Giving thanks to the Hurricane Hunters and QuikSCAT scientists

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 7:54 PM GMT on November 21, 2007

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Everyone knows that flying into hurricanes is dangerous work. The NOAA Hurricane Hunter aircraft have flown a number of dangerous flights over the years, most recently in Hurricane Felix on September 2 this year. NOAA P-3 aircraft N42RF (affectionately called Kermit), penetrated a rapidly intensifying Hurricane Felix as it approached Category 5 intensity. The aircraft hit four G's of acceleration in both the up and down directions in Felix's eyewall. Regulations require a flight to be aborted at that level of turbulence, and Kermit returned to base. A detailed inspection of the aircraft the next day revealed no damage, and Kermit returned to service for the remainder of hurricane season.


Figure 1. A NOAA P-3 refuels in Cold Bay, Alaska (left) on its way to the Aleutian Islands to fly a mission in the 1987 Alaska Storms Program. Right: The two NOAA P-3's get de-iced at Brunswick Naval Air Station, Maine, as they prepare for a mission into a 'Noreaster during the Experiment on Rapidly Intensifying Cyclones over the Atlantic (ERICA) in 1989. Both photos taken by yours truly.

What is less appreciated is that these aircraft fly research missions into dangerous weather conditions year-round and world-wide, and some of the most dangerous flights have occurred far from the tropics. Earlier this year, Kermit experienced perhaps the most dangerous flight of its 31-year career. On February 9, the aircraft flew into an intense winter storm 500 miles east of Newfoundland. The mission was part of the Ocean Winds project, a study designed to test the accuracy of QuikSCAT satellite wind estimates in regions of high wind and heavy rain. Flying at 3,000 feet, the aircraft sampled the surface winds with its SFMR (Step Frequency Microwave Radiometer) and dropsondes. The flights were timed to coincide with an overhead pass of the QuikSCAT satellite, which also measured winds at the ocean surface. It was a bit of a rough ride, since the storm packed winds of 100-110 mph at flight level. Sea spray kicked up by the powerful winds reached all the way to flight level, coating the windshield with a thick white coating of salt. The windshield washer failed, leaving the windshield partially opaque. It was an unusually dry winter storm, and the rain showers needed to rinse the windshield clean were difficult to find.


Figure 2. QuikSCAT wind profile of the ocean surface at 21:22 GMT February 9, 2007, just before Kermit headed back to St. John's, Newfoundland.

After a successful 4-hour flight, the aircraft dropped its final dropsonde, and turned north to complete its final sampling run. Suddenly, crew members observed flames coming from the #3 engine, accompanied by an audible popping sound. "Fire on #3, flames, flames, flames!" came the cry over the on-board intercom system. The pilots and flight engineers immediately began an emergency shut down of the #3 engine. As they worked to shut down the engine, the ominous call, "Fire on #4!" came over the intercom. The pilot immediately began an emergency shut down of the #4 engine. With both engines on the right wing now shut down, the pilot cautiously ramped up power on the two engines on the left wing, turned the aircraft towards home base in St. Johns, Newfoundland, and attempted to climb. However, the aircraft was not able to climb on just two engines, and the pilot was forced to begin a gradual descent to 2600 feet. The pilot notified the crew to review their ditching placards, and word was send to air traffic control informing them of the emergency. Three tense minutes passed, as the crew attempted to figure out what had caused the multiple engine failures. Speculation centered on the unusually heavy accumulation of salt on the aircraft--but excessive salt had never been implicated in engine failures before. Then, the words they all dreaded, "Fire on #1!" burst out over the intercom. The flight engineer immediately pulled the emergency shutdown handle for the #1 engine, and Kermit began a 700 foot per minute descent towards the turbulent sea below.

