Unprecedented Cut in Colorado River Flow Ordered, Due to Drought

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 3:20 PM GMT on August 20, 2013

For the first time in history, the U.S. government has ordered that flow of Colorado River water from the 50-year-old Glen Canyon Dam be slashed, due to a water crisis brought about by the region's historic 14-year drought. On Friday, the Federal Bureau of Reclamation--a division of the Department of Interior that manages water and electric power in the West--announced that it would cut water released from Lake Powell's Glen Canyon Dam by 750,000 acre-feet in 2014. An acre-foot is the amount of water that will cover an acre of land one foot deep; 750,000 acre-feet is enough water to supply at least 750,000 homes for one year. The flow reduction will leave the Colorado River 9% below the 8.23 million acre feet that is supposed to be supplied downstream to Lake Mead for use in California, Nevada, Arizona and Mexico under the Colorado River Compact of 1922 and later agreements. "This is the worst 14-year drought period in the last hundred years," said Upper Colorado Regional Director Larry Walkoviak in a Bureau of Reclamation press release.

In the winter of 2005, Lake Powell reached its lowest level since filling, an elevation 150' below full pool. Lake levels recovered some in during 2005 - 2011, but the resurgence of severe to extreme drought conditions have provoked a steep decline in 2012 and 2013, with the lake falling 35' over the past year. As of August 18, 2013, Lake Powell was 109' below full pool (45% of capacity), and was falling at a rate of one foot every six days.


Figure 1. Satellite comparisons of water levels in Arizona and Utah's Lake Powell between 1999 and 2013 show a huge reduction in the amount of water in the lake. Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory.


Figure 2. From October 1, 2012 - July 31, 2013, precipitation over the Colorado River Watershed was about 80% of average. Image credit: Colorado Basin River Forecast Center.

Las Vegas' Water Supply, Lake Mead, Near a Record Low
Downstream of Lake Powell lies Lake Mead, filled in 1936 when Hoover Dam was completed. Lake Mead supplies Las Vegas with ninety percent of its drinking water, and the water level of Lake Mead is expected to fall by eight feet in 2014 due to the lower water flow levels out of Lake Powell ordered on Friday. Lake Mead has fallen by 100 feet since the current 14-year drought began in 2000, and the higher of the two intake pipes used to supply Las Vegas with water from the lake is in danger of running dry. As a result, a seven-year, $800 million project is underway by the Southern Nevada Water Authority to build a third intake pipe that will tap the deepest part of the reservoir. This so-called "third straw" is scheduled to be available late in 2014, which may be cutting it close, if the Colorado River watershed experiences another year of drought as severe as in 2012 - 2013. Southern Nevada has done well to reduce water usage, though--the region's annual water consumption decreased by nearly 29 billion gallons between 2002 and 2012, despite a population increase of more than 400,000 during that span.


Figure 3. Lake Mead water levels from 1938 - 2013 in July show a precipitous drop since drought conditions gripped the Western U.S. in 2000. The Lake Mead photo was taken by wunderphotographer LAjoneson June 29, 2007, when the lake had a "bathtub ring" 109' tall. Water level data from The Bureau of Reclamation.


Figure 4. Workers handle the main drive sections of the tunnel boring machine that is drilling a 3-mile long tunnel through solid rock to supply Las Vegas with water from Lake Mead. The new intake tunnel is designed to maintain the ability to draw upon Colorado River water at lake elevations as low as 1,000 feet above sea level. The lake already has two intake pipes, and the higher of these will go dry when the lake level hits 1050' - 1075'. As of August 2013, the Lake Mead water level was 1106' above sea level, which is 114' below full pool, but 24' above the record low water level of 1081' set in November 2010. Image credit: Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Drought conditions worsen over Southwest U.S. in August
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the Western U.S. drought peaked in July 2002, when 79% of the West was in at least severe drought, and 45% of the region was in the two highest categories of drought--extreme to exceptional. However, drought conditions have been steadily intensifying this summer. The August 13, 2013 Drought Monitor report showed that drought conditions in the Western U.S. are now the worst since 2004, with 78% of the West in at least severe drought, and 20% in the two highest categories of drought, extreme and exceptional. The latest U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook, issued on August 15, calls for drought to remain entrenched over the large majority of the Western U.S. through the end of November.


