Significant non-tropical storm to affect Florida and East Coast over the weekend

It appears that quite a potent storm is going to take shape over the eastern Gulf of Mexico this weekend as upper level energy digs in from the Great Plains. A surface low is forecast to form over the eastern Gulf and bring the potential for very heavy rain and severe weather to portions of Florida (figure 1).

Figure 1: Coastal Storm - 48 Hour Forecast from GFS

Figure 1: Coastal Storm - 48 Hour Forecast from GFS

From there, the low is forecast to move up the East Coast, bringing with it wind and rain all the way to New England. For coastal areas, this will be basically a warm (relatively speaking) Nor’easter. If this were January, we would probably be looking at an epic snowstorm for a good deal of the East Coast. As it stand now, a decent rain event looks to be in store for a wide swath of the Florida peninsula all the way up to Maine with coastal areas experiencing rough seas and a stiff onshore flow (figure 2).

The storm is non-tropical in nature but will tap warm Gulf of Mexico water that is itself running well above normal for this time of year. This warm water will add energy and moisture to the storm system and provide the fuel for it to strengthen and dump copious amounts of rain along its track. If you have outdoor plans this weekend in Florida all the way to New England, keep up to date on the latest weather forecast for your area.

Figure 2: Coastal Storm - 60 Hour Forecast from GFS

Figure 2: Coastal Storm - 60 Hour Forecast from GFS

One excellent tool to understand the impacts better of any storm event is to read the local forecast discussion from your National Weather Service office. You can find this by going to www.weather.gov and typing in your ZIP Code. Then scroll down on the landing page to find “Forecast Discussion”. It will have detailed meteorological information with timing, impacts and projected watch/warning info for any storm event forecast for your area. It’s a great tool, use it.

 

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Is there an El Nino in the cards for 2012? Perhaps, but not looking as likely.

The mark of a busy hurricane season usually has one element missing from it: El Nino. That is to say, El Nino conditions in the Tropical Pacific tend to suppress Atlantic hurricane activity. This is due mainly to strong upper level winds that cut across the breeding grounds for hurricanes, thus limiting their numbers and intensities. However, one must remember infamous exceptions to this rule such as Andrew in 1992, an El Nino year. There are others as well which remind us of the adage “it only takes one”.

What about neutral years? What defines a neutral year anyway? Basically, when we see the sea surface temperature (SST) anomaly in the Tropical Pacific between .50 Celsius above or below normal, it is a neutral year (ENSO neutral). The scale is not tipped in one direction or another. Easy enough, right?

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What goes up….could be very exciting. Introducing: HURR-B

Hurricane Balloon Logo

Hurricane Balloon Logo (click for larger version)

Ever wonder what the inside of the eye of a hurricane looks like? Think of those birds we often hear about that get trapped inside the eye, flying around in the (relatively) calm air. If all goes well, we will get a fantastic look at one the strangest weather phenomenon on the planet.

I wish to introduce you to our newest, most ambitious project to date. Say hello to HURR-B (pronounced Herbie). It’s a weather balloon that we will send to the edge of space from inside the eye of a hurricane. It will eventually burst and the payload will drift safely back to earth via the parachute.

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Tropical disturbance forms, labeled 90L, not much chance for development

Satellite Photo of Invest 90L

Satellite Photo of Invest 90L (click to enlarge)

It has been an odd winter for much of the nation. Snow has been hard to come by in many places while others have had several feet in just the last few days. Warm temps, plentiful rain fall and even a quick start to the severe weather season have all been the norm this year for much of the southern part of the country. We can now add “tropical interest” to the mix.

The NHC is monitoring an area of showers and thunderstorms over the northern Caribbean Sea and southern Gulf of Mexico. There is definitely a surface trough of low pressure across the region which is helping to focus the abundant energy found in the warm waters of the Caribbean and Gulf. In fact, water temps are easily above

SST Map

SST Map (click to enlarge)

the 80F threshold that we look for in tropical development. However, it is February and upper level winds, among other factors, are simply not going to allow 90L to do much more than create a buzz within the hurricane blogosphere. Its presence could lead to some scattered rain showers for the Florida Keys and perhaps mainland south Florida over the next day or two but that’s about it.

