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Zeta dying; Texas drought thriving

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 6:24 PM GMT on January 04, 2006

Tropical Storm Zeta is falling apart. Wind shear analysis from the University of Wisconsin shows 30 - 50 knots of shear over Zeta, and this shear has blown away nearly all the storm's deep convection. Zeta is a swirl of low clouds with just a few thunderstorms on the east and northeast side. With wind shear expected to remain high, Zeta will likely be dead within 24 hours. But before you believe this forecast, you might want to review some of the comments about Zeta in the official National Hurricane Center discussions the past few days:

10 PM EST SUN JAN 01 2006

4 PM EST MON JAN 02 2006

4 PM EST TUE JAN 03 2006

10 AM EST WED JAN 04 2006

Long-term tropical storm outlook for January
Today's model runs are still forecasting that a non-tropical low pressure system will form off the coast of Africa on Sunday, in a location similar to but farther east of where Delta, Epsilon, and Zeta all formed. This new low could make the transition to a tropical storm early next week. However, the latest model runs have the storm forming closer to the coast of Africa than before, and the cooler water temperatures there will probably keep it from forming into a tropical storm.

The Texas/Oklahoma drought
Wildfires aided by record high temperatures, low humidities, high winds, and persistent drought conditions continue to ravage Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. With no significant rains expected for at least a week, conditions will not improve in the forseeable future. Some of the record highs observed yesterday:

January 3 record highs:
Austin, TX 86
Abilene, TX 86
Del Rio, TX 86
San Antonio, TX 86
Wichita Falls, TX 85
Dallas, TX 84
Lubbock, TX 83
Midland, TX 83

Figure 1. Drought map for the U.S., released December 28. Severe drought conditions began over the Texas/Oklahoma area in April 2005, and have steadily worsened.

A cold front moving through the area today will bring an end to the record heat for at least a week, but strong winds--typical for this time of year--are expected to move in periodically during the week and fan any fires that may start. The jet stream is expected to stay well north of the area for the next 10 days, keeping any rain-producing storms to the north. The GFS model is suggesting that by January 18, this pattern may break down, allowing rains to return. However, a 2-week forecast is a bit of a stretch, and it would be no surprise if the more northerly jet stream pattern stays entrenched for the rest of January.

Drought and hurricane activity
Some researchers have suggested that upswings in hurricane activity like the one we've seen in the past ten years tend to be associated with more frequent drought conditions across the Western and Midwestern U.S. This was the case during the 1930s, when a period of very high hurricane activity coincided with the famed Dust Bowl drought that affected the Midwestern U.S. Much of the Western U.S. has suffered severe drought conditions for the past 5-7 years, coinciding with the recent upswing in Atlantic hurricane activity.

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.

Reader Comments

I guess this means the end of season 2005. This time finally.
:) Thank you new years lol.

86 on JAN 3?!?!

Has the ACE index record been broken? Everything I've read says yes, but this is not official. Anyone with insight on this?
Hello Colby,

Your opinion on Zeta?....I guess this is a pride thing, but I finally got the first comment.
Am reposting a previous comment so I can piggybak on Dr. Masters's update and get more responses :)

We've all heard the reports of slight reduction in Gulf Stream transport, and its alleged future impacts on European weather. Any thoughts on the impact of retaining those warm surface waters in the tropics and subtropics in the western portion of the Atlantic Basin? Though we're probably talking small diffferences in volume, could a slowdown in the Gulf Stream minimize warmwater export, keeping temperatures in the south Atlantic warmer later in the year, possibly lengthening the storm season?
what up ever one
7. F5
As one who lives in N Texas and has suffered through this prolonged severe drought, I can tell you that every day, you wake up wondering if the fires will flare up near where you live. It's not pleasant.

What I have been fruitlessly searching for, is some explanation as to what weather features are responsible for the drought conditions we are experiencing. So far, I have only run across a few stories about La Nina being responsible. And of course, it is true that we are either ENSO neutral and/or trending towards weak La Nina. Even if it is weak La Nina conditions, you wouldn't expect it to have this dramatic of an impact on TX. I would associate this more with a strong La Nina. There also appears to be a persistant SW flow aloft, which is pushing all the storms to the N and keeping them from reaching us. But what is the cause of this SW flow aloft? Normally, we only have that in the summer (I think they call it the Mexican plume, or something like that). But even that ridge tends to break down from time to time in the summer allowing some rain, and usually disappears entirely by the fall.

