How oil might affect a hurricane

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 12:59 PM GMT on May 07, 2010

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There's no major changes to the forecast for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. As I discussed in yesterday's post, on Sunday, the winds will begin increasing and shifting to the southeast. The latest run of the GFS model shows that this will be a week-long period of southeast winds, with wind speeds at times reaching 20 - 25 knots. These winds will threaten to bring oil to a large portion of the Louisiana coast, including regions of the central Louisiana coast west of the mouth of the Mississippi River. The Mississippi and Alabama coasts will also be at risk next week, but the risk to the Florida Panhandle is lower. Yesterday's post also has the long-range outlook for oil to get into the Loop Current and spread to the Florida Keys and beyond.

What will oil in the Gulf of Mexico do to a hurricane?
With hurricane season fast approaching and the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico likely to still be around once hurricane season starts in June, we need to ask, how will oil affect any hurricanes that might traverse over the spill? And how might a hurricane's wind and storm surge affect the spill? Let's consider the first of those questions today.

From the time of the ancient Greeks to the days of the wooden ships and iron men, mariners dumped barrels of oil onto raging seas to calm them during critical moments of violent storms (Wyckoff, 1886.) Oil does indeed calm wind-driven waves, thanks to the reduction in surface tension of the water that oil causes. Ripples with a wavelength shorter than 17 mm are affected by surface tension, and these ripples then cause a feedback that reduces the height of larger waves with longer wavelengths (Scott, 1986.) The reduction of surface tension also impacts the flow of air above the water, and reduces the amount of sea spray thrown into the air, both of which could affect the wind speed. Oil also damps waves by forming a thick, viscous film at the top of the water that resists water motion (Scott, 1999.) Oil also helps calm raging seas by switching off of the wind energy input needed by the wave to break. This occurs because the surface film of oil prevents the generation of ripples on the exposed crests of the waves, and this smoother surface makes the wind less able to grab onto the wave and force it to break.

So, what would happen to a hurricane that encounters a large region of oily waters? A 2005 paper by Barenblatt et al. theorize that spray droplets hurled into the air by a hurricane's violent winds form a layer intermediate between air and sea made up of a cloud of droplets that can be viewed as a "third fluid". The large droplets in the air suppress turbulence in this "third fluid", decrease the frictional drag over the ocean surface, and accelerate the winds. According to this theory of turbulence, oil dumped on the surface of the ocean would reduce the formation of wind-whipped spray droplets, potentially calming the winds. The authors propose spraying oil on the surface of the ocean to reduce the winds of a hurricane. However, the turbulence theory championed by Barenblatt et al. has been challenged by other scientists. In a 2005 interview with Newscientist magazine, turbulence expect Julian Hunt at University College London, UK, remarks, "I am very doubtful about this approach." Hunt studies turbulence both theoretically and in the laboratory, and believes that the high wind speeds in a hurricane are not caused by sea spray. In an article he wrote for the Journal of Fluid Dynamics, Hunt suggests that variations in the turbulence between different regions of the hurricane cause sharp jumps in wind speed, which are responsible for the hurricane's strongest winds.

Oil reduces evaporation
Hurricanes are sustained by the heat liberated when water vapor that has evaporated from warm ocean waters condenses into rain. If one can reduce the amount of water evaporating from the ocean, a decrease in the hurricane's strength will result. Oil on the surface of the ocean will act to limit evaporation, and could potentially decrease the strength of a hurricane. However, if the oil is mixed away from the surface by the strong winds of a hurricane, the oil will have a very limited ability to reduce evaporation. According to a 2005 article in Popular Science magazine, Dr. Kerry Emanuel of MIT performed some tests in 2002 to see if oil on the surface of water could significantly reduce evaporation into a hurricane. He found that the slick quickly dissipated under high wind conditions that generated rough seas.


Figure 1. A comparison of the size of 2008's Hurricane Gustav with the size of the Gulf oil spill. The spill is only about 60 miles in diameter, while a hurricane like Gustav is typically 400+ miles in diameter.

