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.

 

How’s that La Niña going?

Subsurface Temps of the Tropical Pacific

Subsurface Temps of the Tropical Pacific

So far this winter, the La Niña that has been in place since last fall continues to hold strong. As the graphic from the Bureau of Meteorology in Australia indicates, subsurface temperatures across the tropical Pacific remain much colder than average over a large area. There is a growing region of subsurface warmth beginning to pool in the western Pacific but it lacks a real mechanism to drive it eastward- a so-called westerly wind burst. We typically don’t see those unless there is a significant pressure change across the Pacific and that shows up in the SOI or Southern Oscillation Index. When it is substantially negative, and persistently so, the trade winds often slow or even reverse, allowing the warm water gathering in the western Pacific to migrate eastward.

The latest update from the BOM also points out that long range climate models suggest a gradual warming of the tropical Pacific as the La Niña fades. This means it is likely that we’ll see a return to more average, or neutral ENSO conditions (ENSO stands for El Niño Southern Oscillation) by the time summer arrives in the Northern Hemisphere. There is also the possibility that the warming will continue and a weak El Niño could set in by next fall. I do not see any evidence yet to suggest that a strong El Niño is coming. However, this time of year, it is difficult to predict what will happen several months down the road but the large subsurface cold pool coupled with a fairly strong SOI signal over the past 30 to 90 days tells me that La Niña is going to be the rule for a few more months at least.

Why does any of this matter? Aside from the effects outside of the hurricane season, which are far too detailed to get in to in this post, we typically see a more active hurricane season when El Niño is not present. This is due to the stronger and more numerous instances of wind shear, the change of wind speed and/or direction with height, over the deep tropics. El Niño events promote this negative impact to tropical cyclones where as La Niña events usually do not.

For now, the La Niña pattern will continue but we’ll watch for signs that it is breaking down and then we’ll see how much warming takes place in the tropical Pacific. The end result could have an impact, one way or another, on the upcoming Atlantic hurricane season. I’ll post more about the ENSO state next month.