Three Atlantic threat areas may develop; a record fire season for the U.S.

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:43 PM GMT on August 20, 2012

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A large tropical wave (Invest 94L) located about 1100 miles east of the Lesser Antilles Islands is headed west at 20 - 25 mph, and is showing increasing organization today. The storm is under light wind shear of 5 - 10 knots, and is over waters of 27°C. A large area of dry air lies just to the north of 94L, as seen on the latest Saharan Air Layer (SAL) analysis and water vapor satellite loops. This dry air is interfering with development, and this morning's visible satellite loop shows that 94L's heavy thunderstorm activity is sparse. However, the satellite loops do show that 94L has now separated from the clumps of heavy thunderstorms to its south, and a pretty well-defined surface circulation has developed. Heavy thunderstorms are now attempting to fire up around this circulation center, but are being hampered by dry air. The center of 94L was about 80 miles to the north of buoy 41041 at 10 am Monday morning, and the buoy recorded SW winds of 10 mph, confirming that 94L probably does have a closed surface circulation. The disturbance will have to build and maintain more heavy thunderstorms than it has now to be considered a tropical depression, though. The first hurricane hunter mission into 94L is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.


Figure 1. Morning satellite image of Invest 94L.

Forecast for 94L
The latest 8 am EDT run of the SHIPS model predicts that wind shear will be low, 5 - 10 knots, for the next five days. Ocean temperatures will warm from 27°C this morning to 28.5°C by Wednesday morning, and the total heat content of the ocean will increase sharply during that period, as well. The main impediment to development will be dry air to the north, and the SHIPS model predicts the amount of dry air will change little over the next five days. I expect that 94L will continue to struggle with dry air through Wednesday, when it will probably have had enough time to moisten the surrounding atmosphere and protect itself against the dry air. The models have shown increasing unity in taking 94L through the Lesser Antilles on Wednesday, and I expect the storm will be a tropical depression or weak tropical storm with 40 - 50 mph winds at that time. In their 8 am EDT Tropical Weather Outlook, NHC gave 94L a 80% chance of developing into a tropical depression by Wednesday morning. None of the reliable models predict that 94L will reach hurricane strength over the next five days, and it is unlikely that 94L will be able to organize quickly enough to become anything stronger than a 60 mph tropical storm before reaching the Lesser Antilles, given the storm's current struggles with dry air, and the lack of model support for intensification. However, once 94L enters the Eastern Caribbean, wind shear will be low, oceanic heat content high, and the storm should have had enough time to moisten the atmosphere to allow steady strengthening to occur. The main factor that might prevent intensification into a hurricane late this week would be a close pass by the island of Hispaniola. Our top models for long-range 4 - 5 days forecasts all show a path for 94L very close to the island.

Will 94L hit the U.S. mainland?
This storm is a long-range threat to the U.S., as historically, 16% of storms in 94L's location have gone on to hit the U.S., with North Carolina the preferred target (10% chance.) A trough of low pressure capable of pulling 94L to the north enters Western Canada Thursday night, and the exact timing and amplitude of this trough will determine the ultimate landfall location of 94L. The long range 7 - 14 day runs of the GFS model over the past three day have all predicted an eventual landfall for 94L in the U.S., though these long-range runs are notoriously unreliable. The predicted landfall locations have ranged from New England to Texas--which isn't much help. The past three runs beginning on Sunday afternoon have all taken 94L over Florida during the August 27 - 29 time frame, which I'm sure is making organizers of the Republican National Convention uncomfortable, since the convention is in Tampa August 27 - 30. However, 94L could miss Florida completely, as the average error in model forecasts going out 7 days is in excess of 500 miles. We can't rule out a North Carolina landfall, but the pattern we've seen so far this year is for landfalls in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, so a more southwards path for 94L into the Yucatan is definitely a possibility. Also, we have that huge drought region in the Midwest, which tends to create its own high pressure bubble, which reduces the odds of storms making the turn and hitting the Central or Western Gulf Coast. If 94L makes it to the Western Caribbean, I see the two most likely options as a landfall in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula (and then westwards into Mexico south of the Texas border), or recurvature into the Florida Gulf Coast.


Figure 2. MODIS satellite image of Hurricane Gordon taken on Sunday August 19, 2012, at 11:55 am EDT. At the time, Gordon was a Category 2 hurricane with 100 mph winds. Image credit: NASA.

