Texas deluge as tropical moisture aimed at Lone Star State

NHC graphical outlook and the potential track area of invest 91L

NHC graphical outlook and the potential track area of invest 91L

A lot has been made already about the presence of invest area 91L. After all, it is hurricane season and we do have an area of interest to monitor in a region that hasn’t had much activity over the past few years. In fact, a grand total of zero hurricanes have made landfall in Texas since 2008 – Ike was the last. While there is nothing at all to suggest that 91L will become a hurricane, it does raise a few eyebrows and for good reason: the rain threat.

May was an absolutely stunning month for rain in parts of Texas. Houston alone set records and had flooding issues. Farther inland, areas such as Austin, San Antonio and Wimberley experienced flooding which resulted in loss of life and significant damage. The power of water is often unappreciated until it changes lives and alters the landscape.

Enter 91L in to the picture and the NHC’s potential track area as seen in the graphic and you can see why Texans are probably a little more concerned about this system than they might be otherwise. None of the intensity guidance suggests anything more than a lopsided, weak tropical storm. Nothing to worry about, right? Wrong. Tropical cyclones, this includes tropical depressions and tropical storms mind you, have four main hazards that they can hit you with: wind, storm surge, rain and tornadoes (downburst winds too). The majority of the public responds well when the forecast suggests 150 mph winds are coming. Sadly, storm surge, as lethal as it is, seems to be ignored (see Katrina, Ike and Sandy).

That leaves us with rain, the most abundant of the tropical cyclone hazards and yet it is the most ignored and least understood by the average person. We think of rain as cleansing and necessary to sustain life. However, too much of it at once or even over several days has a drastic effect on life as we know it.

Only a few inches of rain in a short period of time can overwhelm flood control systems in large metro areas such as Houston. If the rain keeps coming, everything literally cascades in to a total disaster, often stranding hundreds of people who didn’t seem to know better. Even after years of “turn around, don’t drown” people will think they are immune to the laws of physics and do something that defies logic. All because they didn’t respect the power of rain and freshwater flooding.

What does all of this have to do with 91L? Plenty. I think this is an opportunity for people in the region, mainly Texas, to show that they have learned from past experiences. Allison in 2001 was quite a while ago, I’ll give them that. But the May floods were, well, in May – just a few short weeks ago.

There is the potential for what ever becomes of 91L, whether or not it attains tropical storm intensity, to drop a lot of rain over areas that simply don’t need it – at least not in the quantities that some forecasts are showing.

The good news is that upper level winds should keep 91L from becoming much more than a rain threat. This will minimize the amount of wind and surge impact to the coast. However, any onshore flow in areas such as Bolivar Peninsula could lead to over wash – that area is flat with little to no dune protection.

The bad news is that the Gulf of Mexico is ripe with moisture. Water temps are running above normal with actual temps close to the upper 80s along parts of the northwest Gulf. This will lead to an incredible amount of precipitable water being lifted in to the atmosphere and wrung out over Texas next week. Flooding is almost a certainty but exactly where is impossible to pinpoint.

It is going to be important for people in the region to monitor their local news outlets and reliable social media sources for updates. This is going to be a constantly changing situation and a lot will come down to how much rain falls over a certain area and for how long. Since that cannot be forecast with any real accuracy this far out, keeping up with the latest from the National Weather Service and your local TV meteorologists will be important in keeping you and your family safe.

I highly recommend using weather.gov and then inputting your ZIP Code. The return page will have a ton of useful links and information, including the latest watch/warning package and any special statements. It’s all right there at your fingertips – use it!

TS Carlos tracking map from the National Hurricane Center

TS Carlos tracking map from the National Hurricane Center

Meanwhile, Carlos is a tropical storm now just off the coast of Mexico in the eastern Pacific. The forecast takes the storm inland between Tuesday and Wednesday while strengthening it again to hurricane strength. Again, as with 91L in the Gulf of Mexico, the biggest issue with Carlos will be the potential for flooding rain. Certainly hurricane force winds are an issue but with a slow moving tropical system the rain is probably the larger concern at this point. Fortunately, the proximity of Carlos to land should keep it from intensifying much more than it is now, fluctuating back and forth between tropical storm and hurricane strength. Once inland in a few days, its moisture will spread over the interior portions of Mexico further extending the rain and flooding threat to that region.

