Zeta dying; Texas drought thriving
Tropical Storm Zeta is falling apart. Wind shear analysis from the University of Wisconsin shows 30 - 50 knots of shear over Zeta, and this shear has blown away nearly all the storm's deep convection. Zeta is a swirl of low clouds with just a few thunderstorms on the east and northeast side. With wind shear expected to remain high, Zeta will likely be dead within 24 hours. But before you believe this forecast, you might want to review some of the comments about Zeta in the official National Hurricane Center discussions the past few days:
10 PM EST SUN JAN 01 2006
I HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO FORECAST WEAKENING AGAIN AND AGAIN.
4 PM EST MON JAN 02 2006
THEREFORE I HAVE NOT BACKED OFF ON THE FORECAST OF WEAKENING. OF COURSE...ZETA MAY HAVE OTHER IDEAS.
4 PM EST TUE JAN 03 2006
SO...ALTHOUGH YOU'VE HEARD THIS FROM US BEFORE...WE EXPECT A WEAKENING TREND TO COMMENCE TOMORROW.
10 AM EST WED JAN 04 2006
AS YOU CAN SEE...I RAN OUT THINGS TO SAY.
Long-term tropical storm outlook for January
Today's model runs are still forecasting that a non-tropical low pressure system will form off the coast of Africa on Sunday, in a location similar to but farther east of where Delta, Epsilon, and Zeta all formed. This new low could make the transition to a tropical storm early next week. However, the latest model runs have the storm forming closer to the coast of Africa than before, and the cooler water temperatures there will probably keep it from forming into a tropical storm.
The Texas/Oklahoma drought
Wildfires aided by record high temperatures, low humidities, high winds, and persistent drought conditions continue to ravage Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. With no significant rains expected for at least a week, conditions will not improve in the forseeable future. Some of the record highs observed yesterday:
January 3 record highs:
Austin, TX 86
Abilene, TX 86
Del Rio, TX 86
San Antonio, TX 86
Wichita Falls, TX 85
Dallas, TX 84
Lubbock, TX 83
Midland, TX 83
Figure 1. Drought map for the U.S., released December 28. Severe drought conditions began over the Texas/Oklahoma area in April 2005, and have steadily worsened.
A cold front moving through the area today will bring an end to the record heat for at least a week, but strong winds--typical for this time of year--are expected to move in periodically during the week and fan any fires that may start. The jet stream is expected to stay well north of the area for the next 10 days, keeping any rain-producing storms to the north. The GFS model is suggesting that by January 18, this pattern may break down, allowing rains to return. However, a 2-week forecast is a bit of a stretch, and it would be no surprise if the more northerly jet stream pattern stays entrenched for the rest of January.
Drought and hurricane activity
Some researchers have suggested that upswings in hurricane activity like the one we've seen in the past ten years tend to be associated with more frequent drought conditions across the Western and Midwestern U.S. This was the case during the 1930s, when a period of very high hurricane activity coincided with the famed Dust Bowl drought that affected the Midwestern U.S. Much of the Western U.S. has suffered severe drought conditions for the past 5-7 years, coinciding with the recent upswing in Atlantic hurricane activity.