The crew donned survival suits as the pilot issued a May-day distress call and prepared to ditch the aircraft. Beneath them, hurricane force winds blew over the night-shrouded North Atlantic waters. With waves easily reaching 20 feet, water temperatures near freezing, and 500 miles out at sea at night, prospects for survival were dim. Four minutes remained to restart one of the flamed-out engines, and the pilot called for an immediate restart of the #1 engine. As the flight engineer worked to comply, Kermit passed through a brief rain shower that washed considerable salt from the aircraft. The attempt to restart the #1 engine succeeded, and Kermit pulled out of its descent just 800 feet above the waves--one minute from impact.

The crew now worked to restart the failed #3 and #4 engines, while the plane slowly climbed away from the ocean surface. As they headed towards Newfoundland, the Canadian Air Force launched a search and rescue C-130 aircraft from Nova Scotia to intercept Kermit. Crews on the Hibernia and Terra Nova oil rigs located east of Newfoundland were alerted of the emergency, and stood by to help if necessary. Kermit's navigator continuously plotted vectors to the oil rigs at they flew home, in case a ditch near one of the rigs became necessary.

As they continued westward, the crew successfully restarted both the #3 and #4 engines, but at reduced power. Kermit climbed to a more comfortable altitude of 14,000 feet and made it uneventfully back to St. Johns. Fortunately, the engines were undamaged and perfectly operational after the salt was washed out, and the data collected during the mission was saved. According to the detailed NOAA Mishap Investigation Report posted on Chris Mooney's excellent blog, "Post flight inspection of engines revealed significant white build up on intakes, first stage compressors, and CIP probes of all four engines. Subjectively, the #2 engine appeared to be the worst coated of all engines. Aircraft fuselage and windows were also heavily coated." Salt build-up on the engines was determined to be the cause of the incident. The unusually dry nature of the storm prevented the salt from being washed off, and was probably part of the reason the engines failed on this flight, and not on previous flights.

I asked Dr. Jim McFadden, project manager of the Ocean Winds project, what happened. He was on the flight, and responded:

This event stumped everyone including the experts who spend a life-time studying sea salt and aerosols in the marine boundary layer. Six previous flights in similar conditions had resulted in nothing like this. But this one was different. It was flown over an ocean warmed by the Gulf Stream in a dry slot of cold Canadian air. Somehow that combination was the key to what could have been a disastrous flight. Fortunately, quick thinking and the flawless action of the crew brought about by excellent training got us home safely.

Last week in Washington D.C., the crew of Kermit was honored with the Department of Commerce's Gold Medal for successfully bringing home the aircraft. The crew members from NOAA's Aircraft Operations Center who were on the flight were:

LCDR Mark Nelson
LCDR Carl Newman
Joseph Klippel
LCDR Peter Siegel
LCDR Joseph Bishop
Tom Shepherd
James Barr
Terry Lynch
William Olney
James McFadden

QuikSCAT scientists Paul Chang and Rob Contreras were also present on the flight.

Separate Department of Commerce Gold and Silver Medals were also awarded last week for scientists involved in leading NOAA's operational use of NASA's QuikSCAT satellite to produce more accurate forecasts and warnings of marine and coastal weather:

Paul Chang
Hugh Cobb III (NWS)
Roger Edson (NWS)
James Franklin (NHC)
Richard Knabb (NHC)
Eugene Legg
Kevin Schrab (NWS)
Joseph Sienkiewicz (NWS)

A Gold Medal is defined as distinguished performance characterized by extraordinary, notable or prestigious contributions that impact the mission of the Department and/or one operating unit and which reflect favorably on the Department. Congratulations to all the awardees, and thanks for all that you do!