Gordon hits the Azores
The eye of Hurricane Gordon passed over Santa Maria Island in the eastern Azores Islands near 1:30 am EDT this morning. Gordon was a Category 1 hurricane with 75 - 80 mph winds at landfall. Winds at the Santa Maria airport reached a sustained 49 mph at 3 am EDT, but the airport did not report winds during passage of the eyewall at 1:30 am. Reuters reported that Gordon caused only minor flooding and power outages. The hurricane is being sheared apart by strong upper-level winds, and the extratropical remnants of Gordon will not bring any strong winds or significant rain to Europe.

Disturbance 95L in the Gulf near the Texas/Mexico border
A region of disturbed weather (Invest 95L) has developed in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast, just northeast of Tampico, Mexico. The disturbance is due to a trough of low pressure and its associated cold front which moved off the coast over the weekend, but has been fortified via moisture from Tropical Storm Helene, which made landfall Saturday near Tampico. If 95L were to develop into a tropical storm, it would receive a new name. In their 8 am EDT Tropical Weather Outlook, NHC gave 95L a 30% chance of developing into a tropical cyclone by Wednesday morning. An Air Force hurricane hunter aircraft is scheduled to investigate 95L this afternoon. Winds at Tampico this morning were light out of the northeast, which implies that no surface circulation is forming at this time. Radar out of Altamira, Mexico does show some banding to the precipitation echoes, though, which may be indicative of something trying to spin up. The computer models show that 95L should move little over the next few days.


Figure 3. Radar out of Altamira, Mexico at 9:45 am EDT August 20, 2012, shows some banding to the precipitation echoes in association with 95L.

Disturbance 96L off the coast of Africa
The tropical Atlantic is very busy this third week of August, and this is the week of the year that we typically see a major ramp-up of tropical storm activity in the Atlantic. A new tropical wave that emerged from the coast of Africa Sunday (Invest 96L) is headed west at 15 - 20 mph. This disturbance has a modest amount of spin and heavy thunderstorm activity, and is under a moderate 10 - 20 knots of wind shear. In their 8 am EDT Tropical Weather Outlook, NHC gave 96L a 20% chance of developing into a tropical cyclone by Wednesday morning. This disturbance does not have much model support for development.


Figure 4. The new Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite (S-NPP) carries an instrument so sensitive to low light levels that it can detect wildfires in the middle of the night. On August 17, 2012, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on Suomi-NPP acquired this image of the wildfires blazing in Idaho. The images were created with data from the instrument’s "day-night band," which sensed the fire in the visible portion of the spectrum. The Halstead Fire, centered about 18 miles northwest of Stanley, was sparked by lightning on July 27, and is burning in an area with large numbers of trees killed by the mountain pine beetle. As of Sunday afternoon, the fire had burned 92,000 acres was only 5% contained, according to InciWeb. The fire prompted the evacuation of the town of Featherville on Saturday night. Red flag warnings for adverse fire weather were posted in the region yesterday, and temperatures reached the low 90s with 16% humidity and winds of 10 mph. Image credit: NASA.

A record fire season in the U.S.
Massive fires continue to burn in Nevada, Idaho and California, and fires that are currently active in the Western U.S. have consumed over 1.3 million acres of land--an area approximately the size of Delaware. Thanks to widespread drought and unusually high temperatures over the past month, 3 million acres have gone up in flames since mid-July, and the fire season of 2012 now ranks in first place for the most acreage burned at this point in the year. According to the Interagency Fire Center, 6.8 million acres have burned as of August 19 this year, beating the previous record set just last year (6.5 million acres for the year-to-date period.) The Interagency Fire Center shows year-to-date records just for the past ten years. The 2012 fire season is well ahead of the pace of 2006, which was the worst fire year in the U.S. for total acreage burned in a year (records began in 1960). In 2006, 9.9 million acres burned, and 6.4 million acres had burned by August 19. With drought conditions far more widespread this year compared to 2006, and the latest forecasts calling for little drought relief over the coming two months, 2012 is likely to surpass 2006 as the worst fire year in U.S. history before the end of the year.


Figure 5. Comparison of drought conditions between the previous record fire year in the contiguous U.S. (2006) with 2012. Drought is much more widespread in 2012 compared to 2006, and 2012 will likely finish ahead of 2006 for the most acreage burned since record keeping began in 1960. Image credit: U.S. Drought Monitor.

Global warming expected to increase fire activity in the Western U.S.
As I blogged about in June, the severe fire seasons of 2012 and 2011 fit the pattern of what we expect to see more of with global warming. Hotter heat waves dry out vegetation more readily, resulting in increased probability of more acreage burned. A study published in the Journal Ecosphere in June 2012 used fire models driven by the output from sixteen climate models used in the 2007 IPCC report and found that while 8% of the planet should see decreases in fire activity over the next 30 years, 38% should see increases. By the end of the century, 20% of the globe should see decreased fire activity, and 62% increased fire activity. In the U.S., the regions most at risk of increased fires are the tundra regions of northern Alaska, and the West, with Arizona and Colorado at particularly high risk.

