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 StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
CaneWarning, Over 80% of our seafood is imported already.

Florida and Georgia both have laws that a restaurant can say 'local caught', 'fresh caught' or 'locally fished' on their menus if they get their seafood from a local distributor even if the distributor imports all its seafood.


Yeah, but I don't really trust that either. We had places in Tampa selling "grouper" that turned out to be something else. Those laws are fine if people actually follow them. I don't really trust everywhere to follow them. Luckily I have a ton of frozen fish at home to keep me happy for a while.
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106. myway
intresting how long there has been 3k or more wells in the gulf. According to lacoast.gov there was 4,489 oil production wells and 3813 gas production wells off the LA coast in 1998. Link
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37 USSINS "Look at the chart - SSH, or sea surface heights."

That wasn't the question. The number 27 by itself is not a height.
Numbers count things: turnips, metres, degrees, miles per hour, etc
What things are those numbers counting in the animated chart in post6?
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Quoting Hurricanes101:
Again the ECMWF does a poor job only when it isn't forecasting a storm to develop lol

Funny how that works lol
lol.
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Flash Flood Watch issued for Jamaica
2010-05-28 09:19:22 | (0 Comments)


The Meteorological Service of Jamaica has issued a Flash Flood Watch for low-lying and flood-prone areas of all parishes until 5:00 p.m. today.

The following is the complete release.

A FLASH FLOOD WATCH means that flash flooding is possible and residents are advised to take precautionary measures, keep informed by listening to further releases from the Meteorological Service and be ready for quick action if flooding is observed or if a Warning is issued.

A Trough across Jamaica and the western Caribbean continues to influence weather conditions across the island. Satellite imagery indicates cloudy conditions across most parishes with showers and isolated thunderstorm through last night into this morning with strongest activity affecting sections of northwestern and southern parishes.

The Trough is expected to remain across the central Caribbean, including Jamaica until Sunday, producing periods of heavy showers and thunderstorms at times. There is, therefore, the potential for flash flooding.

Fishers and other marine interests are advised to exercise caution, as gusty winds and rough seas are likely in the vicinity of showers and thunderstorms.

The Meteorological Service will continue to monitor the situation.
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Quoting TampaSpin:
This Oil Spill and the toxins could end up in drinking water if the Gulf Stream Loop ever got a hold of it. Heck in the Northern Gulf Coast states they really gotta be worried. If the Toxins and Oil would go up the East Coast of Florida the Oil and Toxins would move into the BIG "O" Lake and mess things really up.


You know we have a Desalination plant in Hillsborough County. I wonder if the spill could cause problems with that too.
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Again the ECMWF does a poor job only when it isn't forecasting a storm to develop lol

Funny how that works lol
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Quoting JamesSA:
Was that delay based on the El Niño / La Niña transition?
I remember reading something about it but I'm not too clear on it. I know Levi32 remembers it, I'll ask him when he comes on.
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Quoting Jeff9641:
Clouds biulding quick here in C FL. Also a couple of storms now starting to form. Looks like a active afternoon ahead.


I see clouds building to the south and west of Tampa. I wouldn't mind a nice little storm for the afternoon.
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This Oil Spill and the toxins could end up in drinking water if the Gulf Stream Loop ever got a hold of it. Heck in the Northern Gulf Coast states they really gotta be worried. If the Toxins and Oil would go up the East Coast of Florida the Oil and Toxins would move into the BIG "O" Lake and mess things really up.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20443
Quoting xcool:
ECMWF not do good job rigth now..imo
I think the ECMWF has been doing a fantastic job for quite some time now. And it's quite "alarming" to see them forecasting a mean of 23 named storms. That would make 2010 hurricane season the second most active season in history.
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Quoting srada:
Good Morning Everyone

I live on the east coast off of NC and my heart and prayers go out to the people of the gulf coast..there is sea life dying in the gulf waters now becaus of the toxin and oil..with that being said, couldnt they swim up and end up on the east coast through the gulf stream..shouldnt the FDA put a warning out on seafood..the repurcussions to this oil spill will reach everyone in the US and have deadly health effects for years to come..