Given the sporadic rain coverage in the area, I've had even less rain that what was officially recorded at DFW. Probably a good 4 - 5 inches less. Given that we have received 29 inches less than the previous year, that is significant, although the previous year was wetter than average.

If anyone can shed some light on some of the reasons behind the prevailing weather pattern, that would be great. Even better would be some information on what it will take to change the prevailing pattern and allow us to receive some much needed rain. The long-term CPC forecasts appear to be calling for lower than normal chances for precipitation through April/May.
poor Zeta it not goig to make it it tell the 1-7-06
nic weather in tx in the 80s that nic weather for this time of year but tx do need the rain and snow and t-storms but we do not need the rain all at one time but a little rain will help a little
Living in East Texas in under the D5 condition, I can say things are bad here, lakes are drying up, farmers are running out of hay. A spark from a welder lit a 100 acre forest fire within a mile of my dads house yesterday (Link). The forcast is for it to get worse. Different reports over the next 7, 30, 90 and 180 days are very light on rain.

90 day drought forcast.
Before I get back to work, I'll throw this out.
There seems to be a correlation between ENSO events, drought, the jet stream, and pacific ocean sst. An ENSO event effects weather globally withs areas of drought and extreme rain. As stated above, the dust bowl coincided with the greater number of hurricanes. Now the same thing is happening. Since we are in a period of increased hurricane activity, drought conditions will stick around.(my prediction)

mid 80's is not what I consider "good" weather especially when you are suffering in such drought conditions.
Safe... that's unreal.. I feel for you guys..
Look at Dr. Grey's summary of the tropics, and as I recall it says that something about an area of abnormally warm water in the Central Pacific changing the jet streams/storm tracks, and that this favored more hurricanes/active Atlantic. A few weeks ago while looking for information on the "Dust Bowl" of the 30's (and also the very active Atlantic Tropics at the time), I ran across an analysis that blamed abnormally warm surface temperature in the Central Pacific for changing the jet streams resulting in a weaking of the LLJ (low level jet) out of the Gulf, thereby reducing moisture transport into Ok, Tx, Ks, Ar area's causing drought (though not dust bowl condidtions everywhere). I found this information while trying to find if there were any research linking an active tropical Atlantic with drought in the south Central US, but the above info is as close as I came.

As a side note of interest. It would seem the warm central Pacific seems to produce extremes in rainfall in our part of the country. My own home town had it's driest year on record in 1934, wettest on record 1935, and second driest on record 1936. And I saw that for Dallas 2004 was 5th wettest and 2005 was the 5th driest on record (similar in NW Ark as well). Again, no reserch that I know of to support, but seems to be a strong coorelation. Just an observation.
To elaborate on something I mentioned last night -
When wind blows across a chimney it tends to draw air up from the fireplace. Could this be what's happening with these Epsilon-like storms? If the circulation of a storm acts like the walls of a chimney wind blowing across the top of the storm (another way of saying wind shear) could help drive convection permitting a tropical storm to exist over water that would otherwise be too cool. Such a storm would tend to maintain a constant strength since an increase in wind shear would both increase the convection but at the same time shear more of it away. Similarly, a decrease in shear would shear away less but decrease the convection. This would only work over a limited range - too much shear would tear the storm apart & if the shear got too low the convection would die out. This would explain Zeta weakening when it entered an area of low shear. Note that this model requires that the wind shear be primarily at high altitude; low altitude shear would be just as bad as for a regular storm. Is information available on the amount of wind shear at different altitudes along the paths of Epsilon, Zeta, etc.? Can anyone evaluate this model?
My thoughts on tropical systems can always be found at my site when I have time to write em.


That being said, here's the previous Zeta advisory

Tropical Storm Zeta
Amateur Hurricane Center
Advisory 6 - 11:00AM EST January 4, 2006

Zeta appears to have weakened last night due to the storm becoming severly vertically tilted. The mid and upper-level center appears to be well east of the low-level center...and this is not allowing any real convection to develop. The strong outflow evident for the past 24 hours has weakened a great deal...and Zeta is mostly a ragged swirl of low cloud, with a small amount of weak convection wrapping around the mid-level center. The initial intensity remains 40kt(45mph) based on QuickScat and satellite data.

