Large and intensifying Hurricane Alex bears down on northeastern Mexico, South Texas

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:23 PM GMT on June 30, 2010

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Hurricane Alex continues to intensify as it slowly bears down on the coast of northeastern Mexico. Brownsville long-range radar shows the spiral bands of Alex, which has dumped heavy rains of up to four inches in northeastern Mexico and near Brownsville, according to satellite estimates of rainfall. The Brownsville airport received 0.78" of rain in the hour ending at 8am CDT, and 0.61" in the hour ending at 9am CDT. Floods from Alex have already killed ten people--six in Nicaragua, and two each in El Salvador and Guatemala.


Figure 1. Snapshot of the Brownsville long-range radar showing Hurricane Alex approaching the coast.

The 7:12am CDT eye penetration of the Hurricane Hunters found a central pressure of 959 mb, a modest 2 mb drop from the reading four hours previous to that. They noted a very tiny eye, ten miles in diameter, with a gap in the northwest side. Tiny eyes like this tend to be unstable, and in the 9:05am CDT eye penetration, the Hurricane Hunters found that the inner eyewall had collapsed, and the pressure had risen 2 mb, to 961 mb. A new, much larger eye will form today as the day progresses. During these "eyewall replacement cycles", a hurricane will typically weaken a few millibars , and the strongest winds will spread out over a larger area as the hurricane conserves angular momentum. Thus, the hurricane still has about the same amount of destructive power, it is just spread out over a larger area. This tends to increase the hurricane's storm surge, but lessens the wind damage, since the extreme winds of the inner eyewall are no longer present. Satellite loops show a large, well-organized storm with increasing amounts of low-level spiral bands forming, and improving upper-level outflow. Data from last night's flight of the NOAA jet showed an unusually moist atmosphere surrounds Alex, so dry air is no longer a problem for it. It's a good thing Alex has less than a day before making landfall, or else is would be a large and very powerful major hurricane.


Figure 2. Visible light image of Tropical Storm Alex taken at 19:35 UTC (2:35 pm CDT) on June 29, 2010, by NASA's Aqua satellite. At the time, Alex was a tropical storm with 70 mph winds. Image credit: NASA.

Storm Surge
Traditionally, a storm's ranking on the Saffir-Simpson Scale--the familiar Category 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 rankings we always talk about--have also been used to quantify storm surge threat. However, large, weaker storms that cover a huge area of the Gulf of Mexico, like Alex, can generate a larger storm surge than a smaller but more intense hurricane with a higher Saffir-Simpson rating. Thus, the National Hurricane Center has formally discontinued use of the Saffir-Simpson scale to characterize storm surge, and is studying the possibility of issuing separate Storm Surge Warnings a few years from now. These would be in addition to their traditional Hurricane Warnings. To give us a better idea of a storm's surge potential, Dr. Mark Powell of NOAA's Hurricane Research Division has developed the Integrated Kinetic Energy scale to rank storms. The scale ranges from 0 to 6, and a parallel wind damage scale that runs from 0 to 6 is also generated. Alex had an Integrated Kinetic Energy of 2.6 on the 0 to 6 scale at 1:30pm CDT yesterday, and its destructive potential rating for winds was just 1.2. Thus, Alex's surge ranked alomst one-and-a-half categories higher in destructive potential than its wind. These numbers have probably increased by a full category since yesterday afternoon. NHC is giving a 40% - 60% chance of a storm surge of at least 3 feet affecting the Brownsville area, and 10% - 30% chance the surge will exceed 5 feet. In theory, a Category 2 hurricane moving WNW at 5 mph can bring a storm surge of up to 8 - 9 feet to the South Texas and northern Mexican coast.

