Lee's winds fan deadly Texas fires; a dangerous day for Lee's floods and tornadoes

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 4:43 PM GMT on September 05, 2011

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Texas' unprecedented heat wave and drought turned deadly yesterday when fires fanned by Tropical Storm Lee's gusty winds swept through East Texas, torching 300 homes near Austin, and killing a woman and her 18-month old daughter who couldn't escape the flames in Gladewater. At Austin Bergstrom Airport yesterday afternoon, the counter-clockwise circulation around Tropical Storm Lee brought sustained winds of 25 mph, gusting to 31. Lee didn't bring any clouds or moisture to Austin, and the afternoon high hit 102°, with a humidity of 22%. With the region enduring it's driest 1-year drought on record, yesterday's heat, dryness, and winds resulted in extremely critical fire conditions. The forecast today for Austin is marginally better--temperatures will be cooler, only reaching the upper 80s, but strong winds of 20 - 25 mph will continue to blow, and the atmosphere will be drier, with humidities in the 15 - 25% range. NOAA's Storm Prediction Center has declared a "Critical" fire weather danger area for East Texas today, one level below yesterday's "Extremely Critical" conditions. You can monitor today's fire activity by using our wundermap for Austin with the fire layer turned on. The summer of 2011 now holds every major heat record for the city of Austin, including most 100° days (67 so far), hottest month in recorded history (August, breaking the previous record by a remarkable 2.1°), hottest summer (by 1.1°), and hottest day in history (112°F, tied with Sep, 5, 2000.)

Texas' unprecedented heat
For as long as people have been taking weather measurements in Texas, there has never been a summer hotter than the summer of 2011. As wunderground's weather historian Christopher C. Burt documents in his latest blog post, seventeen major cities in Texas recorded their hottest summer on record in 2011. Most of these stations had records extending back more than 100 years, and several of the records were smashed by an amazing 3.4°F--at Lubbock and at Wichita Falls. Neighboring states also experienced unprecedented heat, with Oklahoma recording America's hottest month by any state in recorded history during July, and Shreveport, Louisiana breaking its record for hottest month by 3°F in August. Mr. Burt commented to me: " I do not believe I have ever seen a site with a long period of record, like Shreveport, where records go back to 1874, break its warmest single month on record by an astonishing 3°. This is unheard of. Usually when a site breaks its single month temperature record, we are talking about tenths of a degree, rarely a whole degree, let alone 3 degrees! Hard to believe, frankly." Texas has also had its worst fire season on record, with over 3.5 million acres burned this year, and it's driest 1-year period in recorded history.


Figure 1. Observed rainfall for the seven-day period ending at 8 am EDT Monday Sep 5, 2011. Tropical Storm Lee had dumped in excess of ten inches of rain sections of Louisiana and Mississippi (pink colors). Image credit: NOAA/AHPS.

Heavy rains from Lee creating dangerous flooding situation
Tropical Storm Lee has been absorbed by a cold front, and is no longer a tropical depression. However, the remnants of Lee are bringing torrential rains to the South and Appalachians today, and pose a serious flood threat. NOAA's latest Quantitative Precipitation Forecast warns that "an excessive and life-threatening rainfall event will be unfolding today and tonight across the Tennessee Valley and also the Southern Appalachians." A wide region of 4 - 8 inches of rain is expected along the path of Lee's remnants as they slide northeastwards along the front. These rains will likely accumulate later this week to 2 - 3 inches over New England regions devastated by Hurricane Irene's floods. Also of concern is the potential for tornadoes today. NOAA's Storm Prediction Center has logged 22 tornado reports so far from Lee, and today promises to be the most serious day for tornadoes yet, with SPC predicting a "Moderate Risk" of tornadoes across the South. Lee's heaviest rain amounts, by state, as of 10 am CDT today:

Holden, LA: 15.43"
Florence, MS: 13.45"
Mobile, AL: 11.35"
Milton, FL: 10.03"
Cumberland City, TN: 5.09"
Bridge City, TX: 3.12"
Plum Springs, KY: 3.10"


Figure 2. Predicted rainfall for the 5-day period 8am EDT Monday - 8 am EDT Saturday, Sep 10, 2011. Lee's remnants are expected to bring a large swath of 4+ inches of rain all the way to Pennsylvania. Image credit: NOAA/HPC.


