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 , 8:40 PM GMT on July 23, 2010
Tropical Depression Bonnie is nearing the end of its traverse of South Florida, and passage over land has significantly disrupted the small storm. Satellite images show almost no heavy thunderstorms near Bonnie's center of circulation, and the center is now exposed to view. Radar-estimated rainfall from the Key West radar shows that Bonnie dumped very little rain on South Florida--maximum rainfall amounts from the storm were about four inches over a small region southwest of Miami. Water vapor satellite loops show that Bonnie is embedded in a large area of dry air, thanks to an upper level low to the west over the Gulf of Mexico. This low has brought an increasing amount of wind shear to Bonnie today, and shear has increased from 20 knots this morning to 25 knots this afternoon. Surface observations in South Florida currently don't show any tropical storm force winds. Bonnie's top winds today were at Fowey Rocks, which had sustained winds of 46 mph, gusting to 53 mph, at 10:45 am EDT.
Figure 1. Satellite image of Bonnie from NASA's MODIS instrument, taken at 17:10 UTC July 23, 2010. Image credit: NASA/.
Track Forecast for Bonnie
The latest set of model runs from 8am EDT (12Z) are very similar to the three previous sets of runs, and this degree of consistency gives me confidence that Bonnie will stay within the cone of uncertainty depicted on the track forecast images. The projected track will take Bonnie over the oil spill region, and the storm's strong east to southeasterly winds will begin to affect the oil slick on Saturday morning. Assuming Bonnie doesn't dissipate over the next day, the storm's winds, coupled with a likely storm surge of 2 - 4 feet, will drive oil into a substantial area of the Louisiana marshlands. However, the current NHC forecast has Bonnie making landfall in Louisiana near 9pm CDT Saturday night. According to the latest tide information, this will be near the time of low tide. This will result in much less oil entering the Louisiana marshlands than occurred during Hurricane Alex in June. That storm brought a storm surge of 2 - 4 feet and sustained winds of 20 - 30 mph that lasted for several days, including several high tide cycles. The latest oil trajectory forecasts from NOAA (Figure 2) predicts potential oil impacts along a 150-mile stretch of Louisiana coast on Sunday.
Figure 2. Oil Trajectory forecast for Sunday for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Image credit: NOAA.
Intensity Forecast for Bonnie
Bonnie has been disrupted by its passage over land, and it will take at least six hours for the storm to reorganize once it moves over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico tonight. This process will be hindered by the large upper-level low to its west. If the low remains in its present location, relative to Bonnie, it will bring high wind shear of about 20 - 30 knots to the storm. This will allow for only slow intensification, or may even destroy Bonnie. Bonnie is unlikely to intensify to more than a 50 mph tropical storm, and I give a 30% chance it will dissipate over the Gulf of Mexico before making landfall. The GFDL model predicts Bonnie could hit the Gulf Coast as a 50 mph tropical storm, but the other major models such as the HWRF, GFS, ECMWF, and NOGAPS show a much weaker storm. I don't give Bonnie any chance of becoming a hurricane. NHC is putting the odds of Bonnie being a hurricane at 2 pm Saturday at 4% (5pm advisory.)
If you are wondering about the specific probabilities of receiving tropical storm force winds at your location, I recommend the wind probability product from NHC. The latest probabilities of various locations getting tropical storm force winds, 39 mph or higher, from the 5pm EDT advisory:
Buras, LA 30%
New Orleans 28%
Mobile, AL 37%
Pensacola, FL 30%
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 Saturday morning.
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