Other Impacts
Alex is bringing bands of heavy rain to the coasts of Texas and Mexico, as seen on the Brownsville, Texas radar. Hurricane local statements with projections for how Alex will affect the coast are now being issued by the National Weather Service in Brownsville and Corpus Christi. Flooding damage from the expected 6 - 12 inches of rain from Alex will be the main concern. Wind damage is a lesser concern, since the core of Alex is making landfall in a swampy, sparsely populated region of Mexico. The combined wind, surge, and flooding damage from Alex may be similar to 2008's Hurricane Dolly, which hit near Brownsville. Dolly was a Category 2 hurricane offshore that weakened to a Category 1 hurricane with 85 mph winds when it made landfall, and did about $1 billion in damage. Dolly also generated two weak EF-0 tornadoes, and Alex is capable of generating a few tornadoes as well, according to the latest discussion from NOAA's Storm Prediction Center. The atmosphere is moderately unstable, there is plenty of moisture, and wind shear at low levels has been increasing this morning. The greatest threat for tornadoes will occur late this afternoon, on the right side of where the storm makes landfall.

Alex in historical context
Alex is the first June hurricane since Hurricane Allison of 1995. Allison briefly became a minimal 75 mph hurricane before weakening and hitting the Florida Panhandle as a tropical storm. Alex is the strongest June hurricane since Hurricane Bonnie of 1986, which had 85 mph winds. Bonnie was the first hurricane I flew into as a member of the Hurricane Hunters. Bonnie made landfall along the upper Texas coast, and caused less than $20 million in damage. If Alex strengthens to 90 mph winds, it will be the strongest June hurricane since Hurricane Alma of 1966, which had 125 mph winds as it skirted the Florida Keys. There have been only ten hurricanes in May or June since 1945; only four of these were major Category 3 or higher storms.

Track forecast for Alex
All of the models take Alex to the west or west-northwest into northern Mexico by early Thursday morning. However, the steering currents are fairly weak, and Alex could stall and move erratically at times today. I don't anticipate that this weakness in the steering currents will allow Alex to move northward and make landfall in Texas. After landfall, the ridge of high pressure forcing Alex westward should remain in place and strengthen, keeping Alex's remnants over northern Mexico for several days.

Intensity forecast for Alex
Alex is over a region of ocean with moderately high total ocean heat content . Wind shear has fallen to a low 5 knots, and is projected by the SHIPS model to remain in the low range, below 10 knots, through landfall. The combination of low wind shear, moderately high ocean heat content, and plenty of moisture should allow Alex to continue to intensify today. Alex's pressure is already characteristic of a Category 3 hurricane, but the storm is so large that it is taking time for the winds to catch up to the pressure falls. It is unlikely that Alex's winds will be at Category 3 strength at landfall, since the storm is undergoing an eyewall replacement cycle, and does not have time to build a tight inner eyewall with strong winds before landfall. A Category 2 storm at landfall looks more likely.

Elsewhere in the tropics
The latest run of the NOGAPS model predicts the formation of a tropical disturbance in the Western Caribbean on Monday. None of the other models is showing anything brewing over the coming seven days.

Wind and ocean current forecast for the BP oil disaster
Alex is generating very rough conditions over the Deepwater Horizon blowout location, with 6 - 8 foot waves and 3 - 4 foot swells. Strong southeast to south winds of 15 - 25 knots will blow over the oil slick region today through Thursday, according to the latest marine forecast from NOAA. The resulting currents will push oil to many protected bays and estuaries that haven't seen oil yet. In addition, the 1 - 2 foot storm surge Alex is generating along the Louisiana coast will act to push oil deep into some low-lying marshlands. While this oil will be diluted some by the wave action, the impact of the oil and accompanying toxic dispersants on the marshlands is of concern. The latest trajectory forecasts from NOAA and the State of Louisiana show oil will also move westward along the central Louisiana coast towards the Texas border. Winds will decrease to 10 - 15 knots Friday through Monday but remain out of the southeast, keeping the pressure on the regions of coast in Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi that are seeing oil hit their shores this week.

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

Next post
Either Rob Carver or myself will do an update late this afternoon or this evening.

