Busy times coming up for us as east Pac season begins tomorrow, we test our HURR-B and visit a NOAA Sentinel

East Pacific Season Begins Tomorrow

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the east Pacific hurricane season and it looks like it may begin right on cue with something to track. The NHC is currently monitoring investigation area 90-E (remember the reason by the numbers/letters? If not, I’ll have a refresher course tomorrow) well off the coast of Mexico and moving westward. It has an 80% chance of becoming a tropical depression but then upper level winds should become less favorable.

East Pacific TCHP Map (figure 1)

East Pacific TCHP Map (figure 1)

Computer models are in fairly good agreement on developing a more substantial tropical cyclone in the southeast Pacific over the next week to 10 days. There is in fact a large area of loosely organized convection several hundred miles south of El Salvador/Guatemala that is likely the disturbance that the models are picking up on. Water temps in the region are plenty warm with upper ocean heat content on the rise. This provides ample fuel for tropical storms and hurricanes (see figure 1). So do not be surprised if the east Pacific season gets off to a busy start. It’s too soon to know whether or not any development would affect coastal Mexico directly – I’ll post more on this as we progress through the week.

Next Week We Test HURR-B

I am very excited about our plans for next week. I will be joined by Greg Nordstrom from Mississippi State University as we set out to Texas where we will test our newly developed hurricane balloon. In case you are not familiar with this project, let me give you a quick overview. We have built a payload consisting of four GoPro Hero HD cameras and a pair of GPS recorders to send in to the eye of a hurricane via weather balloon. You might have seen “high altitude ballooning” becoming a more and more popular hobby with people putting their iPhones inside of a payload and sending it to the edge of space. We thought that it would be incredible to study the eye of a hurricane from the inside-up. So our plan is to deploy HURR-B (hurricane balloon) in to the eye and let it rise to 90,000 feet or higher where it will burst and fall back to the ground via parachute. We’ll locate it using satellite tracking and, if all goes well, will have perhaps some of the most stunning video of the inside of the eye of a hurricane that anyone has ever seen. But more than that, we’ll have the GPS data logged every second to tell us where HURR-B traveled and how fast. This will help to better understand the wind flow inside the eye and well above it. We hope that this will be the start of a long-term project where by we can gather data on landfalling hurricanes using weather balloons and increasingly sophisticated instrumentation to gather real time observations. We figured that it would be best to start simple to make sure this is even feasible.

Greg and I will meet in Atlanta next Monday and then head down to the Gulf Coast on Tuesday/Wednesday (more on this in the next section). We’ll arrive in Houston, TX Wednesday night and use Thursday to prep everything for the launch on Friday, May 25. We’ll launch twice- once to test everything to 25,000 feet and then another test to 90,000 feet or higher. We will stream the entire trip live on our public Ustream channel so be looking for that next Monday.

To raise the funding needed to make this possible, we have sold plastic tiles for people to sign their names using a Sharpie. The cost is $100 per tile and we then attach it to the outside of the payload to be sent to the edge of space. It’s a unique way to be a part of this innovative and important project. We only had 50 tiles available and have sold almost half so far. If you’re interested in purchasing one and being a part of our efforts, please see the HURR-B page here. I’ll post more on the progress of our testing throughout the week next week with plenty of pics and photos to follow.

NOAA Sentinel Visit to Test Remote Cam

NOAA Sentinel (figure 2)

NOAA Sentinel (figure 2)