I will have continuing coverage of 91L and Carlos tomorrow and via my video blog discussions now available through our YouTube channel. Follow and subscribe to the channel here: HurricaneTrack YouTube channel

M. Sudduth 12:15 PM ET June 14

 

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Adventure of a lifetime awaits, but first, must test and be ready

HURRB Logo

HURRB Logo

In 2012 we came up with the idea of launching a weather balloon with a payload consisting of weather data collection equipment and GoPro cameras in to the eye of a hurricane. And thus, HURRB was born: the Hurricane Research Balloon.

We built a prototype using a cheap Styrofoam cooler and launched it from near Buffalo, Texas in late May of 2012. Everything about it was a success. It worked.

Last June, we tried it again, this time using a Pelican Storm Case as the payload. It seems to be made for this type of thing and our test launch from Ardmore, Oklahoma was again a roaring success. Our payload managed to make it to 97,600 feet before the balloon burst due to the extreme low pressures of the upper atmosphere. Check out this video summary of the launch from last year: https://youtu.be/ZRviUYMdW90

It is now time to test HURRB again. This time, from Colorado City, Texas. I like choosing new locations each year in the center part of the country to make things relatively easy. Why? Well, simply put, during a hurricane, it is going to very, very tough. The stress of getting in to the eye and then getting a 1500 gram weather balloon ready to hoist a 4.5 pound payload 100,000 feet up is enough to make most people say, “forget it”. Not us. We think it can be done, we just need the chance. Practice doesn’t ever make perfect when dealing with the weather but it sure helps. We have to keep on testing in order to be ready when the time comes for the adventure of a lifetime.

HURRB has a special APRS transmitter that will give us its location above the Earth and then once it is on the ground. It also has an on-board satellite based tracking system that is a great back-up to the APRS transmitter. This is how we will track HURRB.

Far more important is the weather data we will be collecting. The High Altitude Science Eagle Weather Computer will log temperature, pressure and humidity every six seconds. It will also give us a detailed GPS track as well. This computer worked flawlessly last year but right now, it is malfunctioning on us and will be of no use for this test. However, failure is always an option and you have to learn from setbacks. We know the computer works and will make sure we have a working one for the real deal when ever that day comes. So no weather data from this flight but the GPS info from the SPOT locator and the APRS will tell us a lot about the wind above the Texas country-side.

Then there are the twin GoPro cameras. These give us the awesome shot of our wonderful planet from many miles up. One camera faces upward towards the sky and the balloon while the other camera is angled down but out just enough to show a horizon from time to time. High altitude balloon enthusiasts know all too well how spectacular the view is from 100,000 feet. We can’t wait to see what we capture tomorrow.

This launch is special too because of a dying east Pacific hurricane. Blanca is slowly weakening as it interacts with the Baja peninsula well to the west and south of where we are. However, the high level cirrus outflow is making its way across the Southwest and in to the skies above Texas. We will fly HURRB through this and probably 60,000 feet above it! While not the goal of getting HURRB in to the eye of a hurricane, we’ll take the cirrus outflow as a great first step.

We plan to set up and launch from Colorado City’s northwest side around 6:30 AM local time or 7:30 AM ET. If you would like to watch us prep the balloon and launch it – click the link below for the special HURRB page we’ve set up. There is also a link to track HURRB via the APRS website.

Click here to watch our launch and recovery (signal allowing) of HURRB

Once HURRB reaches burst altitude and the balloon pops, the payload will fall back to the ground via parachute. We will then locate it via the GPS tracking we have and hopefully recover the payload before early afternoon, if not sooner. We will do our best to stream the chase and recovery but some of the scrub brush area of Texas that we will likely travel through has no cellular data signal and so we might lose our feed. Once we recover HURRB, I will Tweet about it and make sure I post some video just as soon as possible.

This is exciting, a weather geek’s dream shot. I am hopeful that we have another perfect launch and recovery tomorrow – I guess there is only one way to find out. We’ll see you (if you’re up) from Colorado City, Texas bright and early tomorrow!

M. Sudduth 1:00 AM ET June 8

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Blanca forecast to make landfall along Baja, moisture to spread in to U.S. Southwest

Forecaast map for hurricane Blanca in the east Pacific

Forecaast map for hurricane Blanca in the east Pacific

Hurricane Blanca is on track to make landfall along the Baja peninsula late this weekend or by early Monday. Fortunately, the wind will not be as much of an issue as the rain will be since Blanca will be moving over cooler water before landfall.

