Thursday, October 27, 2005

WINTER STORM WILMA?

Winter Storm Wilma


It now seems clear from the reports coming in around western Pennsylvania and West Virginia, as well as State College, northern PA, upstate NY and Vermont/New Hampshire that Wilma can be linked to the season's first significant snowfall. Is that not like the best orchestrated handoff you've ever seen...from hurricane season to winter storm season in one event. I know there are many more great pics out there of the recent snowfall from our western reporters, the ones above were from Snowshoe, WV. I am stunned and excited to hear Johnstown, PA apparently received 6-12" (that is just phenomenal....talk about an October surprise!) and that snow also fell at Seven Springs Ski Resort. I almost feel like the bi-polar forecaster, and I'm not talking about the North v. South Poles either. It is challenging to keep up with all the weather news, now that we have snow on the calendar, and on the mind, as well as Tropical Storm BETA in test mode down by central America, and possibly Gamma on it's heels in the Atlantic. Couple that with concern for another potential nor'easter early next week, and you can see how I have divided loyalties. The ultimate schizophrenic moment might come in November, when I will be faced with forecasting a major winter storm concurrently with another Gulf hurricane (remember Opal in Oct 95...Category 4 overnight? It can happen again). Pray that we get a nice long stretch of quiet, sunny weather and no tropical activity until December 1 so I have the chance to unwind without appearing out-of-touch and disinterested! I will post a discussion of this winter storm potential, and a rundown of Beta and Gamma once we get to the weekend.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

WINDS OF WILMA

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.

Wilma 3

Wilma continues to confound computer model predictions, as she is still a strong Category 3 moving away. Makes you wonder what would have happened had she recurved into New England or the Mid-Atlantic. Earlier in the month, I did hint at the possibility of a "Hazel" like situation developing, with a late season major hurricane riding the East Coast. I'm just glad that forecast did not come true. Let's hope for everyone's sake and sanity that this will have been the last blast of the 2005 hurricane season, and nature will let us go quietly into the night... and the snow season.

Wilma 2

WICKED WILMA

Wilma 2
Infrared satellite photo of Wilma captured at 7:45 PM on Sunday.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

WILMA'S WARNING

Wilma 1


As you may already know, Wilma went from an 80-mph Category 1 on Tuesday afternoon to a monstrous Category 5 just 12 hours later. Never before in recorded history has a storm intensified so quickly, and has broken the 17 year record held by 1988's Hurricane Gilbert as the most intense Atlantic storm, dropping to 882 millibars overnight Wednesday. Having dropping from it's catastrophically fierce 175 mph, it is all but certain that Wilma will slowly weaken over the next 5 days, and may brush the Yucatan Peninsula at a Category 3 or 4 before taking aim on south Florida. The storm may also do a Lili or Isidore, and get hung up in the Yucatan, which would negate a lot of it's punch. The outcome hinges on the southeast movement of two upper-level low pressure troughs currently in the MidWest and Pacific Northwest, respectively. The real question becomes.. what can Wilma do if it crosses Florida and re-enters the Atlantic, even as a Category 1. Some computer model scenarios indicate the storm could hug the East Coast, and possibly even threaten New England by the middle of next week in a remake or hybrid version of the 1938 Hurricane. For now, Wilma is the 2005 version of the "October Surprise" and it is likely our expectations for this storm's path will continue to change by the hour. Wilma is warning us to stay on target.

With that in mind, I am back on focus with our storm after having bee remiss in updating this site for several days, so please accept my apologies. If you've been wondering the reason for my absence, let's just say I've been a bit pre-occupied following another big story that could far eclipse any natural event in our lifetime... the Bird Flu.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

WILMA?!
It won't be long before the media begins to coin the Flintstones with this storm. A more detailed update after dinner, but this one has the potential to become a major hurricane and may head for the Gulf early next week.

