Whether it is a cold, raw rain.. or strong gusts of wind, or the season's first snow...Wilma is the main weather maker for the entire eastern third of the U.S. today. Thankfully she will not make a third landfall in North America, however the side effects are still a raw deal for millions. It is interesting to consider that a departing hurricane would be responsible for the first snow of the season along the PA/WV border and in parts of central Pennsylvania. If there is any moisture leftover tonight, I expect that cold air draining south from Canada in the wake of this storm will changeover any rain to snow in many areas of upstate PA and NY. I believe Wilma and her preceding unnamed tropical monsoon makers are giving us a first glance at what the winter storm track may bring. For powderhounds it may be a delight, for educators hoping for another early end to the school year, it may be a drag.
BUT WAIT..THERE'S MORE
After the drenching downpours experienced by the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast this weekend, most are crying uncle and praying for the sun to return. The unfortunate news is that the sunny, dry pattern has finally been broken, and replaced with a tropical rain train that may very well deliver another super-soaker in the middle of the week. This pattern would be akin to September 1999, when Tropical Storm Dennis deluged North Carolina and Virginia, only to be followed within less than 10 days by Floyd. "Subtropical" Depression #22 looks to be the next rainmaker culprit, as the surface and upper-level lows are conspiring to deliver another round of unwelcome wetness to areas that now LEAST need it. The best news of the day is that despite all the tropical trouble, there is no "long-tracked" system moving in from the eastern Atlantic, but we will have to contend with home brew threats for the remainder of the month. With the letter "V" now taken, we've only got "W" to go and then the hurricane season will really start to talk Greek. Yes there are all kinds of other interesting weather events taking place...including a snowstorm in Denver, shrinking sea ice in the Arctic and dams breaking in New Hampshire. For now we will just continue to focus on the tropics. Winter storm season is not far behind.
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 26 UPDATE:
FRIDAY 9-23 EVENING UPDATE: THE GOOD, BAD AND UGLY
It has been a horrible day for all of us looking to nail something good about this storm. Maybe the best thing to say right now is that there are no tropical systems of landfall concern elsewhere in the Atlantic basin. So here is the good, the bad, and the ugly…all mixed up and throw together just like the incomprehensible nature of this unfolding drama of humans vs. nature.
1. Levees breached anew. Seems as though we are on the losing side of this battle, at least for now. It’s anyone’s guess as to what will really happen to the levees, how much rain will fall over the God-forsaken Crescent City, how much inland flooding potential there is, how much water will make it back into Lake Ponchartrain, how long it will take to re-pump, how long before citizens can return, the list just goes on and on.
2. Weakening won’t look so weak when we see what 125 mph winds and a 15-20 foot surge will do. While everyone focuses on the weakening winds in the eyewall, remember the hurricane force wind field of 74 mph or greater is over 160 miles in diameter, and will likely expand further as the weakening continues. I have my doubts about the possibility of the eyewall “tightening up” as it reaches land, causing a sudden increase in winds. I believe enough dry air has mixed into the inner core of the system that the eyewall will be too disrupted to accomplish any more tightening at this point. However….even 100 mph winds can blow out windows and then lift off roofs. Also worth noting is that the higher elevation a structure has in face of the storm, the stronger those winds will be. Even it this drops to a 2 at landfall with 105 mph winds like Isabel, buildings 50 feet or higher will easily experience Cat 3 winds. Tall buildings 100 or more feet in height will sustain serious to near-catastrophic damage, much like what we saw with high-rise apartments along the Florida coast when Ivan and Dennis roared ashore.
3. Killed trying to reach safety. What can I say? Just horrifically tragic. An unfortunate and freak event, but in light of the deadly nursing home debacle, ironically named, “St. Rita’s” in the lower 9th Ward of East New Orleans, it makes you feel like we can’t win for losing. Keep the elderly there, they drown in a rising flood. Take them out of harm’s way days before hand, they die in a highway bus fire. I am not at all criticizing the care facility’s decision to evacuate those people. Leaving them in a part of Texas under the gun for a near-certain Category 4 Hurricane would have been just as bad as the St. Rita’s disaster. This terribly heart-wrenching bad news should not detract from the fact that many hundreds of elderly and critically ill patients were lifted to safety and are doing fine, albeit confused and out of sorts.
