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Meteorologists say there’s trouble brewing in the Gulf of Mexico as hurricane season peaks

Cancun, Riviera Maya — Meteorologists say that there’s trouble brewing in the Gulf of Mexico for the peak of the current Atlantic hurricane season due to two newly discovered loop currents.

The loop currents or loop eddies, as they are also called, are warm ocean currents that flow northward between Cuba and the Yucatán Peninsula that move north into the Gulf of Mexico, then loop east and south before exiting to the east through the Florida Straits and joining the Gulf Stream.

The loop is a feature of an area of warm water with an “eddy” or “Loop Current ring” that separates from the Loop Current somewhat randomly, every three to 17 months. Swirling, they have a lifespan of up to a year before they bump into the coast of Texas or Mexico.

These eddies are composed of warm Caribbean waters and possess physical properties that isolate the masses from surrounding Gulf Common Waters. The rings can measure 200 to 400 kilometers in diameter and extend down to a depth of 1000 meters.

Dr. Jeff Masters of WeatherUnderground says that there is a near-record amount of heat energy in ocean waters for potential hurricanes to feast on.

“When a slow-moving hurricane traverses a shallow area of warm ocean water, the hurricane’s powerful winds will churn up cold waters from the depths, cooling the surface and putting the brakes on any rapid intensification the hurricane may have had in mind.

“But, when unusually warm ocean waters extend to great depths, down 100 meters or more, the hurricane’s churning winds simply stir up more warm water allowing dangerous rapid intensification to occur if wind shear is low. Last year’s trio of great hurricanes, Harvey, Irma, and Maria, all underwent rapid intensification into major hurricanes when they were located over waters with above-average temperatures.”

This year, the deepest warm waters are found in the Gulf of Mexico in the loop-current that transports warm Caribbean water through the Yucatan Channel between Cuba and Mexico and is one of the fastest currents in the Atlantic Ocean.

“When a Loop Current eddy breaks off in the Gulf of Mexico at the height of hurricane season, it can lead to a dangerous situation where a vast reservoir of energy is available to any hurricane that might cross over,” Masters explains.

“Even when a Loop Current eddy has been separated from the Loop Current for more than a year, it can still provide a potent source of heat energy for a hurricane. Hurricane Harvey of 2017 was fueled by an old Loop Current eddy that had migrated to the coast of Texas a full 16 months after it had broken off from the Loop Current. This heat energy contributed to Hurricane Harvey’s record rains,” he added.

Image: University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science

According to the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, there are two Loop Current eddies in the Gulf this year, compared to one last year. They say that ocean heat content levels in the Gulf of Mexico remain at near-record levels in 2018 as they were in 2017.

They report that a large warm eddy that broke off of the Loop Current in February of this year, has slowly drifted west-southwest and, as of the end of July, has arrived about 300 miles east of the Texas-Mexico border and 400 miles south of western Louisiana.

They add that a second new and larger warm eddy broke off from the Loop Current in late June. That eddy is located a few hundred miles west of the southwest coast of Florida. Both of these eddies are capable of supplying major heat energy to tropical cyclones that might get loose in the Gulf.

The total amount of heat energy in the Gulf right now is at near-record levels for this time of year, similar to last year’s levels, but with two loop currents instead of one, as was the case during the hurricane season in 2017.

According to the Weather Channel, the Atlantic hurricane season peaks during the three-month period from August through October with August, September and October accounting for 93 percent of Category 3 or stronger hurricanes in the Atlantic.