Jeff Masters

hugh blanket of smoke (got2dogs)
blew in about an hr after my last upload here - I thought I was done for the nite, but this smoke was incredible! made for some awesome light - sooooo eerie!
hugh blanket of smoke
Smoke! What smoke ?? (saltydawgg)
12th Ave road South looking north. Nampa Idaho full of smoke from 7 fires at last count with more dry lightning on the way.
Smoke! What smoke ??
Temecula Fire (photoandy)
This is just two hours after ignition! It quickly became a PYROCUMULUS...
Temecula Fire

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Quoting MAweatherboy1:
Convection has waned some again, DMIN may have something to do with that but dry air is probably more to blame.



I really think the NHC should go down to 70% at 8PM, at least to acknowledge that this thing is not organizing as fast as expected... It's been code red for a long time now, longer than most code reds... Obviously they've been too aggressive. The thing is I don't think its chances to develop have come down, they were just put too high in the first place. Go ahead and bash me now :)
Doesn't seem to make sense at this point... it's best chance before the Antilles is actually in the next 36 or so hours... so reducing chances seems pointless.
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22323
Good afternoon all

I have not been on the past couple of days but thought I would stop in to make a few comments. 94l seems to be suffering from the same malaise that has plagued previous systems that tried to organize in the Atlantic. Very dry air around the Northern semi circle of the circulation coupled with a forward speed of 20 to 25 MPH is simply not allowing it to get its act together. Recent small convective blow ups have diminished and there is no tightening up of the cloud deck whatsoever.

The SHIPS intensity forecast is too aggressive IMO and I see two possible scenarios developing. The first has the system as a 50 MPH TS entering the Caribbean and the steering high that is forecast to lift to the N would allow it to cut across Hispaniola.

The second sees a much weaker system entering the Eastern Caribbean and remaining caught up in the Easterly flow all the way to the Western and then NW Caribbean.

For the moment I think it is touch and go whether it makes TS status before reaching the islands.
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Quoting nrtiwlnvragn:


Ocean Heat Content begins increasing at about 50W



Excellent post as always nrti.  Would you mind explaining that scale though?  I'm used to seeing either depths or temps to a certain depths.  Is that kilo joules per cm?  Can that be right?  I must have something messed up in that.
Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 16874
I hope 94L pulls no Charley in the Gulf.Went from a 2 to a 4.
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Quoting MAweatherboy1:
The air doesn't get any moister up at 50W:



Actually I just noticed that a lot of dry air has gotten into the north side of the storm, its pretty apparent on that image I showed. Before the dry air was just preventing convective development. Now its really in the storm and will affect the circulation center... Very unhealthy system.


I don't think you're getting the point, Irene as an invest was even more pathetic looking and this was due to dry air intrusion. 94L is virtually identical in size that Irene was at this time and is facing similar conditions and developed not even two days later. You're putting too much into the water vapor images and need to look ahead a bit.
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Here's my tonight's forecast... blog post later in this hour.

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1575. bappit
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

Once convection is generated, dry air won't be a huge problem. At least, not without wind shear.

The storm will pull the dry air in. Then thunderstorms will collapse. You will see arc clouds like yesterday only they will be easier to spot.
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Quoting MAweatherboy1:
The air doesn't get any moister up at 50W:



Actually I just noticed that a lot of dry air has gotten into the north side of the storm, its pretty apparent on that image I showed. Before the dry air was just preventing convective development. Now its really in the storm and will affect the circulation center... Very unhealthy system.
.

Member Since: June 2, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1351
DMin....
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Keep in mind how fast we can see storms blow up in the Gulf. Even if 94L doesn't develop at all in the Caribbean, which is unlikely, if it can make it to the Gulf even the same way it is now it will have a chance to get going fast, and if its already a TS when it gets into the Gulf, if it goes there, we could have real problems.
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Quoting stormpetrol:
Actually 94L will probably be bumped to 90% at 8pm.


thank you for agreeing with me


Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

I agree.


well you are agreeing with me as well cause I say 90% too

Quoting stormpetrol:
My gut tells me 94L is going to be a bad one for some, I don't know who, just a feelin.....


you are not alone with that gut feeling



yes guys Convection had wained abit that is because we are at the Peak of D-MIN from now on it should be increasing

as I said 90% at 8pm and TD9 at 11pm
Member Since: June 13, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 12168
As soon as 94L starts developing intense thunderstorm activity atop its circulation, it's game set match.
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PSU with the northerners



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Quoting MAweatherboy1:
The air doesn't get any moister up at 50W:



Actually I just noticed that a lot of dry air has gotten into the north side of the storm, its pretty apparent on that image I showed. Before the dry air was just preventing convective development. Now its really in the storm and will affect the circulation center... Very unhealthy system.