4. Inland flooding will be the bigger story. As is now being widely reported, the light steering winds responsible for guiding Rita into the Texas/Louisiana border will either collapse, allowing the storm to stall or drift aimlessly for several days. This region of "Terkarkana" may see 10 to 20 inches of rain or more, and much of that water will flow back down rivers previously flooded by storm surge. People who evacuated to hotels farther north may find themselves trapped by the very water they were trying to escape.
5. Gotta love that dry air. Though many thousands suffered in unimaginably long traffic delays of 10-15 hours in stifling heat, it is possible to say that the parching heat and it’s accompanying dry air aloft is the very thing that may have saved Texans from a Houston-Galveston $100 billion catastrophe? We began to see dry air being entrained in the western flank of the storm, as is observed often in slower moving systems. This begins to disrupt the perfect symmerty of the inner core circulation, and allows the central pressure to rise. The storm also began a more northerly wobble, which appears to have spared Houston and Galveston the worst, for now.
6. Mr. Mayfield goes to Washington. As Matt Drudge reported on Friday, Max Mayfield, Director of the National Hurricane Center, testified to a Congressional panel that the recent upswing in hurricanes could be a cyclical trend in the Atlantic that occurs every 25 to 40 years. The Atlantic and Gulf coasts have been on the lucky side of history the past 30 years, while supporting a massive building boom in hurricane-prone areas. It is a very positive step toward getting members of Congress to gain a better understanding of what is to come if our government is going to improve disaster planning and relief.
7. Far from the maddening crowd. Tornadoes, the smaller but no less wicked cousin that accompanies landfalling hurricanes, will no doubt unleash random destruction and take lives far from where the actual storm is located. The southeast to northwest spiral bands rolling over Louisiana have most likely spawned twisters in Katrina-ravaged areas. My concern is for evacuees still trapped on the highway unable to find safe ground, then feel the winds slowly pick up, the skies darken to their south, and look down a lone ling of cars thinking…”What am I going to do?” While we are not talking F-3 level tornadoes, F-1’s are certainly possible and could just as easily slice across a packed highway as smack a distant crop field.
1. I'm having some formatting problems with the posts. Usually I create seperate posts for each topic or day. But recently, when I did that, it would disrupt the following posts and throw my links to the bottom of the page. Until I can find a solution, I have continued to update and add on to the main Rita post started last Saturday. If you have a suggestion on how to fix this, either email me (email@example.com) or post a comment.
2. If all goes as planned, I will be calling in to an AM radio program called weathertalkradio on AM 680 WCBM in Baltimore, MD on Sunday 9/24 at 3:00 PM. This was at the request of Justin Berk, a meteorologist with ABC2 News in Baltimore, and his colleague, Tony Pann, who conduct this program weekly. So if you want to talk weather, Rita and hurricanes, call in if you can. The showtime number is 410-922-9280. I will actually be out of the area and calling in by cell phone, if one of our trusty Baltimore area readers would be willing to somehow tape record the program, I would be very appreciative. I'd like to have this tape to let grandparents and other family members not in the listening area be able to hear the program later. Thanks for your support of Foot's Forecast.
Note in the graphic below that the subsurface ocean heat potential is higher on the east side of the Gulf, where cooler SST's are, in contrast to western gulf, which has higher SST's but a lower heat potential. This may be why we have see Rita reach her maximum intensity earlier than anticipated, but we can only hope that it does not interact with the warmer patch of water farther west in the Gulf.
UPDATE POSTED SUNDAY, 9-19
1. THE HOUSTON NIGHTMARE
image below is compiled from an interactive article posted at the Houston Chronicle. Click on the "storm surge" selection and follow the animation through to see the computer modeling impacts of a Category 4 surge of 19 feet in Galveston Bay and surrounding areas.
