Carlotta nearly a hurricane as it moves slowly just off the Mexican coastline; Atlantic remains quiet

TS Carlotta in the east Pacific

TS Carlotta in the east Pacific

Tropical storm Carlotta is not in any hurry.The fairly slow moving storm continues to edge closer to becoming a hurricane and should do so later today. The NHC forecasts Carlotta to peak at 90 mph – a solid category one hurricane.

For now, the deep convection or thunderstorm activity remains mostly off shore, keeping the wind and precip with it. This could change later today as the forecast track takes the system closer and closer to the coast but without making landfall. This scenario would likely keep the core of the strongest winds off shore but heavy rains and winds to tropical storm force are a good bet for portions of the southern region of Pacific Mexico.

The big concern that I have is the fact that Carlotta is not forecast to move very much after the weekend. Its close proximity to the coast would likely mean a heavy rain event for the region. Interests in the area should be prepared for the possibility of several inches of rain over the next few days which could easily result in flash flooding and mudslides.

Atlantic Basin Quiet

The Atlantic Basin remains nice and quiet with no organized areas of convection noted on satellite imagery. I do not see any evidence that this pattern will change anytime soon although the western Gulf of Mexico could be the place to watch in about a week. Both the GFS and ECMWF models indicate the lowering of pressures across that region as a Monsoon Trough remains in place from the east Pacific, extending eastward in to the western Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. This focusing mechanism for convection often leads to development though it usually takes several days, similar to what we see in the west Pacific with large areas of low pressure spread out over a wide area. For now, the weekend ahead looks fantastic with no trouble spots at all in the Atlantic, Caribbean or Gulf.

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94-E in the southeast Pacific looks likely to develop in to a tropical storm

East Pacific Invest Area 94-E

East Pacific Invest Area 94-E

The only area of concern today continues to be invest area 94-E located in the southeast Pacific, just off the coast of Central America. As you can see in the satellite picture (courtesy of the University of Wisconsin’s CIMSS site), the low pressure area is gradually becoming better organized. The red “I” indicates the initial position of the center of the low. There is some banding of the cloud cover and deep tropical convection is maintaining itself. A majority of the reliable computer models indicate that 94-E will move WNW to NW and approach the southeast coast of Mexico in a few days. As far as intensity goes, the SHIPS model indicates category one hurricane strength, assuming that the center does not interact with land. Other intensity models are more conservative, keeping the system a moderate tropical storm at its peak.

The main impact looks to be heavy rain fall for portions of Central America and eventually southeast Mexico. The disturbance is slow moving, so it has time to dump a lot of rain along its path. Interests in the region should be aware of this hazard.

In the Atlantic Basin, things are nice and quiet. It is possible that we may see a window of opportunity for tropical cyclone formation in about a week but the only evidence of that right now is the fact that the MJO phase would be more favorable. This alone does not lead to development- there are plenty of other factors that ultimately drive the genesis of tropical storms and hurricanes. We’ll see what happens as we move towards the latter half of the month. So far, I do not see any consistency in the long range model guidance to suggest development in any location. I’ll post more about 94-E tomorrow morning.

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MJO pulse starting to show up as development potential increases in southeast Pacific

MJO Chart

MJO Chart

Right on cue, the MJO or Madden-Julian Oscillation, is moving out of the west Pacific and in to the eastern portions of the Pacific. The yellow shading in the graphic indicates the forecast for the MJO from the GFS model over the next several days. The enhanced upward motion associated with the MJO is likely to give birth to a tropical cyclone off the coast of Central America in the southeast Pacific.

The NHC is currently highlighting an area of showers and thunderstorms not too far off of Costa Rica. It has a very pronounced curl to it which indicates to me that development is likely. Water temps are plenty warm and upper level winds will probably just improve over the next few days.

A look at computer models suggests that the system will move rather close to the Pacific coast as it steadily develops. Interests in the region from Costa Rica northwestward to the coast of Mexico should be paying close attention to this feature. At the very least, heavy rain and squally weather will likely impact the immediate coast along the Pacific side of Central America over the next few days. I’ll post more info on this developing system daily with additional updates on our Twitter and Facebook pages as well.

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Will predicted MJO pulse bring chance for first development of the season?

GFS MJO Forecast

GFS MJO Forecast

Even though we had tropical storms Alberto and Beryl already, they were both outside of the hurricane season. Since then, things have been nice and quiet. There are, however, indications that this may change. Let’s take a look at why.

There is an atmospheric phenomenon called the MJO or Madden-Jullian Oscillation that can sometimes lead to increased tropical cyclone formation when it is in its favorable mode. Think of it as a period of fertility in the tropics. A time when rising motion in the atmosphere is more prevalent, allowing deep tropical convection to form. This is what we call the “wet phase” of the MJO pulse and it typically adds a lot more showers and thunderstorms to the tropical regions of the globe where it circulates through.

On the other hand, the “dry phase” is easy to spot due to the sinking motion of the atmosphere, suppressing tropical convection. While development can take place during an MJO dry phase, it’s a lot more common to have development during the wet phase.

There are several computer models, the global models, that predict the MJO pulse and we can track that on various sites. The graphic I have linked to for this blog shows the operational GFS and its ensemble mean- the average of the various other runs of the GFS with slightly different variables. This model, along with others such as the reliable ECMWF, point to an increase in the wet phase of the MJO for the eastern Pacific and eventually the Atlantic Basin. When the MJO is within regions 8 and 1, we should begin to look for an increase in tropical convection. So, going by the graphic, we will need to pay closer attention to the tropics after about the mid part of the month as the wet phase moves through.

You’ll notice first, as it moves through the western Pacific, that we’ll see a typhoon or two develop followed by likely development in the southeast Pacific off the coast of Mexico and Central America. After that time, it is possible that a window of opportunity will open for the western Caribbean. It’s just another piece of the puzzle or a clue that we can use to know when the tropics are perhaps a little more ready for development than at other times. I’ll keep up with it and post more here as we get closer to the predicted date of the favorable MJO pulse.

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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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