Figure 5. As of August 13, 2013, severe to exceptional drought gripped nearly all of the Colorado RIver's watershed in Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming, California, and Colorado. Image credit: NOAA/NESDIS/NCDC.

Causes of the great Western U.S. drought
It is well-known that natural variations in sea surface temperature patterns, such as seen from the El Niño/La Niña oscillation, can influence storm tracks and can cause prolonged periods of drought. These natural variations likely had a hand in causing the great 2000 - 2013 Western U.S. drought. However, changes in the amount of sea ice covering the Arctic can also have a major impact on Northern Hemisphere atmospheric circulation patterns. We must consider if global warming, which has led to a 50% decline in summer Arctic sea ice extent since 1979, may be altering storm tracks and contributing to drought. In 2004, Lisa Sloan, professor of Earth sciences at UC Santa Cruz, and her graduate student Jacob Sewall published an article in Geophysical Research Letters, Disappearing Arctic sea ice reduces available water in the American west. An accompanying news release explained that their climate models found "a significant reduction in rain and snowfall in the American West” as a result of Arctic sea ice loss:

What they found was a change in atmospheric circulation patterns that caused a small northward shift in the paths of winter storms over western North America. This shift in winter storm tracks resulted in significantly reduced winter precipitation from southern British Columbia to the Gulf of California. In some areas, average annual precipitation dropped by as much as 30 percent. The reductions were greatest along the West Coast, with lesser changes further inland. But even as far inland as the Rocky Mountains, winter precipitation fell by 17 percent.

The sea ice acts like a lid over the ocean surface during the winter, blocking the transfer of heat from the ocean to the atmosphere, Sewall explained. Where the sea ice is reduced, heat transfer from the ocean warms the atmosphere, resulting in a rising column of relatively warm air. The shift in storm tracks over North America was linked to the formation of these columns of warmer air over areas of reduced sea ice in the Greenland Sea and a few other locations.


A follow-up paper by Dr. Sewall in 2005, "Precipitation Shifts over Western North America as a Result of Declining Arctic Sea Ice Cover: The Coupled System Response", used a more sophisticated modeling technique but confirmed the results of the 2004 paper. In a June 2013 interview with climateprogress.org, Dr. Sewall commented:

"I think the hypothesis from 2004 and 2005 is being borne out by current changes. The only real difference is that reality is moving faster than we thought/hoped it would almost a decade ago."


Figure 6. The area of the Western U.S. in drought peaked during 2002 - 2004, but during 2013 has been approaching levels not seen since 2004. Image credit: U.S. Drought Portal.

Western North America drought of 2000 - 2004 the worst in over 800 years
The Colorado River's water woes are due to an extraordinary 14-year drought that began in 2000, which peaked during 2000 - 2004. A 2012 study titled, Reduction in carbon uptake during turn of the century drought in western North America, found that the 2000 - 2004 drought was the most severe Western North America event of its kind since the last mega drought over 800 years ago, during the years 1146 - 1151. The paper analyzed the latest generation of climate models used for the 2013 IPCC report, which project that the weather conditions that spawned the 2000 - 2004 drought will be the new normal in the Western U.S. by 2030, and will be considered extremely wet by the year 2100. If these dire predictions of a coming "megadrought" are anywhere close to correct, it will be extremely challenging for the Southwest U.S. to support a growing population in the coming decades.


Figure 7. Normalized precipitation over Western North America (five-year mean) from 22 climate models used to formulate the 2013 IPCC report, as summarized by Schwalm et al., 2012, Reduction in carbon uptake during turn of the century drought in western North America. The horizontal line marks the precipitation level of the 2000 - 2004 drought, the worst of the past 800 years. Droughts of this intensity are predicted to be the new normal by 2030, and will be considered an outlier of extreme wetness by 2100. The paper states: "This impending drydown of western North America is consistent with present trends in snowpack decline as well as expected in-creases in aridity and extreme climate events,including drought, and is driven by anthropogenically forced increases in temperature with coincident increases in evapotranspiration and decreases in soil moisture. Although regional precipitation patterns are difficult to forecast, climate models tend to underestimate the extent and severity of drought relative to available observations. As such, actual reductions in precipitation may be greater than shown. Forecasted precipitation patterns are consistent with a probable twenty-first century megadrought." Image credit: Schwalm et al., 2012, Reduction in carbon uptake during turn of the century drought in western North America, Nature Geoscience 5, 551-555, Published online 29 JULY 2012, DOI: 10.1038/NGEO1529, www.nature.com/naturegeoscience.

