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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1007. Makoto1
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
because of land interaction it may not even get classified as systems are very rarly named at landfall or over land before classification is possible


Well it's moving so slowly that landfall is still a day or two away... If it doesn't get classified though it's still basically a major rain event so if I'm wrong it's not like much changes.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting AstroHurricane001:


I mean after the run is complete. Image is 360h.


Oh ok. Phew I didn't read it wrong then. Lol. Still learning. :)
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http://moe.met.fsu.edu/cgi-bin/cmctc2.cgi?time=2010052812&field=Sea+Level+Pressure&hour=Animation

this is interesting
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1004. SLU
Quoting Weather456:


http://www.hpc.ncep.noaa.gov/mike/samapindex3.php



thank u!
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Quoting REwonk:
Greetings, all! I am new to this group, and while I consider myself a weather and climate enthusiast, I don't begin to claim any expertise.

That said, I was curious to know people's interpretation of this MODIS image from Wednesday.

It seems like the clouds are forming over the oil slick. I saw a recent post from Dr. Masters showing the oil slick inhibiting cloud formation, with the explanation that the oil reduces the water vapor pressure, but why would it cause cloud formation?

FYI, you can see a corresponding CSTARS image of the spill here.

Part of what Dr. M surmised in that post is that the roughness of wave action, though fairly small, created slightly more drag over the water-only surface and less over the oil slick. Then the winds over the oil slick would be slightly faster than the winds over water alone.

Simply put, a region of faster winds catching up to a region of slower winds. When that happens the winds immediately there will speed up a little, horizontally, but this is also a convergence zone, much as a shallow cold front can be, thus, the winds impart their momentum, some, to an upward direction. Surface air goes up, clouds form.

He did not ascribe the clouds being present to a difference in absorption of solar radiation, but could also be a factor, IMO. End result would be a small, weak version of the same seabreeze effect (without the usual T-storms) we see along coastlines all around this time of year.

And welcome aboard...I recommend thick skin, sharp wit, and developing the ability to speed skim over 20 posts of drivel to find one worth carefully scrutinizing.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
Quoting WatchingThisOne:


GFS does not have a strong track record 15 days out :-)


I'm aware of that, however I think CFS was predicting in mid-May, a 1008 mb storm in the Yucatan Channel by June 8.
Member Since: August 30, 2008 Posts: 8 Comments: 2835
1001. leo305
Quoting lazerpointernerd:
Scenario:

If 90E crossed into the GOM as opposed to a more northeasterly track into the Yucatan or Caribbean, what kind of track might we see in the Gulf? Would TX or LA be possible landfalls?

Quoting Weather456:
Current conditions in El Salvador



Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
because of land interaction it may not even get classified as systems are very rarly named at landfall or over land before classification is possible


it will not make landfall tonight.. the thing is moving at a mile an hour.. and its around 100 miles off shore
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Quoting REwonk:
Greetings, all! I am new to this group, and while I consider myself a weather and climate enthusiast, I don't begin to claim any expertise.

That said, I was curious to know people's interpretation of this MODIS image from Wednesday.

It seems like the clouds are forming over the oil slick. I saw a recent post from Dr. Masters showing the oil slick inhibiting cloud formation, with the explanation that the oil reduces the water vapor pressure, but why would it cause cloud formation?

FYI, you can see a corresponding CSTARS image of the spill here.


Welcome REwonk, appears to me like you have more expertise than most on this blog. I stick with the simple models and sat. imagery.
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Quoting AstroHurricane001:


I mean after the run is complete. Image is 360h.


GFS does not have a strong track record 15 days out :-)
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Quoting Funkadelic:


Mind him he's had to much to drink:)


No, mind you. I was making a projection of that GFS run past the end of the run.
Member Since: August 30, 2008 Posts: 8 Comments: 2835
Quoting Makoto1:
I guess it just has to tighten up a little more to become a TD. It still looks like we're well on our way there though.
because of land interaction it may not even get classified as systems are very rarly named at landfall or over land before classification is possible
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 173 Comments: 54344
The CFS has been all over the place this year and has verified terribly. The ECMWF on the other hand has been the best long range seasonal forecast model so far.

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Quoting homelesswanderer:


At the end of the run?


I mean after the run is complete. Image is 360h.
Member Since: August 30, 2008 Posts: 8 Comments: 2835
Actually if 90E were to head mostly north on a track that would take it into the BOC, there are not a lot of mountains in that area
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Whats the feel with the NHC saying that we are going to have the amount of storms should La Nina come into play? This early in the year, predictions like that are dangerous, especially coming from NOAA
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Quoting Weather456:
Current conditions in El Salvador



Wow, those are some big waves. 90E is a fairly large system but may become smaller due to land interaction (remember Marco?).
Member Since: August 30, 2008 Posts: 8 Comments: 2835
I still think we will have TD 1-E in the next 12 hours.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21194
90E will be shredded by the mountains of Mexico/Central america if it moves northeast. Especially this time of year.
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Quoting AstroHurricane001:


GFS is depicting a low that could make landfall in Mexico then retrograde and strengthen in the GOM, and hit Florida and enter the Gulf Stream. Meanwhile, although it's far out, it also shows a low in the Central Atlantic. More importantly...wait for it...a Cape Verde wave at 5N (*wishcasting* I SEE A RE-IVAN!!).