Jeff Masters

Hurricane Alex (LRandyB)
Weather inbound to Hurricane Alex.
Hurricane Alex
Hurricane Alex (LRandyB)
Weather inbound to Hurricane Alex.
Hurricane Alex
Hurricane Alex (LRandyB)
Flight deck view from a WC-130J Hurricane Hunter aircraft
Hurricane Alex

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Quoting rareaire:
ok Flood that actually makes sense. Tampa is passionate if not sometimes over the top, Remind you of anyone we know! lol


LMAO...
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1497. 47n91w
Quoting SeALWx:


Exactly my point. The beam is traveling at an upward angle as the curvature of the earth falls away from the beam angle. It's just not possible to 'see' the near ground environment with radar.


And since we're on this topic, it might be prudent to post what levels radar tilts actually look like.

The base reflectivity scan (0.5 degrees) is the lowest colored band on this image... the dark-blue(ish). It's a pretty thin slice that by 120 miles out from the radar site, is 10,000 feet above ground level.

From NWS JetStream MAX:

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The latest imagery shows alex might have a new eye, and its very small.
Member Since: August 16, 2009 Posts: 1 Comments: 93
Is the rain over Florida from Alex?
Member Since: April 26, 2009 Posts: 3 Comments: 3667
Quoting Baltimorebirds:
I'm not going to say anything much but the same people who were talking about people posting worthless post about crow are posting about people getting bannned........


Good point. Those posting complaints about others posting worthless blogs are just as guilty of it themselves.
Member Since: September 1, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 1793
Quoting Floodman:


FALSE...I'm in the DFW airport area and the skies are relatively clear. The convection here (south and west of my current location) is not associated with Alex


Sorry, I was wrong...looks like the far northern periphery is just entering my area
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1490. angiest
Quoting Floodman:


FALSE...I'm in the DFW airport area and the skies are relatively clear. The convection here (south and west of my current location) is not associated with Alex


Well, from the NWS Ft. Worth discussion:

Update...
no major changes to the forecast. Slightly adjusted maximum
temperatures as Waco and Temple have already reached 84 despite the
cloud cover. Abundant moisture and atmospheric destabilization
should lead to showers and thunderstorms across the area tonight.
The best chances will be south of a Comanche to Hillsboro to
Athens line where moisture associated with Hurricane Alex will
have the greatest influence. North of that line scattered showers
and thunderstorms are still possible in the afternoon. Morning
soundings across the area had precipitable water values over two
Standard deviations above normal so heavy rainfall and localized
flooding is possible in areas where showers do develop.
Member Since: August 26, 2006 Posts: 16 Comments: 4766
Quoting SeALWx:


Pot..this is Kettle, over.
Too funny... How much rain you getting up there. We have had less than an inch on Fowl River.
Member Since: February 27, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1125
BRO: Brownsville [Cameron Co, TX] public reports FLOOD at 03:02 PM CDT -- public reported that ringold street is flooded near the gladys porter zoo and the childrens museum is starting to flood
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Quoting Drakoen:
79.1 knots* (~ 90.9 mph*)
Category One Hurricane*


questionable reading though
Member Since: March 10, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 7683
Quoting SamTeam:


I have a frined who has a 'fishing house' down there; small fishing village type, 1 store, a flashing yellow light, gas station, boat storage & RV park & that is just about the extent of San Fernando!


Looks like quite a bit more than that on Google Earth. It's about 4 times the size of Port Isabel.
Member Since: July 15, 2005 Posts: 3 Comments: 1267
Quoting Floodman:


FALSE...I'm in the DFW airport area and the skies are relatively clear. The convection here (south and west of my current location) is not associated with Alex

dude that contori joke was awsome
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Not much going on in Houston today with Alex. I've recorded a whopping .16" of rain so far!
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1482. Drakoen
79.1 knots* (~ 90.9 mph*)
Category One Hurricane*
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30489
1480. SeALWx
Quoting Baltimorebirds:
I'm not going to say anything much but the same people who were talking about people posting worthless post about crow are posting about people getting bannned........


