New England flooding, air pollution, and the season's first typhoon

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:05 PM GMT on May 15, 2006

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Major flooding has hit southern New Hampshire, southwest Maine, and northeast Massachussetts today, where more than 10 inches of rain has fallen in the past four days. The culprit is a "cut off low", a large low pressure system over the Great Lakes that got separated from the jet stream on Thursday, and has stayed almost stationary since since then, with no upper level winds to push it along. The counter-clockwise flow of air around the low has drawn copious amounts of moist oceanic air over New England. The rains from this moisture have brought the Warner river at Davisville and the Smith River at Bristol to flood stage this morning. With another 1-2 inches of rain expected across the region today, these rivers should crest several feet above flood stage, with moderate to major flooding. The cut-off low is expected to drift slowly northeastward today and get re-absorbed by the jet stream on Tuesday, which will finally bring an end to the worst of the rains. Howver, the weather pattern over the next week is expected to remain wet over the eastern half of the U.S., and more rain is expected in the Northeast later this week as the jet stream continues to remain in a typical Springtime active pattern.


Figure 1. Rainfall amounts for New England estimated by radar, ending at 8:30am EDT Monday May 15.

Air pollution season is here
May marks the beginning of air pollution season in the U.S., when summertime brings the hot temperatures, high amounts of UV radiation, and stagnant air that can trigger air pollution "Action Days". This week marks the annual observance of Air Pollution Awareness week, and at EPA's request, I will be writing several blogs highlighting air pollution. In particular, I'll discuss why one of NOAA's P-3 hurricane hunter airplanes will be in Texas for air pollution research this hurricane season, instead of flying hurricanes.

Quick intro on air pollution
Today, I'll present a quick summary of what pollutants we're concerned about. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calculates the Air Quality Index (AQI) for five major air pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act: ground-level ozone, particle pollution, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. Ozone and particle pollution are the two most serious pollutants in the U.S. Particle pollution alone has been estimated to cause over 20,000 premature deaths the U.S. each year, and 800,000 worldwide (although the exact mortality numbers and definition of "premature deaths" is controversial).

Ozone is a colorless gas composed of three atoms of oxygen. Ozone forms both in the Earth's upper atmosphere and at the surface. Where ozone forms determines whether it is helpful or harmful to your health.

Good ozone naturally forms in the stratosphere, a layer of air about 10 - 30 miles (16 - 48 km) above Earth's
surface. This protective layer shields us from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays. Without this layer, we would all be blinded and sunburned. Unfortunately, human-created chemicals are destroying this beneficial layer of ozone. Over the South Pole in springtime, the ozone loss is so severe that an "Ozone Hole" forms, letting significant amounts of harmful ultraviolet light reach the surface.

Ozone from the stratosphere sometimes gets transported to the surface, particularly in high mountainous regions. Hikers on Mt. Everest who don't use bottled oxygen can be at risk of death from breathing poisonous levels of ozone near the mountain's summit in some weather conditions.

Bad ozone forms near Earth's surface when the ultraviolet light in sunlight triggers a chemical reaction with "precursor pollutants" emitted by cars, power plants, and industrial sources. These precursor pollutants consist of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic hydrocarbons (VOC). Ozone near ground level is a harmful pollutant. Ozone pollution isn't limited to big cities like Los Angeles, Houston and New York. It's also found in smaller cities like Raleigh, NC and Cincinnati, OH. It can be a problem in rural areas, including some national parks. Ozone and the pollutants that react to form it (NOx and VOCs) can also be carried on the wind to affect air quality in urban and rural areas hundreds of miles away.

Particle pollution is a mixture of microscopic solids and liquid droplets suspended in air. This pollution, also known as particulate matter, is made up of a number of components, including acids (such as nitrates and sulfates), organic chemicals, metals, soil or dust particles, and allergens (such as fragments of pollen or mold spores). Unlike summertime ozone, particle pollution can occur year-round. It is worst in summer, though, when winds are lighter and the air becomes more stagnant.

Particles come in a wide range of sizes. Fine particles are less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. How small is that? About 1/30th the diameter of the average human hair--so small, you'd need an electron microscope to see them.

Some fine particles can be emitted directly (think of smoke from a woodstove). But most are formed secondarily from complex atmospheric reactions of gases such as NOx and sulfur dioxide (SO2), that are emitted from power plants, industries, cars, buses and trucks. These fine particles are the worst for your health, since their small size allows then to penetrate deep into your lungs.

Inhalable coarse particles are larger than 2.5 and up to 10 micrometers in diameter. Sources of coarse particles include crushing or grinding operations and dust stirred up by vehicles traveling on roads. These particles are not as injurious to your health, as their large size allows them to be filtered out more readily by your nose before they reach your lungs.

