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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HurricaneTrack.com Client Services season pass and “early bird” specials now available

As we approach the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, we have made available two great plans for our subscription service. One is the season pass which gives you 100% access to all of our Client Services features for just $59.95 from now through November 30. That’s right, only one payment for the entire season. We had several dozen subscribers who really enjoyed this package last year and hope to expand upon that this time around. For those who took advantage of it in 2011, now is a great time to sign up and get started again.

For those wishing to have a smaller monthly subscription, you have until the end of the month to sign up for our $9.95 per month “early bird” special. This too was quite popular with almost a third of our member base last season.

Of course, we still offer our annual plan of $99.95 which is billed only once per year. More than half of our members are on this plan and we appreciate their continued support since the inception of our service back in 2005.

Why sign up at all? It’s simple. Our subscription service is like none other. Members get access to 100% ad-free live video feeds, a daily video update and briefing during the hurricane season, off-season video blogs, live chat with our staff and other members (troll free I might add since EVERYONE is a paying member, no free-loading troublemakers like you see on other public chats), 30 frame satellite and radar loops, large Stormpulse maps, several types of our own Java tracking maps and a member forum. And last year we introduced member streaming where by our members can stream THEIR weather to other members right from their computer and web cam. It is amazing to see our streams sure, but adding in member streams as well was a fantastic idea (one of our members suggested it) and it works so easy. All of these features make up our Client Services site.

So, if you’re interested in going beyond our blog, we have an extensive menu of subscription based services at a fair price. Our clients include folks from the insurance industry, emergency management, media, hospital management, power companies, insurance adjusters, pilots, retirees who own property or otherwise live along the coast, and many other segments of our population who just have an interest in hurricanes. In fact, 9% of our memberships are from people outside of the United States with Great Britain leading the way. We are very proud of what we offer in return for the hard earned money of our private clients. What they get in return is our dedication, innovation and an experience like none other. We spend most of the time talking about what may or may not happen tropics-wise but when the time comes and we have to head out in to the field, our technological advances really shine.

Check out a full description of Client Services here and sign up today! You’ll be part of a growing group of like-minded people who are all very helpful to one another and us too! The interactivity between the members and us is incredible and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

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Understand the seasonal forecast not for what it says, but for what it does not say

Tomorrow, Dr. Phil Klotzbach and the team from Colorado State University will issue their first quantitative forecast for the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season. As many who are tuned in to this info already know, the CSU team is likely going to forecast a season with less overall activity than we’ve seen in recent years.

I have already seen a few news reports that trickled out during the National Hurricane Conference last week that had headlines mentioning a “quiet” season ahead. I think that the video below sums up the reality of the seasonal hurricane forecast pretty well. Check it out and when the forecast comes out tomorrow and subsequent updates and additional forecasts are made throughout the rest of the season, keep the advice you hear in the video in mind.

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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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