Jeff Masters

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655. ShenValleyFlyFish
10:07 PM EST on November 26, 2007
Work at state Children's Psych Hospital. Ages 4-12 unit. As I tell the kids at work. "I could tell you more but then I'd have to kill you." lol
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654. ShenValleyFlyFish
10:00 PM EST on November 26, 2007
My grandson. They would really toss me overboard if I posted a picture of one of the "kids". Confidentiality and all that.
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653. flaboyinga
10:00 PM EST on November 26, 2007
The reason for the question is your site didn't say what age group you worked with and my daughter who is a teacher always has "her kids" she works with during the year, but then she has her family.
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652. flaboyinga
9:49 PM EST on November 26, 2007
Shen is the child in your avatar one of your family members, or one of "your kids"?
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651. ShenValleyFlyFish
9:43 PM EST on November 26, 2007
Pray I'm not the one in line ahead of you Flaboy. You're gonna have a long wait.
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650. flaboyinga
9:37 PM EST on November 26, 2007
Shen, He's gonna have me on the carpet for a long time when He reads my transcript back to me. And I'll deserve every bit of it, too.
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649. ShenValleyFlyFish
9:34 PM EST on November 26, 2007
From your mouth to God's ear flaboy.
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648. flaboyinga
9:28 PM EST on November 26, 2007
646. ShenValleyFlyFish 9:27 PM EST on November 26, 2007
639. flaboyinga 8:46 PM EST on November 26, 2007 Hi Orca, good to see ya. Wasn't Shen the one that said Get a Rope when Taz mentioned an ice storm. That was a bad thought.lol

Who was it said "I can get in enough trouble without any help"? Thought Taz was making reference to old Pecan-ti-sauce add so attempted to provide straight man's line. You had to be there.


Round and round we go, and where we stop,that's where we get buried. (I guess) Cause we keep diggin' the hole deeper as we go.LOL
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647. flaboyinga
9:26 PM EST on November 26, 2007
645. extreme236 9:24 PM EST on November 26, 2007
Looks like Quikscat isnt working as good anymore...probably getting close to failing completely...im afraid QS may not be available for next year.


How bad do you think that will hurt the typhoon prediction effort in the SW Pacific?
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646. ShenValleyFlyFish
9:07 PM EST on November 26, 2007
639. flaboyinga 8:46 PM EST on November 26, 2007 Hi Orca, good to see ya. Wasn't Shen the one that said Get a Rope when Taz mentioned an ice storm. That was a bad thought.lol

Who was it said "I can get in enough trouble without any help"? Thought Taz was making reference to old Pecan-ti-sauce add so attempted to provide straight man's line. You had to be there.
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645. extreme236
2:23 AM GMT on November 27, 2007
Looks like Quikscat isnt working as good anymore...probably getting close to failing completely...im afraid QS may not be available for next year.
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644. flaboyinga
9:21 PM EST on November 26, 2007
Orca, was the movie The Guardian filmed up your way?
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643. Orcasystems
2:02 AM GMT on November 27, 2007
I changed it to my favorite team. I noticed a lot of people use football ones, so I figured.. why not. That way anything stupid I say can't be held against all Canadians :)
Not to mention this way I cannot be confused with a Habs or Leafs fan, not that there is much of a diff between the two.
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642. flaboyinga
8:55 PM EST on November 26, 2007
Hope its better where you are Flaboy,,, hmmm thats right.. lets find a rope :)

Yeah, we can use it to hang in there until it goes away.lol
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641. flaboyinga
8:51 PM EST on November 26, 2007
I really should book mark stuff

Ain't no need rushin' into anything.

When did you change your avatar?
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640. Orcasystems
1:48 AM GMT on November 27, 2007
Now I have to remember what that formula was for how much snow you get if its starts and lasts all day on the ground.. and when the last moon was etc etc....

I really should book mark stuff

Hope its better where you are Flaboy,,, hmmm thats right.. lets find a rope :)
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639. flaboyinga
8:44 PM EST on November 26, 2007
Hi Orca, good to see ya. Wasn't Shen the one that said Get a Rope when Taz mentioned an ice storm. That was a bad thought.lol
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638. sporteguy03
1:44 AM GMT on November 27, 2007
Thank you for the update Dr.Masters!
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637. flaboyinga
8:38 PM EST on November 26, 2007
34. leftovers 8:21 PM EST on November 26, 2007 Unusually bad red tide here in E Cent Fl. I notice there is no coverage of it The establish is afraid it will scare the tourist away. It is unbearable on the beach in PT Canerveral.