Related posts
Lessons from 2012: Droughts, not Hurricanes, are the Greater Danger, my November 2012 post.

National Geographic has an excellent interactive satellite image that shows the difference in Lake Powell water levels between 1999 and 2013.

How Two Reservoirs Have Become Billboards For What Climate Change Is Doing To The American West, August 12, 2013 climateprogress.org post by Tom Kenworthy.

Scientists Predicted A Decade Ago Arctic Ice Loss Would Worsen Western Droughts. Is That Happening Already?, June 2013 post by Joe Romm at climateprogress.org.

Twenty Cities At Risk of Water Shortages, August 14, 2013 wunderground news post by Nick Wiltgen

References
Sewall, Jacob O., 2005, Precipitation Shifts over Western North America as a Result of Declining Arctic Sea Ice Cover: The Coupled System Response, Earth Interact., 9, 1–23. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/EI171.1

Sewall, J.O., and L.C. Sloan, 2004, Disappearing Arctic sea ice reduces available water in the American west, Geophys. Res. Lett., 31, L06209, doi:10.1029/2003GL019133. Accompanying news release.

Jeff Masters

Lake Mead - low water (clicks4fun)
Colorado River has been struggling to survive. Predictions of its future are grim in the headlines. Hopefully scientists will figure out how to resolve this bad situation.
Lake Mead - low water
Storm Clouds over Lake Powell, Glen Canyon NRA (catjuice)
Lake Powell, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, AZ
Storm Clouds over Lake Powell, Glen Canyon NRA

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

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I have an announcement to make. I told Grothar that I would tell him first (something about green bananas???) and I have told him about this already. I became a GREAT grandfather sometime during the night. My great granddaughter's name is Alice. Mother and daughter are doing fine! I would tell you more, but I have discovered that great grandfathers receive their news at some time after the family cat does. I will see what the family cat has learned and pass it along.
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A MIDDLE LEVEL TO UPPER LEVEL CYCLONIC CIRCULATION CENTER IS
NEAR 26N82W IN THE COASTAL SECTIONS OF SOUTHWESTERN FLORIDA.
CONVECTIVE PRECIPITATION...SCATTERED MODERATE TO ISOLATED STRONG
WITHIN A 30 NM RADIUS OF 25N82W. ISOLATED MODERATE WITHIN A 30
NM RADIUS OF 24N85W.


God I'm Good! LOL
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Water in the desert? Some rough numbers to think about. Farmers pay about $25 an acre foot for water. City people pay about $700 for that same acre foot. And 70% to 80% of water is used by agriculture. Though they make up less than 1% of the population.

So it isn't population, per se, causing the problem. And it won't be the people that will move away. It will be the agriculture.
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Some updates on the Asian floodings:

Video Report: Thousands trapped, stranded in Manila
Posted at 08/20/2013 11:25 PM

NASA shows more flood threats in Luzon
by Jojo Malig, ABS-CBNNews.com
Posted at 08/20/2013 11:04 PM | Updated as of 08/21/2013 1:59 AM

MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) - Floods could worsen in central and southern Luzon amid heavy rains spawned by the southwest monsoon or habagat, according to latest data from a joint US-Japanese scientific project.
Latest satellite and hydrological data from the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM), a joint project between the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), shows the almost the entire central Luzon and an area in the Southern Tagalog Region covered in red, which means a high potential for floods. ...



Russia flood victims in far east pay for past mistakes
BBC, August 20, 2013
Floods affecting a big swathe of Russia's far east will cost the authorities billions of roubles in compensation - payments that could have been avoided if lessons had been learnt from similar disasters in the past.
The Amur and Zeya rivers, near the Chinese border, burst their banks near the town of Blagoveshchensk after torrential rain.
"Thirty years of dry weather made people forgetful, and they started building in places where there is a risk of flooding," says Pyotr Osipov, an ecologist for the environmental group WWF in the Amur region. ...
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Quoting 302. Levi32:
Here you go Kman. I dug up an old script of mine that plots raw GOES imagery. This is a zoom-in loop on the Caribbean wave.



