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Giving thanks to the Hurricane Hunters and QuikSCAT scientists

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

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

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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155. Weather456
5:01 PM AST on November 23, 2007
Non-Tropical Low pressure system

Large and powerful storm lashing Eastern Greenland and the island of Iceland

Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
8:15 PM GMT on November 23, 2007
I hope everyone's holiday(s) continue safe & enjoyable. To Florida firefighters, "Black Friday" has a different meaning:
The Ocala National Forest has had some devastating fires throughout history. The Big Scrub fire of 1935 burned 35,000 acres in 4 hours. On Black Friday, May 17, 1985, 4 separate fires races across the Ocala [forest] burning 12,000 acres. USDA Forest Service
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153. Weather456
1:08 PM AST on November 23, 2007
I have updated my blog to included a Q and A with Herbert Saffir. He also airs his view about Andrew
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152. listenerVT
8:05 PM GMT on November 23, 2007
I gotta go shovel snow
and feed the birds.
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151. listenerVT
7:57 PM GMT on November 23, 2007
Thanks for mentioning the wind shear, Hurricaneblast!
You "made me look" and here's what I found:

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150. Hurricaneblast
8:01 PM GMT on November 23, 2007
Tropical Cyclone Report for Hurricane Henriette was also released. Peaked intensity 85mph 972mb. 9 people killed and 4 missing and about $275 Million in damages
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149. Hurricaneblast
8:00 PM GMT on November 23, 2007
Tropical Cyclone Report for Tropical Depression Fifteen has been released. Durring the tropical phase it peaked as a 35mph 1011mb depression. as an extratropical system it peaked at 50mph 996mb
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148. Hurricaneblast
7:58 PM GMT on November 23, 2007
oohh whoops...I guess i should look at the arrows next time eh hehehe lol
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147. Bonedog
2:46 PM EST on November 23, 2007
its called the jet stream LOL :)
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146. Hurricaneblast
7:36 PM GMT on November 23, 2007
just as a side note, there is some astounding wind shear just south of Japan. 140kts (160mph), the equivelant of a Category five hurricane. not a single cloud in that area
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145. Bonedog
2:24 PM EST on November 23, 2007
glad to hear listner :)
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143. Bonedog
2:10 PM EST on November 23, 2007
afternoon folks. Hope everyones Thanksgiving was a good one.

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142. listenerVT
7:14 PM GMT on November 23, 2007
I guess everybody else had a second helping of Thanksgiving feasting and fell into tryptophan-induced naps! ;~D
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141. listenerVT
7:06 PM GMT on November 23, 2007
I just finally read the whole thread post by Dr. Masters. What a cliffhanger sort of story!
It would make an excellent documentary (or movie) which could be titled:
The Perfect Crew

So glad they made it, and were honoured. Bravo!
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140. listenerVT
7:03 PM GMT on November 23, 2007
This tracking map for Typhoon Mitag/Mina is quite useful:

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139. listenerVT
7:00 PM GMT on November 23, 2007
Ooohhh myyyy!
The zoom animation at this site shows a downright scary-beast of a Typhoon!

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138. listenerVT
6:45 PM GMT on November 23, 2007
This site:


has links to PAGASA, JTWC, and JMA
(scroll down a little and they're under "Tropical Weather Advisory").
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137. listenerVT
6:19 PM GMT on November 23, 2007

Is it really possible that Higabis could really turn around????

I know, it's insane, isn't it?!
My friend near Manila is usually clueless about the storms too,
even though he has lived there nearly 30 years.
I usually send him a link or two, so he takes it seriously.

We are so fortunate to have prediction centers!
My thanks to all who make it possible for us to be aware of such storms and potential distruction!
{ { { Thank-you for saving so many lives and livelihoods! } } }
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136. listenerVT
6:15 PM GMT on November 23, 2007
Rest in Peace, Herbert Saffir.
Many thanks ♥
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135. Patrap
12:04 PM CST on November 23, 2007

Creator Of Hurricane Strength Scale Dies In Miami
MIAMI (CBS4) ― The structural engineer who created the five-category system use to describe hurricane strength by meteorologists around the country, died Wednesday.

