Wildfire smoke shrouds Denver; climate change expected to increase Western fires

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:16 PM GMT on June 13, 2012

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Colorado's third largest fire in recorded history, the High Park Fire, shrouded Denver and Fort Collins in acrid smoke Tuesday, causing an increase in emergency room visits related to smoke inhalation. The fire, currently burning fifteen miles west of Fort Collins, Colorado, covered over 43,000 acres (68 square miles) as of Tuesday. Firefighters reported that it was only 10% contained, and was exhibiting "extreme" behavior. A lightning strike triggered the fire on Saturday. While fire fighters try to control the southern edge of the fire, the northern perimeter is burning out of control. Six hundred eighty people and 100 fire engines are working on the ground to contain the blaze, along with air support from air tankers and helicopters. The fire has killed one person, burned 100 structures, and cost $1.6 million to fight so far. An air pollution action day has been declared for Wednesday all along the Front Range of the Rockies, from Denver to Fort Collins, due to smoke from the fire. Air pollution levels from smoke will be unhealthy for sensitive groups.


Figure 1. Fire burns in trees behind homes in the High Park wildfire near Fort Collins, Colorado, on Monday, June 11, 2012. (AP Photo)

Beetles, climate change, and Colorado fires
According to the Denver Post, the High Park Fire is burning in an area where 70% of the trees that have been killed by mountain pine beetles; the insects have devastated forests in western North America in recent years. As our climate change blogger, Dr. Ricky Rood explains, the pine beetle is killed (controlled) by temperatures less than -40°F. This is at the edge of the coldest temperatures normally seen in the U.S., and these cold extremes have largely disappeared since 1990. In Colorado, the lack of -40°F temperatures in winter has allowed the beetles to produce two broods of young per year, instead of one. The beetles are also attacking the pine trees up to a month earlier than the historic norm.


Figure 2. The historical mountain pine beetle (MPB) univoltine life cycle (above calendar arrows and linked by black arrows) and the observed MPB bivoltine life cycle (below calendar arrows and linked by red arrows). Univoltine means one brood per year, and bivoltine means two broods per year. Calendar arrow colors represent monthly temperature regimes: blue for less than 0°C, yellow for 0°-4.99°C, orange for 5°-9.99°C, and red for 10°C and higher. From Mitton and Ferrenberg, "Mountain Pine Beetle Develops an Unprecedented Summer Generation in Response to Climate Warming". This figure appeared in Dr. Ricky Rood's blog, "A Hot Day's Night: The Beetles".

A letter from the field in Colorado
Our climate change blogger, Dr. Ricky Rood, is in Boulder, Colorado this summer, and had this report on the fire Tuesday:

Saturday morning Iz and I were driving along 95th Street to Longmont to the Fairgrounds. We saw the initial plume; Iz said, "Looks like a volcano." At that time it was Colorado clear, with blue skies. The plume got to the top of its ascent and kicked off a little convection that looked like cauliflower. For the next few hours you could see the fire grow by the trunk of the plume getting thicker. It mostly blew to the east, with an occasional white cloud topping. It seemed to double in size every couple of hours.

By Sunday, the smoke was spreading all over the state. We had a couple of cool days with a northerly component in the wind. It filled up the sky, here, with haze - most of the day could not see Long's Peak. Part of the day couldn't see the foothills, say Flagstaff Mountain, which is about 8 miles away. Even with the wind moving around to the south, it's remained hazy. Today it has smelt of campfire-like smoke most of the day. Woke up sneezing. There is fine dust drawn to my computer screen and key board, which is at this point simply dirty. The dogs seem a little crazy.

It's not as acrid as the much closer Fourmile Fire a couple of years ago, but for some reason, it's the most dramatic fire I have experienced, perhaps because of the explosive nature of it. Tankers and helicopters fly over all day; they must stage from somewhere south of here. The tanks on them look hopelessly small compared with the fire, but they say, today, they finally made progress. The drought or drought potential is currently stunning, and we expect a lot of fire this year. Water only flowed in our irrigation ditch for four days before we lost priority.

There is a very nice figure in a local magazine, YS, that shows the percentage of snow pack compared with normal. We are South Platte - mid-May at 19 % normal, and not the worst in the state. Really, a nice little article in YS about how to predict a drought. Last year was nearly record wet. Right now this is setting up to be worse than the 2002 drought, which the article says was a 300 year drought. If true, then we had two 300 year droughts 10 years apart--some of our readers should be able to work on that as an attribution problem. The largest fire in Colorado history, the Hayman, was during the 2002 drought.


