.

A Flash Flood Watch means that conditions are favorable for heavy rain across the watch area which may lead to rapid flooding.

MARINE STATEMENT

Small Crafts have been asked to exercise caution as some thunderstorms may create dangerous squalls for vessels operating in open waters.

Motorists are reminded to be very careful while driving on flooded roadways. In addition, they are asked to exercise caution while driving in mountainous areas due to low visibility as this, too, is hazardous. Saturated soils have created instability which can lead to mudslides and falling rocks. The Department of Disaster Management (DDM) is monitoring the situation and will continue to provide updates where necessary. Please visit the DDM´s website at www.bviddm.com
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2274. cg2916 1:51 PM AST on May 29, 2010

30 inches? Yikes....I was expecting 15-20 inches.
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Sorry about that re-post folks. Went in to try to fix typo and screwed up. I'm AOC and all that but not THAT.
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2280. cg2916


Looking much more organized. A nice CDO in the middle.
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Quoting FIU2010:
are things looking sunny side up for tc formation in june, levi?


Sunny side up? WTF --- Sorry I meant JFV
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Quoting ShenValleyFlyFish:


Don't expect to see them try that. Sounds like web gossip to me. My youngest son is finishing up his Masters in Hydro-Geology and his college room mate was on sister drill rig when the big flare went up. If they tried that and it failed would open up a can of worms make this look like a kids fish bait. Now you got a busted up pipe and a crater you're trying to stop up. Probably spew till entire field played out.

I hate to say this but I actually hope they mainly drive ROVS around and keep the country and media entertained and spend their efforts on containment and mitigation because everything from here on out risks creating a much worse catrosphy and the odds of success are diminishing fast.
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SavannahStorm "Someone mentioned that they are now considering a "pipe-pinching" procedure when all other options are off the table. It would involve carefully placed explosive charges destroying the blowout preventor and sealing the pipe.
BP is apparently leaving this as a last option because it would mean the Deepwater Horizon project would be permanently lost and they would have to start from scratch to get any more oil from the deposit.
"

"Someone" should consider that if BP successfully pinched the leak, the two relief wells -- that're gonna get sealed when they try to cement the leak from bottom up -- will be only a hundred or so metres from reopening the oil reservoir.
~330feet ain't a lot more when considered against the 13,000feet that're gonna be already bored for the BottomsUp effort.
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Quoting aspectre:
mmmm mmm good... There ain't nothin' like days-ol' shrimp frozen, shipped, defrosted, cleaned, refrozen, reshipped, then defrosted again to set your mouth adroolin'.

I love shrimp, although BP execs should be deeply ashamed of themselves for making heartless comments. Tens of thousands of people in LA are unemployed, due to their gross negligence.
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2274. cg2916
000
WTPZ31 KNHC 291737
TCPEP1
BULLETIN
TROPICAL STORM AGATHA INTERMEDIATE ADVISORY NUMBER 2A
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL EP012010
1100 AM PDT SAT MAY 29 2010

...AGATHA MOVING SLOWLY NORTHEASTWARD TOWARDS GUATEMALA...
...HEAVY RAINS AND GUSTY WINDS AFFECTING EXTREME SOUTHEASTERN
MEXICO...GUATEMALA...AND WESTERN EL SALVADOR...



SUMMARY OF 1100 AM PDT...1800 UTC...INFORMATION
-----------------------------------------------
LOCATION...13.3N 93.1W
ABOUT 120 MI...195 KM...S OF TAPACHULA MEXICO
ABOUT 160 MI...260 KM...WSW OF PUERTO DE SAN JOSE GUATEMALA
MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS...40 MPH...65 KM/HR
PRESENT MOVEMENT...NE OR 55 DEGREES AT 5 MPH...7 KM/HR
MINIMUM CENTRAL PRESSURE...1003 MB...29.62 INCHES

No change there

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

NONE.

SUMMARY OF WATCHES AND WARNINGS IN EFFECT...

A TROPICAL STORM WARNING IS IN EFFECT FOR...
* THE PACIFIC COASTS OF EXTREME SOUTHEASTERN MEXICO...ALL OF
GUATEMALA...AND ALL OF EL SALVADOR FROM BOCA DE PIJIJIAPAN MEXICO
SOUTHEASTWARD TO THE EL SALVADOR-HONDURAS BORDER.

A TROPICAL STORM WARNING MEANS THAT TROPICAL STORM CONDITIONS ARE
EXPECTED SOMEWHERE WITHIN THE WARNING AREA WITHIN 36 HOURS.

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 AM PDT...1500 UTC...THE CENTER OF TROPICAL STORM AGATHA WAS
LOCATED NEAR LATITUDE 13.3 NORTH...LONGITUDE 93.1 WEST. AGATHA IS
MOVING TOWARD THE NORTHEAST NEAR 5 MPH...7 KM/HR...AND THIS
GENERAL MOTION IS EXPECTED TO CONTINUE THROUGH SUNDAY.

MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS ARE NEAR 40 MPH...65 KM/HR...WITH HIGHER
GUSTS. ADDITIONAL STRENGTHENING IS FORECAST DURING THE NEXT 48
HOURS.

TROPICAL STORM FORCE WINDS EXTEND OUTWARD UP TO 80 MILES...130 KM
FROM THE CENTER.

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


HAZARDS AFFECTING LAND
----------------------
WIND...TROPICAL STORM-FORCE WINDS ARE EXPECTED TO REACH THE PACIFIC
COASTS OF GUATEMALA AND SOUTHEASTERN MEXICO LATER TONIGHT AND
SUNDAY MORNING...MAKING OUTSIDE PREPARATIONS DIFFICULT OR
DANGEROUS.

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...A STORM SURGE IS EXPECTED TO PRODUCE SIGNIFICANT
COASTAL FLOODING NEAR AND TO THE EAST OF WHERE THE CENTER MAKES
LANDFALL. NEAR THE COAST...THE SURGE WILL BE ACCOMPANIED BY LARGE
AND DESTRUCTIVE WAVES.



NEXT ADVISORY
-------------
NEXT COMPLETE ADVISORY...200 PM PDT.

$$
FORECASTER STEWART
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
2273. Patrap
Quoting nweatherlover:


How the heck do the plan to fix the gusher when they can't even turn on the mikes for a press conference?


The PC is on TV...

not the Livestream,,they didnt pay for audio on a ROV feed
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2271. pottery
Well, BP has Mr. Kent Wells explaining things and stuff.
But I think that they need mild-mannered Clark Kent to deal with this.
Or even Flatman and Ribbon.
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Quoting pottery:

No problem. Am delivering some to you soon, packaged in a nice shiny Herbert Box. With ribbons, bells, the works.
LOL (please dont take this seriously...)

No offense taken. We can use some general soaking rains in N TX.

The long-range forecast hints at a possibility of scattered showers and thunderstorms, next Wednesday or Thursday :O)..
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2269. IKE
Quoting skep:
What's he saying? The livestream has no audio :(


He said....he doesn't know if they're pumping mud now or not.

Uh...they're not>>>>>Link


He doesn't know which technique will work.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37860
Quoting skep:
What's he saying? The livestream has no audio :(


How the heck do the plan to fix the gusher when they can't even turn on the mikes for a press conference?
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2267. hydrus
Quoting IKE:
12Z CMC
That model has a storm hittng S.W.Florida and then moving up the eastern seaboard. The GEM model is also showing this same movement.
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Quoting SavannahStorm:
Someone mentioned that they are now considering a "pipe-pinching" procedure when all other options are off the table. It would involve carefully placed explosive charges destroying the blowout preventor and sealing the pipe. BP is apparently leaving this as a last option because it would mean the Deepwater Horizon project would be permanently lost and they would have to start from scratch to get any more oil from the deposit. So once again, it comes down to $$, because BP doesn't want to lose a well they can still extract oil from.


Don't expect to see them try that. Sounds like web gossip to me. My youngest son is finishing up his Masters in Hydro-Geology and his college room mate was on sister drill rig when the big flare went up. If they tried that and it failed would open up a can of worms make this look like a kids fish bait. Now you got a busted up pipe and a crater you're trying to stop up. Probably spew till entire field played out.

I hate to say this but I actually hope they manly drive ROVS around and keep the country and media entertained and spend their efforts on containment and mitigation because everything from here on out risks creating a much worse catrosphy and the odds of success are diminishing fast.
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2265. skep
Quoting IKE:
BP Press Conference now.
What's he saying? The livestream has no audio :(
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2264. Patrap
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2263. pottery
Quoting Bordonaro:


Hello Pottery! Brother, can you spare a raindrop??

BP is a major corporation, who totally misjudged the Deepwater Horizon well and its problems. I say we string them up and feed them to the sharks :o)!!

No problem. Am delivering some to you soon, packaged in a nice shiny Herbert Box. With ribbons, bells, the works.
LOL (please dont take this seriously...)
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mmm mmm good... There ain't nothin' like days-ol' shrimp nearly frozen, shipped, cleaned, refrozen, reshipped, then defrosted to set your mouth adroolin'.
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2261. lavinia
Thanks Weather 456. I should have checked your blog before I asked. :)
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2260. Patrap
Itsa Big ULL Drak,,the trough is gonna do the deed seems
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2259. pottery
Quoting Motttt:
This Is what Kent Wells from BP says what they will be doing on the well.
Link

That's from last week though. Plenty has changed (or not, as the case may be)
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2258. Drakoen
Quoting Patrap:
This ULL may have a influence on Agatha Ike..





Yes, as it moves southward it's going to be reinforcing the trough over the GOM.
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2257. IKE
12Z CMC
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37860

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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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