Right now, top winds are 100 mph which is substantially weaker than we saw a couple of days ago when the hurricane peaked at category five intensity. The irony of that incredible strength is that it ultimately doomed the hurricane. Why? Upwelling. Because the steering currents were very weak, Blanca, with its intense winds, sat over almost the same geographic area of the ocean for at least a day. This churned the Pacific significantly underneath the hurricane causing cold water from below to be mixed in to the surface. The result – a much weakened hurricane.

While Blanca has diminished from its record-setting power, it is still a formidable hurricane which will bring wind, rain and rough seas to portions of the Baja this weekend and in to early next week. People in the region need to be ready and not regard a weaker hurricane as less of a threat to life and property. Torrential rain alone can be a big problem.

Speaking of rain, moisture from now dead hurricane Andres and eventually from Blanca will stream northward in to the Desert Southwest of the U.S. This will increase the chance of heavy rain for some areas but not likely as widespread as we saw with Norrbert and Odile last season. In any case, interests in the Southwest U.S. should keep tabs on their local forecast over the next several days as the situation unfolds. High mountain snowmelt combined with any potential heavy rain events will easily cause streams, creeks and dry washes to reach flood stage quickly.

In other news, I am en-route to Houston for the hurricane workshop tomorrow at the George R. Brown Center. I am looking forward to interacting with literally hundreds of people as they stop by to see the HurricaneTrack Tahoe and some of our newest equipment used to study hurricanes at landfall.

After the workshop, it is time to head northwest to Amarillo. Monday is an exciting day. We test launch HURRB as we prepare for the 2015 season ourselves. I will have a separate, more thorough blog post on what we are doing with that tomorrow evening or on Sunday. Until then, keep an eye on Blanca if you live along the Baja peninsula. The Atlantic Basin is nice and quiet now so no worries there for the weekend ahead.

M. Sudduth 12:00 PM ET June 5

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Hurricane Blanca likely a problem for Baja then Southwest U.S.

Hurricane Blanca in the east Pacific

Hurricane Blanca in the east Pacific

It’s like 2014 all over again in the east Pacific. Hurricane after hurricane developing over the abnormally warm water in the region. The latest, Blanca, poses a risk to the Baja peninsula and eventually parts of the Southwest United States.

The latest from the NHC indicates that winds are near 110 mph. The forecast suggests that Blanca will become significantly stronger as it moves roughly parallel to the Mexican coastline. Fortunately, the hurricane is far enough off shore to spare the mainland any direct impacts. However, in a few days, the southern tip of the Baja is probably going to have to deal with this system.

Most model guidance and the official track forecast from the NHC suggest that Blanca will turn slightly more to the east with time as the high pressure area over the east Pacific breaks down due to a trough of low pressure off the California coast. This will allow the hurricane to track right in to the Baja region this weekend.

The intensity forecast brings Blanca close to category five due to very warm ocean water and an ideal upper level pattern. In fact, the hurricane is going through a steady period of rapid intensification right now which should last for another day or so. This means at the very least, tremendous swells will begin to impact the coast ahead of the hurricane itself due to the intense winds over the open ocean.

How strong Blanca is once it encounters land along the southern Baja remains to be seen. Water temps cool off along the forecast track close to the peninsula. Also, the NHC mentions upper level winds becoming less favorable with time, inducing shear over the hurricane. All of these factors should result in a weaker system at landfall. No matter, interests in the region should prepare for a hurricane and its associated effects by this weekend.

Once Blanca makes landfall and interacts with the Baja it will decay very quickly. However, the moisture plume that will stream northward from the dying hurricane will inevitably dump heavy rain over parts of southwest Mexico and the southwest United States. Right now, this does not look to be as serious a situation as we saw unfold last year with Pacific hurricanes Norbert and Odile. Moisture will be on the increase across the Southwest by early next week but it is too soon to know just how much and precisely where at this point. The forecast will be refined in the coming days and much will depend on how strong Blanca remains after landfall.

In other news, I am heading out beginning today for a trip to Houston, Texas for the annual Ready or Not Houston/Galveston Hurricane Workshop this Saturday. It is probably the largest event of its kind in the country and is well worth the time of anyone who stops in for a visit. Numerous agencies, news media, hurricane experts and relief organizations participate in order to bring the public exceptional hurricane information and preparedness info.

