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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HI Stsimon!!! Good to see ya
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Deadly storm hits Central America

Tropical Depression Agatha unleashed torrential rains over Guatemala, southeast Mexico and much of El Salvador, triggering flash floods and mudslides.

Downgraded from a tropical storm -- the first of the Pacific season -- Saturday night, Agatha left at least 12 people dead and another 11 missing in Guatemala, the UK Press Association reported, citing National Disaster Relief Coordinator spokesman David de Leon.

Four children were buried in a landslide outside Guatemala City, and four adults were killed in the capital itself, de Leon said. Another two children and two adults were killed when a boulder, dislodged by heavy rains, crushed a house in the department of Quetzaltenango, 125 miles (200 km) west of Guatemala City, de Leon said earlier.

The system was expected to bring 10-20 inches (25-51 cm) of rain over the three countries, with possible 30 inches (76.2 cm) in some parts through Sunday.

Guatemala is already under a 15-day state of calamity because of the eruption on Thursday of the Pacaya volcano, which killed at least three people. At least 1,800 people were already evacuated to shelters, de Leon said earlier. The volcano had shut down the capital's international airport.
http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/weather/05/30/guatemala.agatha/
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3704. xcool
FIU2010 yeah she high on """""
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I gotta go to bed or I'm going to get in a heap of trouble.

However I do have to post a link to Aussie's new song...(who the heck calls someone a bumblebee???) Imma be

Link
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Quoting xcool:
KoritheMan STORMS IN EPAC aNYthing IN ATLtropical ..I HAVE NOO CLUE.


It's right to downplay the remnants of Agatha. They won't redevelop.
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Quoting hcubed:


Oh, no! Don't do anything darstic...
LOL! LMAO!!!!!
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Quoting xcool:
alexhurricane1991 .ecwmf best forecast models.
Yes it is but of course it can be wrong so dont take the model run verbatim.
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3696. EricSFL
I just hope Agatha gets out of Central America as soon as possible. New convection blowing along the Pacific coast of Guatemala dumping even more rain.

Good night everyone.
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3695. hcubed
Quoting FIU2010:


...and i will take darstic measures with you.


Oh, no! Don't do anything darstic...
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Aussie IS da bomb...never have I heard a derogatory word or anything other than a polite manner since I've been around.

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Quoting btwntx08:

i did mention about the last advisory in the past posts
Oh i didnt see that too preoccupied with other matters if you know what i mean.
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3692. xcool
alexhurricane1991 .ecwmf best forecast models.
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3690. xcool
storms very weaker
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Quoting xcool:
KoritheMan STORMS IN EPAC aNYthing IN ATLtropical ..I HAVE NOO CLUE.
I dont think thats downplaying anything.
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Quoting xcool:
KoritheMan STORMS IN EPAC aNYthing IN ATLtropical ..I HAVE NOO CLUE.

looks good to me, it destroys ex-Agatha over the terrain. completely plausible. looks like it may drag a weak low into the boc, but it hits that shear and .. well it doesnt matter anymore :)
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Aussie has NEVER SAID anything derogatory to anyone since I've been around. Always informative and polite...

Aussie IS da bomb...
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Quoting gulfcoastdweller:


dang, since it's late I'm gonna say.....who feels the NEED to personally attack Aussie?

Aussie is a great dude and if someone feels the need to personally attack him, well, .........well, I have no words that I can post w/out getting banned but since I'm not a paid member, I will save my "words" for someone who really counts on this blog

Luv Ya Aussie, you da bomb!!

Thanks
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BA in spanish? I thought you were minoring in spanish and graduating in 2011?
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3684. xcool
KoritheMan STORMS IN EPAC aNYthing IN ATLtropical ..I HAVE NOO CLUE.
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Quoting xcool:



weaker
Diffinately weaker we could be looking at a final advisory today
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3680. xcool



weaker
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Quoting xcool:
ecwmf down player alot of stuff..i have no clue why..