Wilma

Sunday, October 9, 2005

NOW THIS IS WILD

Vince

A very rare photo of a far eastern Atlantic HURRICANE believe it or not. This extremely bizarre storm formed in waters less than 80 F, strengthened to 75 mph, with gusts to 90 mph and is heading northeast on a path toward Portugal of all places. Read the MSNBC article on this storm. When in our lifetime have we seen such a weird situation? The only other candidates are a tropical cyclone which hit Brazil in March 2005, and a hybird hurricane like storm in the Mediterranean in 1995. If you know of other wild thing candidates, please let me know. Vince is likely to make landfall as a extra-tropical storm somewhere along the northern coast of Portugal by Wednesday.


BUT WAIT..THERE'S MORE


Atlantic 10-09

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.

Thursday, October 6, 2005

BUSY TIMES

Busy Times
My apologies to my frequent readers for being behind the eight ball in these busy times. It seems that when life, family and work get active, so does the weather. In one week, we've had two tropical cyclones form and make landfall, a heat wave and a blizzard in North Dakota, all on the same continent. Those of you in the eastern third of the U.S. are going to feel the air grow increasing tropical for early Fall, as the remnants of Tammy will surge northeast and help put a dent in the drought. October can be a bizarre month as opposing air masses are beginning to draw the battlelines for winter. There is still much to watch closely in the tropics, as two systems are approaching the U.S. and may post a threat of development in the next week to 10 days, especially a potential "long tracked system" from the east central Atlantic. Here's a hint...do you remember Hazel in 1954? As for winter, I will be soon releasing my forecast for the first half of the season, covering Nov 1 to Jan 1. I'll do the second half of winter once I see if my first half forecast verifies. I believe we may see some early season snow, similar to the 2002 setup where areas of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast say much above normal temperatures in October, followed by a mild November and then winter arrived with a vengeance in December and never looked back. I have evidence to backup this proposal, so stay tuned.

Sunday, October 2, 2005

STAN MEETS THE YUCATAN

Stan 1

But not for long. This hap-hazard looking system finally developed on Saturday into Tropical Storm Stan with winds of 45 mph, however it will be short-lived. Drifting slowly west-northwest across the Yucatan Peninsula, it is expected to be downgraded back to a depression until it reaches the Bay of Campeche. The NHC official forecast is for upper level shear to relax in the coming days, and an upper level high form over the cyclone. Combined with very warm SST's on west side of the Yucatan might just allow Stan to regenerate early next week back to a Tropical Storm, and quite possibly a Category 1 or 2 hurricane before a second landfall in central Mexico.

Elsewhere in the Western Atlantic, there has been continued concern of a "home brew" system developing in the Bahamas as a result of the big high parked over the Northeast. While nothing appears disturbed at this moment, it could be a different story within a 24 hour period given the right conditions. Convection appears to be increasing each day, and the NHC is beginning to take notice of the system.

In the far Eastern Atlantic, we do have tropical depression 19, but it has formed far enough north to prevent it becoming a much feared "long tracked" Cape Verde system which has given rise to many a destructive hurricane in the past, such as Floyd, Gloria and Ivan to name a few. In fact, some computer models show the system recurving back toward West Africa, which seems to be an unusual final destination.

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 26 UPDATE:
SOMETHING BREWING ?


Too early to tell if this system has the oomph necessary to become a named storm, but "home brew" (a tropical cyclone developing close to the U.S. mainland) has led to nearly all the landfalling storms this season. The eastern Atlantic is also flaring up, so both areas will be carefully watched for further development.

AL99

MANY THANKS

I extend my appreciation to Justin Berk and Tony Pann of Weather Talk Radio for providing me the opportunity to speak on their program at their request this past Sunday afternoon, 9/25. Justin and Tony's program airs every Sunday from 3:00 - 4:00 PM on Baltimore's AM 680 WCBM. The call in number is 410-922-6680, and you even may be able to listen in live on Windows Streaming Audio. When the weather situation warrants, I will probably call in again, and hope you will too. Here is a graphic posted on Eastern US Weather which shows the listening range of the station, covering most of the Washington to Philadelphia I-95 corridor, so you should be able to get it on your home radio.

