Tropics overview, #Ida impact notes

Ida is raining out over Mississippi/Alabama/Tennessee, still causing flooding and impacts across the south …

Surface Analysis and Radar Composite, Tuesday morning 31 August 2021.

The remnants of Hurricane Nora are also causing flooding in the southwest – it’s the blob of rain over Arizona, having made landfall in Mexico and causing about 300 million in impacts. Elsewhere, Tropical Storm Kate is in the mid Atlantic, due to move north and dissipate. Likewise, a tropical wave (INVEST AL90) following behind it will probably become a named storm, but will also likely follow the same track and not bother anybody but fish and shipping.

Ida’s economic impacts continue to rise. When looking at economics it’s important to be clear what you mean. The storm probably caused about $28 Billion in damage in terms of simple direct physical damage value. There are some big unknowns – while it appears several key refineries avoided damage, yesterday a flood control structure failed and one refinery was flooded. And there is no word yet about the vital Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) and its onshore support equipment. That alone could have huge ramifications both directly and indirectly.

Another big issue is that things are rarely rebuilt exactly as they were – for one thing, construction codes change over time. As one example, there are regulations that say that if a structure is more than 50% damaged it must be rebuilt to meet new flood zone codes, which can cause a home that would have cost $100,000 to repair or replace to cost $300,000 or more to rebuild. Delays can also cause damage to increase, as well as increase secondary impacts like lost wages. For example, if power is out and supplies slow to reach an area, additional damage can be inflicted from even relatively mild follow-on rainstorms. Secondary economic impacts are even more tricky to compute, and depend heavily on the decisions make by local, state, and federal authorities, as well as the “hidden hand” of the economy and investors. Demand inflation is often a factor – when supplies are short, prices go up. And while regulators try to prevent it, price gouging and opportunism sneak in whenever they can.

When you put all this together, the current estimates for Ida are in the $45 Billion range. It could rise as high as $60 Billion depending on the unknowns like the oil and gas infrastructure that has yet to be surveyed, how long the power stays out, and what regulators and officials do. A final issue is what Congress does. The Hurricane Sandy relief bill included money for salmon farms in Washington State, all the way across the country from where the storm hit! That and other pork are often included in the Sandy numbers, and the Katrina impact number often includes $20 Billion in mitigation spending (which, while obviously needed, should have been spent before the storm: it wasn’t caused by the storm). So the price gouging and opportunism (and when we’re lucky needed improvements) that follows storms like the mosquitoes sometimes wears fancy suits and has high end offices on K Street

#Ida Landfall recap

Ida is now a tropical storm, decaying inland over Mississippi and dumping rain across the region. The remnant low is expected to track across the southeast then back out to sea after crossing New Jersey, regenerating somewhat. Here’s the “big picture” for the track, along with two other storms we’ve sort of been ignoring (Nora, which caused several hundred million of damage in Mexico, and TD 10, which is a fish storm):

And here is closer view of the Ida impact zone:

With the coming daylight the damage assessment for Ida can begin. Fortunately so far only one death has been reported. As for damage, at this point all we have are models. The direct damage models come in at $25 to $35 billion, but the more complex models give economic impact totals in the $35 to $50 Billion range. It’s almost certain that when all the damage is tallied up Ida will be in the top ten, and likely in the company of storms like Andrew (#6, inflation adjusted $48 Billion) and Ike (#7, at $38 Billion).

A lot of the uncertainty hinges on damage to two essential elements of the nation’s energy infrastructure: the LOOP terminal, and to the onshore refineries. These are multi-billion dollar facilities with obviously widespread economic ramifications if they are severely damaged and offline for months. The LOOP terminal is a vital conduit of oil into the refineries, and the only deep water port than can handle supertankers. It, along with the onshore facilities at Port Fourchon, were in the direct path of IDA and no doubt suffered significant damage. As for the onshore refineries, unless something broke that shouldn’t have, there may be some good news. The swath of heaviest damage seems to have only passed over or near few refineries. The Marathon Ashland Garyville refinery (565,000 BPD) may have suffered significant damage, and the Valero Saint Charles Refinery (340,000 BPD) and Shell Noco were also very close to the eyewall damage swath. Here is the MRMS mid level rotation data for the last 24 hours with the NHC track line. It’s a bit noisy, but you can see the parallel bands of the eyewall as it comes ashore (right over the LOOP) then turns northward as the storm decays near the refineries mentioned above:

Fortunately the eye wall missed the core of New Orleans. That doesn’t mean there won’t be enormous damage, especially as one moves to the western suburbs. And given the widespread power outages, and the potential for pump failures (which should be running on backup power, but some are offline) there may be flooding inside the flood control systems due to the rain. There were also a few levee failures outside the city that have cause flooding.

