Texas air pollution study gets help from the Hurricane Hunters

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:52 PM GMT on May 19, 2006

Houston and Los Angeles rank as the two most polluted or cities in the U.S. To address the problem in Houston, a series of air pollution field studies have been run over the past decade in Texas to help understand the what is going on, and come up with the best emission control strategies needed to reduce ozone pollution levels. The TexAQS II Air Quality Field Study is that latest effort to do so. The field study, slated to run through September of this year, will take a broad number of surface based and airborne air pollution and meteorology measurements. A key tool in the study is one of NOAA's P-3 weather research aircraft, which will be specially outfitted as a state-of-the-art air pollution sampling platform. I flew on the NOAA P-3s in a number of such air pollution field studies during my stint with the hurricane hunters. My most memorable project came in 1989, when we flew over the Arctic Ice Cap to track "Arctic Haze". It was unbelievable to be flying over what should have been one of the cleanest places in the world, only to find visibility reduced to three miles in thick haze, due to pollution blown over the North Pole from industrial sources in Eastern Europe.

Figure 1. Areas of the U.S. in violation of the EPA standards for ozone pollution.

The data collected in the Texas study will be used to develop a variety of computer models needed to understand what is going on, and thereby recommend pollution control strategies. Ozone is not emitted directly, but is formed in a very complicated way from the "precursor" pollutants, Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC). It turns out that this formation process is extremely non-linear--which means that in some cases, reducing emissions of one of the "precursor" pollutants will actually increase ozone. As a result, you really have to understand the problem thoroughly before going to the expense of implementing emission controls of NOx or VOC in an effort to reduce ozone pollution.

Computer modeling efforts to understand pollution are of limited help, because we don't have a very good idea about how much pollution is being emitted. Each year, businesses are required to submit estimates of how much pollution they are emitting. These emission estimates, however, are not very accurate. For example, according to a story published May 7 in the Houston Chronicle, a British Petroleum refinery in Texas City (just south of Houston) reported that it emitted three times more formaldehyde and ammonia in 2004 than in 2003. The increase in emissions at this one plant was so large, that it distorted the data for refineries nationwide, according to the EPA. The Texas City plant accounted for the bulk of a 15 percent increase in emissions in 2004 that drove refinery pollution to its worst level since 2000. The problem is that the company likely underestimated its 2003 emissions. The emission estimates are all theoretical, and are not based on actual measurements of pollutant gases coming out of the stacks.

The article quotes Matt Fraser, an associate professor in civil and environmental engineering at Rice University, who says: "It's incredible that they were that far off. That's a huge increase in formaldehyde. It just shows you how little attention is being paid to getting emissions numbers right. And since all of our air-quality control strategies are based on that data, it makes you wonder." Well, the planners of the TexAQS II Air Quality Field Study are also wondering, which is why there is the necessity of doing this field study. The only sure way to know what's really going up into the air is to go out and measure it, and this summer's study should help the scientists and regulators figure out what the right steps are to control air pollution in one of our most polluted cities.

Unfortunately, the participation of NOAA's P-3 in the Texas study means that only one P-3 will be available for hurricane hunting this hurricane season. This worries me, because the P-3s are the best tool we have for hurricane reconnaissance. The Air Force C-130s do not have the state-of-the-art radar systems like the P-3s carry, nor the new SFMR Stepped Frequency Microwave Radiometer instrument that can measure surface winds speeds anywhere in a storm. Will participation of the P-3 in this air pollution study save more lives and property than if the aircraft participated in hurricane hunting this Fall? I think that is probably the case, but it is definitely a gamble that I'm uncomfortable with.

Jeff Masters

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161. seflagamma
12:51 PM EDT on May 20, 2006
Good Saturday AFternoon everyone,

Just my daily check-in at Dr Master's blog to see what is going on. Good discussions!!And now I guess I must be sure and check out the topics next week!!!

Speaking about Gore's Movie, Funny how that polution map shapes out. Some, but not all of the worse pollution is in the areas that are the most blue politically....and some of the cleanest areas are red politically. Someone needs to be cleaning up their own backyards before telling others what to do... I know I am going to regret saying this. Apologize to anyone I offended but look at the map.

(dare I hit enter and let this go?)
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160. louastu
4:59 PM GMT on May 20, 2006
Here is an interesting article.