Typhoon Chanchu
The season's first typhoon, a Category 4 storm with 140 mph winds named Chanchu, has turned north, and is now threatening to strike Hong Hong on Wednesday. Chanchu briefly made it to supertyphoon status on Sunday, when it had 150 mph sustained winds and a 910 mb central pressure. This was good enough for a Category 4 rating on the U.S. Saffir-Simpson scale, but not Category 5--which starts at 156 mph. A supertyphoon is defined as any tropical cyclone in the Western Pacific that attains maximum sustained winds of 150 mph. It is not unusual to get a supertyphoon in May, and this last happened in 2004, when Supertyphoon Nida reached Category 5 status with sustained winds of 160 mph. I'll have more on Typhoon Chanchu tomorrow.


Figure 2. Typhoon Chanchu at peak intensity Sunday, with 150 mph sustained winds and a 910 mb pressure.

Jeff Masters

Spicket River Rises (sabre1100)
Prime water front property for sale...at a barbain price no doubt
Spicket River Rises
York Beach flooding (SkyLazaria)
Mothers Day flooding in York Beach, Maine.
York Beach flooding

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279. GPTGUY
1:00 AM GMT on May 16, 2006
a hurricane doesnt deserve nothing as far as im concerned except maybe respect for the power they harness...thats it
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278. GPTGUY
12:56 AM GMT on May 16, 2006
there is no reason for a cat 6 just like myles said cat 5 is catastrophic the saffir-simpson scale was made in the mid-late 70's at that point in time cat 5's were rare i know there is an upswing in cat 5's now but theres no need to revise the scale
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276. ForecasterColby
12:57 AM GMT on May 16, 2006
They 'deserve' the honor of Category 6? Why are we endowing storms with these honors? I enjoy a good, record-breaking hurricane as much as the next guy, but please don't tell me they 'deserve' it.
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274. HurricaneMyles
12:41 AM GMT on May 16, 2006
It would work out fine, but it's just unnecessary, imo. The damage done by a Cat 6 will be roughly the same as a Cat 5, that is complete and utter destruction either way.
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273. franck
12:40 AM GMT on May 16, 2006
Hurricanemyles...no holocaustal.
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272. TheLuckyTacoBlizzard
12:41 AM GMT on May 16, 2006
hi : TheSnowman
271. Snowfire
12:34 AM GMT on May 16, 2006
Since the interval for Category 4 spans 24 mph (131-155), I would favor making category 5 156-179 and Category 6 180-204. If you really needed it, Category 7 could be defined as 205-234, but I have serious doubts about whether that will ever happen. By this reckoning, Rita, Wilma, and Monica would all make Category 6.
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270. TheSnowman
8:37 PM EDT on May 15, 2006
It's just that it's soo hard for a storm just to get to 160mph so when they get up to 180 it's SOOOOO Rediculas they Deserve a higher rank because they are the King of Kings
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269. ForecasterColby
12:35 AM GMT on May 16, 2006
Category 5 is plenty. The difference between 160mph and 180mph really isn't that much, only 26% more force.
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268. HurricaneMyles
12:32 AM GMT on May 16, 2006
I think the fact that there have only been 7 in history is self explanatory for why a Cat 6 isnt needed. Cat 5 damage is already described as catastophic, what will Cat 6 damage be described as...apocalyptic?
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267. TheSnowman
8:25 PM EDT on May 15, 2006
I Think It's Amazing that nobody ever implimented a Cat. 6 scale and what he has (176-205) is EXACTLY what it would be mathmaticly.....
Now there habve only been 7 Category 6's ever recorded in the Atlantic basin
and Last year we had 2 of them!!!!!
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266. TheLuckyTacoBlizzard
11:53 PM GMT on May 15, 2006
any one her i have no one to talk to on my blog so far today so how is evere one doing today
265. FLCrackerGirl
7:34 PM EDT on May 15, 2006
Thumbs UP^^ On WaveTracker Colby!
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263. louastu
11:32 PM GMT on May 15, 2006
Anyway, break is over. I will be back around 11:00 PM.
262. louastu
11:31 PM GMT on May 15, 2006
Hmm................. It won't let me post that image.

Oh well, it is on the link.
261. louastu
11:30 PM GMT on May 15, 2006
Oops. Let me try that again.

260. louastu
11:26 PM GMT on May 15, 2006
I got a little break between chores, so I decided to check a few weather sites. I went to Accuweather.com, and found this.

Link

This is a map that highlights the areas that they believe are most at risk.

259. GPTGUY
11:20 PM GMT on May 15, 2006
Posted By: Alec at 6:52 PM GMT on May 15, 2006.
Posted By: STORMTOP at 6:47 PM GMT on May 15, 2006.
simple brains alex...

So, how would we know long range forecasts without models? Models are actually used in many other fields as well....I assume we should just dump them in the ocean too..lol...