Conclusion
A tropical cyclone in its formative stage--as either a tropical depression or a tropical storm with 40 mph winds--might be adversely affected if it encountered the Gulf of Mexico oil slick, due to the reduction of evaporation into the storm. However, a full-fledged hurricane would mix the oil into the ocean to such a degree that the storm would probably not see any significant reduction in evaporation. It remains unknown how the reduction of sea spray by oil might affect a hurricane. If the oil slick expands to a much larger size, there might be a significant reduction in strength of the hurricane, if theory of how a reduction of sea spray will decrease a hurricane's winds is correct. However, the oil slick is currently Delaware-sized, while a hurricane tends to be Texas-sized, and I doubt that the oil slick at its current size is large enough to have a significant impact on a hurricane's intensity. The slick is about 60 miles across, and it would take a hurricane about four hours to traverse the spill at a typical hurricane forward speed of 15 mph. Furthermore, the slick is within 50 miles land, and interactions with land will dominate the behavior of a hurricane that gets that close to the coast. Unfortunately, there is a decent chance that we'll get a real-world opportunity to see what will happen. June tropical storms tend to form in the Gulf of Mexico, and we've been averaging one June storm every two years since 1995. This year, the odds of a June Gulf of Mexico storm are probably a little lower than usual, shear from our lingering El Niño may bring wind shear levels a bit above average. I expect there is a 20% chance that we'll see a June tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico that would interact with the oil spill.

References
Barenblatt, G.I, A.J. Chorin, and V.M. Prostokishin, 2005, A note concerning the Lighthill sandwich model of tropical cyclones, PNAS August 9, 2005 vol. 102 no. 32 11148-11150 doi: 10.1073/pnas.0505209102.

Hunt, J.C.R, and I. Eames, 2006, Mechanics of inhomogeneous turbulence and interfacial layers,, Journal of Fluid Dynamics, vol. 554, pp. 499519 doi:10.1017/S002211200600944X.

Scott, J.C., 1986, "The Effect of Organic Films on Water Surface Motions," in Oceanic Whitecaps, edited by E. C. Monohan and G. Mac Niocaill, D. Reidel Publishing Company.

Scott, J.C., 1999, Ocean Surface Slicks - "Pollution, Productivity, Climate and Life-saving", IEEE Proceedings of the International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symp. IGARSS99, Hamburg, Germany, 28 June-2 July 1999, vol. 3, pp 1463-1468, 1999.

Wyckoff, A.B., 1886, The Use of Oil in Storms at Sea, American Philosophical Society, April 2, 1886.

http://www.archive.org/stream/proceedingsofamep23 amer/proceedingsofamep23amer_djvu.txt

First tropical wave of the season leaves the coast of Africa
Yesterday, the National Hurricane Center noted the first tropical wave of the year coming off the coast of Africa in their Tropical Weather Discussion. The first half of May is the typical time when the first tropical wave comes off the coast of Africa. The wave is currently positioned in the far eastern Atlantic near 5N 45W, and I don't expect it to develop, since it is too close to the Equator to leverage the Earth's spin to gain the rotation needed. The wave has quickly been joined by two new ones today, located at 15W and 36W off the African coast. Tropical waves serve as the seed that form most Atlantic and Eastern Pacific hurricanes.

Portlight delivers major aid shipment to Haiti
Portlight continues to focus its energy and funds on the situation in Haiti, where the rainy season is fast approaching the needs for shelter, medical supplies, food and water remain urgent. Their latest effort was a shipment of several thousand pounds of Durable Medical Equipment and 30,000 pounds of rice that arrived this week via the schooner Halie and Mathew.

Portlight.org is also preparing to respond the the Gulf Coast oil spill by deploying one of more mobile kitchens to feed the hundreds of volunteers likely to flood the coast when the oil finally comes ashore. Please visit the Portlight.org web site or the Portlight blog to learn more and to donate to Portlight's efforts in Haiti and the Gulf Coast.


Figure 2. Relief supplies from the schooner Halie and Mathew sitting at the Portlight Haiti warehouse, ready for distribution.

Next Post
I'm on my way to Tucson today for the American Meteorological Society's 29th Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology, which will be held in Tucson next week. My next post will probably be on Monday night, when I plan to discuss the record SSTs observed last month in the tropical Atlantic. I'm excited to be catching up on and blogging about all the latest advancements in hurricane research!

Jeff Masters

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If it wasn't for the placement of the Bermuda high, Floyd could of blown Andrew off the map. Even though Floyd was a category 4 when it neared the Flroida coast it could have caused easily double or triple the damage Andrew did because of the shear size of it.

Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21032
Oh this is weird....the same NASA CGCMv1 model forecasting the La Nina and the active pattern for hurricane activity in the Atlantic this summer is also forecasting tropical Atlantic SSTs to plummet very dramatically over the summer.

The ensembles, however, have done very poorly with this in the past, do not appear to be initialized properly for May, and they are likely wrong again here.

Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 628 Comments: 26455
Quoting jazzygal:

03:33 PM ET
Per CNN:

Effort to place dome over oil well dealt setback, BP says

The effort to place a containment dome over a gushing wellhead was dealt a setback when a large volume of hydrates - crystals formed when gas combines with water - accumulated inside of the vessel, BP's chief operating officer said Saturday.