I will have the HurricaneTrack Chevy Tahoe on display along with several pieces of brand new equipment that we have developed for observing hurricanes up close and personal using technology. I will also have our HURRB (Hurricane Research Balloon) payload to show off as well. In fact, after the workshop wraps up Saturday, the team and I head up to Amarillo to prepare for a test launch of HURRB on Monday morning.

Our goal is to have a successful launch and recovery of the payload via high-altitude weather balloon. The on-board weather computer will store air pressure, temperature and humidity data every two seconds for the entire mission. If all goes as planned, the payload will ascend to at least 100,000 feet above Earth before the balloon bursts due to extreme low pressure. HURRB will then fall back to the ground via parachute to be retrieved by our team using satellite and ground based tracking. We’ll get to see it all from the point of view of two GoPro cameras mounted on the outside of the payload.

I will stream the entire trip out to Texas and back live on our public Ustream channel. On Monday, bright and early at that, I will also have the HURRB test streaming live as well. It’s all part of our own preparedness activities for the season ahead, no matter what it brings. Despite the forecast for fewer than average hurricanes, we need to be ready just as you do for that one landfall possibility that could change everything. If you live close enough to Houston to make it worth your while, I invite you to come out to the George R. Brown center on Saturday. Stop by the Tahoe and say hello. It’s an important event and we are proud to support it by our participation. No one knows for sure what kind of season we will end up having, being ready makes sense, no matter the numbers being forecast.

I’ll have more from the road including blog posts concerning Blanca and its projected impact on the Baja and the Southwest U.S.

M. Sudduth 9:35 AM ET June 3

 

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A decade has passed since the single most destructive season in history, have we learned from it?

Hurricane Rita in the Gulf of Mexico during the historic 2005 season

Hurricane Rita in the Gulf of Mexico during the historic 2005 season

Here we are on June 1, the official start to the Atlantic hurricane season. Much has already been said about how “slow” it is likely to be so I am not going to delve in to that. We all know, kind of like John Calipari at Kentucky basketball, that it only takes one to ruin your  perfect season. Be ready for anything or be prepared to lose everything. It’s that simple.

Ten years ago we were about to embark on a perilous journey that no one was ready for, not even close. The 2005 hurricane season was the most destructive and one of the deadliest in American history. Hard to believe that a decade has already passed.

What have we learned since the likes of Katrina, Rita, Wilma? Those were the big three that stood out during the historic ’05 season, all of them becoming category five hurricanes at some point in their infamous lives.

I am going to be a pessimist here and say that we have learned very little. The evidence? Massive rebuilding along the same coastline that was all but wiped out 10 years ago. In many cases, more expensive property has gone up in the wake of the hurricanes, inviting an even larger price tag to replace yet again after the next one. And so it goes.

Now, more than a quarter of a generation later, more people than ever are living in harm’s way. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, the hurricanes have become more legend than year-to-year threat. This has almost certainly created a silent but very real problem for emergency managers and those who would respond to even a singular major hurricane event. Look at Sandy just three years ago come late October. The Mid-Atlantic region was devastated and Sandy was nowhere close to the intensity of Katrina, Rita or Wilma at landfall. The system was overwhelmed and far too many people lost their lives. Lack of experience more than likely played a key role. We react on what we know, not what we are told. People were told to evacuate but they didn’t know the cost of staying. For those who survived, they do now.

We have to look at each hurricane season as an opportunity, an opportunity to finally get it right. It is time to put the lessons learned from a season like 2005 to good use. Learn what you can about your local hurricane history. Read books, find videos online (I know of a few hint hint) and educate your self and your family. Hurricanes are not scary. Being woefully unprepared is scary. Take the fear and anxiety out by knowing the enemy. Once you do that, you can better formulate a plan to combat that enemy. The goal is not to win but to persevere and survive. Protect what you can of your property and live to tell the story of how you dealt with hurricane-X with minimal problems. Even if another Katrina comes your way and you are faced with losing your entire home, there are ways to mitigate the loss and make it far easier to bounce back, probably stronger than before.

Or, you can do nothing. Sit back and hope, hope that nothing with a name on it comes your way. If it does, you can hope that it won’t be too bad. If it is, you can hope that you have enough food and water to last for maybe 10 days or more. If you don’t, you can hope that FEMA or other relief organization swoops in to save you. While you’re at it, hope for a good hair day so that when TIME Magazine takes your picture as you stand in line waiting for one serving of food and a drink of water, that you at least don’t look like a victim.

Hope is not a planning tool. Be hurricane prepared.

M. Sudduth 9:00 AM ET June 1

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