What to Know About the Curl Flow in the Gulf of Mexico

Satellite view of Hurricane Rita on September 22, 2005. Rita intensified over the Loop Current.

Satellite view of Hurricane Rita on September 22, 2005. Rita intensified over the Loop Current.
Picture: NOAA (Getty Images)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said this week that we could probably be in a very active hurricane season again. As global warming overloads ocean temperatures and the possibility of larger, worse storms, a little-known current in the Gulf of Mexico may also prepare for some chaos.

The Loop Flow is a stream that flows into the Gulf of Mexico, formed when hot water from the Caribbean crosses north to the mouth of the Gulf. “It’s like an elbow in a river,” said Brad Panovich, chief mmeteorologist at WCNC Charlotte in North Carolina. “That elbow goes up into the Gulf of Mexico, and it becomes a loop, as if you have a piece of string and there’s a loop in it.”

Unlike much of the rest of the Gulf, where a shallow layer of warmer water sits on much colder la.yes, the water in this stream is hot and deep, sinking hundreds of feet into the depths of the ocean — which can help it overload storms.

“If one hurricane passes over shallow water, it can use all the hot water at the surface,” Panovich said. “With the Curl Flow, because it’s very deep, there’s a lot of fuel for that storm, and it doesn’t fill up like for other water.”

The movement of the flow is random, dictated by a set of different factors such as salinity and water temperature as well as basic fluid dynamics. But most of all, the flow is many higher into the Gulf this year than usual. Some meteorologists have expressed alarm over how far north it is it is for this time of year. The current (sorry) position and behavior of the Current mimic the way it was positioned in 2005, when seven major hurricanes formed in the Atlantic, and three particularly powerful ones – Katrina, Wilma, and Rita — later developed transient the Curl Flow.

A contour map of sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico on May 26, 2022; the Loop Current is clearly visible in yellow at center right.

“It’s the 800-pound gorilla in the Gulf,” University of Miami oceanography professor Nick Shay said the Edge.

Panovich warned of too much panic over the Loop Current specifically — but combined with other factors, he said, it was part of what could be a hurricane season.

“Of all the things I’m worried about this season, [the Loop Current] it would probably be 5 or 6 less than the list, ”said Panovich. “It’s always there, and in real time it’s more important than preseason. Hot water is really important for hurricanes, obviously, but you still need a hurricane over it. “

One factor that causes Panovich alarm: the The Girl Effect at stake this season, which has the potential to create dry, hot conditions in the South, ideal for strengthening hurricanes. In 2005, the world was between El Niño and La Niña years, meaning that the extra accelerations for storms that these effects can create were absent. Along with much warmer general temperatures in the Gulf, Panovich said, the whole situation is critical regardless of the Curl Flow. “There will probably be more storms over that hot water than we had in 2005,” he said. “The seasonal layout on paper this year is much worse than it was in 2005.”

Amidst all the turmoil over hurricane forecasts, it’s important for people to remember to take precautions.

“Be prepared, no matter what,” Panovich said. “We are caught up in the seasonal forecast. The number of storms, though significant, increases your chances of being hit, but it only takes one storm to hit your city to make a bad season. “

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