The dome was moved off to the side of the wellhead and is resting on the seabed while crews work to overcome the challenge, Doug Settles said.


Dreadful news.
Member Since: July 15, 2005 Posts: 3 Comments: 1259
590. IKE
Quoting jazzygal:

03:33 PM ET
Per CNN:

Effort to place dome over oil well dealt setback, BP says

The effort to place a containment dome over a gushing wellhead was dealt a setback when a large volume of hydrates - crystals formed when gas combines with water - accumulated inside of the vessel, BP's chief operating officer said Saturday.

The dome was moved off to the side of the wellhead and is resting on the seabed while crews work to overcome the challenge, Doug Settles said.


Not good.
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Quoting Levi32:


Notice the one major difference between the two maps is the North Pacific. 2005 came embedded within a warm PDO signal in the Pacific, but this year the El Nino is framed by a cold PDO. This setup is something we have not really seen before, and it's kind of new territory for forecasting this year. It makes it difficult to pick a good analog, but 2005 is one of the better ones.
Yes, I have never seen something like that before. Another thing that you have to notice is how much warmer the entire Atlantic is.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21032
Quoting Levi32:


Here ya go, they have lots of good stuff here.

Here's the GMAO GCMv1 ensemble mean forecasted equatorial Pacific SST anomalies and surface stress:

Wow, that's a great graph. I just wonder how high the SSTs will get in September?
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21032
Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
SSTs anomaly comparison - 2005 vs. 2010

2010





2005


One word: "Damn!"


Notice the one major difference between the two maps is the North Pacific. 2005 came embedded within a warm PDO signal in the Pacific, but this year the El Nino is framed by a cold PDO. This setup is something we have not really seen before, and it's kind of new territory for forecasting this year. It makes it difficult to pick a good analog, but 2005 is one of the better ones.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 628 Comments: 26455
586. xcool
oh boyyyyy :(
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SSTs anomaly comparison - 2005 vs. 2010

2010





2005


One word: "Damn!"
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21032

03:33 PM ET
Per CNN:

Effort to place dome over oil well dealt setback, BP says

The effort to place a containment dome over a gushing wellhead was dealt a setback when a large volume of hydrates - crystals formed when gas combines with water - accumulated inside of the vessel, BP's chief operating officer said Saturday.

The dome was moved off to the side of the wellhead and is resting on the seabed while crews work to overcome the challenge, Doug Settles said.
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583. xcool



xcool .rainfall



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Quoting Drakoen:


Could you shoot me the link to their seasonal forecasts?


Here ya go, they have lots of good stuff here.

Here's the GMAO GCMv1 ensemble mean forecasted equatorial Pacific SST anomalies and surface stress:

Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 628 Comments: 26455
Quoting Levi32:
The NASA CGCM-V1 model seasonal forecasts for May are out for the JJA period. It is similar to the ECMWF, forecasting a favorable pattern for Atlantic hurricane activity focused to the west, with well-below-normal sea-level pressures over the Caribbean, Bahamas, and GOM, coupled with above-average precipitation.





The 500mb forecast shows blocking over the southern shore of Hudson Bay with a negative NAO look across the Atlantic:



The forecast also has a warm summer for the central-eastern US:



Could you shoot me the link to their seasonal forecasts?
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The NASA CGCM-V1 model seasonal forecasts for May are out for the JJA period. It is similar to the ECMWF, forecasting a favorable pattern for Atlantic hurricane activity focused to the west, with well-below-normal sea-level pressures over the Caribbean, Bahamas, and GOM, coupled with above-average precipitation.





The 500mb forecast shows blocking over the southern shore of Hudson Bay with a negative NAO look across the Atlantic:



The forecast also has a warm summer for the central-eastern US:

Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 628 Comments: 26455
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Thank you Levi. Overall models are in a concensus that we will be in a La Nina for most if not all of the season.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21032
Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
Well, my primary focus is during hurricane season. Can you post some models that show the La Nina forecast?Correct.

La Nina - Hot

El Nino - Cold

If you live in Miami this winter was extremely cold and that was due to the strong El Nino. Levi stated that the La Nina will be its strongest during winter so I expect this winter to be much warmer than last winter.


The models are mostly in touch with reality now, specifically the European, which has been absolutely stellar with this El Nino this winter. Everyone is in the La Nina camp now, but some are still struggling to pick up on the big winter of 2010-11 we're going to have.