If you are new to Foot's Forecast, welcome! I invite you to participate in our respectful and courteous community of weather enthusiasts from across the East Coast, please consider joining the comments board. It does require you to establish an identity, a generic weblog title, and to login each time you post a comment. Although this website focuses primarily on storm forecasting, you are welcome to post any questions or comments you wish about weather or meteorology. Your comments are posted on the site, and emailed directly to me. I will either respond with a followup comment or compile a response to cover questions from several people. Our frequent participators include "fellow forecasters" from the Baltimore/DC area, western Maryland, central, south-eastern and east-central Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, New York City and the Boston area, as well as occasional participants from the Gulf Coast and Southeast. I hope you'll join us. If there is information you would like to see added to the links column, please let me know. Myself and others, use this site as a resource for personal or professional interests as for forecasting information, so your input will make it a higher quality product for everyone. Now back to the weather...


RITA'S REMNANTS COMING THIS WAY

Rita Track 3

This graphic is from the Colorado State University's Operational Tropical Cyclone Guidance Products page. I present this because it is most straight-forward format for displaying the "composite runs" of the major computer models. But without even looking at computer programs, the TV or internet, I'll bet you can already tell from the cloud changes since Saturday, and feel it in your bones that Rita's remnants are heading for the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Welcome rainfall it will be, a torrential tropical downpour it will not be. The risk of strong to severe thunderstorms can also not be ruled out, as daytime heating mixed with tropical moisture coul easily spark "popcorn variety" thunderstorms throughout the Eastern third of the country over the next 2-3 days, until Rita departs the East Coast. There is a more extensive analysis of this potential by professional meteorologist Larry Cosgrove on Eastern US Weather.


Then all eyes will quickly turn back to the tropics, because the Caribbean Sea and Western Atlantic still have plenty of untapped energy and lots of calendar left to go...unfortunately. Keep your eyes on a wave that is moving through the southern Caribbean, that could end up being Stan in the next few days. Let's also not forget that countless thousands in our country continue to suffer in the aftermath of the destructive 2005 storms, and many more are still recovering from the historic 2004 season. I encourage you to give to a reputable charity of your choice, or to the American Red Cross, because just one person can make a difference in the lives of others.

SATURDAY 9/24 EVENING UPDATE:
THE GULF'S BIG FOUR
A compilation of images from the four biggest storms of the season I designed from from NASA and NOAA satellite galleries. Do you know your 2005 major hurricanes? Will this image have to change in the weeks ahead, or are we on the downside of the season? I believe we'll have the answer to that question sooner than later.

The Big Four of 2005


NOW WHERE DOES SHE GO?
While Rita's winds and rains rage on in Louisiana and Texas, the worst and best of the storm's aftermath is yet to come. Read on to find out why.

Rita Track 2


Yes, I know that is a really cool graphic. Now don't get all excited about the pretty colors just yet and overlook the science behind it. This map reveals something very important for the parched northeast. I created this using Google Earth and some weather data overlays, not hard to do, and then click on the image above for a blog that has downloadable programs that will automatically load current storm data into your version of Google Earth, then you can manipulate it anyway you like. The important thing to notice on this graphic is that it shows the "Mean Steering Layer" of upper level winds that move weather systems across the globe. You'll also notice that the computer model tracks seem to indicate steering currents may take Rita toward the northeastern U.S. and not back into the Gulf of Mexico as I originally reported. From a personal observation, the air feels more tropical, looking at the upper level water vapor imagery shows Rita's northern outflow has been caught up in the jet stream, blowing it across to the east coast. It's one of those gut feelings again, that despite what the computers are saying, it now "feels" to me that Rita is coming this way, and can hopefully bring much needed rain to the Mid-Atlantic and other areas in need.
The next set of graphics I posted earlier Saturday afternoon, and the earlier thinking was into the Gulf, but now more models are showing a path more northeasterly.

