2006 Gulf of Mexico Loop Current outlook

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:41 PM GMT on May 08, 2006

The Loop Current is an ocean current that transports warm Caribbean water through the Yucatan Channel between Cuba and Mexico. The current flows northward into the Gulf of Mexico, then loops southeastward through the Florida Keys (where it is called the Florida Current), and into the Bahamas. Here, the waters of the Loop Current flow northward along the U.S. coast and become the Gulf Stream. With current speeds of about 0.8 m/s, the Loop Current is one of the fastest currents in the Atlantic Ocean. The current is about 200-300 km (125 -190 miles) wide, and 800 meters (2600 feet) deep, and is present in the Gulf of Mexico about 95% of the time. During summer and fall, the Loop Current provides a deep (80 - 150 meter) layer of vary warm water that can provide a huge energy source for any lucky hurricanes that might cross over.

Figure 1. The Loop Current flow northwards into the Gulf of Mexico. Every 6 - 11 months, a bulge in the current cuts off into a clockwise-rotating eddy that then drifts slowly west-southwestward towards Texas. Image credit: NOAA.

The Loop Current commonly bulges out in the northern Gulf of Mexico and sometimes will shed a clockwise rotating ring of warm water that separates from the main current (Figure 1). This ring of warm water slowly drifts west-southwestward towards Texas or Mexico at about 3-5 km per day. This feature is called a "Loop Current Ring", "Loop Current Eddy", or "Warm Core Ring", and can provide a key source of energy to fuel rapid intensification of hurricanes that cross the Gulf, in addition to the Loop Current itself. The Loop Current pulsates in a quasi-regular fashion and sheds rings every 6 to 11 months. When a Loop Current Eddy breaks off in the Gulf of Mexico at the height of hurricane season, it can lead to a dangerous situation where a vast reservoir of energy is available to any hurricane that might cross over. This occurred in 2005, when a Loop Current Eddy separated in July, just before Hurricane Katrina passed over and "bombed" into a Category 5 hurricane. The eddy remained in the Gulf and slowly drifted westward during September. Hurricane Rita passed over the same Loop Current Eddy three weeks after Katrina, and also explosively deepened to a Category 5 storm.

Figure 2. Current position of the Loop Current and Loop Current Eddy that cut off in March 2006. Image credit: Navy Research Lab.

So, a key question to ask this hurricane season, is when will the next Loop Current Eddy break off, creating a ready-made high-octane energy source for any hurricane that might pass by? Well, the behavior of the Loop Current over the past year can be viewed at Navy Research Lab's web site (51 Mb). This movie has arrows showing the direction of the current, plus a color coding that represents the height of the sea surface above mean level. The higher the height, the warmer the water (since warm water expands and thus raises the sea level where it is at). One can see near the beginning of the animation that the Loop Current Eddy that fueled Katrina and Rita breaks off from the Loop Current in July 2005, then slowly moves west-southwest to a point off the Texas coast by November, where it gradually dissipates. Another Loop Current Eddy breaks off eight months later in March, and lies south of Louisiana in early May. If the Loop Current maintains its 6 - 11 month periodicity shedding these eddies, the next eddy is due sometime between September and February. Oceanographic models can't forecast these events realiably, so we don't know when the most likely time is. Let's hope that this doesn't occur in September or October--we could do without another big eddy of warm water in the Gulf at the height of hurricane season, fueling explosive hurricane intensification!

The Navy web site offers a 1-month forecast of the Loop Current in the Gulf of Mexico. The current forecast hints that the Loop Current may shed an eddy at the beginning of June. I don't know how reliable these forecasts are, but keep in mind that currents are driven by winds, and wind forecasts are not reliable out more than about 10 days. Given that the Loop Current just shed an eddy in March, I'd be surprised if a new eddy comes off in June.

My next blog will be Wednesday.
Jeff Masters

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259. TampaSteve
7:21 PM GMT on May 10, 2006
jeffB wrote:

"That's not necessarily true. Increased vaporization can go hand-in-hand with increased high-altitude condensation -- "clouds" -- which increase Earth's albedo, reflecting more sunlight back into space."

