10 A.M. UPDATE: The intensity of Tropical Storm Alex has increased to 45 mph this morning but the system continues to be hampered by its proximity to land and a poorly defined core.
The storm will have an opportunity to better organize after it reaches the Gulf of Mexico by late Sunday. In its most recent update the hurricane center says Alex has about a 30 percent chance of becoming a hurricane, and a 10 percent chance of becoming a category 2 hurricane or stronger.
It now seems increasingly likely the tropical system will make its final landfall in Mexico or Southern Texas on Wednesday or Thursday.
Tomorrow morning we should begin to have a better idea of the effects, if any, on the greater Houston area.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: The National Hurricane Center upgraded the Atlantic hurricane season’s first depression into Tropical Storm Alex this morning. The large storm does not have a particularly well-defined center.
Although there remains a fair amount of uncertainty, with the storm’s development the models are coming into better agreement about the likely track of Alex, and it no longer appears as if the storm will move toward the northern Gulf of Mexico coast.
Instead they bring the storm across the Yucatan Peninsula and either into Mexico or Texas:
Although the GFDL model shown above (yellow line) is one of the hurricane center’s better models, and it does bring the storm toward the central Texas coast, at this time it’s generally an outlier. Most of the other major dynamical models bring Alex, ultimately, into Mexico or southern Texas late next week
Therefore while it is possible Alex will track into the upper Texas coast, and the region is at the periphery of the hurricane center’s cone of uncertainty, it appears unlikely at this time. Because the storm is so broad we are likely to see some rain and higher tides next week, however, at a minimum.
With that being said, let’s see what the models do with the storm as it begins to interact with the Yucatan Peninsula over the next couple of days.
In regards to intensity the storm is difficult to predict because this is partly dependent upon how long it will remain over the Yucatan Peninsula. For now the hurricane center estimates a very strong tropical storm will move into Mexico, but they cannot rule out Alex becoming a hurricane.
My biggest concern at this time is that Alex will stall in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico and either intensify before reaching land or drop flood-inducing rains over some land-based areas.
At this time, although the storm is quite large, I don’t see it having a major impact on the oil spill off the northern Gulf coast.
If the storm were to track far to the east of current projections toward the central coast of Louisiana, which now seems quite unlikely, it would likely both disrupt operations to clean up the spill as well as push some oil toward land.
Friday evening I asked John Nielsen-Gammon, the Texas state climatologist, about the impact of a large tropical storm or category 1 hurricane striking Louisiana on the the spill extent.
“With a category 1 storm there’s not much in a way of storm surge,” he said. “There would be enhanced winds from the south bringing some oil onshore so there would be more oil washing up than we have seen so far.”
But the surge from a category 1 hurricane is unlikely to provide the kinds of surges that could drive the oil deep into wetlands, he said.