New Mexico's massive Whitewater Baldy Complex fire continues
The largest wildfire in New Mexico recorded history, the Whitewater Baldy Complex, continues to burn in the Gila National Forest. The lightning-sparked fire began nearly a month ago on May 15th, is 37% contained, and has devoured almost 280,000 acres (438 square miles.) Though fire weather advisories are not in effect in the region, the humidity is extremely low--humidity values of 6% were reported yesterday afternoon in Reserve, New Mexico, inside the burned area. Afternoon winds are expected to remain moderately strong, around 15 mph, over the next few days, as firefighters focus on keeping the southern edge of the fire from spreading. The fire has cost $22.6 million to fight so far.


Figure 3. The Whitewater Baldy Complex fire seen on our wundermap with the fire layer turned on. The red region outlined in yellow is the active fire perimeter.


Western U.S. wildfires expected to increase due to climate change
Expect a large increase in fires over much of the globe late this century due to climate change, says research published this month in the Journal Ecosphere. Using fire models driven by output from sixteen climate models used in the 2007 IPCC report, the researchers, led by Max Moritz of UC Berkeley, found that 38% of the planet should see increases in fire activity over the next 30 years. This figure increases to 62% by the end of the century. However, in many regions where precipitation is expected to increase--particularly in the tropics--there should be decreased fire activity. The scientists predicted that 8% of Earth will see decreases in fire probability over the next 30 years, and 20% will see decreases by the end of the century. The models do not agree on how fire danger will change for a large portion of the planet--54% for the period 2010 - 2039, and 18% for the period 2070 - 2099. Six key factors were found to control fire probabilities in the models. Most important was how much vegetation there was (NPP, Net Primary Productivity). Three other factors, about half as important, were precipitation of driest month, mean temperature of warmest month, and the difference between summer and winter temperature. Two other minor factors were mean temperature of wettest month, and annual precipitation. The authors found that future fire occurrence appears to primarily be a function of available moisture in many areas, and that the expected global increase in temperature of 3.5°C used in the models will not become the single dominant control on global wildfire. In the U.S., the regions most at risk of increased fires are the tundra regions of northern Alaska, and the West, with Arizona and Colorado at particularly high risk.


Figure 4. Predicted fractional change in fire probability for the period 2010 - 2039 (top) and 2070 - 2099 (bottom) for the average of sixteen climate models used for the 2007 IPCC report. For the 2010 - 2039 period, the models agree that 8% of Earth will see decreases in fire probability, 38% will see increases, and the models are too uncertain to tell for the other 54%. For the 2070 - 2099 period, the models agree that 20% of Earth will see decreases in fire probability, 62% will see increases, and the models are too uncertain to tell for the other 18%. Image credit: Climate change and disruptions to global fire activity, Moritz et al., 2012, from the journal Ecosphere.

Rare tornado hits Venice, Italy
A tornado hit Sant'Erasmo island in the lagoon surrounding Venice on Tuesday, ripping the roofs off of at least 12 buildings. No injuries were reported. The Capital Weather Gang has more videos and information on the event. Tornadoes are not unheard of in Venice; a strong one hit the city in 1970, killing 30 people.


Video 1. A waterspout/tornado in the Venice Lagoon on June 12, 2012.

The Atlantic is quiet
There are no threat areas to discuss in the Atlantic today. The NOGAPS and GFS models are predicting formation of a broad area of low pressure in the Western Caribbean early next week, and we will have to watch this area for development. The waters offshore of North Carolina may be another region to watch, over the next few days, along the edge of a cold front that has moved off the U.S. East Coast.

I'll have a new post Thursday or Friday.

Jeff Masters and Angela Fritz

Smokin' Hot Sun (BisonDoc)
Evening sky above the High Park Fire
Smokin' Hot Sun
Fire on the Mountain (BisonDoc)
This is the High Park Fire in Larimer County, Colorado on Day 2. The fire, first reported Saturday morning, June 9th, grew to 20,000 acres by late Sunday. More than 2,600 evacuation orders have been issued. View is looking west across Fort Collins toward the foothills above Horsetooth Reservoir.
Fire on the Mountain
Smokey Monday Sunset (MikePic)
The smoke has been nasty all along the front range, but made for a nice sunset.
Smokey Monday Sunset
High Park Wildfire (apphotos)
Fire burns through trees on the High Park wildfire near Fort Collins, Colo., on Monday, June 11, 2012. The wildfire is burning out of control in northern Colorado, while an unchecked blaze choked a small community in southern New Mexico as authorities in both regions battled fires Monday. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)
High Park Wildfire

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Can`t wait to see if the Southeast/Northeast storm is going to form in the next two to three days.
Member Since: October 15, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 4204
Quoting Hurricanes305:


When does the latest run of the Euro come out.

umm not too sure my self
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Quoting Patrap:
Holding its own heading into peak Heating..Dusk should be interesting if it makes the Shore waters.