European:



Japanese: (a bit overdone in the short-term)



NASA GMAO Nino Model Forecasts:



And lastly the POAMA from Australia and the IRI, which are both still way too slow but still trending downward as we head into the winter: The IRI is as bad as the CFS.



Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 628 Comments: 26455
Quoting Levi32:


Oh that's just the CFS.....and that's not saying much at all. The La Nina will peak sometime this winter.
Well, my primary focus is during hurricane season. Can you post some models that show the La Nina forecast?
Quoting WinterAnalystwx13:


La Nina's usually mean Warmer Winters right?
Correct.

La Nina - Hot

El Nino - Cold

If you live in Miami this winter was extremely cold and that was due to the strong El Nino. Levi stated that the La Nina will be its strongest during winter so I expect this winter to be much warmer than last winter.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21032
Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
It really doesn't matter anymore as Levi32 stated yesterday evening. The El Nino will continue its downward motion regardless of SOI levels. Stormchaser2007 posted earlier that the dailies show that the El Nino is at neutral even though the SOI continues to plumit.By the way, model predictions showing that the La Nina will be its strongest during July even though the NHC insists that it will be the strongest during mid-September.


Oh that's just the CFS.....and that's not saying much at all. The La Nina will peak sometime this winter.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 628 Comments: 26455
Quoting Tropicsweatherpr:
And here is the actual data of the 30 day SOI that shows after going up a ton,now is going down. Levi32 ,you dont think the current downward trend will continue as far as crossing into negative right?

It really doesn't matter anymore as Levi32 stated yesterday evening. The El Nino will continue its downward motion regardless of SOI levels. Stormchaser2007 posted earlier that the dailies show that the El Nino is at neutral even though the SOI continues to plumit.By the way, model predictions showing that the La Nina will be its strongest during July even though the NHC insists that it will be the strongest during mid-September.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21032
Quoting Stormchaser2007:
El nino basically neutral. Those are dailies correct?
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Quoting P451:
GFS: 384 hour Loop (00Z Run)



An awful lot of moisture building.


Yes indeed.... however there's a small problem with long range runs : models like forcasting promizing stuffs but also like droping them off on the next run. GFS isn't an exeption!
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It has been a very active afternoon here as a surface trough nearby combines with daylight heating. There have been as of this post 7 flood advisories up for different parts of the island.

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Pretty self explanatory of what has happened over the past 3 weeks.

-Neutral ENSO
-Rapidly warming Gulf

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Quoting CybrTeddy:


Wait 8 weeks then look at the Atlantic.. its just the calm before the storm


Yes you're right...
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The Gulf of Guinea is cooling.

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why don't we pick it us in the chat room then
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The southern tropical Atlantic continues to cool, and although it is still warmer-than-normal, this trend, should it continue, will help focus heat in the northern tropical Atlantic this summer.

Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 628 Comments: 26455
Quoting Tropicsweatherpr:
And here is the actual data of the 30 day SOI that shows after going up a ton,now is going down. Levi32 ,you dont think the current downward trend will continue as far as crossing into negative right?



I don't think it will go significantly negative no, and it should stay positive on average for the next few months as we are now locked onto a La Nina pattern. A drop really isn't a big deal....the SOI always goes up and down as pulses of energy come across the Pacific.
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Quoting Drakoen:


The GFS was much more deviated from what actually happened.

This latest 1wk verification shows how well the GEFS does:



Naturally the ensembles (GEFS) will nearly always perform better than just the operational run (GFSO).

I am more talking here about how the GFS models, operation and ensemble alike, did a better job sniffing out the burst in the eastern Pacific/Central America than the other models did. The GFS held onto the burst way too long due to its troughing bias in the eastern US that week which did not verify. The Euro crushed it in that department.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 628 Comments: 26455
And here is the actual data of the 30 day SOI that shows after going up a ton,now is going down. Levi32 ,you dont think the current downward trend will continue as far as crossing into negative right?

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Quoting Levi32:


Well the GEFS wasn't perfect either....it was on the other side being too weak, but if I remember correctly the GFS models overall sniffed out the burst in that area of the world before the Euro and Japanese, which stayed weaker and in the middle.

The GFSO did fail east of 60W, but it did as well as the GEFS around Central America.


The GFS was much more deviated from what actually happened.

This latest 1wk verification shows how well the GEFS does:

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Quoting Drakoen:


The GFS didn't nail it at all. It went too strong with the MJO in our basin. The GEFS did a much better job in our basin:



Well the GEFS wasn't perfect either....it was on the other side being too weak, but if I remember correctly the GFS models overall sniffed out the burst in that area of the world before the Euro and Japanese, which stayed weaker and in the middle.