Once convection is generated, dry air won't be a huge problem. At least, not without wind shear.
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1567. VR46L
Quoting spathy:
Hi Wu
I havent had time to read back too much.
But I feel like this is deja vu all over again.
If 94 continues to stay weak past Puerto Rico,couldnt it still continue to head West and later develop?
Or not develop much and complete its West travels into Mexico and Central America?

Are these two scenarios out of the realm of possibility now? Or what?


Spathy You need to keep an eye on it all of a sudden the GFS has become consistent and the Euro is Now on the same wavelength upto Tampa area .. But the thing aint even formed yet so who really knows!!!
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Quoting nrtiwlnvragn:


Similar to NHC track
Yes, and when if comes down to it and it get's closer in, the tvn
Quoting LargoFl:
LOL not gonna happen,shields are polished and up, this storm goes elsewhere, besides that, on sat image it doesnt look like anything but a lil spin, we got more rain and wind sitting in the gulf right now then that storm has
And as you may know Largo, whenever Tampa is in the first cross hairs of the forecast, it means we don't get hit. But, sadly, they spent a lot of money sprucing up Tampa for the RNC, and did not leave a lot in the budget for the force field shield. Foolish politicians.
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1564. bappit
Quoting LostTomorrows:
Convection hasn't waned a little with 94L, it's actually built a lot where there hasn't been any for a while.. sure there's a line of thunderstorms in the northwest side that has since waned, but everywhere else is filling up fast. I'm not the only one to see it, am I?

The problem with that convection is that it is way south and east of the earlier center. Either the center has to relocate or convection at the old center has to refire and out compete the convection to the east. The latter is not going to happen since the old center is swamped with dry air.
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Quoting stormpetrol:
My gut tells me 94L is going to be a bad one for some, I don't know who, just a feelin.....

My gut tells me once 94L 'delegates' a dominant circulation and gets underway, the circulations that didn't get delegated will spin off. What 94's building is too big to live very long....its only option would be loop-de-loops to shake off the still-trapped vortices.
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94L is looking a little better on the water vapor. But if it plays around another 24hrs. 96L may become Issac, seems to be much more intense and smaller, easier to spin up. Just in the sweet spot too at 10 to 11 North.
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1561. ncstorm
updated HPC map
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Quoting LargoFl:
ok maybe 50%, i think they jumped the gun some, should have waited a day or so more, there's more wind at my house right now than its got, BUT..i hear what your saying..we'll see


You know, it's refreshing to find someone so receptive to another belief on here. That merits some sort of commendation.
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Gordy 1519, your probably right. looking very messy in the Gulf right now. Much nicer inside my home....

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1558. Dakster
Quoting washingtonian115:
If anything 94L should stay at 80%.


I agree. which means it probably won't...
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Water temps
Link
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1556. LargoFl
...................is that a florida track? or no
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Quoting stormpetrol:
My gut tells me 94L is going to be a bad one for some, I don't know who, just a feelin.....

Bingo
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The air doesn't get any moister up at 50W:



Actually I just noticed that a lot of dry air has gotten into the north side of the storm, its pretty apparent on that image I showed. Before the dry air was just preventing convective development. Now its really in the storm and will affect the circulation center... Very unhealthy system.
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Just so we're clear, the most important thing in TC development in the closed surface low. It is much easier for a well defined storm to fire off the necessary convection for a renumber than it is for a frontal low or a blob fueled by convergence to work its way down to the surface.

This applies directly to a current situation we face. There is absolutely no chance that 95L receives a renumber before 94L. In fact, in my mind there is very little chance 95L ever gets a renumber.

That being said, 94L needs to be kept steady at 80%. There has been no decrease in organization to merit a drop in percentage. Also, I think the NHC needs to add in their TWO that an increase in convection will lead to a renumber and that this could happen at any time.

I am on board 100% with those who believe convection will begin to fire heavily soon. The storm is wrapping itself up slowly, but steadily.
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Quoting MAweatherboy1:

What is all the hype about with this supposed "sweet spot" at 50W? I've heard that about 100 times today... I don't think much will change when it crosses there.


That's exactly my thinking as well.


Ocean Heat Content begins increasing at about 50W



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1551. txjac
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

Yes. She waves her wand and *BOOM*...there's convection.