159. lightning10
4:49 PM GMT on May 20, 2006
A strong rain storm in May in Southern California. Could this be part of an overall climiate change or some sort of rare occurrence? I know that its only one storm and but could it become an indicator of change in the near future?

Latest computer models suggest that the front may initially hold up for a while across San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties
Sunday... which could delay the onset of rain across Ventura and Los Angeles counties. Although the front may move more quickly across Ventura and Los Angeles counties... it has the potential to bring
some intense rainfall rates. Residents in and below burn areas should be particularly vigilant about staying tuned to later
forecasts... since flash flood watches may have to be issued for the
burn areas.

Preliminary estimates of rainfall from this storm are for one half inch to an inch and a half (0.50-1.50) in coastal and valley
areas... with 2 to 4 inches possible in the foothills and mountains. With strong southerly flow... there will be orographic enhancement of the rain on and below terrain with a south or southwest exposures.
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157. TampaSteve
4:41 PM GMT on May 20, 2006

Exactly...isn't automobile exhaust the #1 contributor to urban pollution?
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156. F5
4:14 PM GMT on May 20, 2006
An interesting look at the graph reveals a couple of key points. Some of the locations simply have geographic issues which limit dispersal of pollutants, thus putting them in non-attainment. Secondly, but more importantly, I think the key factor that is often overlooked is the traffic congestion that occurs every day. Nearly every major metro area in the US are in non-attainment, yet many of these areas would not necessarily be considered "industrial". I believe we could significantly reduce the non-attainment areas if we could simply cut back on the commuting time of most drivers. Here in Dallas, as in most big cities, the traffic starts around 6:45 AM and doesn't clear out until nearly 10:00 AM. Then again from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM. These "rush" hours are pathetic. Between the horrendous road designs and the equally bad drivers, it's nothing to have a 15 mile drive take an hour or longer. And all that time idling, sitting at stop light after stop light, stuck in traffic on a hwy, adds up to a heck of lot of pollution.

So, either build better, more widely available mass transit, or figure out how to design your roads better to avoid the congestion that currently plagues big cities.

Those two things will go a long way towards reducing the pollution in the non-attainment areas.
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155. TampaSteve
4:01 PM GMT on May 20, 2006
BTW...anyone else here going to the Hurricane Bash at Mote Marine this evening?
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154. TampaSteve
3:59 PM GMT on May 20, 2006
Here's mine...not too bad...




2006 Report

Ozone Grade: C
Weighted Average: 1.3
Orange Ozone Days: 4
Red Ozone Days: 0
Purple Ozone Days: 0


2006 Report

Grade: A
Weighted Average: 0
Orange Particle Days: 0
Red Particle Days: 0
Purple Particle Days: 0


2006 Report

Grade: PASS
Design Value 10.8
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153. StormJunkie
3:47 PM GMT on May 20, 2006
Good point lemon, but we can be a smarter people then that. The current technology and our R&D ability should make most any thing we want to do possible. Take oil for example, we could reduce our oil usage by 60 to 70 percent in 10 years if we truly tried. This earth can easily support the human race now and in the future, but only if we follow the right path. We can not let our craving for the here and now, politics, or hollywood stop us from looking ahead and preparing for what ever our race may face.

Anywho enough of that...the here and now is Saturday and I am going out to enjoy it.

Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 17143
152. StormJunkie
3:45 PM GMT on May 20, 2006
Who is not nearly as important as Why Colby, and often times the who seems more important then the why.

"The significant problems we face can not be solved by the same level of thinking that created them."-Albert Einstien

Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 17143
151. LemonAromatique
3:36 PM GMT on May 20, 2006
Who's fault? Probably the fact that there's just too many of us, that's my guess.
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150. weatherhunter
3:42 PM GMT on May 20, 2006
Posted By: ForecasterColby at 3:15 PM GMT on May 20, 2006.
Heh, you've tipped your political hand bigtime.

I have a feeling Gore's movie is going to be the same sort of laughable whacko-ness that movies like Th Day After Tomorrow and Category 7 were. My point is simply that, if one looks at geologic records, the climate is not going to go insanely out of control. The most lush times in Earth's history had temperatures of 10C or so higher than the current Earth. I am *not* saying that warming is nessessarily a good thing - but that it is not nessessarily a bad one.