His son said Herbert Saffir died Wednesday in Miami from complications of surgery. He was 90.

Saffir created the scale in 1969 – laying out for the first time, the kind of damage an approaching hurricane could have. It has since become the definitive way to describe intensity for storms that form in the Atlantic and parts of the Pacific.

Before the scale, hurricanes were simply described as major or minor. They're now rated Category 1, the weakest, to Category 5.

Saffir's scale was expanded by former National Hurricane Center director Robert Simpson and became known as the Saffir-Simpson scale in the 1970s.
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134. Hurricaneblast
6:04 PM GMT on November 23, 2007
Hurricane Intensity Scale Creator Dies

By JESSICA GRESKO – 1 hour ago

MIAMI (AP) — Herbert Saffir, an engineer who created the five-category system used to describe hurricane strength and warn millions of an approaching storm's danger, has died. He was 90.

Saffir died Wednesday from complications of surgery, said his son, Richard Saffir.

A structural engineer, Saffir created his scale in 1969 — laying out for the first time what kind of damage could be expected from an approaching hurricane. It has since become the definitive way to describe intensity for storms that form in the Atlantic and parts of the Pacific. Before the scale, hurricanes were simply described as major or minor.

Saffir's innovation was ranking storm destruction by type, from Category 1 — where trees and unanchored mobile homes receive the primary damage — to Category 5 — the complete failure of roofs and some structures. The five descriptions of destruction were then matched with the sustained wind speeds producing the corresponding damage.

Saffir's scale was expanded by former National Hurricane Center director Robert H. Simpson and became known as the Saffir-Simpson scale in the 1970s. The scale is now so well known that many coastal residents toss off shorthand like "Cat. 1" and few need to be told that it refers to Saffir and Simpson's creation.

Simpson said the system helped him communicate the power of an approaching storm.

"We had a lot of requests before the scale: how many resources of what kind would be needed to deal with the storm," Simpson said during a phone interview earlier this year. "I couldn't tell the Salvation Army, for example, how much and what materials they should be shipping. The scale gave them a much better handle on that."

Simpson added possible storm surge heights for each category, and the hurricane center staff made a small adjustment to the scale's wind speeds. Simpson, 95, now lives in Washington, D.C.

Saffir was born in New York in 1917. He graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in civil engineering in 1940 and then served in World War II, later moving to South Florida to become a county engineer.

Because of the area's vulnerability to hurricanes, Saffir quickly became an expert in how hurricane-force winds affect buildings. He helped write and unify building codes in South Florida.

Saffir began working on an intensity scale in 1969 as part of a United Nations project. He had been asked how the U.N. could lessen hurricane damage to low-cost buildings worldwide. To help officials understand the full range of hurricane damage, Saffir proposed rating storms from one through five. Scales for rating earthquake damage were already well known, and Saffir believed hurricanes needed their own system of ranking.

He presented his system to Simpson, who began to use the rankings internally and later for a weather report meant largely for emergency agencies. The scale was so useful, however, others quickly adopted it.

It was later used for public hurricane forecasts, making the pair's names synonymous with the Atlantic hurricane season.

For storms that originate in the Pacific Ocean, called typhoons, a five-point scale is also used, but it is based on wind gusts, not sustained winds.

While Saffir became known for the scale, he continued to work as a structural engineer at his Coral Gables office past his 90th birthday. He also traveled to inspect storm damage, even producing reports on the performance of structures during 2005's Hurricane Katrina.

Despite devoting much of his life to thinking about and preparing buildings for hurricanes, Saffir acknowledged earlier this year that his own home was not completely protected from a storm with hurricane shutters. He had done studies on the glass in the windows and found it was relatively shatterproof, he said. At the same time, he told The Associated Press, "I confess I only have partial shutters."