It seems like there oughta be a way to get the stinging jellyfish to eat the red tide and die while turning the combination into something beneficial.
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636. Orcasystems
1:40 AM GMT on November 27, 2007
I live in Victoria BC.. where is always nice and warm.. we seldom see snow, and when we do its normally late Decemeber or early January. Well its snowing and its cold and it not even December yet... and I blame it all on LakeShadow, he was thinking bad thoughts again about snow.


Cancun
1 month 8 days 16 hours 18 minutes
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635. flaboyinga
8:16 PM EST on November 26, 2007
By the way Shen, that's an interesting post on your site. I made a comment recently about settling in Orlando to have a bunch of land between me and any landfall sites. The eye of Donna went over my home when it made landfall about where Charlie did many years later. I made a point of being inland when Charlie hit.
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633. flaboyinga
8:12 PM EST on November 26, 2007
632. ShenValleyFlyFish 8:10 PM EST on November 26, 2007
Great save flaboy. As if. lol


I can get in plenty of trouble on my own without any help from friends and neighbors. When I saw the second post, I knew I'd done it again. LOL
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632. ShenValleyFlyFish
8:08 PM EST on November 26, 2007
Great save flaboy. As if. lol
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631. flaboyinga
7:47 PM EST on November 26, 2007
626. LakeShadow 7:17 PM EST on November 26, 2007
Hey pat, after looking at that photo, I'm glad the Borg redid your nose
yeah, wow! nice nosejob, Pat!
:o)


Hey LakeS, I was tryin' to imply that the photo was the before photo, not the current Pat. (I'll bet Patrick Stewart hates that photo.)
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630. ShenValleyFlyFish
7:49 PM EST on November 26, 2007
Informative post AussieStorm thanks
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629. ShenValleyFlyFish
7:43 PM EST on November 26, 2007
627. Tazmanian 7:28 PM EST on November 26, 2007
GFS has icy storm for new york yes thats right i siad new york


Get a Rope!
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628. flaboyinga
7:32 PM EST on November 26, 2007
Hey Taz. Hope you're doin' fine.
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627. Tazmanian
4:25 PM PST on November 26, 2007
GFS has icy storm for new york yes thats right i siad new york

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626. LakeShadow
12:15 AM GMT on November 27, 2007
Hey pat, after looking at that photo, I'm glad the Borg redid your nose
yeah, wow! nice nosejob, Pat!
:o)
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625. LakeShadow
12:09 AM GMT on November 27, 2007
Pat, the astrological weather on the Antarctica conditions page is the most interesting: no moon rise no moon set. / 24 hr. daylight./ 0 sec. 0 minutes change for tomorrow.
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624. flaboyinga
6:55 PM EST on November 26, 2007
Hey pat, after looking at that photo, I'm glad the Borg redid your nose.
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623. flaboyinga
6:52 PM EST on November 26, 2007
You got it bro!
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622. Patrap
5:49 PM CST on November 26, 2007
Me shortly after the Borg made me..The Hive Linkmaster.

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 415 Comments: 125715
621. flaboyinga
6:30 PM EST on November 26, 2007
Hey Pat, I was looking at the Vostok current conditions and that's the first time I ever saw a ceiling altitude that was that high. You're still the King of the Links.
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620. taistelutipu
1:31 AM EET on November 27, 2007
Thanks for posting the impressive picture of the storm over Russia, 456. That lil beast pounded Finland yesterday and raised the wish in me to go hibernating *lol* Fortunately it was Sunday so I didn't have to go out.
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619. AussieStorm
11:18 PM GMT on November 26, 2007
The Fujiwhara effect or Fujiwhara interaction is a type of interaction between two nearby cyclonic vortices, causing them to appear to "orbit" each other.
When the cyclones approach each other, their centers will begin orbiting cyclonically about a point between the two systems. The two vortices will be attracted to each other, and eventually spiral into the center point and merge. When the two vortices are of unequal size, the larger vortex will tend to dominate the interaction, and the smaller vortex will orbit around it.

The effect is often mentioned in relation to the motion of tropical cyclones, although the final merging of the two storms is uncommon. The effect becomes pronounced in these storms when they approach within about 1450 km (900 miles) of each other and are at tropical storm strength or stronger.