At the end of the run?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Greetings, all! I am new to this group, and while I consider myself a weather and climate enthusiast, I don't begin to claim any expertise.

That said, I was curious to know people's interpretation of this MODIS image from Wednesday.

It seems like the clouds are forming over the oil slick. I saw a recent post from Dr. Masters showing the oil slick inhibiting cloud formation, with the explanation that the oil reduces the water vapor pressure, but why would it cause cloud formation?

FYI, you can see a corresponding CSTARS image of the spill here.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting lazerpointernerd:
Scenario:

If 90E crossed into the GOM as opposed to a more northeasterly track into the Yucatan or Caribbean, what kind of track might we see in the Gulf? Would TX or LA be possible landfalls?


Well, it's not even supposed to go sraight N. If it does go into the GOM, if the rough Guatemalan terrian doesn't already kill it, the rough shear from the subtropical jet stream jet stream will, and it should hit FL as a very weak blob.
Member Since: December 21, 2007 Posts: 13 Comments: 3046
Current conditions in El Salvador

Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Quoting lazerpointernerd:
Scenario:

If 90E crossed into the GOM as opposed to a more northeasterly track into the Yucatan or Caribbean, what kind of track might we see in the Gulf? Would TX or LA be possible landfalls?


Probably more toward Alabama, Florida Panhandle or Central Florida.
Member Since: August 30, 2008 Posts: 8 Comments: 2835
I guess it just has to tighten up a little more to become a TD. It still looks like we're well on our way there though.
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Quoting SevereHurricane:




El Nino made a small comeback.


In 1998, La Nina came in with a vengence. We had a storm that hit Central America and came back (Mitch). In 2004, an El Nino Modoki (Central Eastern Pacific El Nino), weak to moderate, persisted throughout the season.
Member Since: August 30, 2008 Posts: 8 Comments: 2835
Quoting Weather456:
NHC don't make TDs only designates them.


If they made TDs, then there would only be TDs or TSs, and only if there was a drought or something.
Member Since: December 21, 2007 Posts: 13 Comments: 3046
Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
Probably just the GFS making something up, but you never know.


Oh I agree is not a given at this far away. Will watch n see if things drop or change in the upcoming runs. Just that they showed anything in the GOM maybe showing when the shear will drop.
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Scenario:

If 90E crossed into the GOM as opposed to a more northeasterly track into the Yucatan or Caribbean, what kind of track might we see in the Gulf? Would TX or LA be possible landfalls?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
NHC don't make TDs only designates them.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Quoting homelesswanderer:


Yeah. I've noticed in the last few runs of The GFS long range they've been showing a lot more precip and low pressure in the GOM. Also developing something in the NW GOM towards the end of the run. I know its far away. But what I take out of that is lower shear more ridging.
Sign of things to come?



GFS is depicting a low that could make landfall in Mexico then retrograde and strengthen in the GOM, and hit Florida and enter the Gulf Stream. Meanwhile, although it's far out, it also shows a low in the Central Atlantic. More importantly...wait for it...a Cape Verde wave at 5N (*wishcasting* I SEE A RE-IVAN!!).
Member Since: August 30, 2008 Posts: 8 Comments: 2835
Quoting AstroHurricane001:


Would they make one at 8 pm if the storm was threatening land?
QUASI-STATIONARY 90E atthmo
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 173 Comments: 54344
you know how NHC can be..
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Quoting AstroHurricane001:


CFS models still uncertain at this point. Remember what happened to ENSO in 1998; in 2004?


El Nino made a small comeback.
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Quoting AstroHurricane001:


Would they make one at 8 pm if the storm was threatening land?


Yup. If they tought it was status-worthy.
Member Since: December 21, 2007 Posts: 13 Comments: 3046
Dr. Jeff made the Mobile Press-Register this morning........cool!

Link
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Quoting AstroHurricane001:


Would they make one at 8 pm if the storm was threatening land?
They can update a disturbance to TD status at any time.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21194
ZCZC MIATWOEP ALL
TTAA00 KNHC DDHHMM
TROPICAL WEATHER OUTLOOK
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
500 PM PDT FRI MAY 28 2010

FOR THE EASTERN NORTH PACIFIC...EAST OF 140 DEGREES WEST LONGITUDE..