Has a tropical storm ever formed in February that affected the U.S.? Yes. In 1952 there was such an event. Check out the historical track map from Stormpulse: http://www.stormpulse.com/tropical-storm-one-1952

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Big time rains for the southern states

HPC 5-Day QPF

HPC 5-Day QPF

Get ready for some rain! If you live in eastern Texas, Arkansas and indeed a good deal of the Deep South, you’re in for some wet weather over the next five days. Take a look at the HPC QPF map. It shows the forecast precip over the next five days and a lot of it! The culprit? A potent upper level storm system now situated over southern Arizona and moving in to New Mexico. It will tap the warmer-than-normal Gulf of Mexico moisture supply and really ignite as we continue to move through the week.

While rainy, nasty weather is usually not a welcome event, in this case, I think people will be pleased to see it because of the drought relief it will bring.

U.S. Drought Monitor Map- Sept. 13, 2011

U.S. Drought Monitor Map- Sept. 13, 2011

The last few years have been exceptionally dry for the southern Plains and especially Texas. Looking at the U.S. Drought Monitor maps we can see that at the peak of last year’s hurricane season (Sept. 13 map), nearly the entire state of Texas was experiencing exceptional drought conditions. I have little doubt that this was the reason why TS Don literally dried up as it made landfall in south Texas in July. In fact, the air mass over the western Gulf remained very dry for a bulk of the hurricane season. When TS Lee formed in early September, it too entrained the bone-dry air over the region and actually transformed in to a sub-tropical storm, losing its purely tropical characteristics. I call this phenomenon the Texas Air Layer, similar to the Saharan Air Layer which can dominate the tropical Atlantic with dry, stable air.

Now let’s fast forward to the current winter pattern. We have seen quite an increase in rain fall over a significant portion of Texas and surrounding states due to a favorable storm track and possibly a warmer than normal Gulf of Mexico which supplies more moisture for storm systems. It has also been warmer than normal for the region as it has been for much of the Southeast. This is partly due to a positive NAO or North Atlantic Oscillation which has kept the deep east coast troughs which usher in Arctic Air at bay. Instead of prolonged periods of cold, dry air, the Arctic attacks are brief and the result has been a warmer, wetter winter for much of the southern tier states.

U.S. Drought Monitor Map- Jan. 17, 2012

U.S. Drought Monitor Map- Jan. 17, 2012

You can see the resulting improvements on the latest Drought Monitor map labeled January 17. A remarkable change to say the least and more rain is coming which will further knock down the dry conditions for Texas and elsewhere.

My theory is that if this pattern continues, perhaps the air mass over the southern U.S. and adjacent Gulf Waters won’t be as dry this hurricane season. If this is the case, maybe, just maybe it would open up the western Gulf, Texas included, to more tropical cyclone activity. It makes sense to some extent: if the abnormally dry air mass is gone, due in part to a wetter land mass underneath, then it stands to reason that approaching tropical cyclones won’t dry out nearly as much as we saw in 2011. I think we can all agree that watching Don erode away to nothing as it made landfall was one of most incredible demises to a tropical storm that we’ve ever witnessed. It provided next to no rain fall for the region that it impacted and was all but gone in less than 24 hours after landfall.

We’ll see how this all plays out for the upcoming hurricane season. It may have no bearing at all but I think that drought begets drought and thus more dry air; a kind of feedback mechanism. We know that tropical cyclones are incredibly sensitive to dry air and what we saw over the western Gulf last season was enough to keep the region well protected. I’ll keep tabs on the Drought Index and post a follow up report in the early part of June. For now, enjoy the abundance of rain fall but be mindful of the hazards that excessive rains can bring. It’s all good until somebody gets hurt and we don’t want that.

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