Irene at 44W:



Irene at 54W:



Cant argue with that
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Ike is a perfect example of a very large system having a hard time rapidly strengthening after a tangle with mountains...And it had the entire Gulf to try and do it.  The area between Cuba and Fl is not enough room.
Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 16874
Quoting bappit:

The circulation is very broad. Also, dry air has invaded. There is little prospect of getting away from the dry air since it is moving along with the invest. It would be wise to wind those percentages down. My prediction: not sweet, sour. No midnight mojo on the fifty.

We've seen naked, open swirls form into tropical cyclones after passing 50W in a matter of 24 hours. 94L is no different, and even has a better chance due to the fact that its low is already closed.
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the structure is what matters and 94L is only getting better organized...it will build back its convection. It makes no sense now to lower the chances
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1545. Thrawst
For the fun of it... and everyone else apparently making it, I thought I'd give my own projection for 94L.
Just because I live in the Bahamas does not mean I want it to come to me, it's just how I perceive the pattern, and the pattern looks like it could come close to my home. :(

While not specifically shown, in order to create this, I had to think of intensities.
Landfall intensity @ Haiti - 65mph
Landfall intensity @ Andros - 70 mph
Landfall intensity @ South Carolina - 100 mph



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1544. LargoFl
Quoting caribbeantracker01:


largo fl the system meets a number of requirements suitable for development and please don't ask me about the requiremnts, ask the dr
I understand..im just a layman looking at a storm everyone is anxious about..im looking at it..and saying..where is it?, some clouds spinning, wispy clouds at that..but..it could change..maybe kinda fast i know when it hits the warmer waters...we'll see
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Quoting gordydunnot:
Miss Cleo loved traveling US1.
You mean this one?
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Quoting CaribBoy:


my bad YOU ARE THE BIGGEST SOUTHCASTER EVER!

oh wow my bad, atleast I use my head and not my mouth boy

I am not being a anything caster I am just putting down the cold, hard, facts, so take it or leave it but here is a warning if you leave it you are not being real you are believing is something that is not there

ok I am done with this crap that ya goin on with

so FINISH!!!!!!!!!!!
Member Since: June 13, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 12168
Quoting MAweatherboy1:

Is there like a convection fairy there or something?

Yes. She waves her wand and *BOOM*...there's convection.

Irene at 44W:



Irene at 54W:

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Quoting cat6band:
I'll take alot of heat for this comment..but that's ok....IMO I think 95L will be named before 94L...Look at the spin off the Texas coast...It's trying it's hardest to "get going"!!!
yea 2 spins one east of Brownsville moving ene..The other south of that kinda drifting south...
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Convection hasn't waned a little with 94L, it's actually built a lot where there hasn't been any for a while.. sure there's a line of thunderstorms in the northwest side that has since waned, but everywhere else is filling up fast. I'm not the only one to see it, am I?
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1538. bappit
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

You really think percentages are going to go bad? I highly, HIGHLY disagree. 94L's circulation has continued to become better defined and it is going to pass the 50W sweet spot tonight.

The circulation is very broad. Also, dry air has invaded. There is little prospect of getting away from the dry air since it is moving along with the invest. It would be wise to wind those percentages down. My prediction: not sweet, sour. No midnight mojo on the fifty.
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Quoting spathy:


I see little clouds and a BIG spin.The little spins are just a diversion. If or when this(94) develops its a big one.

Its going to be WIDE LOAD...
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

50W is magical.

Is there like a convection fairy there or something?
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If anything 94L should stay at 80%.
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Quoting spathy:


So doesnt the larger defined envelope suggest late strengthening yet an almost sure strengthening?

Thanks for your response :O)
Actually not really.  At least from what I have seen.  Especially if it tangles with the mountains.  94L needs warm water, a little space, and a fair amount of time to really strengthen.  As opposed to a storm like Charlie, which was a good bit smaller and could intensify rather quickly.  Charlie was also a Cat1-2 prior to strengthening not a  TS or TD that just went through a tangle with mountains.  Now, should 94 find that way N of the mountains...All bets are off.
Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 16874
My gut tells me 94L is going to be a bad one for some, I don't know who, just a feelin.....
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Quoting HoustonTxGal:


The water temps in the GOM are the highest on record. It scares me that all that food is sitting out there just waiting for a storm to come in and feed on it.


Tis the season and reason I don't want a storm named Isaac in the GOMEX.
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Quoting MAweatherboy1:

What is all the hype about with this supposed "sweet spot" at 50W? I've heard that about 100 times today... I don't think much will change when it crosses there.


That's exactly my thinking as well.

50W is magical.
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.