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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Satellite WV imagery shows that the SE US low drifted there from Minnesota two days ago.

850 mb vorticity...
Member Since: August 30, 2008 Posts: 8 Comments: 2834
Quoting lickitysplit:
I'm still curious. What are the chances that TD1 survives Guatemala and then powers up in the GOM?
Chances are minimal. Although we have above average SSTs in the Gulf of Mexico they still aren't hot enough to support intensification. And that's not the least of it's problems, shear also plays a major role. A seasonal subtropical jet-stream usually is in the gulf and east of Florida. This increases shear to the 40+ knot threshold. I do not expect development of TD 1-E once/if it gets into the Gulf of Mexico.
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1852. GainesvilleGator 2:16 PM GMT on May 29, 2010
I just read where if this oil leak can be stopped sometime over the Memorial weekend the cleanup can be completed by Labor Day.

Maybe we are lucky & no storms in GOM in June but it would be wishful thinking to say no storms in July. If leak isn't stopped until relieve wells are completed in August then it is going to be a big mess when storms scatter oil over whole Gulf Coast


um sorry but there is no way in the world it will be done that quik....do you realize that they are still cleaning the crap up from the valdez?? that was 20 years ago and this will more than likely triple that if not more...so we we are talking many years of clean up....
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CMC puts the remnants of 90L on the western side of the Bermuda high by 144h, while GFS merges it with a western Mediterranean system.

Based on available model runs and discussions, I predict that we will have four Atlantic tropical storms (including two hurricanes) by the end of June.
Member Since: August 30, 2008 Posts: 8 Comments: 2834
5 am PDT Graphics Update:
Member Since: June 29, 2009 Posts: 13 Comments: 5238
I just read where if this oil leak can be stopped sometime over the Memorial weekend the cleanup can be completed by Labor Day.

Maybe we are lucky & no storms in GOM in June but it would be wishful thinking to say no storms in July. If leak isn't stopped until relieve wells are completed in August then it is going to be a big mess when storms scatter oil over whole Gulf Coast.
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1851. cg2916
Quoting pottery:

Your point # 2.
No way a hurricane will do that. It is 5000 feet down, on the sea bed.


Well, I have no experience with this, I was just thinking what might happen.
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1850. cg2916
Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
I see we have TS Agatha as per NHC private files.


Yup.
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1849. cg2916
Quoting BrandiQ:
cg2916, any chance of it redeveloping once in the Golf?


Wow, never had anyone ask me a question before (I'd recommend Weather456, he's used to people bugging him with questions, LOL). I don't think there will be much of a chance. Wind shear is crazy high, it'll just rip the clouds off. Now, if by some miracle, this thing strengthens a lot and hits the Carib., yes, there may be a chance of re-development.
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1848. pottery
Quoting cg2916:
Now, here's the problem with fixing the leak:

We're going to have a rough hurricane season. The need to cap this thing before August, even before mid-June, I'd say. If too many hurricanes come through the GOM, then we could have many problems:

1. If they're planning to cap it right before a hurricane comes, they have to wait.

2. Whatever they've capped it with could be ripped up by a hurricane.

3. The pipe could either crack more or completely break.

They really need to get this going.

Your point # 2.
No way a hurricane will do that. It is 5000 feet down, on the sea bed.
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I see we have TS Agatha as per NHC private files.
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I'm still curious. What are the chances that TD1 survives Guatemala and then powers up in the GOM?
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1845. cg2916
BTW, how do you guys like my new avatar. It's a radar image of Katrina making landfall.
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1844. BrandiQ
cg2916, any chance of it redeveloping once in the Golf?
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RE: 1838


I totally agree breald. 100%
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1842. Asta
Quoting breald:
The Eddy Loop current is good news for The Keys.
I am praying that the Gulf Coast does not get hit with any hurricanes. this region has been putthru so much the past few years. Some tough skinned people live in the gulf but I don't know how much more they can endure. Fingers are already crossed.
Link
Member Since: July 4, 2008 Posts: 30 Comments: 1024
1841. pottery
Quoting TampaSpin:
I think they should be drilling 2 relief wells.....just for the insurance that something might go wrong and just in case it needs 2 relief wells to stop the flow.

At the briefing yesterday, BP said that they had discontinued one of the relief wells, and are using it to prepare another BOP that they might try to install on top of the broken one.
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1840. cg2916
Now, here's the problem with fixing the leak:

We're going to have a rough hurricane season. The need to cap this thing before August, even before mid-June, I'd say. If too many hurricanes come through the GOM, then we could have many problems:

1. If they're planning to cap it right before a hurricane comes, they have to wait.

2. Whatever they've capped it with could be ripped up by a hurricane.

3. The pipe could either crack more or completely break.

They really need to get this going.
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I agree pottery but we are 4% of the worlds population and yet we use almost 25% of the world's resources. We've got a big problem.
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1838. breald
You know, I would agree that Obama, himself, should have been more visible. That being said, he cannot be blamed for this spill and its devastation.