No Alec we should just dump Stormtop in the ocean...then all would be well!!
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258. Levi32
2:51 PM AKDT on May 15, 2006
Sorry Colby I forgot about that. That is a great idea! A wave tracker would be extremely useful!
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26652
257. ForecasterColby
10:49 PM GMT on May 15, 2006
No one has commented on the wave tracker I mentioned above. *pokes*
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256. RL3AO
5:21 PM CDT on May 15, 2006
New sat image of the WPacific invest.

255. louastu
9:57 PM GMT on May 15, 2006
Well, I will BBL, probably around 11:00 PM.
254. ForecasterColby
9:44 PM GMT on May 15, 2006
The EPAC system does look pretty good. No real surface wind rotation/low pressure, though.
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253. RL3AO
4:35 PM CDT on May 15, 2006
If you had something blowing you 55 mph, you might start spining too.
252. RL3AO
4:33 PM CDT on May 15, 2006
251. louastu
9:30 PM GMT on May 15, 2006
Anyway, back to weather. Has any one looked at the Eastern Pacific system lately? It is looking pretty good on visible.

250. quakeman55
9:26 PM GMT on May 15, 2006
Am I seeing things or does it almost look like that blob in the SW Gulf is trying to develop a weak spin to it?
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249. louastu
9:23 PM GMT on May 15, 2006
Alright, TTYL.
248. Levi32
1:23 PM AKDT on May 15, 2006
I am taking off now too. I will be back sometime this evening. See you all later!
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26652
247. louastu
9:23 PM GMT on May 15, 2006
NP.
246. Levi32
1:22 PM AKDT on May 15, 2006
Thanks louastu. Good to know.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26652
245. louastu
9:19 PM GMT on May 15, 2006
Levi32,

An easy way to find out what these acronyms stand for is to do a Google search.

That is how I found out the meaning of MMORPG.
244. Damon85013
9:19 PM GMT on May 15, 2006
Get back here, Rich!! I work with teenagers for a living, and have yet to meet one that hasn't made me LMAO at times. This was your turn...
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243. Levi32
1:17 PM AKDT on May 15, 2006
Rich if you are leaving I hope you have a great rest of the day! I hope to talk with you later!
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26652
242. Zaphod
9:15 PM GMT on May 15, 2006
Just My Humble Opinion.

Didn't mean to offend. There are many I don't know either, and I have teenage daughters to help me out!
Zap
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241. Levi32
1:16 PM AKDT on May 15, 2006
Rich we are all just teasing you. It is only fair since you were teasing us lol.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26652
240. weatherguy03
5:16 PM EDT on May 15, 2006
Rich, it makes you human!! I love it! Dont change!
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239. Levi32
1:15 PM AKDT on May 15, 2006
Oh Rich no you havn't upset me I am sweating with laughter right now! I thought that was quite fun but we should stop now. You are not a moron I know you are an awesome person!
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26652
238. louastu
9:14 PM GMT on May 15, 2006
I was having fun.
237. Levi32
1:13 PM AKDT on May 15, 2006
Interesting louastu. I wonder where all these short hand expressions came from today lol. Rich did you notice we have filled up Dr. Master's blog with over 100 comments of nonsense?! It's your fault LOL!
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26652
236. atmosweather
5:12 PM EDT on May 15, 2006
Humble Opinion.

I'm leaving, obviously people are annoyed by this. Everyone have a great day, and don't think that I'm a complete moron because I know these things. I apologize infinitely if I have made Levi unhappy or any of the rest of you.
Member Since: September 24, 2005 Posts: 33 Comments: 9265
235. louastu
9:10 PM GMT on May 15, 2006
I found out what the "MMO" in "MMORPG" stands for.

MMORPG = Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game
234. Levi32
1:11 PM AKDT on May 15, 2006
LOL Rich we know you aren't bad. But I am beginning to worry lol! Just kidding.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26652
233. Levi32
1:10 PM AKDT on May 15, 2006
"JMHO"=just my____opinion

What is in the blank?
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26652
232. atmosweather
5:09 PM EDT on May 15, 2006
FWIW - for what it's worth

SFF is someone's creation, I hate using swear words even in slang or shorthand. Just an expression. Sorry Bob, I'm just familiar with this type of chat for some reason. I'm not a bad kid LOL I promise :)
Member Since: September 24, 2005 Posts: 33 Comments: 9265
231. Levi32
1:09 PM AKDT on May 15, 2006
Thanks louastu.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26652
230. Zaphod
9:07 PM GMT on May 15, 2006
I think FWIW is "for what it's worth".
JMHO, though.
Zap
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229. Levi32
1:08 PM AKDT on May 15, 2006
Don't worry Bob Rich is just having a blast using me for his personal intertainment LOL!
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26652

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About

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.