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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Quoting Patrap:


A Mark 80 Nuclear tipped Low yield 10 Kiloton torpedo fired from a Los Angeles Class Sub should seal dat sucka.

Or maybe open up the whole reservoir.


Where is Jack Bauer?


He tried the first day. It didnt work. No one will pay him for longer than 24 hours. At this point, the only way to seal it is to send Chuck Norris down there. "Help us, Chuck Norris, you're our only hope!"
Member Since: August 27, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 1497
00z GFS 90hrs - A possible developing tropical cyclone. It is good to see you to Tim.

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
1455. Patrap
Quoting TexasGulf:


Don't know. Here is another good question though... Do shrimp curl the opposite direction in the Southern Hemisphere?


Depends if they frisky ones I guess.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 421 Comments: 127701
Through 72 hours theres a piece of energy emerging off the yucatan.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
1453. Patrap
Quoting pottery:
Sorry, Pat, that was for you, re the shrimp.


THanx pottery,now I gotta figure thats what I eat in a month here,

..I wanna get the Bill right for BP.

Sheesh,u should see the List now.


I eat a lotta Eyrsters too.

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 421 Comments: 127701
1452. JLPR
Quoting pottery:
RE: measurements.
Grew up here when the system was the "old" one, Lbs, feet, oz, miles etc.
The country changed to Metric about 40 years ago.
So we had to learn a whole new system. But one that is much more practical and sensible.
Although if someone tells me 6.7 meters today, I still have to think of it in feet to appreciate the length/height whatever.
My kids are dumbfounded when I tell them I caught a fish "about 8 lbs", because for me, a fish is in Lbs, you know?
Some things never change.
For instance, if you go into a grocery here and ask for "Tide", they will know perfectly well that you mean any soap powder, even though Tide has not been seen here for 40 years or so.


That happened with Kleenex here XD
I bet that if you ask here for tissue paper people are going to look at you funny haha!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Patrap:
How much is 25 Lbs of Shrimp in Kgs?


Don't know. Here is another good question though... Do shrimp curl the opposite direction in the Southern Hemisphere?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting kuppenskup:
Do you guys/ladies see this system affecting the South Florida area at all? I know it would only be an opinion but I would like to know.


The most I see is the remnants of the system moving in that direction. The 12Z models have indicated so with consensus. Two factors we have to consider are land interaction over CA and if it survives that, vertical shear from subtropical jet stream.
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00Z GFS brings 90E ashore at 66 hours
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Quoting FloridaTigers:
I just don't see this thing possibly surviving the trek to regenerate on the other side.

Some said the same about Ida's trek last November...though not nearly as mountainous. Survived well enough to be a cane...
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
1446. pottery
Quoting pottery:
1 Kg=2.2 lb.
Sorry, Pat, that was for you, re the shrimp.
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24116
1445. Patrap
Quoting Bordonaro:

There has to be a conventional, not nuclear warhead they can use.

Big problem is the well is under 5,000 feet of water. A regular conventional weapon may not do any good. Definitely do not want any nukes going off in the GOM either!


A Mark 80 Nuclear tipped Low yield 10 Kiloton torpedo fired from a Los Angeles Class Sub should seal dat sucka.

Or maybe open up the whole reservoir.


Where is Jack Bauer?

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 421 Comments: 127701
Quoting TampaSpin:


Ya,,,Danno.....i hear ya. We live in the US where we have the best of everything. The ability to do anything and the minds of the best or the ability to get the best minds. And yet we don't know how to plug a dam hole from leaking oil. YOu gotta be kidding me! Totally unexceptable for any American to think or except this.


We brought back Apollo 13, have fixed apparently broken rovers on Mars, theoretically seen the beginning of time with Hubble (debatable), but can't plug a whole???? UNACCEPTABLE!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting pottery:
RE: measurements.
Grew up here when the system was the "old" one, Lbs, feet, oz, miles etc.
The country changed to Metric about 40 years ago.
So we had to learn a whole new system. But one that is much more practical and sensible.
Although if someone tells me 6.7 meters today, I still have to think of it in feet to appreciate the length/height whatever.
My kids are dumbfounded when I tell them I caught a fish "about 8 lbs", because for me, a fish is in Lbs, you know?
Some things never change.
For instance, if you go into a grocery here and ask for "Tide", they will know perfectly well that you mean any soap powder, even though Tide has not been seen here for 40 years or so.

They tried to do that here in the US back in 1971, we said, "Sorry, wrong answer"!!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting kuppenskup:
Do you guys/ladies see this system affecting the South Florida area at all? I know it would only be an opinion but I would like to know.

I rest my case ;)
Member Since: August 27, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 1497
Quoting Hurricanes101:


I though the center was elongated from NE to SW, they did say at 8pm tonight that the center was not well-defined



I guess....
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1440. pottery
Quoting alexhurricane1991:
Wow gfs is painting a pretty serious flooding event in guatamala through 48 hours still off the coast.
1 Kg=2.2 lb.
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24116
Do you guys/ladies see this system affecting the South Florida area at all? I know it would only be an opinion but I would like to know.
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TS we are talking about the 0Z GFS that is coming out now, not the 18Z
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FutureMet hey dude.....How you been. Good to see ya!
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Quoting Weather456:


I doubt either reasons. For one, closeness to land should have the opposite effect, in that, warning affected areas and two, there has been evidence of closed low with 90E since noon's ASCAT.