We are not doing ourselves any favors by blaming Obama and not the Government as a whole. Our whole system from the Surpreme Court to congress is rigged to favor corporations.
Member Since: May 28, 2008 Posts: 38 Comments: 5303
Quoting TampaSpin:
I think they should be drilling 2 relief wells.....just for the insurance that something might go wrong and just in case it needs 2 relief wells to stop the flow.


Ummm......they are
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Quoting IKE:
Low over the SE USA....



That's the low heading toward the SW (Houston) that I was talking about last night. It's actually drifting that way due to the counter-clockwise outflow of the Caribbean-Atlantic low that has absorbed 90L. It could enter the Gulf, and play a role in steering currents for the future Atlantic side of TD One-E.
Member Since: August 30, 2008 Posts: 8 Comments: 2834
1835. cg2916
They still haven't put out the Hurricane Wind Speed Probability, 50-knot Wind Speed Probability, or the Tropical Storm Wind Speed Probability images to TD One-E (soon to be Agatha).
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1834. pottery
Quoting lickitysplit:
RE: 1805

The American people are the addict, keeper. Ultimately, this spill is all of our fault. We are so addicted to oil it dictates our foreign policy and simply made this mess possible. The sooner we move to cleaner energy sources the better we will be.

Absolutely. But the American people are NOT the only addict
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1833. cg2916
Fixed it:

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1832. Asta
Quoting breald:
The Eddy Loop current is good news for The Keys.
I am praying that the Gulf Coast does not get hit with any hurricanes. this region has been putthru so much the past few years. Some tough skinned people live in the gulf but I don't know how much more they can endure. Fingers are already crossed.

The oil can be anywhere. The dipsperants used make it hard to track. the ESA suggests it is already in the loop- juts not where we can see it. It's in the Desoto Canyon now.. not good for the coral or fish. bad stuff.
Member Since: July 4, 2008 Posts: 30 Comments: 1024
1831. 10Speed
Quoting pottery:

I am wondering if BP and the President don't already know, but cannot say "this is impossible to stop until August. And we are not sure we can stop it in August either. And between now and August the BOP is likely to fail completely creating an unimaginable crisis".
A statement like that would be cause for panic and all that goes with it.
The prospects look dismal, frankly.

+1
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commercial fishing vessles recalled
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IKE 1:37 PM GMT on May 29, 2010
Quoting indianrivguy:


I just don't get it.. he "could" have been a National hero for being immediate, forceful and proactive to try and protect the coastline. It could/would have displaced some of the other issues and shown him in a very good light. At the wellhead, you have to go with the best, and they are there, even if they are keeping us in the dark as best they can.. it the coast and citizenry that has been neglected IMO. It is THERE that Obama could have wielded his office and made a difference. JMHO.


He just doesn't act like he knows what the heck is going on. Maybe he'll improve.

I think he's one and done. I also think it's his Katrina.

Sorry to get on politics here


morning everyone...this is just unreal....and this so called Prez is not telling the whole story nor is BP..not to mention the photo op that was done yesterday cause he was in La. Lord help us all that do live down here and who love our beaches fishing and our way of life. I have been lucky enough to have got hired to help out on the clean up but we are just waiting for the word to go....now it is true that i had to go through a 40 hour course for hazwoper...this all came into effect after the 87 valdez incident....if you have a chance to go to the beach anytime soon i sugggest that you go soon....and indriver i agree that the pressure that is down there is something that basically we are uncharted waters....funny how back in the late 70's the accident off the coast of mexico happened the exact same way..and it was the same company that was resposible...granted if i remember right it was only 200 or 250' down...NOT 5000' down...and waiting till August when the season is just really getting going sure as hell is not reasuring to say the least...
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1827. Asta
Quoting IKE:


He just doesn't act like he knows what the heck is going on. Maybe he'll improve.

I think he's one and done. I also think it's his Katrina.

Sorry to get on politics here.

