Latest on Leslie & Michael fr/Dr. Jeff Masters

90L in the Gulf disorganized; Leslie and Michael weaken

Published: 4:27 PM GMT on September 07, 2012

A partial remnant of Hurricane Isaac off the coast of Louisiana, Invest 90L, was almost torn apart last night by wind shear, but is making a bit of a comeback today. Visible satellite loops and surface observations from buoys and oil rigs in the Gulf show that 90L has an sloppy, elongated surface circulation. The area covered by heavy thunderstorms is relatively modest, and has been pushed to the south side of the circulation center by strong northerly winds that are creating a high 20 knots of wind shear. There is a large amount of dry air that surrounds 90L on all sides that is interfering with development. A hurricane hunter aircraft scheduled to investigate 90L today was cancelled, and has been rescheduled for Saturday afternoon.

Figure 1. Visible satellite image of Invest 90L taken at 11:58 am EDT Friday September 7, 2012.

Forecast for 90L
Wind shear over 90L is predicted to stay in the moderate to high range, 15 – 20 knots, through Saturday morning, then drop to the low range Saturday afternoon through Sunday. Ocean temperatures in the Gulf are 28.5° – 29°C, which is plenty warm enough to support formation of a tropical storm. 90L is essentially stationary this morning, but should begin a slow motion to the east-northeast tonight, in response to the steering flow from a trough of low pressure and its associated surface cold front approaching the Gulf Coast from the northwest. This trough should be capable of pulling 90L to a landfall along the Florida Panhandle or west coast of Florida by Sunday morning. In their 8 am Tropical Weather Outlook, NHC gave 90L a 20% chance of developing into a tropical depression by Sunday morning. I put these odds higher, at 30%.

Leslie weakens to a tropical storm
Tropical Storm Leslie continues to remain nearly stationary to the south of the island of Bermuda, and a NOAA hurricane hunter aircraft found this morning that Leslie had weakened below hurricane strength, to a 70 mph tropical storm. An ocean probe launched by the aircraft found that the ocean temperatures at one location in Leslie were 24.5°C, a full 5°C (8°F) drop from when the storm first reached the area two days ago. Moderate wind shear of 10 – 20 knots due to strong upper-level winds out of the west continue to drive dry air to Leslie’s west into the core of the storm. The combined effect of shear and cool waters have eroded away Leslie’s core, and the storm has no eyewall, as seen on satellite loops. A NOAA hurricane hunter aircraft will be in the storm tonight, and an uncrewed NASA Global Hawk aircraft finished an HS3 Hurricane Research Mission into Leslie this morning.

Figure 2. Hurricane Leslie as seen by NASA’s Aqua satellite at 10:45 am EDT Thursday, September 6, 2012. At the time, Leslie was a Category 1 hurricane with 75 mph winds. Image credit: NASA.

Forecast for Leslie
A strong trough of low pressure approaching the U.S. East Coast should make Leslie start moving to the north at 5 mph by Saturday morning. The models have stayed with their more eastwards solution to Leslie’s track, which keeps the threat of Bermuda receiving hurricane-force winds relatively low, since the island is expected to be on the weak (left) side of the storm. If the official NHC forecast verifies, tropical storm-force winds will just graze Bermuda Sunday morning through Sunday evening. According to the latest SHIPS model forecast, the shear is expected to fall to the low category, 5 – 10 knots, by Friday night. Leslie is over warm ocean waters of 29 – 30°C, and once the storm moves away from the large pool of cool waters it has stirred up, the reduction in shear and warm waters should allow the storm to intensify to at least a Category 1 hurricane by Sunday. The latest 11 am EDT NHC wind probability forecast calls for a 30% chance that Leslie will be a Category 2 or stronger hurricane Sunday morning at 8 am EDT, when the storm will be beginning its closest pass to Bermuda. Leslie is a huge storm, and tropical storm-force winds are expected to extend outward from its center 200 – 220 miles by Sunday.

Most of the models indicate Leslie is likely to make landfall in Newfoundland, Canada on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. However, the models have been trending more to the east with Leslie’s track in recent runs, and given the uncertainty in 4-day hurricane forecasts, the storm could very well miss the island, passing to the northeast. Large swells from Leslie are pounding the entire Eastern Seaboard, and are creating beach erosion and dangerous rip currents.

Figure 3. Hurricane Michael as seen by NASA’s Aqua satellite at 12:20 pm EDT Thursday September 6, 2012. At the time, Michael was a Category 3 hurricane with 115 mph winds. Image credit: NASA.

Hurricane Michael weakens to Category 2
The only major hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, Hurricane Michael, has weakened, and is now a Category 2 storm with 105 mph winds. Satellite loops show that Michael is still an impressive storm with a well-developed eye, but the storm is not as symmetric, and the eye no longer as distinct as was the case yesterday. Michael is far out over the open Atlantic, and none of the models show that Michael will threaten any land areas during the coming seven days.

Elsewhere in the Atlantic
Most of the reliable computer models are predicting that a new tropical wave moving off the coast of Africa today will develop into a tropical depression by the middle of next week. This wave is predicted to exit Africa too far north to threaten the Lesser Antilles Islands.