Lando weakens; Mina leaves 8 dead
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) Tropical storm "Lando" (international codename: Hagibis) weakened as it moved closer to northwest Palawan and Mindoro Island on Monday afternoon, after reentering the country's area of responsibility, the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said.

At 4 p.m., the eye of "Lando," which packs maximum sustained winds of 75 kilometers per hour near the center with gusts of up to 90 kilometers per hour, was spotted 300 kilometers west northwest of Puerto Princesa City.

Moving east northeast at 15 kilometers per hour, "Lando" was forecast to be at 140 kilometers west northwest of Coron, Palawan on Tuesday afternoon, 60 kilometers north of Alabat, Quezon on Wednesday afternoon, and 210 kilometers east of Casiguran, Aurora by Thursday afternoon.

Public storm signal number 2 (60-100 kilometers per hour winds) has been raised in northern Palawan and the Calamian Group of Islands while signal number 1 (30-60 kilometers per hour winds) was raised in the Mindoro provinces, Romblon, Lubang Island, Cuyo Island, and the rest of Palawan.

Meanwhile, typhoon "Mina" (international codename: Mitag) has weakened into a tropical storm as it blew away from the Luzon mainland after passing over the northeastern provinces, PAGASA said.

At 4 p.m., the eye of "Mina," which packs maximum sustained winds of 110 kilometers per hour near the center with gusts of up to 140 kilometers per hour, was located 100 kilometers north of Laoag City.

"Mina" left eight people dead, two others missing, and forced 141,863 people to evacuation centers in the Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Southern Luzon, and Bicol, where it was first forecast to make landfall.

The storm made landfall in Palanan town, Isabela province at 9 p.m. Sunday. "Mina" pulled "Lando" back to the country in a weather phenomenon known as the "Fujiwara effect."

PAGASA Director Prisco Nilo explained that under the "Fujiwara effect," a strong storm influences the movement of a relatively weaker storm.

"Mina" was forecast to be at 330 kilometers northeast of Basco, Batanes by Tuesday afternoon on its way to Okinawa, Japan.

Public Storm Signal number 3 (100-185 kilometers per hour winds) was raised in Cagayan, Kalinga, Apayao, Abra, Ilocos Norte and the Babuyan and Batanes Islands.

Signal number 2 was raised in Isabela, Ifugao, Mt. Province, Benguet, La Union, and Ilocos Sur, while signal number 1 was raised in Aurora, Quirino, Nueva Ecija, Nueva Vizcaya, Tarlac, and Pangasinan.

Mina affects close to 400,000
MANILA, Philippines -- Tropical storm "Mina" (international codename: Mitag) affected close to 400,000 people, mostly due to floods, sending 231,388 of them to evacuation centers throughout Luzon, the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) said Monday evening.

In its 6 p.m. report, the NDCC said the death toll remained at eight people, mostly from drowning, with four missing, including two Philippine Air Force (PAF) pilots who failed to return to base in Puerto Princesa City Monday moon, after a search and security patrol mission over the Kalayaan Islands in the disputed Spratlys chain.

The two pilots were identified as Captains Bonifacio Soriano and Gavino Mercado. PAF chief Lieutenant General Horacio Tolentino Jr., said the Philippine Navy and the United States Pacific Command would be asked to help look for the missing airmen.

Mina blew away from the Luzon mainland Monday afternoon after pounding the northeastern provinces. At the same time, tropical storm "Lando" (international codename: Hagibis) reentered the country and was forecast to make landfall in northwest Palawan Tuesday evening.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has ordered a massive "preemptive evacuation" of residents at risk from floods, landslides, and storm surges.

Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. who chairs the NDCC, said the preparations have paid off.

"We cannot change the wrath of nature, but because of our preparations, we have mitigated or buffered the impact [of the storms]," Teodoro told a news conference at NDCC headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo.