There have been talks about sea life migration to the east coast but, compared to the overall size of the Gulf Of Mexico related to the oil spill, there is a large amount of safe haven within their own environment.
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TampaSpin .i'm go looking now
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Quoting srada:
Good Morning Everyone

I live on the east coast off of NC and my heart and prayers go out to the people of the gulf coast..there is sea life dying in the gulf waters now becaus of the toxin and oil..with that being said, couldnt they swim up and end up on the east coast through the gulf stream..shouldnt the FDA put a warning out on seafood..the repurcussions to this oil spill will reach everyone in the US and have deadly health effects for years to come..


I'm not eating any seafood for a while. I don't care if the FDA puts out a warning or not.
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2010 Atlantic Tropical Forecast from TampaSpin
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20443
90E has a very very elongated area of 850MB vorticity. Also you have to notice that there is a nice little area of 850MB vorticity over Honduras (It is quite elongated though), I have yet to see that an area of low pressure has formed there, but I'm pretty sure there is a mid level low somewhere over Honduras.



After pulling up some cities around where the area of low pressure could have formed or already formed. I did found quite a pretty low pressure in Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua. The reading there is: 29.83 in (Steady). And for any that don't know where that is, Puerto Cabezas is located just south of the Honduras border.
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Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
Well one of Jeff Masters' blogs that he published a couple weeks ago spoke about a certain delay to the hurricane season. He was saying that the season my start late but when it gets going its going to be fire, he was using 2004 as a comparison. I doubt that we will have a "delay" to the hurricane season but it definitely is in the realm of possibility.
Was that delay based on the El Niño / La Niña transition?
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Good Morning Everyone

I live on the east coast off of NC and my heart and prayers go out to the people of the gulf coast..there is sea life dying in the gulf waters now becaus of the toxin and oil..with that being said, couldnt they swim up and end up on the east coast through the gulf stream..shouldnt the FDA put a warning out on seafood..the repurcussions to this oil spill will reach everyone in the US and have deadly health effects for years to come..
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ECMWF not do good job rigth now..imo
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wow wow

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Quoting fsumet:
I just wanted to say what I found interesting from the hurricane conference a little while ago.

The number of storms that is being forecast from the ECMWF is 18-28 with 260-312% ACE.
The UKMET also was 16-25 if I remember correctly, the ACE was also up to 312%. I don't remember the lower range but it was over 200% as well.


The ECMWF number is troubling, they have been very good in recent years.
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Quoting CaneWarning:


The gulf will be dead I'm afraid if this goes until August. There are already reports of all types of animals washing up dead already. How many are simply sinking to the bottom of the ocean and aren't being counted?


BP and the Government took the position of what we can't see would be better. Beneath the surface is the crime we can't see!
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20443
Dr. Jeff Masters speaks about Oil in the GOM and Hurricanes, as he spoke on the WWL Radio NOLA on the Spud Show Monday

.."That Just Bites"..

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Come on now you know the government has a secret oil capping submarine. There just trying to make BP look bad.Just remember you'll Rand Paul summed it up best, accidents happen get over it.Like the president of BP said its a small amount of oil almost insignificant.So quit being so excited. Don't worry its Obama's job to stop this.Your job is to go out and shop. In closing lets all try and remember that this weekend we have a chance to think about all those that paid the ultimate price for our freedom.That we so enjoy on this blog and countless other ways. God Bless all this weekend stay safe have fun, one day at a time. Gordy out
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Quoting CyclonicVoyage:
The burst well is spewing oil at a rate of at least 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day, U.S. Geological Survey Director Marcia McNutt told reporters Thursday, meaning 260,000 to 540,000 barrels had leaked as of 10 days ago -- larger than the 250,000 barrels spilled when the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska's Prince William Sound in 1989.


