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Otto transitioning to a tropical storm

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 1:35 PM GMT on October 07, 2010

Subtropical Storm Otto, the 15th named storm of this very busy 2010 Atlantic hurricane season, is here. Otto is not a threat to bring high winds to any land areas, but will produce heavy rains over Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and northern Lesser Antilles. Radar estimated rainfall over Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands (Figure 2) shows rainfall amounts in excess of eight inches have fallen in several locations over the past three days, and the St. Thomas Airport officially recorded 9.30" of rain so far from Otto. Not surprisingly, Flash Flood Warnings are posted for both the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Weather radar out of Puerto Rico shows that a large area of heavy rain will continue to affect the Virgin Islands and eastern Puerto Rico today. Martinique radar shows considerably less activity over the Lesser Antilles.

Figure 1. NASA MODIS image of Subtropical Storm Otto taken at 12:55pm EDT October 6, 2010.

Satellite loops show Otto's heaviest thunderstorms lie in two bands to the south, many hundreds of miles from the storm's center. This is characteristic of a subtropical storm, which is a hybrid between a tropical storm and an extratropical storm. An upper level low pressure system over Otto has pumped cold, dry air aloft into the storm, keeping it from being fully tropical. However, the upper low is weakening, and Otto has recently developed a burst of heavy thunderstorms near its center, and very tropical storm-like spiral bands are now developing to the east and south of Otto's center. Otto is fast becoming fully tropical, and will be called Tropical Storm Otto later today. The storm's newly developing spiral bands will mostly stay offshore, but a few heavy rain showers capable of dumping 1 - 2 inches of rain may affect the Turks and Caicos Islands today, as well as the northern Dominican Republic. The heavier rains in Otto's old rain band over Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands will continue to dump flooding rains in those locations through tonight. Steering currents favor Otto being lifted northwards and then northeastwards out to sea by Friday. Given the very warm waters of 28 - 29°C and low wind shear of 5 - 10 knots today, Otto may approach hurricane strength before high wind shear in excess of 20 knots impacts the storm Friday night.

Figure 1. Radar-estimated rainfall from Tropical Storm Otto over Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands shows that rains in excess of eight inches (white colors) have fallen in many regions. The strange ray-like pattern to the east of the radar location (the white "+" symbol) is due to mountains blocking the radar beam.

Elsewhere in the tropics
An area of disturbed weather has formed in the Western Caribbean, a few hundred miles west of Jamaica. The disturbance has a moderate area of intense thunderstorms that brought close to two inches of rain to Grand Cayman Island over the past day. The disturbance is under a high 15 - 25 knots of wind shear, and is not likely to develop significantly today. The disturbance is headed south at 10 - 15 mph, and will bring heavy rains to northeastern Honduras and Nicaragua over the next two days. None of the models develop the disturbance, but it does have some potential for slow development beginning on Friday when it will be off the coast of Nicaragua, in a region of lower wind shear and higher moisture. NHC is giving the disturbance a 10% chance of developing into a tropical depression by Saturday.

Monsoon flooding kills 139 in Asia
Heavy monsoon rains triggered flash flooding in a remote section of Indonesia this week that killed at least 91 people and left 100 more missing. In Vietnam, heavy rains of up to 51" (1300 mm) have fallen since Friday, resulting in river flooding that killed at least 48 people, with 23 people still missing. Over 34,000 people are homeless from the floods, which hit five provinces from Nghe An to Thua Thien-Hue, a swath of territory starting some 300 km (180 miles) south of Hanoi and stretching south. Heavy monsoon rains of up to seven inches over the past week have also hit nearby Hainen Island in China. The resulting flooding was the worst in 50 years there, and killed one person and forced the evacuation of 55 villages with 213,000 people.

I've been a subscriber for several years to NewScientist magazine, a weekly science news magazine that does a great job staying abreast of all the latest breaking science happenings. This week's October 4 issue features a 4-page section on Extreme Weather that I wrote for them as part of their "Instant Expert" series. If you haven't ever seen the magazine, I enthusiastically recommend taking a look.

If you're a fan of the geek humor xkcd webcomic, see if you can find me on the hilarious map of the "blogosphere" on comic artist Randall Munroe's latest xkcd comic. I like the disparity between my influence in September vs. March, but thought I should have been closer to the "Bay of Flame!" I also appeared in a mouse "rollover" text box in an xkcd comic during the Gulf oil disaster earlier this year.

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.