Alex continues to slowly organize

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 7:17 PM GMT on June 28, 2010

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Tropical Storm Alex continues to slowly grow more organized as it steams away from Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. Satellite loops show that Alex's heavy thunderstorms continue to increase in areal extent, and low level spirals bands are slowly building to the south and north. The clockwise flow around an upper-level high pressure system a few hundred miles west of Alex is bringing about 15 knots of wind shear to the storm, which is slowing intensification. Heavy thunderstorm activity is limited on the storm's northwest side, thanks to the shear and some dry continental air flowing off the coast of North America. Sea Surface Temperatures are very warm, 29°C. The latest Hurricane Hunter center fix, at 12:07 pm CDT, showed a central pressures of 990 mb, a 1 mb rise in six hours. Top winds were holding steady near 60 mph. Alex has stalled out the last few hours, as it began to "feel" the trough of low pressure to its north breaking down the high pressure ridge that has been pushing the storm to the west-northwest. This stall has allowed the storm to churn up cold water from the depths, which is probably interfering with development. Satellite loops show that Alex has a very large circulation covering about 2/3 of the Gulf of Mexico. We can expect that should Alex become a Category 2 or stronger hurricane, its storm surge will affect a much wider stretch of coast than Hurricane Dolly of 2008 did.


Figure 1. Afternoon satellite image of Alex.

Track forecast for Alex
The latest 12 UTC (7am CDT) runs of our most reliable computer models have come into much better agreement. A consensus forecast arrived at by averaging together most or all of the tracks of our top models--the GFS, ECMWF, GFDL, NOGAPS, HWRF, UKMET, and GFDN--is pretty much what NHC always uses as the basis of their forecast. This consensus forecast has narrowed in on the region just south of the Texas/Mexico border as being the most likely landfall location, with the usual cone of uncertainty surrounding it. The computer model that had been making the northernmost landfall predictions, the Canadian model, is now projecting a landfall 100 miles south of the Texas/Mexico border. There has been a general southward shift of the models in their latest runs, and the most northerly landfall location, near Port Mansfield, is now being predicted by the HWRF model. The earliest landfall time is Wednesday morning, and the latest is Thursday morning. Which model should you trust? Last year, the best performing models at the 3 day forecast period were the GFS, Canadian, ECMWF, and GFDL.

With steering currents relatively weak, the uncertainty in landfall location is high. The average error in an NHC 72-hour track forecast last year was 230 miles, which is about the distance from Brownsville to Port O'Connor. Consider also that the NHC cone of uncertainty is the region where 2/3 of the time (using the last 5 years of statistics) the center of a storm will go. Forecast errors tend to be equally large along track (speed errors) and cross-track (deviations from side-to-side), so that means that about 20% of the time a storm will not be in the cone of uncertainty. Given the slow motion of Alex and the recent uncertainty of the computer models, people living just beyond the edge of the cone of uncertainty should not be confident yet that Alex will miss them.

To get the probability of receiving tropical storm force winds or hurricane force winds for your location, I recommend the NHC wind probability forecasts. The 10am CDT (15 UTC) wind probability product predicted that Brownsville, Texas had the highest odds of getting a direct hit from Alex:

Brownsville, TX: 67% chance of tropical storm conditions (winds 39+ mph), 16% chance of hurricane force winds (74+ mph). This is the cumulative probability through Saturday morning. The wind probability forecasts also include separate probabilities for each 12-hour period between now and three days from now, and each 24 hours for the period 4 - 5 days from now.

La Pesco, MX: 49% tropical storm, 6% hurricane.

Tampico, MX: 31% tropical storm, 4% hurricane.

Corpus Christi, TX: 45% tropical storm, 6% hurricane.

Freeport, TX: 23% tropical storm, 2% hurricane.

Galveston, TX: 21% tropical storm, 1% hurricane.


Figure 2. Skill of computer model forecasts of Atlantic named storms during 2009. OFCL=Official NHC forecast; GFS=Global Forecast System model; GFDL=Geophysical Fluid Dynamic Laboratory model; HWRF=Hurricane Weather Research Forecasting model; NOGAPS=Navy Operational Global Prediction System model; UKMET+United Kingdom Met Office model; ECMWF=European Center for Medium Range Weather Forecasting model; CMC=Canadian GEM model; TVCN=one of the consensus models that lends together all (or most) of the above models; BAMM=Beta and Advection Model (Medium Layer.) Image credit: National Hurricane Center 2009 verification report.

