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

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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361. StormJunkie
9:33 PM GMT on May 21, 2006
Micheal you can flag it as many times as you want, but until for other usernames flag it, the post will not go away.


Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
357. weatherhunter
9:16 PM GMT on May 21, 2006
Posted By: MichaelSTL at 3:46 PM CDT on May 21, 2006.
My NWS office has been very bad in forecasting the high temperature over the past few days; they forecast a high of 73 today (excluding revisions later on) and it officially reached 80 degrees (a PWS near me recorded 81.5 degrees).

yea mine says the high today was going to be 83 But it got up to 90 Thats hot for this time of year in Western NC
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345. bamaweatherwatcher
8:39 PM GMT on May 21, 2006
sorry i meant kts...dont hate me
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8:38 PM GMT on May 21, 2006
taco it means knots
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8:36 PM GMT on May 21, 2006
maybe 15 kts
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341. taco2me61
8:35 PM GMT on May 21, 2006
Not to be slow or anything but what is KT's

(Blonde male moment)...

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340. bamaweatherwatcher
8:33 PM GMT on May 21, 2006
What would you all say is the maximum vertical shear in KT's that a storm can devlope under?
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338. ProgressivePulse
8:25 PM GMT on May 21, 2006
It would be interesting if the high decides to stay there.
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335. bamaweatherwatcher
8:21 PM GMT on May 21, 2006
not that I think a cat 5 would hit this area this year.
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333. bamaweatherwatcher
8:16 PM GMT on May 21, 2006
Looks like you all have had fun today!
I think part of what went wrong with Katrina is that the media really didn't speak of its great wind field that much. Here in South Alabama only one tv station was warning the public that even if it made landfall at new orleans it would be bad here. And I agree with you Gptguy about the reasons people why people died. I am afraid to say alot of people around here are so tired of evacuating that many wont do it again this year. Even with a Cat 5 storm coming.
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332. ProgressivePulse
8:15 PM GMT on May 21, 2006
Well today marks the offical start of the rainey season in South Fla. High pressure moved over by New Orleans and Starting today we will start to get our standard issue late afternoon thunderstorms. No more fronts will make it down from the north and just in time for the start of Hurricane Season in 2 weeks.
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8:09 PM GMT on May 21, 2006
this has been a statement from stormtops hurricane warning office in new orleans louisiana...001138

where is this warning office in the attic of your mom's house c'mon give me a break be for real more people will take you seriously and as for the numbers what is that! wait i know the first two are how many times you were right last year and the last four are how many storms youre gonna predict to hit the SE Louisiana area!! ok i got it..nevermind
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7:58 PM GMT on May 21, 2006
Posted By: STORMTOP at 2:16 PM GMT on May 21, 2006.
tony first of all you need to go to sleep and take your medication because you are becoming a parrot repeating things over and over again..if you dont agree with me find everyone here is entitled to there opinion even you but dont trash what you read you mention nothing about the pressure of the storm...the only reason i wasnt on the blob after 66 hours of my forecasting because i knew everthing was written in stone whether you like it or not tony boy the NHC dropped the ball on KATRINA and you better get over it...either you cant read and by the way the second landfall was the pass christian area and gulport area..new orleans would of fared just fine if the corp of engineers would of built our levees right..so tony i wasnt off on the landfall i was right on target...if you can read its all there i suggest you read it after you take your medication...

STORMTOP what are you talking about the NHC DID NOT drop the ball on Katrina!!! the forcast track at 11pm on Friday Aug. 26 had the center placed near Waveland, MS. about 5 miles from where it made its second landfall on the LA-MS border NOT THE PASS CHRISTIAN-GULFPORT AREA i live in the Gulfport area and i DID NOT recieve a calm eye!! second its unforunate but the people who lost there lives were the one who dropped the ball there were madatory evacuations out!! there were 3 reasons here on the MS Coast why people didnt evacuate 1)false alarms in the past i.e. Ivan and Dennis! 2)elevation..some places in Gulfport, Biloxi, Ocean Springs, Moss Point, and Pascagoula that NEVER saw water in Hurricane Camille the benchmark saw between 5-15 ft of water! 3)pets..shelters don't take pets so people did not want to leave there pets...so for you to consistently bash the NHC is absurd, and landfall was 20 miles west of where you say!
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328. franck
7:57 PM GMT on May 21, 2006
Main thing about the present state of the levee system in New Orleans is the levees themselves were designed and structured to prevent compromise from one side only, the exterior, or Pontchartrain side. For several weeks after Katrina they were soaked from the interior side.
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327. hurricanechaser
7:03 PM GMT on May 21, 2006
Hey Rich,

Once sgain, thanks so much for sharing your own extremely fascinating hurricane experiences and I hope you and everyone else has a great day.:)

Your friend,
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326. hurricanechaser
6:53 PM GMT on May 21, 2006
Wow Rich! I can't believe you experienced the northern eyewall of Andrew at category five intensity.