The track forecast shows a track towards the west-northwest along the periphery of a ridge until dissipation.

The intensity forecast calls for Zeta to weaken fairly rapidly due to the decoupling of the lower and upper level circulations. However, should Zeta re-stack, there is the potential for some strengthening in the short term. Dissipation in 72 hours is shown ahead of an approaching low.

Initial: 22.0N 43.5W 40kt(45mph)...mid/upper center at 22.0N 43.0W
12 Hour: 22.0N 44.0W 40kt(45mph)
24 Hour: 22.5N 45.0W 30kt(35mph)...dissipating
48 Hour: 23.0N 47.0W 25kt(30mph)....remnant low
72 Hour: Dissipated near 23.5N 49.0W

Important note - I hadn't seen the most recent shear analysis when I wrote this, the tilt is easily explained with that knowledge.
WHOA...what is that off the pacific coast on QuickScat!?!?

More rain for the Pacific NW. Looks like an occluded front near the low with a cold front attached and a warm front ahead of it. (NWS website maps) 972mb in 12 hours.

Also, I said drought conditions would continue. Not so sure now. After looking at weather history with a year of drought followed by rain then drought again, I'll have to research.
Damn...California is drowning, and Texas and Oklahoma are dry as a bone...crazy weather these days...

according to wikipedia, 2005 has now officially surpassed 1950 as the most active season on record (pending, of course, intensity reductions of '05 storms by the NHC)!!!!
: ForecasterColby mail for you
21. F5

I did recall that the latest ENSO advisory talks about both warm and cool SST anomolies in the Pacific, and the trends. Just wasn't sure exactly how this affected the jet stream. The LLJ has been transporting moisture into TX but it seems the prevailing SW flow aloft has been pushing the moisture off to the NE. Maybe that SW flow is a result of certain environmental factors in the Pacific.

However, we have had a number of fronts move through, both Canadian and Pacific. In previous years, the Pacific fronts would come in with their own moisture and not have to rely on Gulf moisture, but this year, the fronts are coming through dry. All the moisture is staying in the Midwest. I guess again due to the persistent SW flow.

Looks like today/tomorrow is another Red Flag day here too.
So are the droughts causing a more active hurricane period or are the more active hurricane seasons causing the droughts?
Zeta has a nice spiral and it still doesnt seem about to die. probably a few more days. this is extremely impressive for a storm under 50 kt shear! about the abnormal weather, i plan to do a little study on that tonight and will have the results on my blog later. i will inform you guys when i do.
It has to hold on to the 11am advisory tomorrow for Another record

look what is off the SFO IN CA DAM IT LOL it is not comeing my way i love storm with high winds so DAM it LOL
I Know I've been watching the ACE for a while now on there so it is 244+ Now THAT'S THE OTHER HUGE RECORD FOR A HURRICANE SEASON The only other one is most Major H but we won't get that
I was reading some forecast information at the website of Australia's Bureau of Meteorology the other day, and they suggest there is a correlation between the El Nino phenomenon in the eastern Pacific and drought conditions in certain parts of southeastern and south-central Australia. They actually seem to build it in as part of their wet/dry seasonal forecast.

It seems to me that a similar wet / dry correlation could be drawn. I'd be interested to see how their active / inactive cylone years match up with ours . . .
Thank you Dr. Masters for posting this drought map. I thought it was everywhere, and from my perspective it is, as I live in Dike Texas which according to your map is right in the heart of the D4, exceptional drought.

I don't think people realize how bad this is for us. I live in the dairy capital of Texas. I don't own cattle but many of my neighbors do, and their ponds are nearly all dried up. That has to be a hardship for them.

Our homes are bending and shifting, can't open or close doors, there are new cracks in the walls. The ground has cracks in it that you could break an ankle if you didn't step around it.

These are just a few of the problems associated with this situation not to mention the fire hazard. I was so proud of my community, when we rang in the New Year, I didn't hear one firecracker go off. The first in the 7 years I have lived there.