Uncertainty in the NHC Cone of Uncertainty
A research project funded by NOAA known as the Joint Hurricane Testbed has produced a remarkable number of tools now in operational use at the National Hurricane Center to improve hurricane forecasts and warnings. One of these projects, called "Prediction of Consensus TC Track Forecast Error and Correctors to Improve Consensus TC Track Forecasts", was an effort by Dr. Jim Goerss at the Navy Research Lab to improve the accuracy of the NHC "cone of uncertainty" (AKA the "Cone of Death") showing where a storm is expected to track 2/3 of the time. The radius of the circles that make up the cone are based on error statistics of the official NHC forecast over the past five years. We can expect in certain situations, such as when the models are in substantial disagreement, a consensus forecast made using these models will have much greater than average errors. Since the NHC typically bases their forecast on a consensus forecast made using a combination of reliable hurricane forecasting models, it is instructive to view the "GPCE" (Goerss Prediction Consensus Error) circles to see if the uncertainty cone should be smaller or larger than usual. The consensus forecast I'll look at is called "TVCN", and is constructed by averaging the track forecasts made by most of (or all) of these models: GFS, ECMWF, NOGAPS, GFDL, HWRF, GFDN, and UKMET. In the case of this morning's 12 UTC (7am CDT) June 28 run of these models, here is what the radius of the "cone of uncertainty" should be, in nautical miles:

12 hours: 42 nm
24 hours: 73 nm
36 hours: 96 nm
48 hours: 112 nm
72 hours: 173 nm
96 hours: 327 nm
120 hours: 376 nm

And here is the radius of NHC's "cone of uncertainty" for their official forecast, based on the average errors for the past five years:

12 hours: 36 nm
24 hours: 62 nm
36 hours: 85 nm
48 hours: 108 nm
72 hours: 161 nm
96 hours: 220 nm
120 hours: 285 nm

So, the GPCE error estimates are showing that the latest forecasts for Alex out to 72 hours are 4% - 17% higher in uncertainty than average. The 4 - 5 day forecasts are 32% - 49% more uncertain than average--but of course, we expect Alex to be inland at those times.

Intensity forecast for Alex
Alex is currently over a region of ocean with relatively low total ocean heat content (about 10 - 30 kJ/cm^2). By Tuesday and Wednesday, the heat content will increase to 40 - 70 kJ/cm^2, which is high enough to allow Alex to rapidly intensify. Wind shear is currently a moderate 15 knots, and is projected by the SHIPS model to decrease to the low range, below 10 knots, on Tuesday and Wednesday. The combination of low wind shear and high ocean heat content should allow Alex to intensify into a hurricane. NHC is giving Alex a 78% chance of being a hurricane on Wednesday morning, and a 16% chance it will be a major hurricane at that time. Water vapor satellite images, though, show plenty of dry air over Texas and the adjoining waters, and this dry air may turn out to be a significant detriment to Alex. Another factor limiting Alex's intensification may be that the atmosphere is more stable than usual right now--temperatures at 200 mb are a rather warm -50°C, and are expected to warm an additional 1 - 2 degrees by Wednesday. Another factor limiting Alex's intensification may be its slow forward speed. Alex has already stalled out once, and may stall out later in its path, as well. A stalled-out storm tends to pull up cold water from the depths, limiting intensification. In short, Alex has the potential to intensify into a major hurricane, but there are enough roadblocks that I give a 20% chance of this happening.

Elsewhere in the tropics
None of the reliable computers models is calling for tropical storm formation over the the next seven days in the Atlantic.

Wind and ocean current forecast for the BP oil disaster
It currently appears that Alex will not directly affect the oil slick location, other than to bring 2 - 4 foot swells to the region on Wednesday. However, because Alex is such a deep low pressure region, strong southeast winds of 15 - 25 knots will blow over the oil slick region today through Wednesday, according to the latest marine forecast from NOAA. The resulting currents should act to push oil to the west and northwest onto portions of the Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama coasts, according to the latest trajectory forecasts from NOAA and the State of Louisiana. Oil will also move westward along the central Louisiana coast towards the Texas border.

Resources for the BP oil disaster
Map of oil spill location from the NOAA Satellite Services Division
My post, What a hurricane would do the Deepwater Horizon oil 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's interactive mapping tool to overlay wind and ocean current forecasts, oil locations, etc.
Gulf Oil Blog from the UGA Department of Marine Sciences
Oil Spill Academic Task Force
University of South Florida Ocean Circulation Group oil spill forecasts
ROFFS Deepwater Horizon page
Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery from the University of Miami

Portlight continues its Haiti response
Hurricane season is here, and Haiti is not ready. Over 1.5 million Haitians are living outside in tents or under tarps, and are highly vulnerable to a hurricane. Portlight is working on constructing steel shelters out of shipping containers for homeless Haitians, as detailed in the Haitian Relief Recap blog post. Please visit the Portlight.org web site or the Portlight blog to learn more and to donate to Portlight's efforts in Haiti.