Exactly...it's a self-correcting mechanism...more sunlight increases evaporation, which makes more clouds, which reflects more sunlight, which reduces evaporation, keeping the Earth's temperature in a relatively narrow zone.
258. jeffB
3:09 PM GMT on May 10, 2006
Pecos1680 wrote:

One other thing my chart seems to suggest is that a large increase in solar activity may cause more water vaporization, which temporarily could keep surface temperatures down during a solar increase. But the heat quantity in the atmosphere would keep increasing causing surface temperature increases later on.

That's not necessarily true. Increased vaporization can go hand-in-hand with increased high-altitude condensation -- "clouds" -- which increase Earth's albedo, reflecting more sunlight back into space.

If you assume constant albedo, then you're right -- evaporating surface water keeps temperatures down, but does not reduce heat content.
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 49
257. desertdisaster
1:05 PM GMT on May 10, 2006
About the solar cycles...

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The brightening and dimming of the sun may account for a 1,500-year cycle of cooling and warming on parts of the Earth, a study of ice in the North Atlantic suggests.

Researchers found that a very slight difference in the amount of solar energy reaching the Earth can have a powerful chilling effect on the climate: ice builds up in lands bordering the North Atlantic, the average temperature drops in Europe and North America.

``Whether the whole Earth is affected, we don't know for sure yet, but it is certainly implied,'' said Gerard C. Bond, a researcher at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in Palisades, N.Y.

``The effect does extend from the high northern latitudes down, maybe even to the tropics,'' said Bond, first author of a study appearing Friday in the journal Science.

The cycle of sunlight intensity roughly follows a 1,500-year pattern, based on analysis of the past 12,000 years. But the difference from the top of the cycle to the bottom is very small, with less than a 0.1 percent difference in energy levels, he said.

Bond and his colleagues believe this is enough to trigger severe climate changes, such as the Little Ice Age, a 490-year period starting in 1400 that dramatically chilled Europe and the North Atlantic.

``The climate system is extremely sensitive to weak forces, such as solar variability,'' Bond said. ``That should make us that much more worried about greenhouse warming.''

Greenhouse warming is thought to be caused by an increase in the atmosphere of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels, including oil, gas and coal.

The study is an effort to determine if small changes in sunlight over centuries can cause the Earth's climate to warm or cool. Other experts working on the same problem said Bond and his team have made a strong case.

``It shows that the connection is real,'' Jeffrey Park of Yale University said in Science. To David Thomson of Queen's University in Ontario, Canada, it seems like ``a fairly convincing case.''

However there is a lot of contradictions within the scientific comunity about all this...

256. Oceanwx2
12:31 PM GMT on May 10, 2006
RE Sunspots
A better correlation is between the length of the solar cycle and global temperatures.


255. StormJunkie
9:32 AM GMT on May 10, 2006
Oh wannabe, I am sorry. If I find your sense in my life adventures I will be sure to let you know where you lost it.

Anywho to the rest who are here for the weather please stop by my site and leave any feedback you may have in my blog. I am always looking for good links and video for the site.


Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 17164
254. weatherwannabe
5:34 AM GMT on May 10, 2006
Stormjunkie is officially a spammer
253. snowboy
5:33 AM GMT on May 10, 2006
Pecos, thanks for the interesting post but I'm not seeing a correlation between the sunspot activity and temps.
Member Since: September 21, 2005 Posts: 10 Comments: 2556
252. Snowfire
5:16 AM GMT on May 10, 2006

Look more closely at your own graph, especially the period from 1975-1980 to the present.

During this period, temperature was rising steeply even though sunspot number was not showing a significant overall trend. You cannot explain this with solar forcing alone.