Think if this goes until August. :-(


The gulf will be dead I'm afraid if this goes until August. There are already reports of all types of animals washing up dead already. How many are simply sinking to the bottom of the ocean and aren't being counted?
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MiamiHurri.justing stay in schools.best way...
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4000 active wells,

30,000 wells have been drilled over 6 decades in the GOM, is the correct info.
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90E not strengthening nor weakening, it is though, looking much better on satellite than it did yesterday evening.

EP, 90, 2010052812, , BEST, 0, 126N, 955W, 25, 1006, LO,



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90E Model Plots

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I just wanted to say what I found interesting from the hurricane conference a little while ago.

The number of storms that is being forecast from the ECMWF is 18-28 with 260-312% ACE.
The UKMET also was 16-25 if I remember correctly, the ACE was also up to 312%. I don't remember the lower range but it was over 200% as well.
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Wow! That many? I thought it was only about 4000. But I cannot verify that either.
Quoting Ossqss:
Does anyone know how many wells are in the Gulf in total? I heard 30,000 several time, but cannot verify it....
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MiamiHurri very smart ...
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Quoting Patrap:
Facts to consider

a) Cheney secret meetings energy task force, 2001
b) Tripling of permits for offshore drilling by 2003
c) Quadrupling of exemptions from procedure/equipment for platforms by 2005
d) Doubling of tax breaks for oil companies by 2006
e) Proof of deep and persistent corruption in MMS by 2007


U.S. Said to Allow Drilling Without Needed Permits for DeepWater in 2009 under Obama watch! WHY!
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20443
Quoting xcool:
MiamiHur yeah and guess whats.
Yeah?
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Quoting 850Realtor:
Just logged in for the first time this season and trying to get caught up. Can someone fill me in real quick about the EPAC system? Is that coming into the Gulf and where might it be going? Have noticed a few people mentioning...not good for Pensacola and areas West...oil or storm or both?
I too would like to see everyone's opinion on the EPAC this morning also
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Thank You Dr......Mixed blessings with the eddy break-off......Just horrible news for the Gulf it we get a rapid intensification event during h-season as a result.....Please Remember Our Veterans this Weekend and on Monday Folks; My Dad (83) is retired Air Force/CIA and gonna drive down to visit the old Cold War Warrior this weekend in Miami....(and "extract" him out if a hurricane threatens down there later this year).
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LA & TX would never go for that... Florida on the other hand, most Floridians oppose offshore drilling.
Quoting CaneWarning:


I would sign a petition that would not allow any new drilling in the gulf. :)
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Quoting CaneWarning:


Maybe the season will start out slow, but I doubt it.
Well one of Jeff Masters' blogs that he published a couple weeks ago spoke about a certain delay to the hurricane season. He was saying that the season my start late but when it gets going its going to be fire, he was using 2004 as a comparison. I doubt that we will have a "delay" to the hurricane season but it definitely is in the realm of possibility.
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MiamiHur yeah and guess whats.
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Does anyone know how many wells are in the Gulf in total? I heard 30,000 several time, but cannot verify it....
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8186
Quoting xcool:
3 days to hurricanes seson..
Just 84 hours.
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Quoting kmanislander:


True enough but I was thinking short term. Just long enough to cap the well and/or get the relief well online. Unfortunately time may not be anyone's side with the type of season forecasted.


Maybe the season will start out slow, but I doubt it.
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Facts to consider

a) Cheney secret meetings energy task force, 2001
b) Tripling of permits for offshore drilling by 2003
c) Quadrupling of exemptions from procedure/equipment for platforms by 2005
d) Doubling of tax breaks for oil companies by 2006
e) Proof of deep and persistent corruption in MMS by 2007
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Just logged in for the first time this season and trying to get caught up. Can someone fill me in real quick about the EPAC system? Is that coming into the Gulf and where might it be going? Have noticed a few people mentioning...not good for Pensacola and areas West...oil or storm or both?
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3 days to hurricanes seson..
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About

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.