Personally, I have no desire to experience any storm stronger than a category three for they are unbelievably bad enough.

Moreover, our babies illness changed my perspective on hurricane intercepts for it is too easy to get caught up in the fascination of the extreme historical event and lose sight of how others are still suffering as a result even today from them and I now sincerely regret even thinking I could be conflicted about such a thing but it is true about my past thoughts.

I also came to this realization clearly when those like Lilith on here is still displaced from her home at ground zero and is battling the insurance companies over the massive damage.

Now, my focus will solely be on what it should be by intercepting the full fury for Fox News on video in order to help others realize just how truly devastating these storms really are for those who have yet to experience the brunt of a landfalling major hurricane (this was always my thoughts but rationalized it to personally appreciate the fascination of it like when I was hoping storms like Fran would come my way) themselves.

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324. hurricanechaser
6:51 PM GMT on May 21, 2006
Hey Rich,

Thanks for that fascinating information for I found your post in Louastu's blog very interesting reading as it always the case with all of your posts.:)

I gotta go but hope you and everyone else has a truly blessed day.:)

Your friend,

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323. atmosweather
2:50 PM EDT on May 21, 2006
Part of the reasoning on why we didn't leave was "Well, we survived the northern eyewall of Andrew, so I guess we will survive this one as well!"
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322. atmosweather
2:47 PM EDT on May 21, 2006
Our family was on vacation at the time and we were staying at North Myrtle Beach. We decided not to evacuate and so we had to ride it out in the hotel near the beach.
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321. hurricanechaser
6:44 PM GMT on May 21, 2006
Hey Rich,

Before I go, may I ask you a quick question relative to Louastu excellent blog?

I noticed you said you experienced the brunt of Fran as well and was curious where you were at the time.

In other words, that is so awesome you were that close to here and also experienced my most sentimental storm for it was my very first major hurricane experience.

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319. hurricanechaser
6:40 PM GMT on May 21, 2006
Hey Louastu,

Your blog is absolutely awesome and I noticed in Haydn's blog that we are virtually in complete agreement on our seasonal forecasts.:)

However, this doesn't mean my seasonal forecast is anything more than my own best educated guess and I could myself be way off and if so, it is not a big deal to me due to the obvious cmplexities involved in such forecasting.

Most sincerely,

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318. atmosweather
2:39 PM EDT on May 21, 2006
Here is the latest 7 day animatin of sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern Pacific. Notice that the cool waters in the east Pacific have actually shrunk eastward and the water around the equator from 160 E to 160 W has not cooled at all:

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316. hurricanechaser
6:34 PM GMT on May 21, 2006
Hey Colby,

I will conclude this futile discussion by stating that I don't consider me more important or more likely to provide better forecasts than you or anyone else but will simply do the very I can based on my own unique knowledge and experiences and is why it would be better served if some lost the egos and do the best they can.

I can guarentee I will get some wrong this season as well as every other person here who dares to attempt a forecast but I won't be trying to manipulate facts to try to spin it I got something right that I did NOT.

With that in mind, what would be the point?

Regardless, I hpe everyone has a great day.

Most sincerely,

P.s. I find it quite humerous that those like STORMTOP try to say I need to take my meds when these people can't rebutt the facts I provide for I will not post something I can't prove 100% on such things.

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315. louastu
6:35 PM GMT on May 21, 2006
Hey MichaelSTL,

Have you checked out my blog yet?

If you haven't, I would really appreciate it if you did.

This goes for everyone else as well.

I will be back later.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
314. atmosweather
2:35 PM EDT on May 21, 2006
He broke it? Oh man he's in trouble...
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313. atmosweather
2:32 PM EDT on May 21, 2006
La Nina is not returning because the water in the central equatorial Pacific has not cooled yet. It starts there and works its way eastward. That pool of cold water in the eastern Pacific is probably a Kelvin wave or just temporary cooling. I see no signs of La nina returning just yet.

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312. hurricanechaser
6:26 PM GMT on May 21, 2006

you just don't like me personaly which doesn't hurt my feelings naturally and your false accusations like you just stated are an example of the fact you play a meterologist with your AHC while I on the other have actually done real forecasting and got paid for it.

That being said, I have always stated that my own forecasts are no more than my best educated guess and you, STORMTOP< my Grandma can get some right instead of me because of the unforeseen variables that no one can or wil ever be able to accurately predict.

Therefore, there is some truth to the argument if one keeps predicting a forecasts enough times that they will actually get one right.

In short, what you "think" has absolutely nothing to do with the facts as to my own actions nor do I care what you do with your own forecasts for I no longer hve my extensive research on this because I deleted that blog but I still very distictively recall all the facts nonetheless and please try to prove me wrong with FACTS instead of your assumptions.

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311. louastu
6:29 PM GMT on May 21, 2006
Anyway, I have to get ready to go. I will be back later.

I honestly hope that things have cooled down by the time I get back.
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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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