By the way, as I recall the worry with Greenland is that melting ice will raise sea levels. If more snow is falling on the interior than is melting off the edges...

then ur saying that storms will get storger slowly?
149. ForecasterColby
3:34 PM GMT on May 20, 2006
Whose fault it is would be a key factor in stopping it.
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148. StormJunkie
3:24 PM GMT on May 20, 2006
That is the question we should be asking colby, not who's right, who's wrong, who's fault it is, etc.

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147. ForecasterColby
3:20 PM GMT on May 20, 2006
Also, let's assume for a moment that it is a bad thing. What do we do about it?
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146. ForecasterColby
3:15 PM GMT on May 20, 2006
Heh, you've tipped your political hand bigtime.

I have a feeling Gore's movie is going to be the same sort of laughable whacko-ness that movies like Th Day After Tomorrow and Category 7 were. My point is simply that, if one looks at geologic records, the climate is not going to go insanely out of control. The most lush times in Earth's history had temperatures of 10C or so higher than the current Earth. I am *not* saying that warming is nessessarily a good thing - but that it is not nessessarily a bad one.

By the way, as I recall the worry with Greenland is that melting ice will raise sea levels. If more snow is falling on the interior than is melting off the edges...
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144. StormJunkie
2:28 PM GMT on May 20, 2006

Yes shear is low in the sw carib, but it is still high across the Gulf and most of the Atlantic. It is expected to stay this way for the next 4 days. With pockets of light shear in the SW Carib and the SE Atlantic.

Find links to this map and more at StormJunkie.com

Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 17143
143. tornadoty
2:18 PM GMT on May 20, 2006
"Oh, and if susch a storm made landfall, it would be like a gigantic F5 tornado (don't forget that the wind speeds in a F5 tornado have been reduced to 200 mph or more on the Enhanced Fujita Scale)."
I hold a personal belief, due to the incredibly tight wind and pressure gradients it held, that Wilma reached about 200 MPH sustained.

As for the tornado analogy, I think it might have a couple of flaws. First off, I think the wind threshold for F5 on the EF scale is too low. Those wind speeds given, though made to appear much more precise, are just a smiggind more scientific than the actual F-scale winds. They are mostly the beliefs of experts. Also, a 200 MPH tornadic wind can produce a lot more severe destruction than a 200 MPH hurricane wind. The reason? Vertical wind speeds. The vertical wind speeds in a tornado work against a building in two major ways. First, they allow the winds to get underneath the eave of a roof and rip it off without having to rely on Bernoulli's principle to rip the roof off of a house, like a hurricane does. This allows the wind to come rushing into the house more easily in a tornado than a hurricane. The second way that vertical winds affect tornado damage is that they counteract gravity. Let's use this analogy: Take a big plate of Playdoh. Try to punch your fist through it. Then stretch that Playdoh towards the ceiling and try to punch through it. Much easier? Absolutely. The house, once the vertical winds hit it, it no longer has the force of gravity to try to keep it together. That makes it much easier for a horizontal wind to do damage to that house. Therefore, I'm not sure we'll ever see a hurricane do F5 damage, outside of an unheard of F5 tornado that one might spawned (it's possible, Hurricane Carla in 1961 spawned an F4 tornado in Galveston).
141. ForecasterColby
2:17 PM GMT on May 20, 2006
The tropics are finally getting really into gear - most of the SW Caribbean is favorable ATM.
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140. IKE
1:05 PM GMT on May 20, 2006
Looks like something might have a possibility of developing around the 1st of June in the Gulf of Mexico according to the long-range GFS and the extended 8-14 day weather outlook...at least above normal precip in the gulf states. The GFS has been fairly consistent in something in the Gulf of Mexico area in about 2 weeks.
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138. ProgressivePulse
7:45 AM GMT on May 20, 2006

2 weeks Watson, "RELEASE THE HOUNDS".
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137. ProgressivePulse
7:12 AM GMT on May 20, 2006
All you can do is, Every one Say it Now, "Prepare for the Worst, and Hope for the Best".
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136. ProgressivePulse
7:08 AM GMT on May 20, 2006
It is Worldwide Inyo, wierd weather happening everywhere. A little scary, but what do you do?
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135. Inyo
5:45 AM GMT on May 20, 2006
and yes, on a more immediate note, the weather around So-Cal has been weeeeird lately. This week we had full on monnsoon weather of the type we often see in August but almost never in May.. very strange.. this weekend, as Lightning10 pointed out earlier, we could get a WINTER STORM with up to an inch of rain, maybe more in the mountains.

