Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.
By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 3:42 PM GMT on July 22, 2010
Tropical Depression Three has formed over the Bahama Islands, and appears poised to become Tropical Storm Bonnie later today. Satellite images of TD 3 show a modest area of heavy thunderstorms that have slowly increased in intensity and areal coverage this morning. The surface circulation center is exposed to view, thanks to strong upper-level winds out of the southwest that are creating about 20 knots of wind shear. This wind shear is due to the counter-clockwise circulation of air around a large upper-level low pressure system over Florida that is moving west at about the same speed TD 3 is. Water vapor satellite loops show a large area of dry air is associated with the upper-level low pressure system, and this dry air is hindering development of TD 3. The storm is attempting to wrap a curved band of clouds around its center, on its west side. If TD 3 is able to do this, the center will be protected from shear and dry air, and more significant strengthening can occur. Surface observations in the Bahamas and several nearby ships have shown top winds in TD 3 of up to 35 mph, so the storm is close to the 40 mph winds needed to be classified as a tropical storm.
Figure 1. Water vapor satellite image showing dry air (brown colors) associated with the upper-level low over Florida. Image credit: NOAA/NESDIS.
Track Forecast for TD 3
The storm is in a fairly straightforward steering current environment, and TD 3 should progress steadily to the west to west-northwest through Saturday. This will bring the storm ashore over the Florida Keys or South Florida on Friday, and into the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday. The latest set of model runs from 2am EDT (6Z) had the advantage of having data from a flight of the NOAA jet last night, so we have higher confidence than usual in the track of TD 3 over the next two days. The location of TD 3's final landfall along the Gulf of Mexico coast has the usual uncertainties for 3 - 4 days, with the various models calling for landfall somewhere between the upper Texas coast and the Florida Panhandle coast. Given the uncertainties, the move halt operations in the Deepwater Horizon blowout recovery effort are probably wise.
Intensity Forecast for TD 3
The primary detriment to development of TD 3 for the next three days will be the presence of the large upper-level low to its west. As long as this low remains in its present location, relative to TD 3, it will bring wind shear of about 20 knots and dry air into the storm. This will limit the intensification potential of TD 3 to no more than about 10 - 15 mph per day. If the upper-level low slow down a bit, relative to TD 3, more shear will affect the storm, potentially weakening it. Conversely, if the upper-level low picks up speed and pulls away from TD 3, the storm may be able to intensify at a faster rate. None of the computer models is calling for that to happen, but it would not take much of an additional separation between TD 3 and the upper level low to substantially reduce shear and allow TD 3 to intensify into a hurricane on Saturday. I put the odds of TD 3 making it to hurricane strength in the Gulf of Mexico at 20%.
An area of disturbed weather (98L) has developed in the Gulf of Mexico's Bay of Campeche. This system is under a low amount of shear, 5 - 10 knots, and may barely have enough time to organize into a tropical depression before making landfall along the Mexican coast a few hundred miles south of the Texas border on Friday.
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
I'll have an update between 3 - 4 pm, when the Hurricane Hunters will be in the storm. I'll also speculate on the possible impact the storm will have on the oil spill region.
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