I heard the governor of Louisiana say this was a worst case scenario – that’s simply wrong. As bad as this may turn out to be it was in reality a near miss … it could have been a lot worse.

#Ida: the wobbles will matter for #NOLA (11am Sunday Update)

Ida is a category four, nearly a category five storm with winds just below the threshold (150mph, 155 is the lower limit for a cat five), and should make landfall in the next few hours. The 11am NHC update didn’t change the track or intensity much, so the post this morning on potential impacts is still valid (link). In that post I noted that small track changes can make a huge difference, especially for storm surge. The core of Ida is actually small – especially compared to Katrina – so while this is going to be bad, it’s possible that downtown New Orleans may avoid a total catastrophe. Let’s take a closer look …

First, recall how wind blows around a hurricane. Here is the wind flow around Ida from this morning as it approaches the coast:

Wind flow around Ida (from GFS model). Click to enlarge.

Air flows around a storm counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere, and is strongest in the northeast quadrant of the storm due to storm motion as well as Coriolis forces. So in general, the water piles up on the right hand side (facing the direction of motion) because the wind is blowing it towards shore; on the left, the winds are blowing offshore and can actually blow shallows bays and shorelines dry! Since the Gulf Coast faces south, this means that in general the peak storm surge will be to the east (right) of the landfall location. So far so good.

But New Orleans is very different because its most vulnerable shoreline is actually on the North side of the city! That’s because the city is in between the Mississippi River (with its tall natural and artificial levees) and Lake Pontchartrain – a great place for storm surge with its long, shallow fetch. Let’s start with the forecast track (which is virtually identical to the 5am track):

Surge if storm follows forecast track (click to enlarge).

On this track, which remains the most likely scenario, it would likely cause around $45 Billion in damage, with the eye wall passing through the western suburbs of New Orleans. Notice that as expected the surge on the coast is to the right, the storm surge in Lake Pontchartrain is pushed into the west (left) side, and causes minimal flooding in urban areas. On this track water from the Gulf (Lake Borgne) isn’t pumped in to Pontchartrain since Ida is too small to put high enough winds on that side. Now let’s shift the track 30 miles east (the diameter of the eye):

Same intensity, just shifted the track right (east) 30 miles …

Now the eye wall passes over downtown New Orleans, and there is a lot more wind damage, so the total jumps to at least $52 Billion. Notice too there is a lot more water in the lake, but fortunately it mostly ends up on the north side (well, for NOLA, it’s unfortunate for Covington). Now lets shift the track another 20 miles (in other words, 50 miles to the right/east of the expected track):

Same storm, shifted 50 miles from the expected track.

Ut oh. Wind damage in the city has actually decreased. But now the storm surge has shifted to the bottom of the lake, because the winds during eye passage are blowing south. Extra water from the Gulf flows into the lake and south, the levee’s get topped, water ends up in the city, and damage more than doubles due to flooding, probably over $125 Billion.

So now you know more than at least three CNN meteorologists who keep getting this wrong ­čśŤ

At the moment it looks like Ida is still tracking towards Houma, and won’t start the northward turn in time for the eyewall itself to sweep over downtown New Orleans, much less pass just east of the city and produce our nightmare scenario shown above. Here’s the latest radar loop (11:50am). Let’s hope it stays that way – the next few hours will be nerve wracking.

Radar from Slidell, LA, 11:53am Sunday 29 August 2021

Hurricane #Ida pre-landfall analysis for #NOLA, #LA

Long time followers know I’m usually one of the few voices saying “this is hyped and won’t be so bad.” Not this time. Sure, CNN got the meteorology/hydrology wrong, and many of the other media are rather unseemly in their excitement, but this is a dangerous and devastating storm, and things are potentially dire for New Orleans (NOLA). Here’s the increasingly bad news. First, the storm itself. As expected, Ida moved into an area nearly perfect for rapid intensification, and the only potential inhibitor, some dry air to the south, stayed out of the circulation. It is now a mature Category Four hurricane, and is likely to stay that way up to landfall late this afternoon.