This rapidly developing storm defies all predictions… and becomes a Category 3 sweeping near the Keys, causing extensive damage, emerges in the Gulf as a strong 3, and churns toward Texas over 29 – 30 deg C waters. By Thursday the cloud field has grown to encompass most of the Gulf of Mexico, and tropical storm force winds extend out over 200 miles. Taking seemingly direct aim on Houston, nothing seems to be able to stop the maelstrom from growing into a Category 5 catastrophe producing monster, interacting with very warm water left mostly undisturbed for the summer. This sudden and overnight intensification spurns officials in the Houston and surrounding areas to "recommend" evacuations for most of the region south of Route I-10/90A… nearly 1 million people. Some residents flee knowing the fate of those who remained in New Orleans, but evacuation routes quickly get clogged. As with Katrina, the 5 day forecast error was off by less than 50 miles, and overnight Friday into Saturday morning, Rita roars ashore as the worst nightmare of Texas.. a 140 mph Category 4, sending a wall of water 20 feet high around the Galveston seawall at it’s northern inlet. High rise buildings in downtown Houston suffer incredible damage as 120 mph winds with gusts to 150 mph blow out thousands of windows, parts of Harris County are flooded by storm surge and throughout the metropolitan area, over 100,000 homes are severely damaged or destroyed. Several of the nation’s largest gasoline refineries are shut down and experience damage, disrupting pipelines to critical markets in the eastern and central U.S. Hundred of oil rigs are damaged and destroyed, as are major facilities in the port of Houston. Energy traders sensing new disruptions in the gasoline supply send wholesale prices soaring past $3 once again, and consumers begin to see overnight price spikes back towards $4 once again. The most horrible part of this scenario is a probable repeat of how the elderly and infirm will be left behind as they were in New Orleans, as Galveston and Houston city planners estimate up to 25,000 people have no transporation or ability to leave the area in an evacuation. First the Superdome, now the Astrodome? (actually the Astrodome is not built to withstand a strong storm, so it is being cleared out and closed as a shelter.)
While crossing the Florida straits, Rita undergoes rapid intensification to Category 3 due to influence of nearly 90 F water temperatures and favorable upper-air environment with low shear. The Keys are hit hard and a million people are without power in southern Florida. However, with the storm intensifying so rapidly, it begins one of several “eyewall replacement cycles” which produces fluctuations in strength as it moves west. While the timing and length of these cycles causes Rita to briefly touch Category 4, the final cycle begins 24 hours before landfall. As it does, the storm begins to “ingest” dry continental air from the southern Plains, producing a slow weakening trend with brings the tempest down from it’s destructive 4 status to a still dangerous but more manageable Category 2 as it makes landfall. The Galveston sea wall deflects most of the surge, and it does not travel around the end side. Winds in downtown Houston reach hurricane force, but buildings constructed to new codes after 1983’s Alicia are able to withstand the wind, and experience minor damages. While electricity is out for many thousands of people, it is a temporary disruption as transportation routes are open, including bridges. Pre-positioned stockpiles of food and supplies are delivered rapidly to residents. Damage to oil rigs and refineries are slight, and within a week most facilities are operating again. There is moderate urban flooding from the 6 inches of rain that fell during the storm, but utilities are able to restore services quickly. The state and federal government proclaim within a day that, “this time, we can say with certainty that we really did dodge the bullet.”
3. ALL THAT HYPE FOR NOTHING
While Rita strengthens into a hurricane overnight into Tuesday, it also makes an unexpected turn south toward Cuba. Frictional effects of the southern eyewall interacting with the mountainous terrain of this part of Cuba weaken the storm, and cause it to pull even farther south, making landfall near Havana as a 60 mph tropical storm. Getting “hung up” over Cuba, the storm parallels the coast for 12 hours, sparing the Keys from a direct hit, and then reemerges in the southern Gulf as TS/weak 1. The projected path and strength are considerably revised, and the storm takes 48 hours or more to reorganize, eventually reaching Category 2. With it’s northwestern route disrupted, Rita travels more westerly along the southern Gulf, grazing the Yucatan, and making landfall south of Brownsville, where Bret and Emily did earlier this season, dumping unneeded heavy rains on areas already strained by flooding.
4. NO NOT NEW ORLEANS AGAIN
(I highly doubt this scenario at all, but the press seems to want to create uncertainty when it is clear to most forecasters and enthusiasts following this storm that New Orleans is not going to be hit by Rita)
The computer model which accurately predicted a southeastern Louisiana landfall, the GFDL, once again takes the prize and shows Rita aiming for the central La. Coast as a major hurricane. Crossing the Florida straits as the expected Category 2, the storm begins a slow west-northwest, then northwest turn under a decaying high pressure ridge blanketing the region. Surprisingly, as the week progresses, computers begin an even farther turn to the east, bringing the storm in on a southwest to northeast angle, passing New Orleans to the west instead of the east. This westward path warrants the concerns about damage to the weakened New Orleans levee system, and even though the storm is a weakening Category 2, the combination of 6-10 inches of rain with a 10 foot surge is once again, destructive. Several different levees that did not breach in Katrina but were unknowingly weakened end up breaking. Water from Lake Ponchartrain floods parts of the city anew. The Army Corps of Engineers states that this new damage may require a “total reevaluation on the future feasibility of the New Orleans levee system.”