Katrina was a natural storm-
this is Bristish Petroleum's negligence in not following Procedure.
Please don't compare it to Katrina.
It removes BP from the equation.
Member Since: July 4, 2008 Posts: 30 Comments: 1024
1826. Asta
Quoting TampaSpin:
I think they should be drilling 2 relief wells.....just for the insurance that something might go wrong and just in case it needs 2 relief wells to stop the flow.

they are
Member Since: July 4, 2008 Posts: 30 Comments: 1024
1825. DDR
Good morning.
Its odd,the clouds here are coming from a SSW direction this morning,had some heavy rain here just over an inch.
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Quoting lickitysplit:


I think that is what they are doing.


I hope so but, i have not heard it as 2 but you could be correct.
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Didn't expect to be making graphics in May :)


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We should also note that unlike 2009, the MJO signals are higher this year. For example, this passage of the current MJO release tons of tropical moisture over the Western Atlantic, spawning two disturbances and a possible named storm along with heavy rains over more or less the entire Caribbean.

The statistical guidance indicates the pulse lasting into June with another pulse in early July. By July 11, we may have already have two named storms since the MJO is is likely to be a strong factor this yr.
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Quoting TampaSpin:
I think they should be drilling 2 relief wells.....just for the insurance that something might go wrong and just in case it needs 2 relief wells to stop the flow.


I think that is what they are doing.
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That didn't take long.

EP 01 2010052912 BEST 0 130N 934W 35 1004 TS


Users are also cautioned that the data in these files are subject to frequent revisions and can differ from information issued in official NHC products.
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I think they should be drilling 2 relief wells.....just for the insurance that something might go wrong and just in case it needs 2 relief wells to stop the flow.
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RE: 1810

I agree Ike.

Obama didnt make this mess, BP did and BP has been lying to us from day one. THat said, Obama needs to project a sense of urgency. I think he wants to do the right thing but I really dont think he - or anyone else - really knows what to do. At the very least, he needs to be seen as a leader.
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Quoting Beachfoxx:
Nice guy needs to get down to some serious business regarding this spill. But honestly, I don't think BP, the Pres. can stop it - I think we are watching oil gush into the GoM until the relief well is in. I HOPE not, I hope this top kill works.........


Everything is untested at this depeth.....They can't be 100% certain that even a relief well will stop the flow.....think about that.......GEESH!
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1816. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting IKE:


Actually just want him to act like a leader in an urgent fashion considering the situation.
there is always more to the picture than meets the eye ike always

and we only get to see the pictures that are in there best interests
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 165 Comments: 52383
1815. hydrus
Quoting IKE:
Low over the SE USA....

Good Morning Ike, did you see the NOGAPS model yesterday?
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 19607
I can imagine 456. I can imagine....!
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Nice guy needs to get down to some serious business regarding this spill. But honestly, I don't think BP, the Pres. can stop it - I think we are watching oil gush into the GoM until the relief well is in. I HOPE not, I hope this top kill works.........
Quoting IKE:


Yeah...but he's the Commander in Chief. He seems like a nice guy, but...




That maybe part 2. The outlook is a little bleak in the GOM.
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RE: 1805

The American people are the addict, keeper. Ultimately, this spill is all of our fault. We are so addicted to oil it dictates our foreign policy and simply made this mess possible. The sooner we move to cleaner energy sources the better we will be.
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Quoting lickitysplit:
Hows the weather in St Kitts 456? Sounds heavenly to me. Here in the mountains of NM we had a light freeze last night but it looks like we'll get up to the mid 80s today...finally. At my house, the first freeze came September 13 and we are still getting some freezes. Thats much too much of a winter for me I say.


It is currently raining here but even the rain is beautiful :)
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1810. IKE
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
i kinda like looking at it this way oil is the drug bp is the drug(oil) supplier obama is the user
now you want the user to take out the dealer in this world that is never going to happen


Actually just want him to act like a leader in an urgent fashion considering the situation.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
1809. hydrus
Quoting pottery:
Heavy rain here this morning, and a friend in Tobago just called to say it has been Torrential there all night long.
May rainfall is setting records here ...
Interesting, the beginning of May was so dry for your region.
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 19607
Quoting pottery:
In the meantime----
-- there seems to be a large area of upper level rotation centered approximately over Tobago.
Comments?




Morning Pottery...

Whatcha cookin' up down there?

CRS
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1807. IKE
Quoting Beachfoxx:
1795. Ike, I thought he sounded like the lawyer he is... a lawyer talking to his client (Us) trying to soothe their nerves just before the jury comes back with a verdict.

There was zero emotion.......


Yeah...but he's the Commander in Chief. He seems like a nice guy, but...


Quoting CybrTeddy:


Well.. it might be his 'Katrina' but judging by the Hurricane season upcoming.. maybe not.


That maybe part 2. The outlook is a little bleak in the GOM.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858

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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.