Making me feel bad now LOL

Still trying to load the Ramsdis loop. !
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GFS ensembles show 94E strengthening significantly in the eastern Pacific, with an ensemble mean 994mb pressure at 120 hours on a 1.0° x 1.0° grid, which would probably be a hurricane. The track spread is large, with only a couple of members moving the storm towards the Baja peninsula.

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Good afternoon. With respect to the very "dry" blog entry (sorry to hear about those severe problems and prospects) here a new article on Deutsche Welle English which may provide some ideas to save water in the desert and nevertheless grow vegetables and fruits:

Growing veggies in the desert no longer a mirage
Deutsche Welle English, August 20, 2013

Desert-dwelling tribes have long survived on little more than dates and water. But now, the desert’s barren land can nourish much more than that - strawberries and tomatoes are also cropping up in some places. ...

...there are alternative methods to finding water in the desert. Some countries collect and purify waste water from cities and use the recycled product to irrigate fields.

In Ethiopia, local communities have built terraces in the arid highlands and dug deep trenches that allow rainwater to seep into the soil and increase groundwater levels. And in Australia, a German entrepreneur has created a business called "Sundrop Farms" that uses seawater to grow crops such as cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers in the world’s driest regions. ...
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Thanks, it works.
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Here you go Kman. I dug up an old script of mine that plots raw GOES imagery. This is a zoom-in loop on the Caribbean wave.

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301. 7544
Hmmm is that pr blob movin nw? Its lookin good
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going to get a train of these system moving towards the islands. we might get something before august ends... everyone should be prepared
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Quoting 284. GTstormChaserCaleb:
I spy ex-Erin's remnant low level circulation.


And, it's in 28-degree waters now, and on the southeast side of the stronger southwesterly TUTT shear.
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Quoting 256. sar2401:

Las Vegas existed long before gambling, but gambling is what made it grow. This is self regulating, however, because the glory days of Las Vegas were the 50's and 60's when there was no legal gambling elsewhere in the country. Now, over half the states have legal casinos, and Utah and Hawaii are the only two states left without any form of legal gambling. California casinos alone now have more slot machines than all the casinos in Nevada combined, At some point, the demand for water will decrease drastically in Vegas.


Yup, inevitably states, especially cash-strapped ones, will welcome any methodology at all including gambling to fill emptying coffers. Truth is, despite its colorful allure, these wavering measures are not the promised be-all, end-all saving grace many derive. And, especially not when governments continue to spend beyond their means, ultimately promoting apathy and a growing dependency on government.

Until this country gets away from a consumption model and back to a manufacturing model putting people back to work and producing goods, there can only be increased burden and demand placed on fewer and fewer. And, even ol' mules can be plowed to death.
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Quoting 282. Levi32:


Does Ex-Erin have any chance of getting anything going again? Seems a bit eery to have that circulation still intact at some level drifting just south of west inching closer to the Virgin Islands & Puerto Rico.
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Quoting 292. Levi32:


SSD has GIF loops on the far-right of its selection page. You can post GIF loops on a blog but not flash loops.


Ok, thanks
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Just looks like a sheared out wave being enhanced by the upper level diffluent flow aloft.
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Quoting 289. ILwthrfan:


Just open the animated GIF file in a new tab and copy and paste it into the image implication item on our comment section.

Heres Trami.





Thanks. Will try that
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Quoting 290. kmanislander:


How are you posting that flash loop ?. Hot linking does not work so I assume you are uploading somewhere first ?


SSD has GIF loops on the far-right of its selection page. You can post GIF loops on a blog but not flash loops.
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Quoting 276. kmanislander:
Looks like a surface low is forming just inside the leading edge of the cloud deck. Low level inflow is very evident from the loop. Any tips on how to post a flash loop ?