Figure 3. Still frame from the remarkable video taken inside the Haitian Presidential Palace during the 2010 earthquake.

To remind people of just how devastating the earthquake was, the Haitian government released a video earlier this month showing the inside of the Haitian Presidential Palace during the mighty Haitian earthquake.

Next post
Dr. Rob Carver is planning on making a post late tonight, and I'll have an update by 9:30am CDT on Tuesday.

Jeff Masters

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Quoting Dakster:
Flood,

Not much thought you would get a kick out of that...

Watching storms, hoping they don't come my way...


Keep rubbing that rabbits foot man...though like my grandad used to say "Being superstitious is bad luck"...LOL
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 9922
Quoting RecordSeason:
The storm is going to go north, then re-curve and hit Florida.


can't find my beating head against wall emoticon.. will have to use the other button I guess.
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Jimmy Buffet concert cancelled due to weather. Possible high tides causing stage problems.
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Gov. Rick Perry has issued a disaster proclamation
Member Since: May 27, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 4355
I hate this not knowing. I know it is not an exact science but I am very imaptient!

I would like to have some advance notice if I need to get down to Galveston to get my family out again.

Guess I will go back to wait and see mode.

You guys are such great help. I am not that savy when it comes to reading some of these charts and graphics and it is great to have a bunch like you to explain it and break it down so those like me can understand it.
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628. sdcbassman 2:58 PM PDT on June 28, 2010
Quoting GlobalWarming:


You rightfully deserve it, Storm! You're resourceful inside of this place, is absolutely invaliable. Evening, by the way.


Can someone translate this??????



JFV-ese....

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Quoting NewYork4Life:


I was just j/k buddy..


Man, glad to hear that...thought we had another one of those guys

LOL
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 9922


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Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
Na you deserve a pat on the back. You worked during the weekend which not many mets do, well unless they work at like a news station or something like that.
Hey, I worked all weekend, too. High-res wind modeling...

This SE flow associated with the trof has the potential to put oil into places that have not had any issues yet...some worried folks in the local gov't around here (and inclusive of yours truly).
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
Flood,

Not much thought you would get a kick out of that...

Watching storms, hoping they don't come my way...
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Quoting Levi32:
18z GFS going a little bit farther north than 12z....Texas instead of Mexico.





Six hours later. This GFS run seems to show about 8.5+ inches of rain in portions of central eastern Georgia in 12 hours on July 1.
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602.
Have a look here:

What will oil in the Gulf of Mexico do to a hurricane?
From the time of the ancient Greeks to the days of the wooden ships and iron men, mariners dumped barrels of oil onto raging seas to calm them during critical moments of violent storms (Wyckoff, 1886.) Oil does indeed calm wind-driven waves, thanks to the reduction in surface tension of the water that oil causes. Ripples with a wavelength shorter than 17 mm are affected by surface tension, and these ripples then cause a feedback that reduces the height of larger waves with longer wavelengths (Scott, 1986.) The reduction of surface tension also impacts the flow of air above the water, and reduces the amount of sea spray thrown into the air, both of which could affect the wind speed. Oil also damps waves by forming a thick, viscous film at the top of the water that resists water motion (Scott, 1999.) Oil also helps calm raging seas by switching off of the wind energy input needed by the wave to break. This occurs because the surface film of oil prevents the generation of ripples on the exposed crests of the waves, and this smoother surface makes the wind less able to grab onto the wave and force it to break.

So, what would happen to a hurricane that encounters a large region of oily waters? A 2005 paper by Barenblatt et al. theorize that spray droplets hurled into the air by a hurricane's violent winds form a layer intermediate between air and sea made up of a cloud of droplets that can be viewed as a "third fluid". The large droplets in the air suppress turbulence in this "third fluid", decrease the frictional drag over the ocean surface, and accelerate the winds. According to this theory of turbulence, oil dumped on the surface of the ocean would reduce the formation of wind-whipped spray droplets, potentially calming the winds. The authors propose spraying oil on the surface of the ocean to reduce the winds of a hurricane. However, the turbulence theory championed by Barenblatt et al. has been challenged by other scientists. In a 2005 interview with Newscientist magazine, turbulence expect Julian Hunt at University College London, UK, remarks, "I am very doubtful about this approach." Hunt studies turbulence both theoretically and in the laboratory, and believes that the high wind speeds in a hurricane are not caused by sea spray. In an article he wrote for the Journal of Fluid Dynamics, Hunt suggests that variations in the turbulence between different regions of the hurricane cause sharp jumps in wind speed, which are responsible for the hurricane's strongest winds. link
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Quoting Dakster:


TMI ... Btw, How is the weather?

