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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1085. slipstreampilot
3:45 PM GMT on June 20, 2012
Dr Master, I don’t agree with the causal link of climate change and pine beetles in Colorado – at least not in the way you’re presenting the information here.
The lowest record temperature in the area of the High Park Fire that I found was Fort Collins at -41F in February of 1951. Estes Park’s (to the South of the fire) lowest record temperature of -39F was that same month and year. Livermore CO (to the North) only got down to -30 for its record during the same month and year.
If I followed your line of logic in your thesis correctly I believe you’re directly linking the severity of the fire to climate change - and how climate change has allowed Pine Beetle populations to boom (due to the lack of -40F temperatures in Colorado). And this population "explosion" has created a significant level of devastation in the pine forests – and that devastation in turn has created an excessive amount of dead timber – which acts as fuel for the fire - which has correspondingly increased the severity of the fire (full circle).

I don't beleive the data supports this claim Dr Masters. As noted before, the lowest temperature on record in that area is -41F, in Fort Collins CO in February of 1951 and all of the other record temperatures in that area are in range in the -30s. Therefore, I think the logic follows that since temperatures have only once or twice approached the -40F mark (since records have been kept at least), and the typical average low mark for any given year hovers around +17 to +18F, there is rarely (if ever) any temperature control of the Pine Beetle in that area, and any link directly associated with climate change is not a valid one (at least not in this context).

Climate change and higher temperatures? Possibly. Climate change and lower humidity? Perhaps.
Climate change and increased Pine Beetle populations? I would argue there’s barely enough data to even begin to formulating that as a hypothesis, and enough data to argue against it.

I think the argument could work in places like Canada, where temperatures in the -40 range were not uncommon at times. However, I don't see any evidence to support this in Colorado. You could possibly develop a theory based on population growths in Canada and some sort of migration South to the U.S., but a static look just at Colorado doesn't work in my humble opinion.
Member Since: June 13, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 0
1084. Hurricane1216
2:25 PM GMT on June 15, 2012
Carlotta is waking up and is right on a strengthening run... it's eye popped up:

Member Since: March 3, 2012 Posts: 15 Comments: 307
1083. sunlinepr
6:23 PM GMT on June 14, 2012


What Is the United States Government Waiting for? June 11, 2012 By Akio Matsumura

We continue to post the opinions of many international scientists on the potential global catastrophe that would result from the collapse of Reactor 4 at Fukushima Dai-ichi. The message now is simple and clear—Japan’s government will not act; it is the United States who must step forward—yet no action has been taken.

The United States government is the only other logical actor, and I find it very difficult to understand why they remain silent.

If this global catastrophe occurs, what will the world history books say?
Link

Member Since: August 2, 2010 Posts: 21 Comments: 9814
1082. cheaterwon
6:01 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
Quoting weatherh98:



no


Sharks are friendly tho.lol

Link
Member Since: August 5, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 203
1081. jascott1967
5:55 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:


theres a little black spot on the sun today


Same old thing as yesterday.

I like Mudvayne's cover best.
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1080. PedleyCA
5:29 PM GMT on June 14, 2012


Big time Marine layer. I am under the right edge of that.
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1079. DavidHOUTX
5:28 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
Quoting NavarreMark:


I'm sticking with Matagorda Bay.


That seems completely feasible to me. It would also put some much needed rain into central TX
Member Since: August 18, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 616
1078. ncstorm
5:27 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
Quoting Stormchaser121:

The one in the gulf?


Yes
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 13 Comments: 15285
1077. nigel20
5:26 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
Quoting PedleyCA:
Morning Nigel

How's the weather in your neck of the woods?
Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 11 Comments: 8023
1075. WunderAlertBot (Admin)
5:25 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
JeffMasters has created a new entry.
1074. Stormchaser121
5:24 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
Quoting NavarreMark:


I'm sticking with Matagorda Bay.
Seems reasonable
Member Since: September 2, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 1148
1073. Stormchaser121
5:23 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
Quoting ncstorm:


it only goes out to 180 hours..looks north to me

The one in the gulf?
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1071. PedleyCA
5:22 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
Morning Nigel
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1070. StormTracker2K
5:22 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
GFS Ensembles and look at all the rain that is being forecasted by this model from day 6 to day 15. Also note the bend in this heavy rain later in the period up the eastern US. Things look to get interesting down the road with possibly a couple of different tropical systems near the US.