I don't think there is a way to directly get a flash onto WU. What I do is post the link to the flash and where you can modify what the link will say, put the image code in. This means that an image will so up but when you click the image it will take you to the flash loop.

Or just do what Levi said in the comment below. :P
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Quoting 282. Levi32:


How are you posting that flash loop ?. Hot linking does not work so I assume you are uploading somewhere first ?
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Quoting 276. kmanislander:
Looks like a surface low is forming just inside the leading edge of the cloud deck. Low level inflow is very evident from the loop. Any tips on how to post a flash loop ?





Just open the animated GIF file in a new tab and copy and paste it into the image implication item on our comment section.

Heres Trami.



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Quoting 265. Levi32:
Both the GFS and CFS ensemble sets say that the wave behind ex-94L will be the first in an endless line of waves that will at least try to develop.

CFS temporal ensemble Day 13:



GFS ensemble Day 13:



The CMC ensemble is not quite as excited:





**endless** struck my eyes xD
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Quoting 97. 69Viking:


Ahh, what I would give to see a low of 65!
Had a 48 here last week, but that and the 50s dew pts went away this weekend. Turned the A/C back on Mon., which, since Ragweed is peaking, I didn't mind, after being off a week and 3 out of 4 weekends in July. Anyway, 87 w/ 67 dew pt currently. Finally lost our light E winds, now SW, but light. Still over 30" (30.03) hardly any clouds. TV said slight chance of rain Thurs, hope so, starting to get very dry and temps forecast to be in 90s. Corn, beans and my garden could use a nice drink.

Pat's main man is 65 today, Happy Birthday Robert!
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Quoting 279. 69Viking:


What does the shear look like out in front of it. Looks like a ULL in the Northern Caribbean and Eastern GOM.


Around 20 to 30 knots but there is a high to the South that might expand and give some relief. Waiting for the map to update.
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Quoting 282. Levi32:
I spy ex-Erin's remnant low level circulation.
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Quoting 247. Gearsts:
WOW! lol i had to say it


If that pattern brings us weather then ok, but if everything is gonna go fishing then NO NO and NO xD
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Quoting 273. Levi32:


Nice kink in the low-level flow in there. If it moves over any mountains though it will be ruined.


Actually if you review the 3 hr placement of the 850 vort since this morning it's been pretty much due West after lifting to about 15N overnight.

Take a look at the Ramsdis 1KM vis loop and you can see the motion essentially due West as the satellite tracks the motion. Can't post it myself.
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Water issues in Vegas can be resolved. So I wouldn't expect it to turn out like the Anastazi It just needs the political will to make it happen. Same with Southern California.
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Quoting 266. kmanislander:
-70C in this convection. Getting up there and releasing a lot of heat content.



What does the shear look like out in front of it. Looks like a ULL in the Northern Caribbean and Eastern GOM.
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278. TXCWC
Quoting 266. kmanislander:
-70C in this convection. Getting up there and releasing a lot of heat content.



In a pretty high wind shear environment currently



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Quoting 207. SouthernIllinois:

Going back 90 days and encompassing most of the meteorological summer, this is beyond abnormal. This borderlines insane.
[...]
The big anomalies are towards the west-central peninsula and up in the panhandle. You can almost see the position of the recurring trough from the farther north into the central Gulf, and the effect of recurring easterlies farther south pushing the seabreeze storms to the west,leaving smaller deficits on the east-central peninsula that do not cancel out the huge surplus rains. Striking how in the peninsula there are both large positive anomalies and smaller negative anomaly areas.
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Looks like a surface low is forming just inside the leading edge of the cloud deck. Low level inflow is very evident from the loop. Any tips on how to post a flash loop ?



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Link

TPW loop for the Indian Ocean shows a lessening of moisture for east Africa.
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Boring day at work (1.5hrs left)... Glad to see some of the models picking up on TCG!
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Quoting 266. kmanislander:
-70C in this convection. Getting up there and releasing a lot of heat content.



Nice kink in the low-level flow in there. If it moves over any mountains though it will be ruined.
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Quoting 246. GTstormChaserCaleb:
Selected a few GFS runs out to 384 hrs. just to show the huge discrepencies in track.

