What to know about the Gulf of Mexico right now

from hey_george on click2pins--almost 4" of rain and small hail Saturday in Friendswood

Saturday brought in a day of heavy downpours, small hail, damaging winds, downed power lines and one tornado.

The National Weather Service confirmed an EF-1 (86-110 mph winds) in northeast Montgomery County Saturday which uprooted a number of trees from The Woodlands to Panorama Village to Cut ‘n Shoot and northeast. Here’s one picture from our Click2Houston.com story on the storms:

from click2houston.com

What’s striking is the severity of the the weather systems moving across the country this month. December is turning out to be one of the most active and deadliest for tornadoes and severe thunderstorms this year. That brings us to the Gulf of Mexico, the source of fuel. Warm and humid right now, the Gulf is supplying plenty of energy to these weather systems. Normally, spring storms can be expected as winter loosens its grip on the country, but December’s warm weather has been more akin to early November, a time we often see a secondary tornadic season.

In fact, the northern Gulf is on fire! Take a look at these maps showing current sea surface temperatures and then how abnormally warm those waters are, especially in the Gulf (I drew in the temps in Fahrenheit):

from tropicaltidbits.com
from tropicaltidbits.com

Where should we be in December? For the northern and northwestern Gulf, normally we’d have water temperatures in the upper 50s but right now we’re seeing mid to upper 60s! Easily, 4-8° above normal. As an example, Morgan’s Point is reporting 66.2° water which is more typical of March temperatures! You can see a full table of locations from NOAA right here. And, of course, warmer water means warmer air temperatures and more humidity in that air.

Where from here?

I don’t see the Gulf cooling down this month and, in reality, we would need a lot of cold air coming down in January and February just to get those waters in the 50s, much less the low and mid 50s. Obviously, the warmer the water continues to be, the quicker it will warm up from March to May. That will continue to trigger severe weather outbreaks and possibly more of them.

What about the tropics

Right now, even with warmer waters, we are not at 80° water which is considered the temperature required to sustain tropical activity. And that needs to be in place at least 150′ deep. So you can see that right now there is NO tropical potential in the Gulf of Mexico:

from NOAA.gov

What I would expect, though, is that we will see, once again, an early start to the tropical season. Don’t be surprised if our first named storm shows up well before the official June 1. We continue to witness depressions and named storms spinning up in May and it seems to be a good bet again for 2022.


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About the Authors:

KPRC 2's chief meteorologist with four decades of experience forecasting Houston's weather.