This has to be a very severe problem for the wildlife, I see the vultures circling over the fields and woods much more than ever before.

Actually the last real rain we got was when Rita blew through, I was looking forward to a good 10 inches, but that only brought us 2 inches. But she did bring us a lot of damaging wind!

I have posted some photos of area lakes, this one supplies water to the greater Dallas area. It has gotten even worse since I took that photo, I would guess that there will be no water left at all at that location in about a month if we don't get some rain.
i have wrote my theory of the western drought on my blog. it is a must read for all interested in the drought and those wanting to know when it will end.
I have relatives in Austin, Tx and visited someone who lives on Lake Travis. The lake is several feet lower than average and some of the boats and docks at the outer fringes are now sitting on dry land.
Colby, if you're around or back later
The system approaching the WA/BC coast is packing a pressure of 970-975 per NWS Seattle. Canadian TV forecasters have mentioned "hurricane force" wind could hit central B.C. Interesting weather possible tonight here on San Juan Island.

KRWZeta, I think it's headed my way.
hurricanechaser mail for you
hey StormDrain
hey Zeta, Sorry you won't see the big wind. don't know if I will either. Maybe though.
hey StormDrain come to the chat room
Zeta seems to be coming back a little. Maybe it will hang on a while.
Observer, yes, it is fairly clear. Hurricane season is fueled by warm water and it's going to get longer because less warm water is going north - case in point, Arlene and Bret in June, and the Greek alphabet late in the "season." I swam in the gulf yesterday, no problem - usually I stop doing that sort of thing in November. Check turtle's site too - interesting idea how about this same phenomenon is bringing on the drought.
what is the chances that:

1. Zeta survives till tomorrow at 11 to break the all time record?

2. Zeta survives this high shear?

3. Zeta does not make the turn north but continues to move west?
39. MZT
What a strange storm. It just seems to slither along, scuttling below the high windshear. There's no significant convection (IR and water vapor look nearly empty) but the visible images clearly shows a complete circulation.
I can't say that I can offer any insight as to what's driving the drought, but I know the Farmer's Almanac predicted a dry winter for our region.

Which came as no surprise to those of us who live here. We've thanked every one of the (few) snowfalls we've seen this year because we figured it was going to be another year with no snow.

Our "January thaw" started about a week before Christmas, and has continued since. We got some rain last night, but just enough to kill the snow, not enough to make any difference for the upcoming spring.

We get to look at another year of crappy corn in the fields. :(
yeah the ACE, will they count Zeta's time after Dec 31 for the 2005 or the 2006 season?
OK it appears that Zetas time and energy statistics will be counted for the 2006 season after midnight Jan 1st. So 20005 will NOT set a new ACE record. Have to see about the new 2006 season :)

Official link:

I've issued my final advisory on Zeta unless it does something drastic tonight.
And right now on Sci Fi Channel the worst weather disaster movie ever made, "maximum velocity" is starting.
This is the time of year I normally spend going through gardening catalogs. I planted lots of iris and other bulbs a couple of years ago, but am going to plan a xeriscape garden this year. There are cracks all over the lawn, starting in the driveway. It's a catch-22: I feel the need to water the lawn to protect against fire, but it just depletes the reservoirs.

I had exactly 14 pecans off my three trees this year.

Left some "Grapes of Wrath" and Dust Bowl imagery over at my blog. I'd really like to hear from all of you dry-landers. What are you experiencing & how are you handling it?
thank you for the Z storm i was think there for a bit that we will not get the Z storm but any way thanks
Wow. I mean wow. I guess that's it then. I was expecting to be watching a Category 1 hurricane tonight looking at last night's numbers and presentation, but it seems that for inexplicable circumstances Zeta has died a sudden death. There is no substantial convection left whatsoever, and Zeta is now just a swirl of low clouds with rainbands to the north and east of the center of circulation. I am guessing that the only reason to explain this rapid weakening is a large amount of vertical shear that has moved into the storm today (and even that was supposed to hold off for a couple of days.
The next advisory will be the last for Zeta, and will be the last of the 2005 Hurricane Season. 2005 will break the record for ACE Index in one season, but only just. And even that depends on whether the official 2006 statistics on Zeta are carried over from 2005. If not, 2005 finishes with 242.8 ACE Index pending further changes to official storm reports. However, I consider Zeta a stunning and fitting end to the most unbelievable season ever witnessed. 2005 was a shocker, and we will never see the likes of it again. Now, all we can do is wait for Alberto to ignite the 2006 hurricane season! Goodbye 2005, you certainly gave us the ride of our lives.