"With the return of 'Lando,' and the expected development of 'Nonoy,' we are ready, your government is ready, on orders of the President," Teodoro said, as he appealed to the public to "continue to be prepared and vigilant while these storms are here."

"Nonoy" is a brewing tropical depression over the Pacific Ocean that is forecast to merge with Lando when it exits to the Philippine Sea via Camarines Norte province on Thursday.

The merged storms are forecast to bring rains to the eastern seaboard, even is they are not expected to make landfall on the way to southern Japan.

As of 6 p.m., the NDCC said 88,317 families or 399,033 persons in 827 villages were affected by floods. Of these, 50,571 families or 231,388 individuals were housed in 642 evacuation centers.

The Bicol Region, which Mina was originally forecast to hit until it veered northwards, had the most number of evacuees at 227,277.

There were 3,351 evacuees in the Cagayan Valley Region, which was directly hit by the storm, and 750 others in Central Luzon and Aurora province.

Cheers AussieStorm
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15750
618. ShenValleyFlyFish
6:13 PM EST on November 26, 2007
616. Patrap 6:06 PM EST on November 26, 2007
Vostok,Antartica
Current Conditions


At least they don't have to deal with wild temperature swings this week.
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617. ShenValleyFlyFish
5:58 PM EST on November 26, 2007
456 you are welcome although I realy can't take a lot of credit. Someone else posted it earlier in the season and I bookmarked it. Here is link to University of Washington (state) Dpt of Atmospheric Sciences home page. Lots of stuff I haven't taken time to look at. Link
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616. Patrap
5:05 PM CST on November 26, 2007
Vostok,Antartica
Current Conditions Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 415 Comments: 125715
615. Weather456
7:03 PM AST on November 26, 2007
"Arctic Sea, Polar Ice Caps and Climate Change" on C-SPAN 2 right now
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
614. Weather456
6:59 PM AST on November 26, 2007
:-)
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
613. ShenValleyFlyFish
5:49 PM EST on November 26, 2007
456 stop it! You're making me cold just looking at those images. LOL
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612. Weather456
6:50 PM AST on November 26, 2007
ShenValleyFlyFish,

thanks alot for the link
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
611. Weather456
6:25 PM AST on November 26, 2007
Storm system over Russia. Infrared images are often difficult to interpret due to cold air being recorded as the same temperature as the cloud. Visible imagery is also limited to a few hours at this latitude this close to the winter solstice



Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
610. LakeShadow
10:44 PM GMT on November 26, 2007
LOL Shen! Sooo true!
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609. ShenValleyFlyFish
5:40 PM EST on November 26, 2007
Patrap, I'll see you and raise you Link

Warning do not attempt without fairly hot computer and a good net link. File is huge.
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608. Patrap
4:23 PM CST on November 26, 2007
Extended North Hemisphere (Update ~30 minutes)
Visible Image
Click to Enlarge
Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 415 Comments: 125715
607. Weather456
5:42 PM AST on November 26, 2007
GULF OF MEXICO....

A cold front goes from a low pressure area over West Virginia near 35N/88W southward to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (near Tabasco Sate). The cold front lies under strong diffluent flow between the associated upper trough and the upper ridge over the Caribbean resulting in moderate to strong showers along the front north of 20N. As the front continues to advance eastward it will interact with showers over the Western Caribbean to create a brief deluge over upper Central America. Meanwhile, debris moisture is spreading up out of the Caribbean across the Southeast Gulf of Mexico and the Florida Peninsula. Further west, parts of Texas and Louisiana are drying out due to dry air advection behind the front. This will probably only be short-lived as satellite imagery shows more clouds moving in from the west.


by W456

Storm over the Northeast US

Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
606. Bonedog
4:43 PM EST on November 26, 2007
Son you're gonna love that truck but just remember 4 wheel drive doesn't mean you wouldn't get stuck. Just means you'll get stuck a lot worse in a lot worse places." Truer words were never spoken.

Very Very very True
Member Since: July 14, 2005 Posts: 14 Comments: 7418
605. ShenValleyFlyFish
3:35 PM EST on November 26, 2007
Sorry about that ;)
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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.