October 11, 2010

Return of the Heat, Paula, and a Decent Chance for Rain

Filed under: Forecasting,Mid-latitude cyclones,Severe,Tropical — Erin @ 5:39 pm

The blog has been inactive recently because the weather in the Deep South has been profoundly, well, boring. After a brief cool spell brought on by a pair of cold fronts, we saw a return to the high 80s and further intensification of the drought. For Jackson, it was in fact the driest September on record and the maximum temperatures were among the highest (though the cool overnight lows resulted in a moderation of the overall daily averages). Incidentally, with the warmup came an increase in the number of red paper wasps that—apparently re-energized by the heat—wanted to use my house to overwinter, and one of them decided to light on an antique doorknob of virtually the same color as itself. If you have never been stung by this type of wasp before, believe me, you do not want to be.

Rain/Thunderstorm Event
However, at last there is a respectable possibility for some rain, and better yet, it is coupled with another cool-off. A low is moving in that is expected to bring rain on Tuesday. Jackson is even concerned about the threat of severe weather, and the SPC has put us under a Slight risk for Tuesday:

If cumulonimbi materialize, unplug your computers, modems, and printers. Trust me on this one.

Jackson’s forecast discussion speaks of air mass modification by the low pressure system. This is exactly what it sounds like; an air mass with very different characteristics moves in and alters the presiding air mass. A look at the water vapor map makes it very clear what is going on with this:

The curved form over Kansas is the upper level low. The leading edge of it is already approaching the area, and you can tell the difference between even the current humidity of the air and what is coming our way. Drier air has already been pushed out, as you may have noticed from the widespread cumulus cloud formation today.

Here is what Jackson has to say about the incoming system and the potential for severe weather:

THE AIR MASS WILL DESTABILIZE QUICKLY IN THE PATH OF THE DEEP UPPER
LOW AND MOISTURE WILL CONTINUE TO INCREASE AHEAD OF THE SYSTEM.
PRECIPITABLE WATER VALUES AHEAD OF THE SYSTEM ARE EXPECTED TO BE
AROUND 1.5 INCHES AND VERTICAL TOTALS ARE FORECAST IN THE UPPER 20S
FROM NE LA INTO WCNTRL AND NE MS BY 11/00Z. RADAR TRENDS ARE THAT
CONVECTION ASSOCIATED WITH THE OUTFLOW MOVING INTO EXTREME WRN ZONES
IS WEAKENING BUT FORCING REMAINS BETTER FARTHER UPSTREAM CLOSER TO
THE FRONT AND UPPER LOW. CONSIDERING THE EXTREME AIR MASS
MODIFICATION THAT OCCURRED JUST UPSTREAM EARLIER TODAY AND THE FACT
THAT IT WONT TAKE MUCH FOR STRONG CONVECTION TO DEVELOP IN AN AIR
MASS WITH THESE LAPSE RATES…WILL MAINTAIN MENTION OF STRONG
POSSIBLY SEVERE STORMS PER PREVIOUS FORECAST. LOW LEVEL MOISTURE
RETURN WILL BE HIGHEST OVER SWRN AREAS THIS EVENING AND…ALTHOUGH
LAPSE RATES WILL BE HIGHER OVER AREAS TO THEIR NORTH…SWRN ZONES
WILL SEE SUFFICIENTLY UNSTABLE CONDITIONS TO SUPPORT THE POTENTIAL
FOR STRONG…POSSIBLY SEVERE…CONVECTION ALSO. THE UPPER JET
REMAINS PARKED OVER CENTRAL/SRN ZONES THROUGH TUESDAY AND PERIODS OF
HEALTHY DIVERGENCE ALOFT WILL HELP SUPPORT CONVECTION THROUGH
TOMORROW.

VERTICAL TOTALS/LAPSE RATES WILL REMAIN HIGH THROUGH TUESDAY WHEN
THE UPPER LOW PIVOTS INTO THE AREA…AS WILL SYNOPTIC LIFT ACROSS
MUCH OF THE FORECAST AREA. ALTHOUGH LAPSE RATES WILL REMAIN HIGH IN
RESPONSE TO THE COOL UPPER LOW…AVAILABLE MOISTURE WILL BEGIN TO
DIMINISH FROM THE WEST EARLY TUESDAY. MODEL SOLUTIONS DISAGREE ON
THE EVOLUTION OF THE LOW LEVEL MOISTURE FIELD TOMORROW. THEY AGREE
THAT THE SURFACE BOUNDARY WILL BECOME MORE DIFFUSE AS IT MOVES
ACROSS THE FORECAST AREA BUT THE GFS REDUCES SURFACE DEWPOINTS
INTO THE MID 50S BY 13/00Z WHILE THE NAM/EURO MAINTAIN DEWPOINTS IN
THE LOW TO MID 60S. THE SREF LOWERS DEWPOINTS RELATIVELY QUICKLY BUT
HANGS ONTO PRECIP WELL INTO THE AFTERNOON IN THE WEST. FOLLOWED THE
HIGHER POPS FROM THE PREVIOUS FORECAST FOR TOMORROW OVER THE LATEST
MAV MOS IN CONSIDERATION OF THE SLOWER DRYING INDICATED BY SEVERAL
OF THE MODEL SOLUTIONS.

What all this means is that we have an interesting setup for mid-October unfolding and that if all the parameters come together, we could see some severe weather along with our rain. Probably not tornadic activity, but some significant thunderstorms could develop.

Tropical Storm Paula
Meanwhile, in the tropics, we’ve already seen Hurricane Otto come and go and are now on to Tropical Storm Paula. Otto was never a threat to anyone, but it was interesting to observe a classic subtropical-to-tropical transition take place. It also became a hurricane, which is uncommon with systems that begin as subtropical cyclones.

Paula has been a persistent disturbance for quite some time before finally getting its name (later than it should have, in my opinion) as a 60 mph system. It is not moving fast and is not expected to pick up much speed, but it will be moving over some warm water and should intensify into the season’s ninth hurricane. It is probably not going to be a problem for the central Gulf Coast, and is more likely to be yet another Florida event, but right now its forecast is uncertain because steering mechanisms are expected to essentially disappear in 3 days, leaving it drifting around in the Yucatan Channel as (probably) a hurricane. Most of the guidance then has it picked up and hauled northeast, and that is indeed the most climatologically likely track for systems of this kind at this time of year. However, storms in this general area in October are infamously hard to forecast; a particularly unfortunate example was Hurricane Mitch. Paula is likely to be an interesting system to watch and a troublesome one to forecast, and in that respect it is actually a welcome change of pace. Heretofore my synopsis of the 2010 hurricane season would be “a whole lot of normal.” Not normal numbers, of course; the season has obviously been above average in activity, but none of the systems except Hurricane Alex were particularly difficult to forecast or did anything unexpected. I like late season storms because they require a bit more of the human factor in forecasting.

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