Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tropical Development Possible in the Gulf

I don't want to make too much of this just yet, but since many of you, like me, will be leaving town later this week to head to Dallas, I wanted to give you an early heads up on the potential for some tropical development in the Gulf.

Over the last couple of days, several consecutive runs of some of our reliable computer models have indicated the potential for a tropical system to develop in the western Gulf very late this week or this weekend.  The origin of this potential tropical system is a disturbance currently seen on satellite moving through the western Caribbean.

Visible satellite image from 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011. Courtesy: NASA.

The National Hurricane Center isn't mentioning this feature just yet in their 'Tropical Weather Outlook (TWO)', but there's good reason for that.  The TWO is meant to highlight features that could develop within the next 48 hours.  If anything happens with this system, it's likely to start just beyond that 48 hour window...that's why you won't see anything just yet.  But you'll likely see this feature added to the TWO in the next day or so.

As mentioned above, a couple of our more reliable computer models are indicating the potential for some development with this system, especially by the weekend.  First, take a look at this plot of the GFS (Global Forecast System) model.

GFS model plot, effective 1 a.m., Monday, Sept. 5th.  Courtesy: Florida State University

This particular run of the GFS shows what would likely be a healthy tropical storm off of the Louisiana coastline late Sunday night / early Monday morning (Labor Day).  You can also see 'Katia' out in the Atlantic.

Now, take a look at this plot of the 'European' model (ECMWF - European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts):

ECMWF model plot, effective 7 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 4th.  Courtesy: Florida State University

I know that all of the lines and colors can make this a bit difficult to interpret, but note that the ECMWF also shows a tropical system in the Gulf, but has it much farther southwest, closer to Brownsville.  It also shows the system a bit stronger than the GFS.

As you can see, there's a HIGH amount of uncertainty with the potential development and especially track of this system in the Gulf.  One important thing to mention is that the overall weather pattern will be changing later this week.  The ridge of high pressure that has kept us so hot and relatively dry most of this summer will finally break down and that could open the door for some potential impact along the western or northern Gulf Coast.  The eventual track and strength will have a lot to say about how much rain we see from late this week into the weekend.  It's also important to note that steering currents look to be pretty weak in the Gulf during this time period, meaning there's at least a chance this system could linger in the Gulf for several days. That could translate into a heavy rain/flooding threat for some portion of the Gulf Coast.

Bottom line...there's potential for a tropical system to develop in the Gulf late this week or this weekend.  The future track and intensity are highly uncertain...more so than normal.  Now is the time to make sure your home and family are prepared just in case we have to deal with a tropical system.  Those of you preparing to leave town for the LSU game should make sure your home is ready just in case something develops while you're gone.  Just to be safe, move any loose items in your yard indoors and secure anything else that can't be moved.

Finally, I had intended to devote today's blog to Irene, but obviously the threat of a tropical system in the Gulf takes precedence.  However, let me say this...there have been a lot of people over the last couple of days saying that Irene was 'overhyped'.  While it may not have turned out to be the mega disaster we feared at one point, it will still go down as one of the most significant storms to hit the East Coast in recent decades.  Consider these numbers:
  • At least 40 fatalities
  • Early damage estimates ranging from $7 to $10 billion.  That would make Irene one of the 10 costliest storms on record for the U.S.
  • Approximately 5 million customers experienced power outages
  • 14 states & the District of Columbia recorded tropical storm force wind gusts
  • 6 states recorded hurricane force wind gusts
    • Peak gusts:
      • Mt. Washington, NH: 120 mph (high elevation)
      • Cedar Island, NC: 115 mph
      • Fort Macon, NC: 92 mph
      • Sayville, NY: 91 mph
      • Conimicut, RI: 83 mph
      • East Milton, MA: 81 mph
      • Virginia Beach, VA: 76 mph
  • Record flooding all along the East Coast
    • Highest rain totals:
      • Virginia Beach, VA: 20.40"
      • Jacksonville, NC: 20.00"
And I could go on for days with the numbers...

So, while New York City and the major metropolitan areas of the Northeast may have weathered Irene fairly well, take a look at those numbers and tell me Irene was 'overhyped'.  Better yet...let's put it in local perspective.  Just about everything you see above either matches or surpasses what we experienced during Hurricane Gustav in 2008.  It's easy to call something 'overhyped' when you either don't experience it, or miss out on the worst of it.  But ask the people of the East Coast still without power today...the people who have lost their homes to record flooding...or even those who have lost loved ones in the storm if Irene was 'overhyped'.

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