Figure 3. Severe weather risk for Monday, September 5, 2011.

Hurricane Katia
Hurricane Katia is close to major hurricane strength, and is now a high-end Category 2 hurricane with 110 mph winds. Latest satellite loops show a well-defined eye and good upper-level outflow on all sides, but the hurricane still has a lopsided appearance, due to the impacts of dry air and moderate wind shear on its south side.

The computer models have finally come into agreement on the long-range future of Katia, determining that the trough of low pressure that will develop over the Eastern U.S. later this week will turn the hurricane to the north well before the storm reaches the U.S. As the storm moves northwards past North Carolina, Katia will get caught up in west-to-east moving winds associated with the jet stream, and taken northeastwards out to sea. No land areas are in Katia's cone of uncertainty, though Newfoundland, Canada will need to watch future forecasts to see how close Katia may pass to the southeastern portion of that province. The main impact of Katia will be high surf leading to beach erosion and dangerous rip currents. Long period swells from Katia are arriving at the Southeast U.S. coast today, and the entire U.S. East Coast will receive an extended multi-day period of high surf.


Figure 4. Afternoon satellite image of Hurricane Katia.

95L off the coast of Africa
A large tropical wave with plenty of intense thunderstorm activity and spin is located about 500 miles southwest of the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Africa. This wave, Invest 95L, is under a moderate 10 - 20 knots of wind shear, and is headed west at 15 mph. Water vapor satellite images show that 95L is embedded in a very moist environment. Ocean temperatures are near 28°C, which is 1.5°C above the 26.5°C threshold usually needed for a tropical storm to form. With wind shear predicted to drop to the low range tomorrow, I don't see anything that would keep 95L from becoming a tropical depression in two or so days. NHC is giving 95L a 20% chance of developing into a tropical depression by Wednesday; given the storm's rather impressive organization and spin apparent on recent satellite loops, I'd put these odds at 40%. The NOGAPS model predicts 95L will develop by Saturday, a few hundred miles north of the Northern Lesser Antilles Islands, but this storm could just as easily pass directly through the Lesser Antilles on Saturday or Sunday, and develop into a tropical storm much sooner. If you plan on being in the Lesser Antilles Islands this weekend, pay attention to 95L.

New Gulf of Mexico disturbance
A cold front swept into the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Texas behind Tropical Storm Lee early this morning. The front is expected to continue to the east and stall out Tuesday and Wednesday along a line from Louisiana to Mexico's Bay of Campeche in the southern Gulf of Mexico. Several recent runs of the ECMWF and GFS models have given support to the idea that a tropical depression would form at the tail end of this front late this week, in Mexico's Bay of Campeche. The path such a storm might take would depend strongly on where the center forms. A more northerly formation location near the top of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula would likely result in a northward motion towards the Florida Panhandle, while a more southerly formation location might lead to the storm getting trapped in a region of weak steering currents, resulting in a slow, erratic motion in the southern Gulf. NHC is currently not highlighting the Bay of Campeche in their Tropical Weather Outlook, and it will likely be Wednesday before enough heavy thunderstorms build to warrant mention.

Jeff Masters

Up In Smoke (Madermade)
Another wildfire this afternoon in Bridgeport, Tx... still burning!
Up In Smoke
Mandeville, Louisiana Lakefront during TS LEE (hurricanep)
Mandeville, Louisiana Lakefront during TS LEE
Lake Pontchartrain Lakefront (hurricanep)
TS Lee still affecting Louisiana
Lake Pontchartrain Lakefront
Tropical Storm Lee-Day 2 #2 (jennjeff1)
Tropical Storm Lee-Day 2 #2

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Joe Bastardi:
"New Canadian has path very close to 1936 hurricane"
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Quoting Stormchaser2007:




Always wanted to drop right into the eye of a major hurricane, lol.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
I think Katia MAY be a hurricane, JMO though.


Doubt it, haha
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:



Probably not that low...

LOL
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Quoting Drakoen:


Beautiful.


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Quoting WeatherNerdPR:

Still seems like a strong TS to me.