Rita Track 1

SATURDAY 9/24 AFTERNOON UPDATE


Rita's winds are fading, but the real problems will become the inland flooding in the Southeast, and the new possibility that air masses moving across the U.S. are going to redirect Rita back into the Gulf! The earlier concern was a collapse of steering currents, allowing Rita to stall and dump flooding rains in the areas near and north of landfall. But looking at this new animation of the GFDL, makes you wonder if the laws of atmospheric physics are going to trump our best efforts to prevent further flooding in New Orleans. Watch closely in this animation as you see the decaying high pressure slide off the East coast, while a new ridge is building in from the west. Knowing that air flows clockwise around a high, although upper air wind systems move differently than surface systems, it is easy to see how the new western ridge could trap Rita. As this new high slides east, Rita gets pushed south, across eastern Louisiana and Lake Ponchartrain, and into the northern Gulf, with a 120 hour wind speed of 44 knots, clearly minimal tropical storm force. Then as this high continues to move east across the northern half of the country, the obvious next path for re-generated Tropical Storm Rita is to travel along the periphery of the high, just like she did this week...and the orientation of these two systems could even lead to a new landfall in the western Gulf, or Texas again. I know this sounds nearly ridiculous, but if you don't remember what Ivan did last year, take a glance at this chart. Ivan was ejected off the Mid-Atlantic coast as a tropical depression, producing massive floods in southeastern PA and central/southern NJ, before heading out into the Atlantic, being shunted south, crossed eastern Florida, re-emerged in the Gulf, and quickly re-generated, striking....you guessed it, the upper Texas coast as a 60 mph tropical storm, very close to Sabine Pass.


It happened before, it could happen again. I imagine the press will begin touting this story soon to hype the idea that New Orleans could be twice affected by the same storm. In closing, I am not going to claim credit for coming up with this scenario, I have merely noticed it mentioned on the Eastern US Weather discussion board, and have posted those ideas here for you to consider.
SATURDAY 9/24 MORNING UPDATE

THERE SHE GOES

Rita 16

Rita at landfall as a Category 3 with winds of 120 mphs. This is now the third major hurricane to strike the mainland U.S. in three months...Dennis in July, Katrina in August, and now Rita. What follows is a post that I prepared Friday to discuss how the situation would be changing once the storm made landfall.

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.

Programming notes:

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 (rdfoot@comcast.net) 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.

FRIDAY 9/23 MORNING UPDATE

AS IF THERE'S NO PLACE TO HIDE

Rita 11

The preparation stage is coming to an end, and the survival stage is about to begin. From this point on, the storyline changes from a meteorological one to an unfolding massive human drama of unbelieveable porportions. A traffic backup for a hundred miles or more in stifling heat. People from Texas heading north or east thinking they are moving out of the storms path are encountering heavy traffic coming west from Louisiana as those residents flee the same storm since the path appears to be shifted. These drivers may be running out of gas, slowing down efforts to get out in time. So what we thought might be a heroic to save lives by getting people we hope will not turn into a deathtrap. Instead of people trapped in homes with rising water, I hope we will not see thousands of motorists stuck on roads in the storm's path with no fuel and nowhere to hide facing the exactly the fury they were trying to avoid.


Rita 12

Some points to consider as we head into this final day of "life before Rita."


1. The NHC official track has not changed much, and slight wobbles to the west or north have been replaced with a general WNW path. On the surface this would seem to take the storm to the north of Galveston Bay, and I have a sneaking feeling it will do just that. However the other concern is a sudden track-altering phenomena Accuweather has mentioned in the past, known as "frictional effects." When the Central Dense Overcast of the storm begins to interact with land, because it is moving so slowly, I wonder if there might not be a inexplicable left turn, taking the storm closer to Galveston/Houston by 30 or more miles. This can happen when the left quadrants of the storm begin to interact with the land, producing slight weakening of winds in one part of the storm, but leaving the wind field over the water intact. With left quadrant winds weaker, stronger winds from the 2 right quadrants have the net effect of driving the storm in closer to the coast.