Ida is now within range of land based radars. Here is the view from Slidell, LA (just east of New Orleans) at 5:20am. Any image may be clicked to enlarge. The left is reflectivity (rain) showing the eye and bands (some of the outer bands are already reaching NOLA), the right is the doppler velocity. In the fine print in the upper left hand side of the doppler side of the display is the peak wind speeds – the radar is seeing a peak 121 knots (139mph) at the altitude the radar beam is passing through the storm (several thousand feet).

The forecast shows Ida making landfall just west of Port Fourchon, with the eyewall sweeping across the western suburbs of New Orleans – Kenner, St. Charles, Laplace. Even a small wobble, well within forecast uncertainty, takes the eastern (stronger, right hand) eyewall right across the city. Wind damage is likely to be epic in either case. Here is the forecast swath:

However – on this track, storm surge flooding in NOLA is actually less likely as the storm surge from Lake Pontchartrain should be pushed parallel to, then away from the levees. This is something CNN’s weather people got consistently wrong yesterday; New Orleans is a bit backwards in that the worst case for flooding is with the storm passing just *east* of the city (to the right). Yes, that places the city in the “weaker” eyewall – but it means the winds blow the water directly into the city. I’ll try to do a post on that today. It’s an interesting situation, one that anyone familiar with tropical meteorology risks in the US is well aware of, and it’s disappointing (but not unexpected) that they don’t know that. How likely is that scenario? Unfortunately it’s a lot more likely than it was yesterday. The track has been shifting eastward, and the satellite and radar fixes this morning are right (east) of the forecast track as well. That’s bad as it places the stronger eyewall across the city, resulting in more wind damage – and if it results in a passage just east of the city, storm surge could well overtop the levees. On this track Ida is forecast to be a $40 to $50 Billion dollar storm, just below Sandy for the #5 spot on the US “costliest” list. But a eastward wobble with the eyewall crossing the city (and a refinery or two breaking), Ida could easily be up there with Harvey, and Katrina in the $100 Billion dollar club. If a levee or the pumping system fails, we could well be looking at the most costly storm in US history. Given the disjointed evacuation process (it’s only voluntary in NOLA), it will likely be deadly as well.

Oil and Gas: on this track and intensity, something like 12 to 15% of US refinery capacity will be offline for at least a month. A lot depends on how strong the storm is when it passes over Baton Rouge and the huge ExxonMobil Baton Rouge Refinery. At 520,000 BPD, that one facility represents almost 3% of US capacity. It is in partial shut-down now to prepare for the storm, which is expected to still be at hurricane force as it passes over Baton Rouge. There is well over 1 million BPD of capacity at high risk from this storm. So much depends on how rapidly the storm decays after landfall – and how well the surrounding electrical infrastructure providing power to them survives. That, and you need people to run these things: if the surrounding communities are devastated, even if the facilities survive with minimal damage the workforce will be in bad shape. Here are the major refineries in the swath …

Down at the bottom of the above map is a label, “Louisiana Offshore Oil Port”. That is a vital bit of infrastructure. Through that platform passes over 10% of US oil imports, and its pipelines are connected to the major refineries inland. The offshore facility will be experiencing waves over 10 meters (30ft) and winds well over 120mph in the coming hours. It is likely to be offline for some time.

This is going to hurt at the gas pump for a while.

#Ida at 11am update: clock ticking on #LA, #NOLA preparations. #ToxicStew

Those in the forecast impact zone and under warnings should really be wrapping up preparations and getting out. While a bit behind the forecast, Ida is still organizing and has every potential to be a Cat 4 at landfall. Updated Key Messages regarding Hurricane Ida┬á(en Espa├▒ol: Mensajes Claves). If you’re in New Orleans (NOLA), a wobble one way or the other is the difference between some wind damage, and swimming for your life. Don’t bet on it.

It’s well known that the Louisiana coast is home to hundreds of facilities associated with the petrochemical and related industries. Modern life requires it – the amount of hazardous materials required to manufacture the things we want and drive our machines is enormous. But the extent isn’t clear until your map it out and start looking at the potential for toxic spills due to hurricane damage. This map shows the 11am forecast track and sites containing hazardous materials. Each icon indicates a facility, red is at highest risk of materials getting off-site.

Facilities containing hazardous materials at risk from Ida (11am Sat Forecast). Click to enlarge.