The GFSO did fail east of 60W, but it did as well as the GEFS around Central America.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 628 Comments: 26455
El Nino is GONE THIS GONE GONE GONE



THERE NOT WEAK MOD OR STRONG ITS GONE
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Here's the current monthly SOI...really puts into perspective how big of a turnaround this has been.



The last time we had a spike like this was in 1998, an analog year by the way, which was also coming out of an El Nino at a rapid rate similar to this year. There are some strong similarities there.

Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 628 Comments: 26455
554. JRRP
Quoting Levi32:


Good morning.

That's a great example of how the CFS fails at proactively predicting changes in the ENSO. It only catches on after the switch has already begun.

jejeje yeah
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Quoting Levi32:


The GFS does make a little more sense because of the reversal of the pattern in the Pacific, which has freed the MJO and enabled it to become more "well-behaved", instead of getting stuck in the middle and jumping around all the time. That said, the GFS may be just a bit too fast with swinging it around, but I will point out that it nailed the last burst which aided the tropical disturbance in the eastern Pacific around the end of April, and the Japanese and Euro weren't on board with it then either.


The GFS didn't nail it at all. It went too strong with the MJO in our basin. The GEFS did a much better job in our basin:

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Quoting pottery:
Post 546.
The SST's in the Atl. are 1 to 2 degrees higher than forecasted. All the way south to Rio!!
Woooo Boyyyy!!


Hey Pottery, you ready for this? :)

Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 628 Comments: 26455
Things ended up being warmer than the CFS forecast in the MDR.
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Post 546.
The SST's in the Atl. are 1 to 2 degrees higher than forecasted. All the way south to Rio!!
Woooo Boyyyy!!
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 23080
Quoting JRRP:
good morning




Good morning.

That's a great example of how the CFS fails at proactively predicting changes in the ENSO. It only catches on after the switch has already begun.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 628 Comments: 26455



Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Response

www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com

Deepwater Horizon Response


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DATE: May 08, 2010 10:26:07 CST
MEDIA ADVISORY: Unified Area Command press briefing on Deepwater Horizon response

* Report oiled shoreline or request volunteer information:
(866)-448-5816
* Submit alternative response technology, services or products:
(281) 366-5511
* Submit your vessel as a vessel of opportunity skimming system:
(281) 366-5511
* Submit a claim for damages:
(800) 440-0858
* Report oiled wildlife:
(866) 557-1401





Deepwater Horizon Incident
Joint Information Center

Phone: (985) 902-5231
(985) 902-5240











Who: U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry, BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles, MMS Regional Director of the Gulf of Mexico Region Lars Herbst.


What: An update to the status of the lowering of the oil containment dome and the ongoing response efforts to continue to attack and contain the pollution on and below the surface surrounding the Deepwater Horizon incident.


Where: Shell Robert Training and Conference Center, 23260 Shell Lane in Robert, La., 70455-1928. A Unified Area Command joint information center representative will be at the gate at 1:30 p.m., to escort media.


When: 2 p.m. CDT. The call-in number for press unable to attend: (877) 918-5750. International callers use (312) 470-7364 Password – RESPONSE (73776673).

Live broadcast may be available on the Digital Video Information Distribution System (DVIDS) hub, which can be accessed at www.dvidshub.net. To see the live broadcast or download video of the conference, media must register with DVIDS no later than 1:45 p.m. This can be done on the DVIDS Web site or by calling (678) 421-6612.

RSVP: Media interested in attending should arrive no earlier than 12:30 p.m.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125560
546. JRRP
good morning


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JB brought up an interesting site from ESRL on his blog this morning that I hadn't seen before: Global Angular Atmospheric Momentum

AAM for the past 90 days: You can see this signal also starting to align to a more La Nina look.

Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 628 Comments: 26455
544. Skyepony (Mod)
Wunderkid~ Can we get a link?

Did see there was a severe weather event in India with 50 killed & 70 injured (such round numbers)

Here's the Satellite loop..look out China your next..
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 156 Comments: 36074
Quoting nrtiwlnvragn:


Good to have the alternate views. My point is that its only the operational GFS showing a strong signal in sector 8 towards the end of the month. All of the others do not show that.


The GFS does make a little more sense because of the reversal of the pattern in the Pacific, which has freed the MJO and enabled it to become more "well-behaved", instead of getting stuck in the middle and jumping around all the time. That said, the GFS may be just a bit too fast with swinging it around, but I will point out that it nailed the last burst which aided the tropical disturbance in the eastern Pacific around the end of April, and the Japanese and Euro weren't on board with it then either.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 628 Comments: 26455

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About JeffMasters

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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