What's it downplaying?
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3678. hcubed
Quoting FIU2010:
agreed. sspnaish is a beautiful language, guys. i ahve a B.A Degree from FIU in SPN. XCool, what?


English is beautiful, too... for those that can spell and use it properly.

And catch that? Now he has a B.A. degree in Spanish.

Your professors must be proud of your mastery of the language...
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3676. xcool
Link


go here..
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3675. xcool
ecwmf down player alot of stuff..i have no clue why..
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Quoting xcool:
lmao ecwmf haha


Whats it showing to make you LMAO?
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Quoting melwerle:
Oh snap...I was hoping we could get together for lunch.

Stay safe everyone. I'll be thinking of you and lurking around to see what's going on. Only earthquakes here and we've had plenty of them. Last week another two whoppers and felt the floor rock one way, then rock the other and shaking. Another three minutes later. No warning with them but I'm not sure which is worse - having no warning or having warning for DAYS and having that worry that comes along with it.

Just have your plans together and be prepared. This site is a wonderful place for information if you can sort through some of the nonsense.

Thats so true take care!
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3672. xcool
lmao ecwmf haha



go here

Link

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Oh snap...I was hoping we could get together for lunch.

Stay safe everyone. I'll be thinking of you and lurking around to see what's going on. Only earthquakes here and we've had plenty of them. Last week another two whoppers and felt the floor rock one way, then rock the other and shaking. Another three minutes later. No warning with them but I'm not sure which is worse - having no warning or having warning for DAYS and having that worry that comes along with it.

Just have your plans together and be prepared. This site is a wonderful place for information if you can sort through some of the nonsense.

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Daniel Sain, of Hopedale, La., said he was laying boom last week when he came across a rust-colored area of water with a pungent smell. Afterward, he experienced headaches, nausea and sinus irritation, he said.

"I don't smoke cigarettes or anything, but I'm coughing like a smoker," he said, adding that no medical personnel were available when he docked.

Even residents not working on the spill reported unaccustomed ailments. Lisa Louque, a restaurant worker, said she felt dizzy and disoriented and couldn't breathe several days after walking on a nearby beach. She said she stayed at Lady of the Sea General Hospital in Cut Off, La., for a day and a half.
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-oil-spill-20100530,0,841698.story?page=3


See the original image at i.imgur.com
Dead dolphin covered with oil, sponsored by BP
http://digg.com/pets_animals/Dead_dolphin_covered_with_oil_sponsored_by_BP
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3668. BtnTx
post related to JFV deleted...
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3666. xcool
FIU2010 plz stop be so meann.
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3664. szqrn1
Thank You Charley! I will check out that link.. like I said ... haven't been on here at all since I am in the desert.... and I sure miss the rain and humidity!!!!
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Quoting xcool:
aspectre...high shear in aTL TP
Yep
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Excellent JFV...can't WAIT.
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3660. xcool
aspectre...high shear in aTL TP
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Quoting FIU2010:
incrediable, dios mio. alex, i meant it from a tracking hobbyest prospective not from a carnage one.
But you should have said to track in your statement if i misinterpreted what you said im sorry but next time be more specific!
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Quoting szqrn1:
okay hi! I have not been on this blog since last hurricane season and have moved out west. this question i have i am sure has been discussed in detail with y'all here... so forgive me for asking ...but what in the world is gonna happen when all this oil gets stirred up and sucked into a potential storm in the gulf this year? Gosh... the thought is scary to me.... my home was previously Gulfport, MS and my adult kids are still there. Any thoughts?


The worst effects from the oil would be from the storm surge of a potential storm. Oil could get washed inland and make a huge mess on inland environments. Jeff Masters wrote a detailed blog about it the other day:

http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/comment.html?entrynum=1492&tstamp=.

Hope it helps :)
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And Alex, I'm sure I'll get a "nastygram" any minute...

Warm Regards,

That "chick formerly from GA"

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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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