Probably not that low...
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africa seems to settled down bad news weaker waves might make it further west late in sept.
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best track i could find similar to katias. bill of 09 in the dreaded el nino year full of shear lol he was one of the beauties that season since we only got 2 majors in 09
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
I think Katia MAY be a hurricane, JMO though.


Still seems like a strong TS to me.
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Quoting kmanislander:
Good afternoon

Just last night I posted that we would have 95L today and here we are already at 60 %. That was quick Lol.

The CV season only has about a month left before it shuts down and we start watching the cold fronts in October and November for trouble much closer to home.


Definitely warrants Code Red.

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Hey Kman looking at the setup that levi pointed out in his video today looks like things will start to get intresting the next few weeks.
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Katia is likely a strong Category 3 Hurricane. 15C warm eye and -69C Celsius cold eyewall.
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CI# /Pressure/ Vmax
6.0 / 947.8mb/115.0kt
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I think Katia MAY be a hurricane, JMO though.

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Good afternoon

Just last night I posted that we would have 95L today and here we are already at 60 %. That was quick Lol.

The CV season only has about a month left before it shuts down and we start watching the cold fronts in October and November for trouble much closer to home.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:


CI# /Pressure/ Vmax
6.0 / 947.8mb/115.0kt


Final T# Adj T# Raw T#
6.0 6.2 6.2
THx Trop.
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Quoting Stormchaser2007:


Ah okay...

No problem.

IR:



WV:



Vis:



Beautiful.
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Quoting HurricaneNewb:
Taz whats the latest T readings havent seen you post them in awhile.


CI# /Pressure/ Vmax
6.0 / 947.8mb/115.0kt


Final T# Adj T# Raw T#
6.0 6.2 6.2
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95L continues to get better organized, and a tropical depression by the days end is not out of the question.

As for Katia, she's probably already a major hurricane. The 18z TAFB and SAB satellite estimates will give us a good insight on what her intensity truly is.

FWIW, ADT is giving the cyclone a T# of 6.0, however, it does appear that they have the center in the incorrect location so the T-number might be a little too low.

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We should see TD #14 by tomorrow afternoon given 95L's current organizational rate.
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Taz whats the latest T readings havent seen you post them in awhile.
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Quoting Levi32:
The newest batch of cirrus outflow flowing southward from Katia on top of the old set of outflow clouds indicates a storm of more steady intensity for the moment. The first set of cirrus told the story of rapid intensification, and this 2nd set usually indicates a more status quo storm, likely a Cat 3.

Visible loop


I see no difference - The first and second batch are both fluffy.
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bad damage reported in japan from the typhoon
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Quoting wunderweatherman123:
haha finally some else noticed lol yeah in the 0z run has 95L tracking into the islands and not developing until west of jamaica :)
It may be the system that the 0z euro run brings into the carb. . . but it will def. develop way before the islands. The latest 12z gfs has it pull an Irene type track . I bet ts in less than two days
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Quoting ncstorm:


I honestly dont think Katia is a done deal..


I give her a 1-5% chance of hitting the Continental U.S. and 5-10% chance of getting within 50-100 miles. I honestly don't see it so far given the set up the cold front looks to be too strong and the ridge will be strong as well. The issue is the trough will be just strong enough to curve it to the Northeast. I still think the curve the National Hurricane is advocating for might be a bit too sharp but nonetheless I see this staying offshore. Actually the furthest West I could see this going is Cape Cod and other than this will be mainly a wave event for the East Coast.
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Quoting Drakoen:


No sarcasm, just requesting graphics.


Ah okay...

No problem.

IR:



WV:



Vis:

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I have a newb question--if Katia intensifies more, what might that mean for her path?

A towering, giant huge storm obviously is impacted (and creates impacts on) different layers of the atmosphere than a storm whose cloud tops are closer to the surface. I'm sure it's more complicated than that, but I'd be interested in any information that anyone has about the steering of strong storms vs. weaker storms.

This is definitely a very active season. I'm no expert, but I started paying close attention to the tropics in 2004 or so, when I first moved to NJ. Living close to the ocean behooves you to pay attention to what it does. I lurk a lot and learn a lot.
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HWRF run is vaguely reminiscent of Eduoard, '96.
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Quoting ncstorm:


I honestly dont think Katia is a done deal..
Of course not, things change down the road that the models do not see.
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Taking that S shaped form...