I though the center was elongated from NE to SW, they did say at 8pm tonight that the center was not well-defined

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I just don't see this thing possibly surviving the trek to regenerate on the other side.
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Quoting TampaSpin:


Mize well split the earth in half. LOL

There has to be a conventional, not nuclear warhead they can use.

Big problem is the well is under 5,000 feet of water. A regular conventional weapon may not do any good. Definitely do not want any nukes going off in the GOM either!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
1433. xcool
YEAH
Member Since: September 26, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 15626
Quoting Hurricanes101:


??? Isnt showing anything from what I can see, other than still having 90E in the same spot

that could be bad


LOOK Here!



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Quoting Weather456:


I am surprised they delayed this being a depression.

That's because it's not a depression yet
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
closeness to land and a lack of a confirmed closed cir. thats it
iam thinking T.C.F.A. will be upgraded to T.C.F.W. by first light if current position with heavy convection is maintained


I doubt either reasons. For one, closeness to land should have the opposite effect, in that, warning affected areas and two, there has been evidence of closed low with 90E since noon's ASCAT.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
1428. Patrap
How much is 25 Lbs of Shrimp in Kgs?
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 421 Comments: 127701
Wow gfs is painting a pretty serious flooding event in guatamala through 48 hours still off the coast.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting SouthALWX:
1 tropical disturbance = 10 WU prayers for a south florida monster-cane?
Im not good with these conversions. I could be off a JFV or two, here. LOL

Just joking FIU dont flip out in Spanish again, I wouldn't understand you anyway =P


LOL!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
1425. pottery
RE: measurements.
Grew up here when the system was the "old" one, Lbs, feet, oz, miles etc.
The country changed to Metric about 40 years ago.
So we had to learn a whole new system. But one that is much more practical and sensible.
Although if someone tells me 6.7 meters today, I still have to think of it in feet to appreciate the length/height whatever.
My kids are dumbfounded when I tell them I caught a fish "about 8 lbs", because for me, a fish is in Lbs, you know?
Some things never change.
For instance, if you go into a grocery here and ask for "Tide", they will know perfectly well that you mean any soap powder, even though Tide has not been seen here for 40 years or so.
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24116
Quoting PcolaDan:


Got that right. And this may end up on your shores and mine. I may not be eating seafood for a long time.


Ya,,,Danno.....i hear ya. We live in the US where we have the best of everything. The ability to do anything and the minds of the best or the ability to get the best minds. And yet we don't know how to plug a dam hole from leaking oil. YOu gotta be kidding me! Totally unexceptable for any American to think or except this.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Hi JFV and SevereHurricane,

I have been doing great lately. However, I will not post on the blog as much as use to. I am still planning on creating some more YouTube educational videos.
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Quoting xcool:
wow GFS NEW ONE


??? Isnt showing anything from what I can see, other than still having 90E in the same spot

that could be bad
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
1421. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting Weather456:


I am surprised they delayed this being a depression.
closeness to land and a lack of a confirmed closed cir. thats it
iam thinking T.C.F.A. will be upgraded to T.C.F.W. by first light if current position with heavy convection is maintained
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 169 Comments: 53308
1420. xcool
wow GFS NEW ONE
Member Since: September 26, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 15626
Quoting Weather456:


Mixed with ash from the recent eruptions. Deadly combo.

Yep unfortunately i think this will be the major impact of this storm what we are seeing now which could be a pretty significant impact i just dont see this getting going if it makes it to the atlantic basin.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
1418. Patrap



Looking closely at the Dvorak,,and rockin it back and forth.
This one could split..and energy wind up in Two areas.One N to NNE,the other,due east.

This is gonna take another 70-80 Hours to really shake out maybe.

That would be round 0000 UTC June 1

Strap in,..first week could be "vary" interesting.

A editorial comment only.

(No met behind the Mask)

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 421 Comments: 127701
Quoting Weather456:


I am surprised they delayed this being a depression.


Me too; especially after some of the sad systems they named last year. I for one will be really surprised if I wake up tomorrow morning and its still not a depression.
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Quoting TampaSpin:


1 zillion barrels of oil= GOM


Got that right. And this may end up on your shores and mine. I may not be eating seafood for a long time.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
1 tropical disturbance = 10 WU prayers for a south florida monster-cane?
Im not good with these conversions. I could be off a JFV or two, here. LOL

Just joking FIU dont flip out in Spanish again, I wouldn't understand you anyway =P
Member Since: August 27, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 1497
Quoting alexhurricane1991:
0Z gfs is out to 36 hours and shows 90E probably agatha still off the coast of guatamala. Theres going to be a lot of flooding there.


Mixed with ash from the recent eruptions. Deadly combo.

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Quoting SevereHurricane:
90E continues to look well organized this evening.



I am surprised they delayed this being a depression.
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0Z gfs is out to 36 hours and shows 90E probably agatha still off the coast of guatamala. Theres going to be a lot of flooding there.
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Live video link from the ROV
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90E continues to look well organized this evening.

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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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