That’s over three hundred facilities at risk. Of course, some only have relatively small quantities, but some contain thousands of pounds or gallons of pretty toxic stuff. One of the lesser known aspects of the Katrina cleanup was the thousands of workers out in chem-suits (and think about being out in the Louisiana summer in a chemical protection ensemble) trying to sop up the mess. Although with the damage and human suffering it might be overlooked, this is another aspect of hurricane and disaster planning that is essential in the planning, response, and recovery process. Clicking on one point at random gives us America’s Styrenics LLC, with an estimated 12 percent structure damage …

The other aspect is of course economic. This morning’s post noted the potential impact on oil and gas production, but a lot of the other things like plastics that are so essential in our society are made from petrochemicals, and those are in shutdown and may not, depending on the track, come back for weeks or months. Many of these facilities are very specialized bits of engineering and the parts have to be custom made. Something else to consider …

Hurricane #Ida and #LA, #NewOrleans potential impacts on #Oil and #Gas

This morning’s forecast for Ida has not changed the big picture: most signs point to a major hurricane (Category 3 or 4) hitting the central Louisiana coast in about 36 hours (Sunday afternoon). If you are in that area you should use today to get out if under evacuation warnings, or prepare for severe hurricane conditions if you are elsewhere in the swath. Here are NHC’s latest Key Messages regarding Hurricane Ida (en Espa├▒ol: Mensajes Claves), and here is my TAOS/TC impact model estimate based on the 5am data:

Click any image to enlarge.

Conditions are good for a rapid intensification (RI) today. Ida is a category one hurricane at the moment, but with low wind shear and and a pool of very deep, warm water ahead it should be a category three by tomorrow morning. The only real negative is some dry air nearby – if that gets entangled in the circulation, it could choke off the forecast intensification. But if you live in Louisiana, it would be foolish to count on that because by the time that is apparent you may not have time to get out.

Assuming the RI cycle happens as forecast, the exact landfall location will be critical with respect to damage and long term impacts. New Orleans presents a special case. Ordinarily, the worst place to be is just to the right of the direction of travel. And for winds and storm surge right on the coast that is certainly true. But New Orleans is protected by the Mississippi Delta to the south – the main risk of storm surge flooding is actually from the North, off of Lake Pontchartrain. A storm making landfall just to the east (putting NOLA just to the left of the storm track) would pump water into Pontchartrain and, if it tops the levees, into the city. In this case the majority of the projected tracks keep Ida to the west (keeping NOLA on the right), which worse for wind, but is actually less bad for the city from a flooding standpoint – assuming all of the flood control systems work. The model damage outputs have jumped from $6 Billion to nearly $30 Billion, then back to $15 billion for this forecast, depending on the exact track of the eye wall. On the current track NOLA is just out of the severe damage swath, but Baton Rouge, Moran City, and Thibadaux, and Houma are within it. That is fairly typical for a landfall with a major city near the track – the wobbles matter a lot, since for most storms the most severe damage is confined to a narrow swath about 50 miles wide, far less than our ability to forecast accurately. So don’t bet your life on the forecast.

Another concern is energy infrastructure. There is a LOT of stuff offshore for storms to break, and a lot of it is now “shut in” (the industry term for turning off extraction):

Each pin represents a piece of offshore infrastructure …

However, after the hurricanes in the mid-2000’s like Ivan and Katrina, the oil and gas industry did a lot to improve the resiliency of this stuff. In addition, the US isn’t as dependent on the Gulf of Mexico resources as it once was. However, onshore is a different story. There are a lot of refineries in the potential damage swath. Those are vulnerable, and not so easily replaced …

Refineries in the severe damage forecast swath, 5am ET Saturday 28 August

There is just over 1 million barrels per day (BPD) of production at risk of being offline for at least a month if Ida follows this track and intensity. Again, the wobbles matter a lot and this number goes up and down with each little track shift, but it’s a fair “middle” estimate. The US has around 18 million BPD of production, so taking 5% offline might not seem like much, but it is a very delicate system with tight margins, and oil traders being oil traders expect some wild fluctuation in price until we know exactly what happened. Another big issue is the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port or LOOP terminal. It handles something like 13% of US foreign oil imports. It’s right on the edge of the forecast damage swath for Ida:

LOOP Terminal and damage swath

This is a bit of a concern, and both offshore and onshore components are right on the edge of the severe damage swath. If this track continues, I expect it to be offline for at least a week, and a wobble right could be bad news.