LOL!
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Quoting Levi32:


NHC has it at 60 hours over the water on this track, which makes a major hurricane a tall order to ask for. A major hurricane in my mind is more likely if it's a Texas landfall, but my feeling for most likely landfall category right now is a 2.


If it were August/Sept it would be a different story.
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Quoting UpperLevelLOL:


Isn't this an oxymoron?


Actually, no.... it is a DOUBLE Oxymoron so it cancels itself out. Accu, Professional, and Weather should not be in the same sentance. It violates a few English grammar rules.
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.."Hey Hey..there's good Cyclone Building at Midnight"..
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125591
Quoting Dakster:


TMI ... Btw, How is the weather?


LOL...as my mother would say (imagine a thick German accent): Vy you gotta be such a a$$?

What up, bro?
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 9922
Quoting scott39:
Why is Alex only forecasted to be a Cat1 possibly low Cat2 at landfall, with such a good enviroment to develope in?


Read doc masters blog, upwelling
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Quoting scott39:
Why is Alex only forecasted to be a Cat1 possibly low Cat2 at landfall, with such a good enviroment to develope in?


NHC has it at 60 hours over the water on this track, which makes a major hurricane a tall order to ask for. A major hurricane in my mind is more likely if it's a Texas landfall, but my feeling for most likely landfall category right now is a strong 2.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 628 Comments: 26455
Quoting usa777:
It this thing going due north?

http://www.ssd.noaa.gov/goes/flt/t1/flash-vis-s.html
Thats what it looks like on Visible.
Member Since: June 13, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 6706




Product: NOAA Temp Drop (Dropsonde) Message (UZNT13 KWBC)
Transmitted: 28th day of the month at 21:20Z
Aircraft: Gulfstream IV-SP (G-IV) (Reg. Num. N49RF)
Storm Number: 01
Storm Name: Alex (flight in the North Atlantic basin)
Mission Number: 6
Observation Number: 11

Part A...

Date: Near the closest hour of 21Z on the 28th day of the month
Highest Mandatory Level For Which Wind Was Reported: 200mb
Coordinates: 19.0N 91.7W
Location: 97 miles (156 km) to the SW (233°) from Campeche, Campeche, México.
Marsden Square: 046 (About)

Level Geo. Height Air Temp. Dew Point Wind Direction Wind Speed
1000mb (29.53 inHg) Sea Level (Surface) 27.0°C (80.6°F) 26.0°C (78.8°F) 225° (from the SW) 28 knots (32 mph)
1000mb -1m (-3 ft) Other data not available.
925mb 687m (2,254 ft) 22.2°C (72.0°F) 21.8°C (71.2°F) 240° (from the WSW) 39 knots (45 mph)
850mb 1,420m (4,659 ft) 18.2°C (64.8°F) 17.7°C (63.9°F) 250° (from the WSW) 30 knots (35 mph)
700mb 3,069m (10,069 ft) 10.6°C (51.1°F) 9.0°C (48.2°F) 265° (from the W) 33 knots (38 mph)
500mb 5,810m (19,062 ft) -2.7°C (27.1°F) -3.6°C (25.5°F) 265° (from the W) 36 knots (41 mph)
400mb 7,550m (24,770 ft) -12.5°C (9.5°F) -15.4°C (4.3°F) 280° (from the W) 31 knots (36 mph)
300mb 9,700m (31,824 ft) -25.3°C (-13.5°F) -28.3°C (-18.9°F) 270° (from the W) 22 knots (25 mph)
250mb 11,000m (36,089 ft) -35.1°C (-31.2°F) -38.5°C (-37.3°F) 335° (from the NNW) 15 knots (17 mph)
200mb 12,510m (41,043 ft) -48.7°C (-55.7°F) Reading usually unavailable when air temperature is below -40°C (-40°F) 345° (from the NNW) 5 knots (6 mph)
150mb 14,340m (47,047 ft) Height extrapolated since sonde was released within 25mbs below this level.

Information About Radiosonde:
- Launch Time: 20:59Z
- About Sonde: A descending radiosonde tracked automatically by satellite navigation with no solar or infrared correction.