12z Today:



6z This morning:



18z 8/17/13:



0z 8/16/13



Nothing should be taken serious with a run this far out, except maybe the general trend in the pattern, but even that changes this far out, consistency is the key and when you start seeing that consistency in the short range then you know something is up. We will see but we are getting ever so closely to the official peak and it wouldn't surprise me to see multiple storms going on all at once.

Could you post it again, except showing the same relative time? (i.e. run from two days ago 384 hours out, run from one day ago 360 hours out, etc.)
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Quoting 268. GTstormChaserCaleb:
Actually the GFS has it to a certain extent, but a different time frame.


Well, that explains why I found a whole lot of nothing, GFS is a lot faster. IIRC, the euro was showing a storm that eventually hit the Baja, but just one entity.
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Quoting 263. Patrap:


Maybe a Invest in warranted, they do'nt move them unless we up ticking usually.


Shall see though.


I agree. A good candidate for 95L IMO. Ex 94L would become 94L again, would it not, if it was tagged again ?.
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Quoting 264. wxchaser97:

Wow, but it took the mods only forever to remove/ban buzzard yesterday, sigh.

Today is one of the warmest day's in a couple weeks at least for me. Haven't seen the upper 80s in a while. Like you, I'm ready for fall to fully come.
Then again, it is the GEM so doubt that scenario will happen. :P
Actually the GFS has it to a certain extent, but a different time frame.

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Quoting 149. AllBoardedUp:
Huh? You just proved my point. We spent billions of dollars to supply water to a place that shouldn't have existed in the first place. And if gambling was allowed in the rest of the states that business wouldn't be going to the Bahamas. I think you getting confused with what came first, the chicken or the egg.


My apologies to you, AllBoardedUp. I was confused on what you were saying. However, allowing gambling in the other states does not solve the problems in Vegas. It would, perhaps, lead to a quicker demise of Vegas as a population center. I do not really consider that this is likely since Vegas has become much more than just a place to gamble. Vegas is now an attraction to tourists that goes well beyond the attraction to the gambling there. Several states do offer legal gambling, but Vegas still is the epicenter of gambling in the U.S. and a large entertainment center as well. Cities will be abandoned in the future due to the resources being stretched too far to continue to support them. I can assure that they will not be abandoned willing by those that are there now. You can legalize gambling in all of the states, but Vegas will still persist in being a large population center, until the water runs out.
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-70C in this convection. Getting up there and releasing a lot of heat content.

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Both the GFS and CFS ensemble sets say that the wave behind ex-94L will be the first in an endless line of waves that will at least try to develop.

CFS temporal ensemble Day 13:



GFS ensemble Day 13:



The CMC ensemble is not quite as excited:



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Quoting 258. tornadodude:
Wow, I had a temporary ban and my comment deleted for the Chris Farley El Nino clip. lol must be a slow day.

anyway, some of the humidity is starting to return here, I wish it would go away and allow fall to come in full force

Wow, but it took the mods only forever to remove/ban buzzard yesterday, sigh.

Today is one of the warmest day's in a couple weeks at least for me. Haven't seen the upper 80s in a while. Like you, I'm ready for fall to fully come.
Quoting 255. GTstormChaserCaleb:
This is cool the GEM has a fujiwhara in the EPAC at 210 hrs.



And this is the end result.


Then again, it is the GEM so doubt that scenario will happen. :P
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Quoting 257. kmanislander:
Ramsdis has shifted their 1 KM loop to the central Caribbean system. I think we may see this coloured yellow later today if trends continue.



Maybe a Invest in warranted, they do'nt move them unless we up ticking usually.


Shall see though.
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Trend in the ensembles seems to be more closer to the East Coast and it looks very active.

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Ex 94L is also starting to show signs of reorganizing.
If convection picks up this afternoon this could also be a candidate for the yellow crayon later on.

Would not be surprised to see two 10% circles later today or tonight.

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Quoting 254. clwstmchasr:


That coming off of one the strongest El Nino's on record in 1997.
2009 was a moderate one, so not exactly the same, but similar. 1996 and 2008 were neutral.
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Cat 6 lead authors: WU cofounder Dr. Jeff Masters (right), who flew w/NOAA Hurricane Hunters 1986-1990, & WU meteorologist Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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