2. My theory is that as this frictional effects phenomena is taking place, the storm is undergoing a slow weakening. The eyewall expands as pressure rises slowly, allowing the core of strongest winds to lessen by perhaps 10-15 mph in the first hour prior to and following landfall. As the core winds decrease, the storm slowly loses the tight grip it had on this strong core...and the wind field begins to expand in size quite rapidly. This could result in a much larger area experiencing hurricane force winds. At present the radius of 74 mph + winds is 160 miles (or 80 miles in any one direction from the center.) What we could see happen is in hour right before landfall, winds decreased to 130 mph, but hurricane force winds expand another 20 miles, and tropical storm force winds now extend out 205 miles from the center (or a radius of 410 miles), could expand to 220 miles.


3. As the Quantitiative Precipitation Forecast map shows above, computer project the storm to stall once inland, and rain itself out over the hapless people who thought they escaped the worst. Some other forecasters have already speculated that inland flooding may be responsible for more more deaths than might be caused by the surge and winds. This entire region of the Southern Coastal Plain and lower Piedmont is extremely flat as everyone knows, and while there is a drought with a rainfall deficit, 6-20 inches of rain will be more than the ground can handle. A saturated ground with persistent winds from a slow-moving storm will cause massive blow down of trees. Rapidly rising waters may occur in areas where people thought they had escaped the storm's wind and surge.


4. It is all but certain Rita has peaked in intensity, and will probably not regain Category 5 status. Another advantage of the current situation is that an eyewall replacement cycle could start in in the 30 or so hours leading up to landfall. This would weaken winds further, bringing the final landfall winds down to the original 130 mph I forecasted earlier this week.


5. Review local NWS office hurricane statements from the area to get a sense of the expected damage.

The on-going post for this storm, started on Saturday, 9/17, follows:
GOD HAVE MERCY

Houston 6

All those beautiful buildings, all that glass.

Rita 8

HOUSTON, WE HAVE PROBLEMS
THE SHORT BUT PAINFUL SUMMARY as of 6 PM Thursday
I expect this storm to be a Category 4 at landfall between Matagorda and Galveston with sustained winds around 140 mph. The official NHC track has been shifting gradually north, and as of this morning was going to bring the zone of highest winds and strongest surge right up Galveston Bay toward downtown Houston. Now that track has moved northward along the Texas coast toward Louisiana, and there's been widespread concern today that New Orleans and other areas not as well prepared may suddenly find themselves under the gun. Landfall storm surge will be in excess of 20 feet will flood 100 miles of coastline and damaging not just homes, businesses and cities, but also many oil rigs, platforms and critical gas refineries. Striking in such a populated area such as the Galveston/Houston metro area could result in economic losses of at least $100 billion, with several hundred thousand homes flooded or damaged by wind. Inland areas up to 100 miles away from the landfall zone will experience hurricane force gusts up to 80 mph. This storm is also targeting many large oil refineries in the region, and also at risk are also hundreds of underwater pipelines and the resulting supply disruptions could send gas prices skyrocketing to nearly $4 a gallon in many metro markets. The only good piece of news is that if the track has shifted toward Galveston Bay, perhaps this indicates the southern boundary of the high pressure ridge is decaying faster than expected. If this trend continues, Houston could end up on the left side of the eyewall, while still very damaging is a better place to be than squarely in the right front quadrant.

AN INTENSIFICATION CYCLE FOR THE HISTORY BOOKS
It would appear this storm has undergone a strengthening cycle not seen in recent memory. From my observations, in the 24 hour period starting at 10 PM Monday, Rita intensified from a middle Category 2 to a strong Category 5, and now has a central pressure lower than Camille and ranking as the third strongest storm ever in the Atlantic basin. I would have to do some checking of the facts, but I am not sure what storm other than the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane (which went from a 1 to a 5 in a short time), has demonstrated this level of intensification in such a short time period. While Katrina did have winds of 175 mph, it's lowest recorded pressure was 902, whereas Rita was at 897 millibars Wednesday night.