BTW- your sunspot graph shows the Dalton Minimum beautifully!
Member Since: June 29, 2005 Posts: 24 Comments: 314
251. Scotth
4:26 AM GMT on May 10, 2006
I can't download RealPlayer on the road. So, I guess I'll just have to wait until I get home to pronounce it with accuracy. Oh well, not gonna lose any sleep on that one.
Member Since: August 4, 2004 Posts: 0 Comments: 23
250. Scotth
4:11 AM GMT on May 10, 2006
Well it sure was nice talking to ya'll. Hey...I got an idea...."WAKE UP"! Alright, I'll stop now. Goodnight all....hey, atmosweather, I just wanted to let you know, I'm still praying, every morning for you, your family and your brother. God bless you, brother. Just remember, God blesses those that believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Believe in Him, and you shall live forever! Don't believe?...Take a moment (well, an hour or so and read the Gospel of John. God is good....and He's good ALL the time! :o)
Member Since: August 4, 2004 Posts: 0 Comments: 23
249. louastu
4:04 AM GMT on May 10, 2006
Here is an audio pronunciation guide for Western Pacific storms.

Note: You will need RealPlayer in order to play the audio clips.

248. Pecos1680
4:03 AM GMT on May 10, 2006
The relationship between climate and sunspots was well recognized, but recently it has kinda been pushed under the rug. The Maunder Minimum, a time of almost no sunspots at all, occurred from the mid-1600's to the early 1700's. This coincided with what has been called the Little Ice Age in Europe and North America.

The solar variability is an input to the various global warming models. But it is poorly understood exactly how much weight to give it. Put it in as a big contributor, and the models follow the sun. Put it in as a minor contributor and you can make the model do whatever you politically want.

And the variability measurements themselves are highly suspect. The model-builders use calorimeters to track solar flux on the surface, but the flux has already been filtered by the atmosphere, and it only measures a very limited wave band. It would be nice to measure the solar flux on orbit in the whole spectrum from microwaves through X-rays, over decades. And the interaction of the solar wind with the Earth's magnetic field could even be a factor to investigate.

One other thing my chart seems to suggest is that a large increase in solar activity may cause more water vaporization, which temporarily could keep surface temperatures down during a solar increase. But the heat quantity in the atmosphere would keep increasing causing surface temperature increases later on.

If I get some time, I'll try to redo this analysis with a real IIR filter, biased to get rid of the 11-year solar cycle. The current filter is a lagging moving average filter which introduces a significant delay in the data.

While my chart is crude, it is suggestive of a real link, especially when combined with the past data showing linkages back to the 1600's.

It just makes sense to me that in a time when the sun is enormously more active than at any other time in recorded history (at least since Galileo discovered sunspots), we are also seeing global warming that is unprecedented in history.

I don't think it is a coincidence.