So the summary is that the current track and intensity is going to hurt both locally in Louisiana, and nationally via a spike in oil and gas prices. How long that spike lasts depends on the exact track and intensity; it could be just transient, but given the location and vulnerability of some key assets (LOOP terminal, onshore refineries) we could see some multi-month outages, which would cause longer term price disruptions. NOLA is on the edge of the damage swath – will see more or less wind impacts, but unless something breaks that shouldn’t or the storm shifts a lot to the right (east), should avoid Katrina-like catastrophic flooding.

Unless something changes, next big update will be Sunday Morning with the “pre-landfall” impact estimates.

Hurricane #Ida and #NOLA Update

Ida continues to develop and strengthen, and once it crosses into the Gulf of Mexico will be entering an area ripe with the potential for rapid intensification: a deep layer of warm water and low shear with good outflow potential. Ida has every opportunity to reach Category Four status before landfall, with devastating impacts on whoever is in the way. Will be doing a full analysis tomorrow morning – meanwhile, for those in northern Gulf Coast, it’s time to get moving: Key Messages regarding Hurricane Ida┬á(en Espa├▒ol: Mensajes Claves).

Hurricane Ida – IR (left), Visual (right). Click to enlarge.

Major Hurricane #Ida likely to impact #Louisiana this weekend

It is increasingly likely that Tropical Storm Ida will spin up into a major hurricane after crossing Cuba as a tropical storm, and hit the Louisiana coast Sunday. Check NHC’s Key Messages regarding Tropical Storm Ida┬á(en Espa├▒ol: Mensajes Claves) for the latest watch and warning areas, and here is the TAOS/TC impact estimate as of 5am Friday 27 August:

click to enlarge the bad news.

On this track the major concern is New Orleans (NOLA). While the old city is on a natural levee, most of NOLA is below sea level and depends on pumps and flood control structures to stay dry. Ida is currently forecast to create worse conditions over the city (in wind terms) than did Katrina. Despite being on the fringes of Katrina (wind damage was actually relatively light), the city was devastated because of a failure of one of these flood control systems. Assuming the systems work at 75% rated capacity, and the NHC predictions that it will reach major hurricane (100 knot/Saffir Simpson Category 3), Ida is forecast to be a $20 to $25 Billion event, with over two million people in Louisiana experiencing hurricane conditions. But the risk is of something breaking that shouldn’t. That is why evacuations are so important in an event like this. In theory the systems should be able to handle this. But, contractors being contractors, and storms being storms, theory and practice don’t always match up.

This is shaping up to be a major event – if you live on the Gulf Coast, pay attention and prepare for a dangerous storm.

Elsewhere in the Atlantic there are two INVEST areas being watched – neither are a threat. Of more interest is Tropical Storm Nora, off the west coast of Mexico. It is forecast to become a hurricane within two days and potentially run up the Gulf of California. Key Messages regarding Tropical Storm Nora. The damage and impact in Mexico depends very strongly on land interactions – we’ll have a better picture of the potential later today or Saturday. Of longer range interest is that this could dump a lot of moisture into the Southwestern US, creating a significant rain and flash flood event next week. But for now in the US the major threat is Ida and the Gulf Coast.

Tropical Depression Nine forms

TD Nine has formed in the western Caribbean … here’s the TAOS/TC impact swath based on the 11am forecast:

TD9 Impact Early Impact Forecast (click to embiggen).

Tropical storm warnings are up for the Cayman Islands and Cuba, and since It’s only a bit over three days out from Louisiana (and has the potential to be a hurricane at that point), folks on the central Gulf coast from Houston to the Florida Panhandle need to be monitoring this one.

Special outlook from NHC (Thursday Morning, 26 August)

The US National Hurricane Center issued a special update to their tropical weather outlook at 5am this morning (normally the next update would be at 8am). The INVEST in the Caribbean is organizing and it is almost certain NHC will start tracking today, with warnings going up in a few hours. Unusually they have issued a Key Messages for disturbance in the central Caribbean Sea graphic, so this is worth paying attention to if you are in the central and western Caribbean, as well as the US Central Gulf Coast.

The last two GFS runs have been pretty consistent about bringing a hurricane into the Louisiana coast around Monday. Here’s the spaghetti map, colored lines are the major models.

Click for to embiggen; the dark blue line is the GFS run …