Remarks Section...

Splash Location: 18.99N 91.56W
Splash Time: 21:13Z
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Quoting NewYork4Life:


I'm thinking low end Cat.5 or high Cat. 4...



this is funny. he looked better over land 24 hours ago.
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Quoting BA:


ah yeah, I was an accuweather pro subscriber for years and years, they just kept going up on rates every year :)

never looked at weathertap.com if that was mentioned...not sure if it compares at all
Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
Unless he stalls over the central GOM for several days that forecast is nearly impossible.


I was just j/k buddy..
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Quoting GlobalWarming:


You rightfully deserve it, Storm! You're resourceful inside of this place, is absolutely invaliable. Evening, by the way.


Can someone translate this??????
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Quoting atmoaggie:
That's called a Billy-wobble.


LOL your reaching back to Hurricane IKE with that one.
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Quoting Floodman:


Yeah, getting hammered here in North Texas, not Alex but defintiely welcomed...

StormW looks to have the l;ock on this thing, but he will tell you it's not a dead certain lock


TMI ... Btw, How is the weather?
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18z GFS going a little bit farther north than 12z....Texas instead of Mexico.

Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 628 Comments: 26455
Alex is going to be one bad dude in my opinion!!!
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Quoting TropicalNonsense:



the whole basic forecast track was dependant on reliable
forward motion. lol

things are going to only get more complicated now and the models dol not
perform so well with so many weather systems interacting all at once.

Do you not agree Levi?



Yes the situation is more complicated than it looks....the models in this good of agreement make it look like everything is set in stone from here on out, but it may not be so....we'll have to see if there is any shift when the G-IV data gets into the 0z runs.

I should point out though....the track shown by the NHC and the models is not out to lunch or anything, and is very possible. But it is the job of the forecaster to keep looking for possibilities where the computer can be wrong.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 628 Comments: 26455



Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125591
Looks like Dolly:

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Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
Accuweather professional.


Isn't this an oxymoron?
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Why is Alex only forecasted to be a Cat1 possibly low Cat2 at landfall, with such a good enviroment to develope in?
Member Since: June 13, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 6706
GFS 18z into southern Texas
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Well we can say Alex came close to making a second landfall today on the Cayos Arcas, but it did not. It did however pas within 3 miles of the island chain earlier in the day.
Member Since: May 27, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 4355
615. BA
Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
Accuweather professional.


ah yeah, I was an accuweather pro subscriber for years and years, they just kept going up on rates every year :)

never looked at weathertap.com if that was mentioned...not sure if it compares at all
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Quoting matt03blueoptima:
does anyone have a link to alex sat immagery for the past hours? thanks in advance




Link
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Quoting StormW:


That's what I was thinking...and, look how small it is compared to everything else...plus, orientation on the western periphery is SE-NW, if not SSE -NNW


Indeed....and if Alex keeps stalling and spending more time over the gulf than expected....that ridge could just bowl right on by to the east and open up the NW steering currents again over the western gulf with Alex still sitting down there.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 628 Comments: 26455
Quoting HurricaneSwirl:


It's either a VERY slight wobble or some sort of illusion.
That's called a Billy-wobble.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
What is that showing,TampaSpin?Riding up the coast?
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It this thing going due north?

http://www.ssd.noaa.gov/goes/flt/t1/flash-vis-s.html
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Quoting CCkid00:
Thanks Flood~ i'll be watching. gonna be a lllooonnnngggg hurricane season, especially with oil in the gulf. i'm in Denham Springs (between Baton Rouge and New Orleans) and we are getting a hefty thunderstorm right now (the 2nd today) from the outer bands of Alex.


Yeah, getting hammered here in North Texas, not Alex but defintiely welcomed...

StormW looks to have the l;ock on this thing, but he will tell you it's not a dead certain lock
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 9922
Quoting NewYork4Life:


I'm thinking low end Cat.5 or high Cat. 4...
Unless he stalls over the central GOM for several days that forecast is nearly impossible.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21032
Quoting Levi32:
What is interesting is having the models in excellent agreement now on track....but Alex is not cooperating with the forward speed forecasts, which so far have been way too fast due to his flat-out stalling. If he doesn't get moving tonight, it could change a few things, likely to the south at first, but if he waits even longer than that, it could shift back north. It's just a speculative possibility right now, but we should keep in mind that he is defying the speed forecasts.



the whole basic forecast track was dependant on reliable forward motion. lol

things are going to only get more complicated now and the models do not
perform so well with so many weather systems interacting all at once.

Do you not agree Levi?

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About JeffMasters

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