247. Scotth
3:51 AM GMT on May 10, 2006
Ok louastsu - How do you pronounce "Chanchu"? Chan-ku......Kan-chu....Chan-chu.....????
Member Since: August 4, 2004 Posts: 0 Comments: 23
246. Scotth
3:46 AM GMT on May 10, 2006
I've been thinking...maybe if I used one of cyclonebuster's tunnels...I could keep from getting electrocuted. Yeah, I could hide in them and then just let my fishing line get carried out through the current that supposedly runs through it. Ha Ha...get it? The current (see my last post). Well, I thought it was funny....and I guess that's what counts, huh? By the way...did you know that when you get "electrocuted" it means that your dead? Otherwise, you've just got shocked. Interesting little tidbit of information I thought...but since I'm the only one here....I guess it really doesn't matter.
Member Since: August 4, 2004 Posts: 0 Comments: 23
245. Scotth
3:33 AM GMT on May 10, 2006
Ok...so....apparently everyone has gone to sleep. I'm away from my family and can't do that right now....if you ever saw my beautiful wife, you would understand. So, I will tak ethis opportunity to tell you all how my wife and I almost got hit by lightnening the other day. We were fishing on the bay near the gulf on the western panhandle of Florida. A storm came up and we retreated to the truck while it passed. The storm let up....wasn't really out of the area but the rain had all but stopped. I went back out and through my line in the water and my wife came walking don on the rocks to start fishing again so I held my hand out to help her down through the rocks. She touched my hand and yelled "ouch"! I said "what?" She said, "you didn't feel that?" I said "no, what". She said, "I just got shocked when I touched you?. Well, after I finished congratulating myself for still being able to give my wife a tingle just by my touch, I realized that her fishing rod was "ticking". I looked at her with that look....you know, the one that doesn't need any words...and none-the-less I said it anyway. "DROP THE ROD"! She looked at me and said, "hey, your hair is standing on end." We exchanged another look and yes, I said it...."RUN"! So we ran to the truck and leaped inside...shaking from what almost happened. Eventaully, we returned to the bay to drown the rst of the shrimp we were using for bait. And that's my big story for the week.
Member Since: August 4, 2004 Posts: 0 Comments: 23
244. louastu
3:30 AM GMT on May 10, 2006
Maximum sustained winds for Chanchu are now at 65 mph.
243. Scotth
3:11 AM GMT on May 10, 2006
Pecos - Nice work on the graph. Its ashame a real "scientist" (i.e. - "guesser") can't come up with something like this. That's the problem (I think anyway). These "big name" scientists develop an agenda (take sides if you will)...and at that point, in my opinion, they become ineffective. In other words, they cease to see the science, and only see what supports their own ideas.
Member Since: August 4, 2004 Posts: 0 Comments: 23
242. Scotth
3:05 AM GMT on May 10, 2006
Well, last week I was in Madison, Wisconsin and it was 55 degrees and raining. This week I'm in Orlando and its 90 and we need rain. Anyone volunteer some rain for Orlando?
Member Since: August 4, 2004 Posts: 0 Comments: 23
240. snowski
1:58 AM GMT on May 10, 2006

Can you cite other references supporting this theory?
239. Pecos1680
1:44 AM GMT on May 10, 2006

The global warming seen on Mars and the Earth is consistent with the unprecedented change that occurred in our Sun, starting in the 1950's.

Here is a chart that I created using Zurich Observatory sunspot data from 1770 to the present. To create it, I ran a lagging moving average filter (using Excel) on the raw data that removed most of the the 11-year solar periodicity.

It shows that the number of sunspots in the last 50 years is greater than have ever been previously seen.

I then sorta crudely overlaid a global temperature graph from NASA, (www.redorbit.com/news/display/?id=126207) and found a correlation.

(Note that while sunspots are dark and reduce the amount of energy coming from that particular spot, the associated activity around them greatly increases the solar energy output.)

This is also consistent with extensive evidence from the past that shows cold temperatures when there are few sunspots, such as during the Maunder Minimum which occured before the data I used, and during the early to mid 1800's when the canals in Holland often froze, and in the 1840's when diaries of American western pioneers record water freezing overnight on the plains in August.

So all of this is consistent with global warming being primarily caused by solar change.


238. ForecasterColby
1:30 AM GMT on May 10, 2006
Inyo - it's NOT GETTING CLOSE. Ack!

David, we can just click on your name if we want to reach your blog.

Chanchu isn't really going to make full landfall - the Philippine islands are fairly small. It will still be able to draw in some energy. I'd say ~ 100kt at landfall, given current trends.
237. Blizzards
1:13 AM GMT on May 10, 2006
236. Inyo
12:18 AM GMT on May 10, 2006
there is a chance the comet will cause a meteor shower. Too bad its been cloudy at night here, maybe I should pay a visit to Mt Wilson
Member Since: September 3, 2002 Posts: 42 Comments: 931
235. Blizzards
12:15 AM GMT on May 10, 2006
MichaelSTL yes i can get e mail
234. Blizzards
12:14 AM GMT on May 10, 2006
i have a update in my new blog come see it
232. RL3AO
11:43 PM GMT on May 09, 2006