Pot..this is Kettle, over.
Member Since: April 2, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 196
ok Flood that actually makes sense. Tampa is passionate if not sometimes over the top, Remind you of anyone we know! lol
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check alex out on national mosaid radar.

http://radar.weather.gov/ridge/Conus/full_loop.php
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BRO: Brownsville [Cameron Co, TX] nws employee reports FLOOD at 02:57 PM CDT -- off duty nws employee reported that water covered boca chica boulevard near the intersection of international.
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Just thought I would post this image of the ASCAT pass about 3 hours ago showing a nice tight hurricane core. A little elongated E to W.

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Quoting CCkid00:

we are getting heavy bands of rain with some good gusts of wind, as far as Baton Rouge, La.


Been watching bands moving closer all day here in Dallas, and the sky just opened up a few minutes ago. Gonna be a rough rush hour, but nothing compared to what our friends on the coast are dealing with, so I'll suck it up.
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Quoting angiest:


I wouldn't be surprised by a pressure rise on this pass.


My guess is down 1
Member Since: October 1, 2007 Posts: 81 Comments: 26511
Quoting duajones78413:
I see bands from this storm as far as Dallas


FALSE...I'm in the DFW airport area and the skies are relatively clear. The convection here (south and west of my current location) is not associated with Alex
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I finally gave in an am watching the nut in the rain. I don't think I've laughed this hard in months. The comments are more entertaining the content of the live cam.
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1468. Patrap
NEXRAD Radar
Brownsville, Velocity Azimuth Display Wind Profile Range 124 NMI


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Quoting nrtiwlnvragn:


91W.INVEST



lol
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 115080
2.34 inches here in Destrehan La. today so far..
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961.2mb

195500 2426N 09641W 8429 01158 9612 215 215 108019 022 033 002 00
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1464. Becca36
Quoting TampaWeatherBuff:


But perverse fantasies of a Florida landfall NEVER die! ;)

LOL XD
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Quoting Floodman:


No, OZ is banned...
Did TampaSpin get banned?
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21193
BRO: Harlingen [Cameron Co, TX] public reports FUNNEL CLOUD at 02:58 PM CDT -- public reports funnel cloud near harlingen airport.
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I don't see Alex diving to the southwest, if anything, a due westward movement. It's currently moving WNW from what I can see.
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Anyone watching the wave off the coast of Africa right now? I know it's early, but seems to be developing....
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1459. angiest
Quoting Orcasystems:
Inbound run



I wouldn't be surprised by a pressure rise on this pass.
Member Since: August 26, 2006 Posts: 16 Comments: 4766
1457. Patrap


Thanx for that image..

My Eye is stinging
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OMG its gonna dive SW and stall again....maybe...maybe not
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BRO: Harlingen [Cameron Co, TX] public reports HURRICANE at 12:30 PM CDT -- public reports wind damage on wilson road, 1.5 miles west of highway 77 in harlingen. fireworks stand turned over, fence blown over, car moved across the road
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how far from cat 2 is alex at this time?
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Inbound run



AOI
Member Since: October 1, 2007 Posts: 81 Comments: 26511
OH GOD oz is striping
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Quoting rareaire:
Tampa Spin gets banned but Oz has his own variety show? Maybe some consistency would be nice.


No, OZ is banned...
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1450. angiest
The velocity scan shows essentially no calm air in the center:

filling eye velocity
Member Since: August 26, 2006 Posts: 16 Comments: 4766
Quoting StormJunkie:
Live webcam from Port Isabel. He's suiting up and getting to walk around with the webcam.

Looks like Alex will be on shore with in the next 6 hours. He sure picked up speed this morning/afternoon.


Congrats on the win last night SJ, great game.
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Quoting Hurricanes101:


People don't seem to learn

It is sad to have to waste time reading posts about serving crow and who was right and wrong at this time when this storm is about to make landfall

These people show very little class, even if it is just them joking around

I hope everyone in Northern Mexico and South Texas are truly ready for this, Alex should be making landfall within the next 3-6 hours now
Hopefully we don't suffer any casualties, so let's hope for the best.

Looks like Alex isn't done strengthening, imo. He might make it to CAT 2 status before landfall in a couple of hours.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21193

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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.