When the model was ran on Monday we just thought it was a joke but I guess it maybe on to something.

And here it is on the Euro
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Gulf Of Mexico - False Color RGB Loop

Zoom is available
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Quoting PedleyCA:


Just chillin in the background. Weather is nice here, forecast 85 today. How's your weather been?

It has been pretty hot and dry for the most part!
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Holding its own heading into peak Heating..Dusk should be interesting if it makes the Shore waters.

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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:


Very interesting as some of our local in house computer models at fox35 in Orlando were developing this feature near Mobile and sliding it SE toward the west coast of FL on Friday or Saturday. As Pat said this could be a fly in da ointment.
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Cussing in ANY form is NOT allowed here.

Ever,

Many children come here to learn about the weather.

WunderBlogs Standards
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Quoting RitaEvac:


Models pinging the Gulf, consistently, and when they do that.....time to take note.


Oh yea. I cannot wait to see what we are looking at come this weekend/early next week
Member Since: August 18, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 598
Quoting RitaEvac:


A Big fat 0, nada, nuttin, died over Houston. folks north of Houston got slammed with up to 3-4 inches, wind damage, hail

We got about 0.10" here in Tomball. I was actually kinda happy to see this storm pass to my east, as it was looking MEAN when it was approaching. As I was driving home last night (in the direction of the storm), I actually saw what I think was a funnel trying to drop down. It wasn't coming straight down, more of a shallow angle with the ground, and there were clouds on the near side moving down in relation to the ground, and clouds on the far side moving up in relation to the ground - and vicious crosswinds as I drove under it. That storm was definitely out to mess some stuff up.
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Latest GFS run:

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Quoting DavidHOUTX:


Whatever is coming will have a name to it.


Models pinging the Gulf, consistently, and when they do that.....time to take note.
Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9628
Quoting wunderkidcayman:

it ok I enjoy being on here you guys sometime giveme something to laugh about

yeah its cool dude


When does the latest run of the Euro come out.
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nhc 72 hrs forecast has low just off of Hon/Nic
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Quoting RitaEvac:


Something is coming, just don't know what, where, or how. But something is down the pike


Whatever is coming will have a name to it.
Member Since: August 18, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 598
Quoting Hurricanes305:


Wow sorry bra.

it ok I enjoy being on here you guys sometime giveme something to laugh about
Quoting Stormchaser121:

Yes lol i'm not meaning to piss anyone off i was just making sure...

yeah its cool dude
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Quoting bohonkweatherman:
A big fat .02 here since May 15th, going to take something tropical for South Central Texas to get any decent rain, maybe that will happen before the End of the Summer? I would even take 2 or 3 tropical waves.


Something is coming, just don't know what, where, or how. But something is down the pike
Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9628
Quoting nigel20:

Hey Pedley...what's up?


Just chillin in the background. Weather is nice here, forecast 85 today. How's your weather been?
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well i just activated my tap subscription for the year
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Quoting PedleyCA:


OMG, I was watching the storm and it looked like from the Houston radar that it was doing just that, sneaking around Houston. The radar from the West looked like some was getting through. Damn, Oh well, I'll keep wishcasting Rain for you in Houston.


Might wanna wishcast rain outside of Houston...
Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9628
Last night's run of the NOGAPS:

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Quoting AussieStorm:
Thanks Dr. Masters and Angela.

I am quite worried about our upcoming summer with a predicted el nino. Our last 3 summers have been very wet around the Sydney and NSW in general. All that undergrowth is just a bomb waiting for a spark. A typical el nino summer is very hot and low humidity. the 2 main ingredients needed to fire conditions. I dread what this coming summer holds for Sydney and NSW.


So, are we in an el Niño or not?
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Quoting RitaEvac:


A Big fat 0, nada, nuttin, died over Houston
A big fat .02 here since May 15th, going to take something tropical for South Central Texas to get any decent rain, maybe that will happen before the End of the Summer? I would even take 2 or 3 tropical waves.
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Quoting PedleyCA:


So, how much did you get yesterday? Glad to see that you got some of it, or it looked like you were given some. About time wasn't it....

