Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Oil & Hurricanes

As we have just entered the 2010 Tropical Atlantic Hurricane Season, many questions are circulating that address the possibility of the BP Deepwater Oil leak affecting the development of storms in the Gulf of Mexico. Tough to address this one with a definitive answer – despite what many in the media are saying in an effort to draw comparisons, a release like this is pretty new territory, so there are no true analogs to use. From a physical standpoint, there are plausible scenarios that could support enhancement or suppression:

Arguments for more activity (as a result of the spill):

  • The sheen at the surface will absorbing more solar radiation, in the process increasing water temperature and leading towards a higher probability of formation over warm waters.
  • The sheen is not one contiguous mass, so there will still be plenty of opportunity for an active pattern to emerge.

Arguments for less activity (as a result of the spill):

  • The sheen will be thick enough at the surface to prevent evaporative convection, thereby reducing fuel for storms to form/strengthen.
  • Thin streams of oil associated with the sheen can break or disrupt a system moving across the Gulf.

Regarding the actual oil slick at the surface, there are actually two types of slicks which are forming. The first is a thinner sheen (<>

As of now, I would have to lean towards the spill not significantly affecting tropical system development or movement in the Gulf of Mexico during the 2010 hurricane season. Despite the areal extent of the spill, most medium sized hurricanes are far larger in size. And the fact that the sheen is very fragmented (ie., not one large oil slick covering a huge area) even weakens the argument that it will affect any tropical development. Weather Trends, like many of the other public and private forecasting groups, has called for a very active season, with more development skewed towards the Aug/Sept/Oct period. At this point, we see no reason to change our projected numbers as a result of this activity.

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