July 22, 2011

A Tropical System For the Gulf To Watch

Filed under: Forecasting,Tropical — Erin @ 10:27 pm

A tropical wave, designated 90L by the National Hurricane Center, is worthy of being watched by the Gulf Coast states. This system is arguably the first tropical system of real interest to the Gulf states in the U.S., as Tropical Storm Arlene was regarded as a Mexican storm (correctly so) almost from its inception, and Tropical Storms Bret and Cindy were never a threat to any land areas.  However, 90L is in a situation that will strongly favor its reaching the Gulf of Mexico, where conditions are favorable for development.

The system has been steadily increasing its convection over the course of the day, and with this increase has come an improvement in its cyclonic structure.  Cyclonic curvature is evident on satellite (Fig. 1), and upper-level divergence (Fig. 2) indicates good ventilation for the system.  Lower-level convergence (not shown) is not so impressive, indicating that the system needs to form a strong low-level circulation to be considered a tropical cyclone.  This is usually the last step that developing tropical cyclones take.

90L is in a simple steering regime, being located south of the Bermuda High.  In about 3 days, a trough associated with a cyclone is expected to be located off the East Coast of the U.S., eroding the high somewhat.  It was previously assumed that this temporary weakening of the ridge would result in 90L being drawn north for a recurvature.  However, recently, it has become likely that the trough will be weaker than previously believed.  90L is also expected to take longer to develop owing to shear and likely land interaction.  The net result will be a stronger ridge and a weaker tropical system, and the consensus is that 90L will be forced into the Gulf of Mexico (Fig. 3).

90L will have to pass through an area of 20-knot wind shear (Fig. 3, Fig. 4), which is moderate, but will inhibit strengthening for as long as the system is located under that wind regime.  The GFS model does not indicate a sharp spike in wind shear over the course of 90L’s trek toward the Gulf of Mexico.

Unless the expected path drastically changes, 90L should enter the Gulf in about four or five days.  Models are unreliable for storms like this in the long range, and it should be noted that some of the models, like the GFS, are not particularly impressed with this system in the first place.  However, the cyclone-specific model HWRF does develop 90L into a 60 mph tropical storm, keeping it south of Cuba by the end of its run (126 hours out).  For my part, I am disinclined to accept a forecast of zero land interaction at this point.  However, the salient point is that any interaction with Cuba or Hispaniola will have a profoundly negative effect on 90L’s short-term intensity even if it becomes a tropical storm before reaching those areas, and avoiding those landmasses will result in a stronger cyclone that has not been delayed by a reorganization after being disrupted.

My gut forecast for a week or more out (in other words, break out the salt!) is that this system will become a tropical cyclone of moderate intensity (I’ll say Category 1, max, because of mild levels of shear in the Gulf even though the temperatures are well over 90 degrees in many areas) and that it will make landfall somewhere west of Pensacola.  I will have updates about this system if it continues to be a concern.

Figure 1: Shortwave infrared satellite of 90L, late Friday night

Figure 2: Upper-level divergence for 90L, late Friday night

Figure 3: Google Earth overlay of model tracks and shear for 90L, late Friday night

Figure 4: Wind shear tendency, late Friday night

April 26, 2011

Dangerous Severe Weather Situation for Tennessee Valley

Filed under: Forecasting,Mid-latitude cyclones,Severe — Erin @ 9:57 pm

So far the severe weather outbreak of late April 2011 has brought devastation to many different areas in the southern Plains and Southeast. A tornado that was probably of a violent intensity hit a small town in Arkansas last night, reportedly removing pavement from the ground, and tornadoes have touched down from Texas through Arkansas and Louisiana into Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky today. The severe weather is going to continue through Wednesday as the second of two low pressure centers intensifies over the mid-South.