Rita 9

While residents of the Gulf coast are understandably not spending their time in meteorological wonderment over all this, the most stunning fact to consider is that in less than one month, we have witnessed with our own eyes TWO of the FOUR strongest hurricanes in the Atlantic basin, and Rita has tied with Katrina for wind speed, at 175 mph. With projected landfall winds of 155 mph, combined with a forward motion of 10-15 mph, this would essentially be a Category 5. Just like the New Orleans discussion of several weeks ago, I stated that it would not matter whether the storm is a 4 or a 5, we are talking absolute total devastation of all structures within a 40 mile radius of where this makes landfall extending inland for 20-30 miles or more. If this happens, it will far outstrip Katrina's damage path, and costs could exceed $200 billion. So for Alan Greenspan to think that the damage caused by Katrina would only have a "temporary" effect on the economy, I wonder what he will say when we have a combined economic toll of two hurricanes, including insured and uninsured losses plus rebuilding costs of over $500 billion? Maybe that would be just a "moderate problem." Or maybe Mr. Greenspan would consider me to be "irrationally exuberant" about the impacts of this storm.

Houston 7


Click on the image to get the latest map from the NHC
Rita 10

Considering the perpendicular approach of the storm to the cosat, some well-known private forecasters have pointed out that this track is especially problematic, as a slight change of a few degrees even hours before landfall could have disastrous and deadly consequences. We observed this in Punta Gorda, Florida when Hurricane Charley made a suddent right turn and charged up Charlotte Bay, catching many by surprise who thought the storm would go inland farther north of them.

Texas 1

Central and western gulf sea surface temps, as well as the "ocean heat potential" will be significant factors the strengthening of Rita over the next 2 days. (First graphic is current SST, second is Ocean Heat Potential...click on the image for their source.)

Rita 4

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.

Rita 3

If current forecast paths holds true...one week from now the federal government will be faced with an unimaginable challenge: How to assist well over 1,000,000 residents from two different major metropolitan areas in reclaiming their heavily damaged cities. For those who believe I am simply hype-mongering, I have found a variety of sources in my research today that underline the reasons for extreme concern with a major hurricane strike in a place like Houston, starting with a major piece in the Houston Chronicle. Another telling article written in February 2005 outlines for Houston residents some of the same concerns that many had about New Orleans before Katrina came ashore. This report states that many residents in southeast Texas have never seen a major hurricane if they were not around for Alicia in 1983 or Carla in 1961, which came onshore near Corpus Christi.

RITA, TEXAS OR LOUISIANA…WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
UPDATE POSTED SUNDAY, 9-19
I will break down the possibilities into four scenarios, but only one will become reality. Note that I have written this section as more of a "docu-drama" to accentuate the differences of each scenario, not to hype it. As for the meteorology behind the predictions, I am working on that and you will observe more maps being posted with time. The question becomes…which scenario is most likely to come true? (scenarios originally posted on Sunday 9/18)

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.

Houston 2

Click on the image to get a larger easier to read version

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.)

Houston 5

With many Houston residents having little or no experience in a major hurricane, there could be a significant evacuation bottle neck and Houston-Galveston city officials and county emergency management offices throughout the metropolitan area were meeting at 4-4:30 PM Tuesday and probably got the word while in those meetings of the Category 4 forecast. No doubt one of their topics was how to prevent evacuation delays as shown below.

Houston 1

2. COME ON NOW, IT WON’T BE THAT BAD

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.”

RITA'S NOT THE ONLY GAME IN TOWN, BUT LUCKILY
THE REST ARE STAYING FAR ENOUGH OFF THE FIELD

Atlantic 9-20