Hey Pedley...what's up?
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Quoting RitaEvac:


A Big fat 0, nada, nuttin, died over Houston


OMG, I was watching the storm and it looked like from the Houston radar that it was doing just that, sneaking around Houston. The radar from the West looked like some was getting through. Damn, Oh well, I'll keep wishcasting Rain for you in Houston.
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Quoting jeffs713:

One of the complications is a complete lack of proper wildfire management in much of the west over the last 20-30 years. Fires are a natural feature of the forest, and actually critical to its health. Over the last 20-30 years, fires have been prevented or quickly put out, which causes fuel to build up. Combine that with the pine beetle epidemic, and you have a recipe for disaster. Instead of fires being mild and naturally limiting, the fires are extreme and uncontrollable.

When fires get extreme, the recommended safety features for cabins and homes (clear area around the building, fire-resistant shrubs, etc.) become useless. This leads to more property destruction, and more damage overall.

If fires are going to become more frequent (as the trends are going, along with the climate), it would behoove the authorities to allow smaller, low-level fires to burn naturally, instead of rushing to put them out. At the same time, anyone who chooses to live in a fire prone area should understand that proper measures must be done to protect their property (fire breaks, fire-resistant shrubs, etc.) - and they should also realize that what mother nature wants, mother nature gets.


The authorities here in New Mexico are in a quandary as to what to do with the fires. If they let low level fires burn they are criticized. If they attack a fire early, they are criticized. We have both the governor and a southern NM congressman pointing at the Forestry service as not thinning out the trees enough but both of them would be just as pleased to see it all clear cut so their buddies can make a lot of money. Though the Mount Baldy fire in Gila is huge, it is actually a low level fire and the forest service is letting it burn itself out mostly as there are few buildings threatened and it was a lightning caused fire. We expect fires here in the spring and summer, just hope they are contained before they burn into residences or communities.
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12z Euro


Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 13 Comments: 15045
Quoting PedleyCA:


So, how much did you get yesterday? Glad to see that you got some of it, or it looked like you were given some. About time wasn't it....


A Big fat 0, nada, nuttin, died over Houston. folks north of Houston got slammed with up to 3-4 inches, wind damage, hail
Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9628
Quoting mynameispaul:
I'd like to thank everyone again for posting the long term models. We realize that they jump around and change with new runs but those of us on the Gulf Coast like to keep an eye on potential storms. Your posts never get redundant to people who may be in the storms path. LOL

Keep up the good work and keep the models coming.


Thanks also you should read some of the blogs by these guys they always have very informative things to say. Do you know Levi32.
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Quoting RitaEvac:
Always getting the rain on the coast when nobody else gets any, when everybody else gets it, we get nuttin. Just the way the weather works here in SE TX.



So, how much did you get yesterday? Glad to see that you got some of it, or it looked like you were given some. About time wasn't it....
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Quoting wunderkidcayman:

sorry kinda pissed my Brother is coming back home on firday and I am trying to enjoy the amount of freedom while I can ut every time I think about it I get pissed but anyway by the end of the year I shall be off hopefully after this training course that I have to partake in I just hope that I don't have to join the rest of the lads in Afganistan by late spring next year

Yes lol i'm not meaning to piss anyone off i was just making sure...
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Quoting wunderkidcayman:

sorry kinda pissed my Brother is coming back home on firday and I am trying to enjoy the amount of freedom while I can ut every time I think about it I get pissed but anyway by the end of the year I shall be off hopefully after this training course that I have to partake in I just hope that I don't have to join the rest of the lads in Afganistan by late spring next year


Wow sorry bra.
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I'd like to thank everyone again for posting the long term models. We realize that they jump around and change with new runs but those of us on the Gulf Coast like to keep an eye on potential storms. Your posts never get redundant to people who may be in the storms path. LOL

Keep up the good work and keep the models coming.
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Quoting GTcooliebai:
Are you thinking these systems that form are going to be strong or weak?

one will
more than likly the one over the rocket fuel
but we have to wait and see
nothing more we can do
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Always getting the rain on the coast when nobody else gets any, when everybody else gets it, we get nuttin. Just the way the weather works here in SE TX.

Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9628
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:


that is likly within the realm of the play of these things

fast and furious there is not much time
Are you thinking these systems that form are going to be strong or weak?
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Quoting Hurricanes305:


Wow, he just wanted to make sure lol.

sorry kinda pissed my Brother is coming back home on firday and I am trying to enjoy the amount of freedom while I can ut every time I think about it I get pissed but anyway by the end of the year I shall be off hopefully after this training course that I have to partake in I just hope that I don't have to join the rest of the lads in Afganistan by late spring next year
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Quoting wunderkidcayman:
new 24-72 hrs forecast maps for 24hrs show a 1010 low in the SW Caribbean


Mmmm this means something might try to get going much earlier than expected
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Quoting AussieStorm:
Chris???