Saffir's wife, Sarah, preceded him in death. Besides his son, he is survived by daughter Barbara Saffir.
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132. sydneyaust1
5:11 PM GMT on November 23, 2007
PAGASA Link for Typhoon Mitag

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131. Hurricaneblast
5:26 PM GMT on November 23, 2007
at least 10 people have been killed and another 75 are missing because of Typhoon Hagibis

Typhoon Hagibis grounds more than 300 fishermen in China's Nansha Islands

HAIKOU, Nov. 23 (Xinhua) -- More than 300 fishermen were forced to take shelter in southern China's Nansha Islands to escape stormy seas caused by Typhoon Hagibis, the Hainan Maritime Affairs Bureau said on Friday.

Xie Chunfu, an official in charge of communication and navigation, said the bureau had sent out rescue vessels to search for 25 missing Filipino fishermen.

Among the fishermen safely docked at Nansha, the southernmost point in China, at least 250 were Chinese. The remainder included 30 Filipinos and seven Vietnamese. The typhoon, the 25th of the year, has left the islands facing food and drinking water shortages.

Xie said the Filipino and Vietnamese fishermen were evacuated by passing Chinese fishing boats on Thursday and Friday.

"Our rescue ships left the Pearl River mouth in Guangzhou on Thursday afternoon and are expected to arrive there on Saturday," he said.

Hagibis, meaning "rapidity" in the Filipino language Tagalog, blew into to the South China Sea on Wednesday and intensified into a typhoon on Thursday.

At 8 a.m. on Friday, it was located at a latitude of 11.5 degrees north and a longitude of 110.9 degrees to the east, according to the China Meteorological Station in Beijing. It was blowing at 126 kilometers per hour at its eye and was moving toward the northwest, about 470 km north of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Ship sinks: 30 Pinoys rescued

The Philippine Star

A Philippine fishing vessel sank in the South China Sea around 8 a.m. Thursday while the ship was trying to take shelter from typhoon "Hagibis."

Seven Chinese fishing vessels in the area immediately went to the accident spot and successfully rescued about 30 Filipino crew members, according to a report of the Chinese Embassy to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

More than 80 crew members were reportedly on board the sunken fishing vessel.

The China Maritime Rescue Center has already dispatched rescue vessels to the area to search for the missing crew members.

It has also asked vessels passing by the area to join in the rescue operations that were still being conducted as of press time.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration Thursday said typhoon Hagibis is on its way to Vietnam.

The weather bureau said Hagibis was spotted 160 kilometers south southwest of Pagasa Island or 530 kms west of Puerto Princesa City, Palawan.

Storm warning signal no. 2 was still up Thursday at the Kalayaan Group of Islands while signal no. 1 was raised in southern Palawan.

Typhoon Hagibis (local name "Lando") left 10 people dead in the Philippines and forced President Arroyo to come home a day earlier than her scheduled departure from Singapore where she attended the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit.

"We return to the Philippines one day ahead of schedule, saddened by the plight of the victims of the typhoon, but satisfied that as a result of our efforts in Singapore, the Philippines will benefit from greater security, stronger economic growth and enhanced solidarity to make progress to protect our environment," the President said in her departure speech in Singapore.
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130. Weather456
12:55 PM AST on November 23, 2007
Cloud Streets off the Coast of the NE US

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129. pottery
12:48 PM AST on November 23, 2007
Greetings, all. A lovely tropical day here, that feels ominously like the dry-season.Even the cicadas are screeching, which they would normally do in April,and May, to call the rain. Strange stuff.
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128. surfmom
4:48 PM GMT on November 23, 2007
Taking off for Ocala, good day all!
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127. BajaALemt
4:47 PM GMT on November 23, 2007
Surfmom!! Glad you got to get out for a bit...I'm off to work...wanted to shout a quick hi to ya!!
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126. surfmom
4:14 PM GMT on November 23, 2007
listenVT, I agree, got an uninteresting site for my friend in the Philippine's to check. My surfer friend was real relaxed about the typoon yesterday...almost clueless. Aussiestorm mentioned PAGASA (????) as a reference. My friend is in either Cebu or San Juan LaUnion. Is it really possible that Higabis could really turn around????
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125. listenerVT
4:14 PM GMT on November 23, 2007
Thanks! Yeah, we had a sweet day here.
Both grandbabies and the entire family were here.
The food went well too. :~D
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124. surfmom
4:11 PM GMT on November 23, 2007
Looks like the Philippines is the typhoon hotspot.
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123. listenerVT
4:13 PM GMT on November 23, 2007
BTW, here in the land of Snowflake Bentley,
it is snowing today AND the sun is out!
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122. listenerVT
4:08 PM GMT on November 23, 2007
Thanks for the graphic, AussieStorm!