Hope you all have a great night and I will talk to you tomorrow.

Rich (Atmos)
I think there is something to the fact that we had two major hurricanes in the Gulf -- Hurricanes are heat transfer mechanisms -- given that, the latent heat in the GOM has been affected, the net effect is there less heat energy from the Gulf, less heat means less southerly flow which means less low & mid level moisture which means less rain.

The only times we have had a southerly flow in the past 3 months (I live in Austin TX) is when a high pressure moves off to the east, but, once it is moved off far enough the southerly flow shuts off -- the GOM doesn't have enough oomph to give us the moisture we need

Because of the lack of energy from the GOM we keep getting all these dry pacific fronts, over and over, not 1, not a single one has 'returned' as a warm front in the past 3 months (since Rita) -- I think this is very telling of our current dryness. We never get rain from a front that comes in from the north, that is, it does not bring enough moisture to rain, it only rains when such fronts have moisture to work with -- and that moisture is just not here right now.

The only time we will get any precipitation is if there is a sufficiently strong front (large temp drop) and some mid level pacific 'jet stream' moisture.

Also of impact is this...because all these front just waltz in with no heat energy from the GOM to push them back the flow (wind) they bring with them 'keeps on coming'...and the winds are from areas of no low level moisture...

If you have been watching the IR SAT over the past few months you see we have plenty of high level moisture on a regular basis (from the pacific), but, that's not enough for us to get rain, we need moisture at all three levels, low (sub 5000 ft), mid (6000-12000) and high level (12000+)...of course we can get some rain with just low (mist/fog) and a little more with mid (drizzle/light rain).

Each time we get a low passing by central texas it trys to rain but there just isn't enough low level moisture, by the time it gets over to east texas and beyond rain develops as there is sufficient moisture from the GOM.

You know, if the jet stream digs a trough our way there will be nothing to stop very cold air from becoming entrenched over us...this occurred back on Dec 7&8 and then it just stayed cold as the air did not 'moderate' that much because there was simply no flow of moisture from the GOM.

What will change this? Good question, either we need to have some really cold air (so the moisture in the GOM can overrun it) to set in or we need a period of time where cold fronts just stop coming - which means the northerly winds would slow down and allow for GOM moisture to slowly creep back in.

Once the GOM's latent heat content builds back we will start seeing more moisture on a regular basis and then we just need a friendly trigger to set off some rain. It's just a matter of time before that happens.

Bottom line, I think we are seeing something very special here with the GOM's latent heat being drained.

Here's two shots of sea surface temps, this sort of shows what I am referring to:

Dec 31 2004:

Jan 4 2006:

Those are some of my thoughts.


Very interesting indeed StormMan. I have also researched the drought conditions in Texas and come to the same basic explanation. And, since there are no trofs that have come down from the north or west during the past few months, the moisture at lower levels has been extremely low. I hope if you are living in one of the major drought areas that you do get some rain soon, and I also pray that there are no major wildfires that threaten towns and cities there. Looking at the latest GFS, most of Texas is going to remain dry and warm for the next 8-10 days, and longer range models also show no signs of any substantial moisture in the southern plains in the next 2-3 weeks. Hopefully those will turn out to be wrong and there will be some rain soon to relieve the already terrible drought conditions.
well good night ever one i need to get some sleep
atmosweather be for i go off for the night do you no if there any big storms lie the one we had this last week end comeing to ca any time soon?
Thanks atmosweather,

I hope to for some rain, but, given the cirumstances I think we will have to wait until April or May for a more reasonable shot at some decent rain. Why April or May?, by then the fronts from the north should slow down enough (less frequency) to allow moisture to creep back in and hopefully interact with some appropriate triggers. I hope I'm way off and we get decent rain soon. But, we have down this way what you call 'feast or famine', so, when the rains return it might be way more than what we need (i.e. flooding).

For instance, as recently as 2004 we had 2 feet more rain than average for the year.