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The newest batch of cirrus outflow flowing southward from Katia on top of the old set of outflow clouds indicates a storm of more steady intensity for the moment. The first set of cirrus told the story of rapid intensification, and this 2nd set usually indicates a more status quo storm, likely a Cat 3.

Visible loop
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95L up to 60%.

Here we go again.
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POSS T.C.F.A.
95L/INV/XX
MARK
9.8N/29.28W
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Quoting Cotillion:


#67 on 'You know you're addicted to hurricane season, when...'

LOL
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HWRF towards the northern Leeward Island, although i'm not sure why it is showing weakening...rare for this model lol.

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MAJOR
012L/MH/K/C3
MARK
24.53N/64.13W
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Quoting WeatherNerdPR:
If they don't issue an update statement on Katia in the next hour, I'm gonna lose it.


#67 on 'You know you're addicted to hurricane season, when...'
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Quoting WeatherNerdPR:

Whatever is left of my patience, sanity, and brain lol.


Quoting interstatelover7165:
The F5 Button?


LOL. XD
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95L looks like it is going to be a fully developed system E of the islands... looks very organized, moving its Coc W near 10N...
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:


Lose what?
The F5 Button?
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:


Lose what?

Whatever is left of my patience, sanity, and brain lol.
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On Sat we spent the day in Galveston, Texas and enjoyed amazing winds and the very edge of TS Lee. It was close enough to get some heat relief but far enough to not have damages.

Driving back home to Austin from Houston/Galveston was an eye-opening experience. As we got closer, we saw big plume of smoke coming from a region we could not identify. Since getting back, three well known areas (Steiner Ranch (huge neighborhood), Bastrop (city) and Spicewood (city)) are battling the big fires Dr. Masters mentioned.

They are asking everyone to be ready and prepared if you need to leave your homes - already 5000 people evacuated.

It's an odd day because the weather finally feels really nice (albeit dry) but unfortunately the winds are not helping the situation.

Thought I'd share since we're here. Weather says we may get gusts up to 35mph tonight but not a cloud in sight.
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Quoting WeatherNerdPR:
If they don't issue an update statement on Katia in the next hour, I'm gonna lose it.


Lose what?
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Quoting thewindman:
CMC 12z model shifted 100 miles west. So far Katia is south and west of all the 6z models. I think the longer Katia stays south of 26 north the more likely at least some tropical storm effects on the East Coast


I honestly dont think Katia is a done deal..
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162. SLU
That is some really quick development ...

ZCZC MIATWOAT ALL
TTAA00 KNHC DDHHMM

TROPICAL WEATHER OUTLOOK
NWS NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
200 PM EDT MON SEP 5 2011

FOR THE NORTH ATLANTIC...CARIBBEAN SEA AND THE GULF OF MEXICO...

THE NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER IS ISSUING ADVISORIES ON HURRICANE
KATIA...LOCATED ABOUT 540 MILES SOUTH OF BERMUDA.

1. A VIGOROUS TROPICAL WAVE...ACCOMPANIED BY A BROAD SURFACE LOW
PRESSURE SYSTEM...IS LOCATED ABOUT 550 MILES SOUTHWEST OF THE
CAPE VERDE ISLANDS. THIS LARGE DISTURBANCE HAS BECOME MUCH BETTER
ORGANIZED DURING THE PAST SEVERAL HOURS...AND ENVIRONMENTAL
CONDITIONS ARE EXPECTED TO REMAIN CONDUCIVE FOR A TROPICAL
DEPRESSION TO FORM DURING THE NEXT DAY OR SO. THIS SYSTEM HAS A
HIGH CHANCE...60 PERCENT...OF BECOMING A TROPICAL CYCLONE DURING
THE NEXT 48 HOURS AS IT MOVES WESTWARD TO WEST-NORTHWESTWARD AT
ABOUT 15 MPH.

ELSEWHERE...TROPICAL CYCLONE FORMATION IS NOT EXPECTED DURING THE
NEXT 48 HOURS.

$$
FORECASTER STEWART
NNNN

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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.

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