Archive for the ‘Meteorology’ Category

The above satellite image shows Hurricane Alex in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico on 30 June 2010. The category 2 storm began life as a tropical wave off the coast of Africa earlier this month. It entered the Caribbean Sea on 20 June and later strengthened to a tropical storm. Alex made landfall on 27 June just north of Belize City, crossed the Yucatan Peninsula, and entered the Gulf of Mexico. Quickly attaining hurricane strength over open waters, the storm’s rapid movement led American government and BP officials to scale back or postpone clean up efforts for the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. They cancelled flights to drop chemical dispersants and held skimmer boats in port, prompting widespread protests that this temporary cessation of clean up and containment efforts would allow even more oil to wash ashore on previously clean beaches. Some scientists, however, have hoped that Alex’s arrival in the Gulf will help scatter oil into smaller droplets, making it easier food for oil-consuming microbes.

Alex has kept some distance from the Deepwater Horizon well itself, so efforts to drill two relief wells can continue. BP has also been able to keep the temporary cap (which is drawing approximately half of the oil escaping from the well) in place for now. Two vessels are collecting oil from the cap despite 7 foot waves. However, initial uncertainty over Hurricane Alex’s course prompted BP to delay by a week the deployment of a third vessel, which could help increase the oil capture rate from the well.

But now, meteorologists have a good idea where Hurricane Alex is heading. The storm has turned west, barreling toward the coast. It will make landfall in the Mexican State of Tamaulipas later this evening.

Two days before Alex (then a tropical storm) made its initial landfall in Belize, press stories began to stoke fears that the storm would rage across the Gulf of Mexico, scattering oil and forcing BP to remove its temporary cap from the Deepwater Horizon well. After arriving in Portland for my conference, I read a few of those stories and then went to my favorite Lebanese restaurant for some late lunch. The tables in this establishment have maps on them, and here’s the table where I sat.

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Tropical Storm Agatha pounded Central America over the past few days. The storm is blamed for 180 deaths, and caused widespread flooding.

An hour after a clothing factory in Guatemala City closed on Saturday, the building’s security guard left the empty factory to tend to his flooded house. Shortly after he left, the entire factory disappeared into the sinkhole pictured above. The sinkhole also claimed an intersection, and sent nearby residents fleeing for fear that the ground would soon disappear beneath their feet.

The sinkhole is 66 feet in diameter, and at least 100 feet deep. It’s sudden appearance, coupled with the it’s “perfect” circular shape have made some geologists hypothesize that a previously unknown cave formation is to blame. However, in 2007 a similar sinkhole consumed several homes and killed three people a mere three miles from this new formation. That sinkhole was ultimately blamed on heavy rains coupled with the city’s flawed drainage system. Geologists will certainly take the city’s drainage system into account as they investigate the causes of this new sinkhole.

In the meantime, law enforcement officers are keeping curious onlookers away from the sinkhole, as geologists prepare to descend the Earth’s newest opening and see what’s going on. Tread lightly.

Image provided courtesy of Paulo Raquec and the Guatemalan government.

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The National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are contributing over $10 million for an ambitious study of tornadoes across the central United States this summer. The funds will pay for a team of over 100 scientists from seven countries, as well as a fleet of mobile labs and equipment that will trek across more than 900 miles of American heartland during the height of tornado season.

Tornadoes (or twisters) are among the most violent atmospheric disturbances on Earth. They are rotating columns of air, simultaneously maintaining contact with the ground and a cloud overhead. While most observed tornadoes are mild or moderate in wind speed and size, the most violent can have wind speeds of over 300 miles per hour, stretch over a mile wide, and travel dozens of miles over land, leaving a trail of complete destruction.

A tornado near Anadarko, Oklahoma on 3 May 1999. Image provided courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Daphne Zaras.

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