Debby & Ernesto??



Check out this loop, crazy as.
Ernesto crosses Fla/GA/SC then goes up the east coast.


that is likly within the realm of the play of these things

fast and furious there is not much time
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Someone on earlier was somehow confused over what I meant when I stated that "something" is going on with the spate of megafires in the Southwest. I'm not sure why she displayed such a lack of understanding, but, well, c'est la vie. For the rest of the literate public, however, here is what I was talking about:
Southwest drought, climate warming and fuel: an explosive combination for record wildfires

By Jason Samenow

During the last two summers, wildfires have run rampant in the Southwest, setting record after record for size and destructiveness. It%u2019s no coincidence that severe drought and much above normal temperatures have been occurring in these same areas - although land-management practices and a surplus of combustible material - bear some responsibility as well.

Consider all of these wildfire records set in 2011 and 2012:

Texas: Suffered its worst wildfire season on record in 2011, with 30,457 fires which engulfed nearly 4 million acres (the most in a quarter century of records). The Bastrop Fire was the most destructive in Texas history, destroying more than 1,500 homes.

New Mexico: Has had its two largest fires in state history the last two summers.The Las Conchas Fire of 2011 scorched more than 150,000 acres setting a record for largest wildfire only to be blown away in 2012 by the Whitewater-Baldy Fire Complex which has burned more than 278,000 acres (now 37 percent contained).

Arizona: The Wallow Fire in 2011 consumed more than 500,000 acres, the largest on record in that state.

Colorado: NPR reports "the High Park Fire that sparked over the weekend has quickly grown to the second largest wildfire in that state's history". This fire has burned more than 41,000 acres and "there's no end in sight," NPR said.
Full Capital Weather Gang article here

And that's the "something" I meant. Now, it wasn't that confusing, was it? No? I didn't think so, either. ;-)
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Thats the "Fly in da ointment" one could say.



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Nice little spin over Mobile,AL. looks to be entering the gulf soon...

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new 24-72 hrs forecast maps for 24hrs show a 1010 low in the SW Caribbean
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Quoting wunderkidcayman:

yes thanks for posting now please stop we are not blind we can see it


Wow, he just wanted to make sure lol.
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Quoting Stormchaser121:

yes thanks for posting now please stop we are not blind we can see it
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wow ok that cool maybe 80% tonight and TD/TS by early morn on Thurs
PZ20 KNHC 131742
TWOEP

TROPICAL WEATHER OUTLOOK
NWS NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
1100 AM PDT WED JUN 13 2012

FOR THE EASTERN NORTH PACIFIC...EAST OF 140 DEGREES WEST LONGITUDE..

SHOWERS AND THUNDERSTORMS ASSOCIATED WITH AN AREA OF LOW PRESSURE
LOCATED ABOUT 390 MILES SOUTH-SOUTHWEST OF THE BORDER OF GUATEMALA
AND EL SALVADOR HAVE CHANGED LITTLE IN ORGANIZATION DURING THE PAST
SEVERAL HOURS. THIS LOW HAS THE POTENTIAL TO DEVELOP INTO A
TROPICAL DEPRESSION DURING THE NEXT DAY OR SO AS IT MOVES
WEST-NORTHWESTWARD OR NORTHWESTWARD AT 10 MPH. THIS SYSTEM HAS A
HIGH CHANCE...60 PERCENT...OF BECOMING A TROPICAL CYCLONE DURING
THE NEXT 48 HOURS.

A BROAD TROUGH OF LOW PRESSURE PERSISTS SEVERAL HUNDRED MILES
SOUTHWEST OF ACAPULCO MEXICO. THE ASSOCIATED SHOWER ACTIVITY HAS
BECOME LESS ORGANIZED DURING THE PAST 24 HOURS...AND DEVELOPMENT...
IF ANY...OF THIS DISTURBANCE IS EXPECTED TO BE SLOW TO OCCUR AS IT
MOVES LITTLE. THIS SYSTEM HAS A LOW CHANCE...10 PERCENT...OF
BECOMING A TROPICAL CYCLONE DURING THE NEXT 48 HOURS.

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

$$
FORECASTER BEVEN

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Quoting Stormchaser121:

Could you please stop posting the same image over and over again, we've seen it.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 31858
Quoting Tropicsweatherpr:


I kinda agree with the 60% as convection is still not like a CDO type.

The TWO is supposed to be for the chances of tropical cyclone formation over the next 48 hours, not how good it looks currently.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 31858

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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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