Definatly looks like the eyewall is trying to form.
229. BlizzardBeach
11:37 PM GMT on May 09, 2006
it is this bad i may need to do a new id it is trhis bad i did a bing ooooops
228. BlizzardBeach
11:35 PM GMT on May 09, 2006
227. RL3AO
11:33 PM GMT on May 09, 2006
The West Pacific season is all year. Of course, storms are most common in summer/fall.
11:22 PM GMT on May 09, 2006
I find it amazing how a 1 degree jump in sst can effect the formation of these storms, the energy potential is phenominal. We have such a small understanding of the systems we observe. The butter fly effect in full force. Add to the fact that only the U.S. has had aircraft going into these storms, it's amzazing we have the understanding we do. Did you know that the first trip into a storm was done by a B-29 to see if they could take the stress. The guy didn't know if it would take it, but did it anyway. How many lives are owed to him?
225. louastu
11:21 PM GMT on May 09, 2006
The Western Pacific does not have an official beginning or end.

224. atmosweather
11:12 PM GMT on May 09, 2006
It's not really an early storm; their season is much more active than ours usually. Yeah, the weather is very interesting this year, and with the warm Atlantic Basin, anything is possible.
Member Since: September 24, 2005 Posts: 33 Comments: 9265
11:10 PM GMT on May 09, 2006
Another question, is Chanchu an early storm for the Pacific? Man, looking at the last two years in the atlantic and this year in the pacific, the gulf temps, the mid-west tornado average, wow! it's forming up to be an interesting year. I can't help but marvel at the weather, what are we going to see next, a cat 5 in June.?.
222. atmosweather
11:08 PM GMT on May 09, 2006
Yeah Colby, shame it's gonna make landfall in 60-72 hours.
Member Since: September 24, 2005 Posts: 33 Comments: 9265
221. atmosweather
11:08 PM GMT on May 09, 2006
The low off the New England coast is merely a good old late Nor'easter.
Member Since: September 24, 2005 Posts: 33 Comments: 9265
220. ForecasterColby
11:07 PM GMT on May 09, 2006
I would say no, but do recall that it wasn't that long ago that any one of us would have said nothing could develop in 23C water, either. Still extremely, extremely unlikely, not even worth watching.

Chanchu seems to finally be building a core/eyewall:

219. atmosweather
11:00 PM GMT on May 09, 2006
No, nothing tropical can develop in 18-20 degree waters. Even if the shear is negligable.
Member Since: September 24, 2005 Posts: 33 Comments: 9265
218. StormJunkie
10:59 PM GMT on May 09, 2006
Thanks GRD.
I have not paid it (Panama thing) much attention since the shear is on one side and land on the other.

Stl-The NW Atlantic has a small area that has no shear, but for the most part shear is too high every where else in the Atlantic and I don't think the waters are warm enough up there yet, although it does look like the gulf stream shot off a neat little "eddy" towards Cape Cod by the looks of it. Also looks like most of the Atlantic and Gulf are hotter then last year.



Difference is really noticable in how far N the gulf stream is, the water temps on the Fl,GA,SC coasts, and the central/E Atlantic

OOPS. Sorry.


Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 17164
10:52 PM GMT on May 09, 2006
Ok, for you meteos' out there, is it possible for a low coming off the continent to go tropical this far north this time of year? even over the stream the temps are really low. Educate me.
216. louastu
10:50 PM GMT on May 09, 2006
Chanchu is looking good on IR imagery.
10:39 PM GMT on May 09, 2006
Michael, are you talking about the spiral off of the east coast on the sat.? Curious myself.
214. Randyman
10:38 PM GMT on May 09, 2006
In case you haven't seen this clip...It's extremely painful to watch...I mean absolutely positively downright brutal! Check it out...
Member Since: July 26, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 223
10:31 PM GMT on May 09, 2006
Nice site storm, what of the thing down by panama? I have interests there, what's it gonna do?
211. Cregnebaa
10:20 PM GMT on May 09, 2006
What front page? there's no link SJ?LOL
Member Since: October 19, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 323
209. StormJunkie
10:16 PM GMT on May 09, 2006
Yea shear is still too high. My frontpage has a nice windshear map on it.lol.

Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 17164

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Dr. Masters co-founded wunderground in 1995. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters 1986-1990. Co-blogging with him: Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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