WunderBlog Archive » Category 6™

Category 6 has moved! See the latest from Dr. Jeff Masters and Bob Henson here.

Bill is gone; Invest 92 pops up

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 2:08 PM GMT on August 24, 2009

Hurricane Bill is no more. The hurricane swept past Canada's Nova Scotia province Sunday afternoon, then made landfall early this morning in southeastern Newfoundland as a borderline tropical storm/Category 1 hurricane. Bill's waves claimed two lives over the weekend, a 54-year old swimmer that drowned in Florida, and a 7-year old girl in Maine that got swept into the sea by a big wave. The first death of the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season occurred on August 16, when a swimmer drowned in the rough surf from Tropical Storm Claudette at Pananma City Beach, FL.

Nova Scotia misses a direct hit
The center of Bill scooted parallel to the coast of Nova Scotia Sunday afternoon, and never quite came onshore. Since the storm's forward speed was so rapid--about 35 mph--this resulted in a highly asymmetric wind distribution. Since the top winds of a hurricane include the forward motion of the storm, Bill's top winds of 85 mph observed in the offshore, right front quadrant of the storm meant that the winds on the weak side of the storm, over Nova Scotia, were 85 mph minus 35 mph, or just 50 mph. Winds along most of the coast stayed below 39 mph, the borderline for tropical storm-force winds. The strongest winds measured in Canada were at Sable Island, which lies 150 miles offshore of Nova Scotia. Winds on the island hit 61 mph, gusting to 77 mph, between 4 - 5 pm ADT Sunday afternoon. A few islands along the Nova Scotia coast, such as Beaver Island and Hart Island, reported sustained winds of 39 - 40 mph. The big story for Nova Scotia was the waves from Bill. Buoy 44258 at the mouth of Halifax Harbor recorded significant wave heights of 29.5 feet and maximum wave heights of 49 feet as Bill passed 50 miles offshore. The buoy recorded top sustained winds of 35 mph, gusting to 51 mph. The waves combined with a 1.5 - 3 foot storm surge flooded many coastal roads. Buoy 44150, about 160 miles offshore of of the southwest tip of Nova Scotia, was in the east eyewall of Bill between 10 - 11 am ADT, and reported sustained winds of 62 mph, gusting to 85 mph, with significant wave heights of 44 feet. The buoy recorded a maximum wave height of 87 feet, according to Environment Canada. The highest official rain report on Nova Scotia was 2.6" (65 mm) at Yarmouth. Rainfall cause some localized flooding and road damage. Bill's winds cut power to about 40,000 people at the height of the storm. At Peggys Cove, three men were hit by a giant wave but were not hurt. A gift shop and attached home in the village were swept off of their foundation.

Newfoundland gets hit, but damage is minor
The southeast corner of Newfoundland took a direct hit from Bill. The storm made landfall early this morning as a borderline tropical storm/Category 1 hurricane. Top winds on the island were measured at Cape Race, which recorded sustained winds of 58 mph, gusting to 76 mph, between 1:30 and 2:30 am NDT. A storm surge of 1.2 meters (4 feet) was estimated by Environment Canada for Placentia Bay where Bill made landfall. Damage was minor on Newfoundland, with no major flooding reported. Bill dumped up to three inches of rain on Newfoundland.

Figure 1. The eye of Hurricane Bill on August 19 at 2157 UTC, from a NOAA P-3 Hurricane Hunter aircraft flying at 10,000 feet. Photo credit: Jack Parrish of NOAA's Aircraft Operations Center.

Kelvin-Helmholtz instability waves in the eye of Bill
Flight Director Jack Parrish of NOAA's Aircraft Operations Center snapped a cool photo in the eye of Hurricane Bill on Friday, showing the existence of a Kelvin-Helmholtz instability wave (Figure 1). The photo was taken on August 19 at 2157 UTC, from a NOAA P-3 Hurricane Hunter aircraft flying at 10,000 feet. The photo is taken looking WNW towards the eyewall. The towering clouds of the eyewall extend up to 50,000 - 55,000 feet in the photo, and the ocean surface is not visible, due to stratocumulus clouds covering the bottom of the eye. The center of the photo shows that the top of one of these stratocumulus clouds has a feature that looks like a breaking wave in the ocean. Well, that is an example of a breaking wave in the atmosphere known as a Kelvin-Helmholtz instability wave. The atmosphere behaves as a fluid, and thus has wave-like motions. When there is a sudden change of wind speed along the top of a cloud (wind shear), the flow can become unstable and cause breaking waves to form. One can see Kelvin-Helmholtz in the sky several times per year, and several alert wunderphotographers have uploaded photos of these waves over the years. However, it is uncommon to see these waves in the stratocumulus clouds covering the eye of a hurricane.

Figure 2. Water vapor satellite image for 8:15 am EDT 8/24/09. A tropical wave is approaching the Northern Lesser Antilles Islands, but is running into high wind shear from an upper-level cold low to the west of it. Image credit: NOAA/SSD.

Tropical wave approaching Lesser Antilles becomes Invest 92
A tropical wave with a moderate amount of shower activity is moving west-northwest at 20 - 25 mph and is approaching the northern Lesser Antilles Islands. This wave was designated "Invest 92" (92L) by NHC this morning. The wave is under about 20 - 30 knots of wind shear due the strong upper-level winds from the west. These winds are being created by the counter-clockwise flow of air around an upper-level cold-cored low north of Puerto Rico (Figure 2). This low is expected to move west-southwest and slowly weaken over the next two days, allowing shear to drop to the moderate 10 - 20 knot range beginning Tuesday night, according to the SHIPS model. By Wednesday, the upper low is predicted to be weak enough and far enough away from 92L that it will have a chance to develop. Most of the models show some degree of development of 92L by Thursday, when it is expected to be a few hundred miles off the coast of South Carolina. This wave could turn northward and give a wet weekend to New England, though it is too early to be confident of this. NHC is giving 92L a low (less than 30% chance) of developing into a tropical depression by Wednesday morning. The upper-level low will create plenty of wind shear and dump cold, dry air into 92L over the next two days, so Wednesday is probably the earliest we can expect the system to begin organizing into a tropical depression.

Several models predict the development of a tropical wave coming off the coast of Africa late this week.

I'll have an update Tuesday.

Jeff Masters
Beach Wall wave 1
Beach Wall wave 1
Waves from Hurricane Bill crashing on the sea wall during high tide in Lynn, MA
Hurricane Bill Waves Day 2 # 9
Hurricane Bill Waves Day 2 # 9
Kelvin-Helmholtz Instabilities
Kelvin-Helmholtz Instabilities
Kelvin-Helmholtz Instabilities to the S of Boston. Wavy like pattern in clouds is caused by a difference in winds between the cloud layer and the layer just above (called wind shear). The manifestation of this at the top of the altostratus deck is quite a beautiful and rare sight!


The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.