A powerful mid-level jet has formed, with winds screaming at 70 knots or more:

Winds and pressure at 700 mb

This will provide powerful upward forcing. Additionally, strong thermal advection feeding into the developing low pressure center (which has become quite strong today, checking in at 989 mb as of this writing) will promote instability as well as additional vertical uplift:

Temperature and wind at 850 mb

For specific tornado threat regions, the NAM model has been fixing on an area centered over the Tennessee Valley. Yesterday the bull’s eye appeared to be right over the state of Tennessee, but today, it has shifted somewhat south.

The 18 UTC run of the NAM had CAPE over 4000 J/kg in central Mississippi at peak (mid-afternoon Wednesday), with a local maximum roughly over the Golden Triangle region and Tupelo, MS:

This run also had 3 km energy helicity values literally off the charts over the same area:

The 00 UTC run has CAPE peaking around the same value as before.

It has, however, moved, the helicity indices to extreme northwest Alabama:

Bottom line? I think that at this stage, such deviations are just model noise. Observations will be needed to determine exactly what area will have the highest risk of severe weather tomorrow. However, it is important to note that the model has been very consistent with an elevated tornado threat Wednesday afternoon in the Tennessee Valley area. With that in mind, I offer up my own subjective severe weather threat map for this event. I am not assigning probabilities to any of the color regions of this map; they are present only to indicate the areas that I think are in increasingly higher danger of seeing powerful severe weather, including long-tracked tornadoes.

Another Multi-Day Tornado Outbreak Expected

Filed under: Forecasting,Mid-latitude cyclones,Severe — Erin @ 12:56 am

The year is off to a record start in tornadic activity, and more is on the way. Another three-day tornado outbreak is currently underway, with day 1 having brought close to 40 tornado reports and over 250 hail and wind reports.

The system is expected to bring more severe weather to the eastern part of the U.S. through Tuesday and Wednesday. At the time of this writing, a squall line has developed in the Mississippi River Delta that is expected to push east overnight, bringing strong winds, rain, lightning, and the risk of embedded tornadoes.

This scenario is more complicated than the setup for the last big outbreak, which had a single powerful system to generate the intense weather. A closed low located over Arkansas is responsible for the day 1 activity. This low formed today from a shortwave kink in an upper trough. This low is expected to be blocked by a strong high pressure system off the Atlantic coast, causing it to move north and eventually northeast to die out over the Great Lakes area. However, a second shortwave kink is expected to enter the mid-South and undergo cyclogenesis on Tuesday afternoon or evening.

Surface low at 36 hours

The combination of the current cyclone’s development, the upper-atmospheric jet that is causing all this shortwave activity (see below), and the next cyclone’s appearance on the scene will result in there being significant sources of uplift.

250 mb jet stream

700 mb upward vertical velocities

The highest values of instability in the event are currently prognosticated by the models to occur around midday tomorrow. The NAM and GFS generally agree on the areas of high CAPE, with each model forecasting at least 3000 J/kg (and it should be noted that models do not do well with CAPE and have a tendency to underforecast. Keep an eye on observations such as soundings).

Surface-based CAPE at 18 hours, NAM

Surface-based CAPE at 18 hours, GFS

For Wednesday’s event, the highest CAPE values are expected to be over Mississippi. The NAM and GFS agree on the maximum values but have the location and orientation of the high CAPE axis different.

Surface-based CAPE at 45 hours, NAM

Surface-based CAPE at 45 hours, GFS

The Energy Helicity Index (EHI) values for 18 hours and 45 hours (midday Tuesday and afternoon Wednesday) indicate the areas that the models forecast are most conducive for tornadic supercell development. Here is what the NAM indicates for the two times:

EHI at 18 hours, NAM

EHI at 45 hours, NAM

I am especially concerned about the middle part of Tennessee on Wednesday if that is accurate. Those EHI values are almost off the scale, and they coincide with an area of at least 3000 J/kg CAPE. That area has a history of tornadoes, and between the strong instability, powerful uplift, and helical pattern to the winds, I think it is quite likely that the Tennessee valley may be in the worst part of this outbreak.

The Storm Prediction Center has already put up a Moderate risk for Tuesday and Wednesday. It is thought highly likely that at least one, if not both, of these days will see that risk upgraded to High.

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