Day 6-10


Day 11-15
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1069. nofailsafe
5:22 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
New HWO for the HGX region:

.DAY ONE...TODAY AND TONIGHT

A COMBINATION OF THE SEABREEZE AND OUTFLOW BOUNDARIES MAY HELP TO
DEVELOP ISOLATED TO SCATTERED THUNDERSTORMS FROM LATE MORNING
THROUGH EARLY EVENING. THUNDERSTORMS ARE MOST LIKELY ALONG AND
EAST OF A LINE FROM HUNTSVILLE TO CONROE TO EAGLE LAKE. BECAUSE OF
THE UNSTABLE AIR MASS IN PLACE...THERE IS A SLIGHT CHANCE OF
ISOLATED STRONG OR SEVERE STORMS WITH THE MAIN SEVERE WEATHER
THREAT LARGE HAIL AND DAMAGING WINDS. HEAVY DOWNPOURS IN THE
STRONGER STORMS MAY GENERATE RAINFALL OF 2 TO 3 INCHES.
Member Since: June 18, 2010 Posts: 3 Comments: 945
1068. CosmicEvents
5:21 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
Quoting NavarreMark:


If I had to put money on it, I'd say Matagorda Bay.
I could see that. Do you have any idea if the gulf waters around there are warmer or cooler than usual?
Member Since: August 3, 2005 Posts: 10 Comments: 5581
1067. nigel20
5:20 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
Good afternoon everyone!
Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 11 Comments: 8023
1066. thunderbug91
5:19 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
Quoting Stormchaser121:

Where is this going?

Looks like the BOC storm tries to move east...
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1065. DavidHOUTX
5:19 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
12z GFS

Link
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1064. ncstorm
5:19 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
Quoting StormTracker2K:


GFS ensembles from this morning take this low to the FL Panhandle as a troughs dips down. looks like the Nogaps is onto the same solution.


I dont know..it looks like its heading north and not NE
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 13 Comments: 15285
1063. ncstorm
5:18 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
Quoting Stormchaser121:

Where is this going?


it only goes out to 180 hours..looks north to me
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 13 Comments: 15285
1062. GeorgiaStormz
5:18 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
looks like a hurricane into Mexico on the last GFS from the atlantic
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1061. Stormchaser121
5:16 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
Quoting ncstorm:
big broad area of low pressure in the BOC and the nogaps has jumped on the idea of the tropical wave developing and affecting the east coast..


Where is this going?
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1060. StormTracker2K
5:15 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
Quoting ncstorm:
big broad area of low pressure in the BOC and the nogaps has jumped on the idea of the tropical wave developing and affecting the east coast..



GFS ensembles from this morning take this low to the FL Panhandle as a troughs dips down. looks like the Nogaps is onto the same solution.
Member Since: October 26, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 2651
1059. StormTracker2K
5:14 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
Quoting thunderbug91:


Interesting, the GFS has a rain event on the west coast of florida in the next day or so...


The rain here near orlando has been nearly everyday since Sunday during the Memorial Day weekend. Out of 18 days since that weekend it has rained on all but 3 days. Since June 1st I've had 7.98" and storms are about to move in over the next hour as storms are rumbling to my north. so far this is the rainest June at my location since 2005. I hope this isn't precursor of things to come.





16 Days GFS precip map
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1058. thunderbug91
5:09 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
Quoting wunderkidcayman:

shear is droping in the W carib like I said


yes it is

Now's the chance for something to happen....
Member Since: June 23, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 583
1057. ncstorm
5:09 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
big broad area of low pressure in the BOC and the nogaps has jumped on the idea of the tropical wave developing and affecting the east coast..

Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 13 Comments: 15285
1056. thunderbug91
5:07 PM GMT on June 14, 2012


Interesting, the GFS has a rain event on the west coast of florida in the next day or so...
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1055. aspectre
5:02 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
1042 ncstorm: [360hour(15day) GFS forecast] ...do we have our first cape verde system exiting africa?

Too late. 905 jeffs713 already called dibs on the first one.
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1054. MAweatherboy1
5:00 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
I have prepared a New Blog!!! on Carlotta and Guchol. I recommend reading it :)
Member Since: February 11, 2012 Posts: 83 Comments: 7779
1053. wunderkidcayman
5:00 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
Quoting thunderbug91:

Upper level winds in West Caribbean/GOM




Lower level winds in West Caribbean/GOM




Shear in West Caribbean/GOM

shear is droping in the W carib like I said

Quoting thunderbug91:
Looks like the shear drops off near the wave in the West Caribbean.

yes it is
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1052. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
4:59 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 171 Comments: 53809
1051. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
4:54 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 171 Comments: 53809
1050. nofailsafe
4:51 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
Quoting DavidHOUTX:
SPECIAL WEATHER STATEMENT
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE HOUSTON/GALVESTON TX
1054 AM CDT THU JUN 14 2012