Things are weird, that's for sure.
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134. Inyo
5:42 AM GMT on May 20, 2006
Cloud seeding experiments have been going on forever, i saw a document recently about cloud seeding in the mountains of southern California to increase high elevation snowfall. Does it work? Some results claimed it increased precip by as much as 10%. However, it has to come from somewhere.. that means the dry areas downwind from the mountains become even drier

They dont seed the clouds there anymore. Why? Well, one storm they seeded let out a wicked flash flood that killed several people. In all likelihood the flash flood would have happened anyway.. however the implications were just too nasty... it killed the program.

Cloud seeding still occurs in the Sierras and trhey might still have a problem in the remote parts of the Los Padres national forest.
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133. ProgressivePulse
4:49 AM GMT on May 20, 2006
Just in the ocean.
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132. ProgressivePulse
4:44 AM GMT on May 20, 2006
Sounds to me they are covering thier ass a little more this year and really have no clue what's going to happen until it does. I really do trust Mad Max, I like his honesty. I bring back a statement from a confrence of his. "I fear that someone is going to go to sleep to a CAT 1 and wake up to a CAT 5". Happened a couple times last year.
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131. ProgressivePulse
4:37 AM GMT on May 20, 2006
And I am still wondering how in God's name you can compare the conditions of last 2 Hurricane Seasons to any on record(CONDITIONS MIND YOU). Last year has me the most concerned because of the late year happening's. And being so far off last year, and the year before, how you can have even a scrap of confidence in what they have to offer this year, any thoughts?
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130. ForecasterColby
2:18 AM GMT on May 20, 2006
Check this out, Mathy people!

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128. ProgressivePulse
4:29 AM GMT on May 20, 2006
Which tells you they have been doing it and now have a little proof to get some government funding.
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127. ProgressivePulse
4:26 AM GMT on May 20, 2006
Especially now that the government dones money to the cause.
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126. ProgressivePulse
4:22 AM GMT on May 20, 2006
I am totally against weather mods Micheal! BUT I do know that information obtained during a hunt is used for weather mods.
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125. StormJunkie
4:23 AM GMT on May 20, 2006
oops. Thought I remembered you talking insurance last year.

Anywho I could use a nice fish tank stand.


Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 17143
124. StormJunkie
4:22 AM GMT on May 20, 2006
seed um!!!!

Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 17143
123. ProgressivePulse
4:21 AM GMT on May 20, 2006
Insurance lol, umm no, Cabinetry Designer here!
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120. StormJunkie
4:16 AM GMT on May 20, 2006
I agreee progressive more upper air and surounding air flights for better prediction.

Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 17143
119. StormJunkie
4:14 AM GMT on May 20, 2006
Evening progressive. Good to see you.

You are insurance correct?

Do you have any links with good information on insurance and tropical systems?

Could use them on my site.

Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 17143
118. ProgressivePulse
4:13 AM GMT on May 20, 2006
If they just wanted to get better at where they are going they would just fly around them.
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117. ProgressivePulse
4:05 AM GMT on May 20, 2006
The US is the only ones that fly into Hurricane's beacuse the US is one of the only countries that is activly pursueing weather modification.
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116. ProgressivePulse
3:55 AM GMT on May 20, 2006
I do tend to agree with Austrailia on thier scale. You can tell a Depression From a Tropical Storm, You can tell a Tropical Storm from a Cat 1 Cane and so on. Why waste the money, you can't stop them, and shoulden't.
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114. ProgressivePulse
3:52 AM GMT on May 20, 2006
Hey Colby, I corrected myself, lol.
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113. RL3AO
10:48 PM CDT on May 19, 2006
Posted By: ProgressivePulse at 10:35 PM CDT on May 19, 2006.
I am 5 miles from the coast Colby, tis a treat to me.

haha, goof of the year right there.
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112. ProgressivePulse
3:47 AM GMT on May 20, 2006
Without Data, just going on Satalite Presence, at least a high end cat 4 probably a mid cat 5.
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111. ProgressivePulse
3:43 AM GMT on May 20, 2006
I have seen my share of Hurricane's. Monica at peak intensity was a monster, her appearance reminds me of Wilma as she was approacing Cozumel.
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Dr. Masters co-founded wunderground in 1995. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990. Co-blogging with him: Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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