While Greg and I are on this trip across the Gulf Coast to reach Texas, we figured we would stop in to visit the NOAA Sentinel in Mississippi. It is part of NOAA/CO-OPS’ Sentinels of the Coast program for capturing tide data during storm events (and of course during calm weather as well). We are partnering with NOAA to place one of our remotely operated Storm Surge cams high atop one of these 25 foot tall Sentinels (see figure 2) to stream live video on our Ustream channel during a hurricane or tropical storm. We have the opportunity to provide the public, media, emergency management and anyone else who is interested with unprecedented live video from the water, looking back at the coast. If we have another powerful hurricane strike near one of the many tide stations or the beefed-up Sentinels, we will work with NOAA to place one of the cams out well ahead of the worst conditions to stream live video but also to capture video which will help in better understand the impacts that storm surge and wind have along the immediate coast from a fixed camera position. We use a lot of time lapse in our research and this is an incredible opportunity to literally put a “watch dog” in the teeth of the hurricane, using technology to make it all possible while keeping our team as far away from the surge as possible. We will test the video feed next Wednesday for about an hour on our Ustream channel. I’ll post the times once we narrow it down with NOAA.

So as we approach the mid-way point in May, you can see that things are very busy for us. We also have our iPhone/Android app in development which I will discuss a great length in a couple of weeks. It will be a great way for you to keep up with the goings on in the tropics while providing live weather data and frequent video blogs during our field missions. More on all of that later on…. For now, we’ll watch the east Pacific for signs of getting started with its seasonal activity. While there are some rumblings, if you will, from some computer models about possible development in the Caribbean Sea, I’ll wait and see if that’s anything more than just a passing anomaly before posting much about it.

 

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East Pac and Atlantic Basin trying to get ahead of schedule

The east Pacific hurricane season does not officially begin until May 15 and the Atlantic season not until June 1. However, that does not mean that the tropics will wait until those dates to start producing interesting weather.

Many of the global computer models are hinting at tropical cyclone development in the southeast Pacific and possibly in the western Caribbean over the next week to 10 days. Water temps are warm enough, no question about that. But will upper level winds and other factors such as dry air be pro or con for development? Let’s take a look.

May 10-20 Points of Origin Map (graphic 1)

May 10-20 Points of Origin Map (graphic 1)

First, how about climatology. If we look at the points of origin for tropical cyclones from May 10-20 (graphic 1) we see that both basins have almost the same number of developments 9 for the Pacific, 8 for the Atlantic. So it is possible to see development in both regions during this upcoming time period. This also makes me wonder why the east Pacific starts on May 15 and the Atlantic does not. They both seem to have the same chances for development from this date forward. Interesting, but not for me to decide.

Caribbean Sea Vertical Instability Graph

Caribbean Sea Vertical Instability Graph

Next, let’s look at the vertical instability for the Caribbean right now. Granted this is the current pattern, but it will give us an idea of whether or not the mid-levels of the atmosphere are too dry. As we can see, the vertical instability is currently running just a tad above climatological levels, meaning that the air is nice and buoyant or unstable. This is important because a stable, drier environment, like we saw for almost the entire hurricane season last year in this region, will not allow for tropical cyclone formation or at least keep it weak and disorganized. This is a marked change from last season and something we’ll need to monitor throughout the upcoming season.

GFS 168 Hour 200mb Forecast

GFS 168 Hour 200mb Forecast

Next, upper level winds. The GFS forecasts a fairly nice area of high pressure at the 200mb level in a week. I won’t look beyond a week since too many variables come in to play. But right now, the latest operational run of the GFS shows an area of favorable upper level winds developing over the western Caribbean Sea, extending from the southeast Pacific actually. All we need now is a disturbance of lowering of the surface pressures to set off tropical convection. Will that happen? The various models suggest that it might. I would bet more on the east Pacific than the Caribbean right now, but do not discount entirely the chance of a named storm in the east Pacific followed by the chance of one forming in the western Caribbean Sea before June 1. It’s rare, but it does happen and the region we’ll be watching, according to the climo map in graphic 1, shows that we’re looking in the right place.

So for now, just something to monitor and nothing to be concerned about, not in the least. As things develop, or not, I’ll post more info here and via our Twitter and Facebook pages. Not following us there yet? Click either of the two icons above to join the social media side of HurricaneTrack.

 

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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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