TXZ200-213-214-226-227-235>238-142300-
LIBERTY-HARRIS-CHAMBERS-WHARTON-FORT BEND-JACKSON-MATAGORDA-
BRAZORIA-GALVESTON-
INCLUDING THE CITIES OF...LIBERTY...CLEVELAND...DAYTON...
HOUSTON...PASADENA...KATY...TOMBALL...HUMBLE...WI NNIE...
MONT BELVIEU...ANAHUAC...EL CAMPO...WHARTON...PIERCE...
SUGAR LAND...MISSOURI CITY...RICHMOND...ROSENBERG...EDNA...
BAY CITY...PALACIOS...PEARLAND...LAKE JACKSON...ALVIN...
ANGLETON...FREEPORT...LEAGUE CITY...TEXAS CITY...FRIENDSWOOD...
GALVESTON
1054 AM CDT THU JUN 14 2012

DUE TO A VERY MOIST AND UNSTABLE ENVIRONMENT...SHORT-LIVED FUNNEL
CLOUDS ARE POSSIBLE TODAY.

PLEASE REPORT ANY FUNNEL CLOUD SIGHTING TO LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT
AND ASK THEM TO RELAY THE REPORT TO THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE.


And unstable it is:

There's a 5 J/Kg CINH reported out of Lake Charles at the 12Z sounding.



The LCL and LCF are both pretty low and close together so it won't take much to get things going this afternoon. The maximum height of those possible storms is going to be something to worry about as that will greatly influence the probability of large hail and damaging winds. Since the Equilibrium Level here is around 47,000 feet then I would definitely say that large hail is a possibility.

We'll need a bit more energy at the surface before we see anything take off but even a little help from the sea breeze to lift some of that surface air would be better than nothing.

EDIT:

Of course, it's pouring at Lake Charles with tons of convective cells but not a thing here in Houston.
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1049. thunderbug91
4:51 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
Looks like the shear drops off near the wave in the West Caribbean.
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1048. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
4:51 PM GMT on June 14, 2012


theres a little black spot on the sun today
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1047. TropicalAnalystwx13
4:49 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
Quoting ncstorm:
then starts moving back north


and then finally inland


do we have our first cape verde system exiting africa?

No, just a very, very weak low pressure area that fizzles out in the next frame.

Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32022
1046. thunderbug91
4:48 PM GMT on June 14, 2012

Upper level winds in West Caribbean/GOM




Lower level winds in West Caribbean/GOM




Shear in West Caribbean/GOM
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1045. KennyNebraska
4:47 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
Cyclone Oz has a contest on his FB page. Whoever wins is going to get a nice prize. n/k
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1044. Patrap
4:46 PM GMT on June 14, 2012


Updated 6/14/2012 @ 15:30 UTC

Long Duration Eruption: Part 2

Another morning, another long duration eruption around Sunspot 1504 . The latest event peaked at M1.9 and is currently ongoing. A bright Coronal Mass Ejection is visible in the latest STEREO Ahead COR2 images. A 10cm Radio Burst (TenFlare) was recorded measuring 1400sfu and lasted for 103 minutes. Stay Tuned.

www.solarham.net
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128259
1043. SafeInTexas
4:45 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
Not sure if this is been posted here yet, but I thought this was interesting.

Soap Bubbles Shed Light on Paths of Hurricanes
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1042. ncstorm
4:43 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
then starts moving back north


and then finally inland


do we have our first cape verde system exiting africa?
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1041. STXHurricanes2012
4:42 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
That gfs run unlikely! lol
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1040. Stormchaser121
4:42 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
Quoting ncstorm:
wow..coastal texas is going to catch in this run..it goes back south..


This looks similar to Allison
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1039. ncstorm
4:40 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
wow..coastal texas is going to catch in this run..it goes back south..

Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 13 Comments: 15285
1038. ScottLincoln
4:40 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
Quoting surferjoe5899:
Can we just get a hurricane aleady so the GoreBull warming blogs will stop?


I see what you did there.
Member Since: September 28, 2002 Posts: 5 Comments: 3192
1037. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
4:39 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
T.C.F.W.
R.I. FLAG FLAG
03E/TS/C/CX
MARK
10.25N/93.68W
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 171 Comments: 53809
1036. Stormchaser121
4:39 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
Quoting NavarreMark:


If I had to put money on it, I'd say Matagorda Bay.

That sounds reasonable...seeing as Mexico will have a high over it.
Member Since: September 2, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 1148
1035. TAMPASHIELD
4:39 PM GMT on June 14, 2012
Quoting DavidHOUTX:


Will be some flooding problems for sure. Looks like a similar event to Allison


No its going to Louisiana, and then Alabama, Georgia, and finally China.
Member Since: April 21, 2012 Posts: 4 Comments: 307

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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.