1. ALTHOUGH SATELLITE IMAGES SHOW THAT THE SHOWER ACTIVITY ASSOCIATED
WITH THE BROAD AREA OF LOW PRESSURE CENTERED A LITTLE MORE THAN A
HUNDRED MILES SOUTH OF THE GULF OF TEHUANTEPEC REMAINS ORGANIZED...
THERE ARE NO EVIDENCES OF A WELL DEFINED CENTER AT THIS TIME.
ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS ARE FAVORABLE FOR ADDITIONAL
DEVELOPMENT... AND A TROPICAL DEPRESSION COULD FORM AT ANY TIME
LATER TONIGHT OR SATURDAY AS IT DRIFTS NORTHEASTWARD. THERE IS A
HIGH CHANCE...70 PERCENT...OF THIS SYSTEM BECOMING A TROPICAL
CYCLONE DURING THE NEXT 48 HOURS. HEAVY SQUALLS ARE ALREADY
APPROACHING THE COAST OF EASTERN MEXICO AND GUATEMALA AND THE AREA
OF HEAVY RAINS EXTENDS AS FAR EAST AS EL SALVADOR. THESE RAINS ARE
LIKELY TO CONTINUE AND COULD CAUSE LIFE-THREATENING FLASH FLOODS
AND MUD SLIDES IN THESE AREAS OVER THE NEXT COUPLE OF DAYS.

ELSEWHERE...TROPICAL CYCLONE FORMATION IS NOT EXPECTED DURING THE
NEXT 48 HOURS.

$$
FORECASTER AVILA/CANGIALOSI
NNNN

I beg to differ...



Maybe slightly elongated N-S, but very well-defined.
Member Since: December 21, 2007 Posts: 13 Comments: 3046
Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
No TD at 5:00 PM.


Would they make one at 8 pm if the storm was threatening land?
Member Since: August 30, 2008 Posts: 8 Comments: 2835
Quoting SLU:



can you give me a link for this map?

thanks


http://www.hpc.ncep.noaa.gov/mike/samapindex3.php
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Quoting Weather456:
Beautiful ascat pass from noon



Now that's a circulation.

Note all you wish casters.
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Quoting Patrap:
Okay.
Im on his team here and with Portlights


Are you Patrap's son, by any chance?
Member Since: August 30, 2008 Posts: 8 Comments: 2835
Quoting homelesswanderer:


Yeah. I've noticed in the last few runs of The GFS long range they've been showing a lot more precip and low pressure in the GOM. Also developing something in the NW GOM towards the end of the run. I know its far away. But what I take out of that is lower shear more ridging.
Sign of things to come?

Probably just the GFS making something up, but you never know.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21194
Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
Yeah. You have to wait for the subtropical jet stream to lift which probably won't happen until June.


Yeah. I've noticed in the last few runs of The GFS long range they've been showing a lot more precip and low pressure in the GOM. Also developing something in the NW GOM towards the end of the run. I know its far away. But what I take out of that is lower shear more ridging.
Sign of things to come?

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
No TD at 5:00 PM.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21194
Dont count out the possibility of another center reforming over the Gulf if the coc of 90E stays overland for too long. Remember Dennis 1981 over Cuba?
Member Since: August 26, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 423
Okay.
Im on his team here and with Portlights
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128639
958. SLU
Quoting Weather456:
SE El Salvador picked up 5 inches in the last 24 hrs




can you give me a link for this map?

thanks
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
ZCZC MIATWOEP ALL
TTAA00 KNHC DDHHMM
TROPICAL WEATHER OUTLOOK
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
500 PM PDT FRI MAY 28 2010

FOR THE EASTERN NORTH PACIFIC...EAST OF 140 DEGREES WEST LONGITUDE..

1. ALTHOUGH SATELLITE IMAGES SHOW THAT THE SHOWER ACTIVITY ASSOCIATED
WITH THE BROAD AREA OF LOW PRESSURE CENTERED A LITTLE MORE THAN A
HUNDRED MILES SOUTH OF THE GULF OF TEHUANTEPEC REMAINS ORGANIZED...
THERE ARE NO EVIDENCES OF A WELL DEFINED CENTER AT THIS TIME.
ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS ARE FAVORABLE FOR ADDITIONAL
DEVELOPMENT... AND A TROPICAL DEPRESSION COULD FORM AT ANY TIME
LATER TONIGHT OR SATURDAY AS IT DRIFTS NORTHEASTWARD. THERE IS A
HIGH CHANCE...70 PERCENT...OF THIS SYSTEM BECOMING A TROPICAL
CYCLONE DURING THE NEXT 48 HOURS. HEAVY SQUALLS ARE ALREADY
APPROACHING THE COAST OF EASTERN MEXICO AND GUATEMALA AND THE AREA
OF HEAVY RAINS EXTENDS AS FAR EAST AS EL SALVADOR. THESE RAINS ARE
LIKELY TO CONTINUE AND COULD CAUSE LIFE-THREATENING FLASH FLOODS
AND MUD SLIDES IN THESE AREAS OVER THE NEXT COUPLE OF DAYS.

ELSEWHERE...TROPICAL CYCLONE FORMATION IS NOT EXPECTED DURING THE
NEXT 48 HOURS.

$$
FORECASTER AVILA/CANGIALOSI
NNNN

Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21194

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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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