I think the most notable exception of the current weather pattern is the extreme dry air we have - in times past when it did not rain all that often we still had quite a bit of low level moisture just no mid level moisture. Right now our humidity is at 30% and that's only because night has fallen and the ambient temp is down, during the day our humidity today was as low as 18% (ouch). Feels like I moved to Tucson AZ!

I do believe there is some truth, and that the colder Gulf probable has some effect, but I do think it is more complex than that. Last spring (before the hurricanes) the gulf was warmer than average, but the drought was already underway early last spring. I know our own rainfall (NW Arkansas) has been below normal every month since Feb 2005. During our normal "severe" season before hurricane season, the moisture was slow to come out of the gulf to meet weather systems, and so our severe weather season was rather dry, and that has continued. In addition there have been times when we had rain forecast, with moisture just south of the Red River in north Tx, and forecast to come north to meet a weather systems (as would normally happen), and that moisture never moved north. Also I think there is another factor influencing the available latent heat in the gulf. There have been far colder drier air masses moving deeper into the gulf from the north in later November/December than last couple of years, which obviously removes latent heat as well.

So I agree the hurricanes removing heat has probable contributed, I also beleive that other factors have greatly contributed to the droughts as well.


Good points, I did not know that about your weather up there. Of interesting : this past May was the first on record where almost no tornados occurred, just did a web search and found this:

The first week of May 2005 was almost tornado free. The last two weeks were also almost tornado free. Mother's Day weekend, the 7th and 8th, did have somewhat of a pickup in activity. About a dozen small tornadoes occurred on the 7th. There is a definite possibility that May will record a new low in tornado activity. In addition, there have been no killer tornadoes in either April or May. This is only the second time since 1875 that April and May have been free of that kind of tragedy. Before 1875, records are not complete enough. There were no killer tornadoes in April or May of 1992.

from (http://www.tornadoproject.com/recent/recentts.htm)

So, something was definitely 'up' earlier this year. However, our rainfall down this way was more or less average until September, we were only down 12 inches at the end of year (from Sept - Dec we were off over 8 inches of those 12" from average) - looks like y'all were down 17 inches or so.

I'm looking forward to an 'average' spring with average rain.


Yeah it's been longer term here, but I think it started in much of the Arklatx area long before I noticed what was happening here. Here in Fayetteville Ar officially ended up ~15.5" down for the year (normal is 46"), but from Feb to year end it was ~18.5" (as I recall), and there are lots of places in the Arklatx that are far worse than that, even with Rita helping in some of those areas.

Yeah, I think an average spring would be nice. :-)

Forgot to add that I had forgotten about there being so few tornadoes last spring. That is a very telling point which would seem to strongly support that the moisture is not being as effectively transported out of the gulf for about the last year.

In wet years here in Southern California, I've noticed that 'spinners' from the Gulf of Alaska will have a tendency to slide down the coast, often to this area or lower before turning inland.

As they move east, the counter-clockwise circulation will tend to pull air in from the gulf over Texas.

So far this year we haven't seen much of anything make it down here from Alaska, even though northern Cal has been drenched.

So the failure of the low pressure systems in the Pacific to make it this far south could be a major contributing factor.
Convection is reestablishing itself on the NE side of Zeta but it may be too late. Don't give up quite yet...


here she comes folks
61. dcw
Nice site you guys might wanna check out.

New advisory's out. Zeta is a tropical storm again.
Zeta is baaaaack...
- so a question I have is whether these very persistent and tenacious hybrid storms like Zeta, Vince, and Gamma (which seem to be a phenomenon not seen before this season) represent the shape of things to come with global climate change? Could we end up with hurricanes forming throughout the year, just more frequent and damaging storms in summer/fall?
64. MZT
Perhaps a name other than cyclonic 'storm' should be applied to convectionless systems like Zeta
65. IKE
A tropical storm AGAIN!!!!!!!!

You have got to be kidding me.

I fell out of my chair.

Oh for pete's sake. LMAO....

*goes very reluctantly to issue advisory*
Good morning everyone,

Sure wish Zeta would go away and the drought areas in the mid-west could get some gentel soaking rains very soon!

My brother lives in NE Arkansas and they have been dry for quite a while now; could use a little rain...

catch you all later.