I have a friend on Luzon, near Manila.
The track you posted looks far more worrisome for my friend than the one posted here.

Please update as possible.
Many thanks!
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117. surfmom
3:52 PM GMT on November 23, 2007
Morning StormW & BajaL , happy to say mother nature provided me with a dash of early AM surf - waist high southie,good food & company for the afternoon. Cooler weather this AM in SRQ, we had a wonderful soaking rain last night. Hope to have good weather in Ocala for my son's last polo game of the fall league.(no rain in the AM) This cooler weather is bound to make the horses frisky tomorrow morning. Should be interesting
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115. BajaALemt
3:36 PM GMT on November 23, 2007
Mornin JFV
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112. BajaALemt
3:20 PM GMT on November 23, 2007
Ha! Spent it with a few good friends...the food was great...I ate TOOOO much *laffs*.....got home and fell PROMPTLY to sleep!!
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110. BajaALemt
3:10 PM GMT on November 23, 2007
Hey Storm!! Nice, turkey day?
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108. BajaALemt
2:55 PM GMT on November 23, 2007
Mornin folks...hope y'all had a nice T-day
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107. surfmom
1:51 PM GMT on November 23, 2007
Thanks for the information regarding Mitag.. Got my best buddy - surfer/my son's godfather overthere. Will zap this information over to him. last night he said NO worries, but when do surfers every worry?
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106. AussieStorm
1:50 PM GMT on November 23, 2007
This is the Typhoon track PAGASA is predicting,

I hope and pray my family and friends will be ok.
Cheers AussieStorm
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105. Patrap
7:41 AM CST on November 23, 2007

Area forecast discussion
National Weather Service New Orleans la
443 am CST Friday Nov 23 2007

Short term...
upper level shear feature that was in the El Paso area yesterday
morning is now moving over central Louisiana into southwest
Mississippi. Some very light rain and perhaps a few sleet pellets
falling over central Louisiana...but much of radar returns is
virga in bright band layer. This feature is moving into convergent
flow aloft and should be east of the forecast area by this
afternoon. Will make only subtle mention of rain as no measurable
amounts are expected.

Long term...
the main concern continues to be the isentropic lift to get
underway with deep troughing over the southwest U.S. Progressing
across Texas Saturday. 295k Theta surface shows saturation as
early as Saturday afternoon with predominantly stratiform
rainfall. Elevated convection will eventually move into the area
off the Gulf late Saturday night into Sunday morning as warm
frontogenesis takes place from developing low pressure in the west
Gulf. This low will likely move into Louisiana probably just west
of the Atchafalaya basin...placing the bulk of the warm sector
over southeast Louisiana and coastal Mississippi late Sunday
afternoon and evening. Convection should then become surface based
with warm surface dewpoints advecting northward on 35-40kt low
level jet steak. A squall line is still expected to develop to the
west of the forecast area by sunset Sunday and move rapidly
eastward...probably clearing the Mississippi coastal counties by
09z Monday. The best shear and highest helicities...in the 400
range... should be Saturday night along the warm front but
convection may have difficult time punching down through relatively
stable surface layer. This would then lead to a lower shear
environment but better instability Sunday evening conducive for
Bow echoes and perhaps a few rogue supercells mainly east of the
I-55 corridor and particularly across the Mississippi coastal
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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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