Early November 2011: Events on Earth and in Space

Florida has just emerged from one of the wettest Octobers of record, as the state starts to dry-out and pleasant Fall weather takes hold out there in the Atlantic, in the Bermuda Triangle, a cell of low pressure that appeared in early November has been gradually getting organized and stronger as it slowly makes its way toward mainland USA! Late on Monday 7 November this weather system was generating large amounts of rain north of its center over Bermuda and the National Hurricane Center was giving it a high probability (~70%) that it could develop into the next cyclone of the 2011 Atlantic Hurricane season, which has so far generated 17 named storms including six hurricanes.

Satellite view of the Atlantic on 7 November 2011 showing water vapor in the atmosphere to highlight the cell of low pressure to the southwest of Bermuda that is showing high potential for cyclonic development in the next 12-24 hours

Color-enhanced infrared GOES satellite view of the western Atlantic showing a cell of low pressure some 500 km to the southwest of Bermuda on 7 November 2011

Could this be Sean, the 18th named storm of the 2011 Atlantic season? Speaking of storm names, as a matter of anecdotal interest, the 2011 list of names for storms is the same that was used in 2005 except for a record five names that were retired from the list because of their strength as major hurricanes and the amount of damage they caused. The retired storm names were Dennis, Katrina, Rita, Stan and Wilma. On the official 2011 list the replacement names are Don, Katia, Rina, Sean and Whitney. These results from the National Hurricane Center preparing six alphabetical lists of twenty names each, which are used in the same order and then repeated, this is why the 2005 list is now being used again in 2011 except for the retirement and replacement of “infamous” storms. So far this year we haven’t had any major and destructive hurricane so if this continues the 2011 list will repeat in 2017 with the same names we have seen this year.

Looking beyond this potential #18 cyclone of 2011 in the Atlantic there are a couple of regions of disturbed weather in the central Atlantic and along a long stretch of ‘Hurricane Alley’, but nothing that shows much potential for further development at least for now. What is quite interesting though, is a cell of stormy weather that is showing potential for further development over the Mediterranean Sea already affecting a vast region from Marseille, France to Genoa, Italy and most of the major islands in the central Mediterranean. Although cyclones and storms are not unusual in that region of the world it is indeed rare to see a storm exhibiting cyclonic characteristics threatening the French Riviera, Monaco and other resorts along the Mediterranean coastline. Please view the composite satellite view below:

Composite satellite image showing a portion of the northern tropics from the east Pacific to the western Indian Ocean the morning of 7 November 2011

Other meteorological hazards that are active on this early days of November 2011 include an area of low pressure and stormy weather in the Arabian Sea., in an area that has seen similar events over the past few weeks. Another cell of disturbed weather with potential for cyclonic development lingers to the east and near the southern extreme of the Indian sub-continent.

Composite full-disk satellite view of Earth's western hemisphere on 7 November 2011 showing the current status of the so-called 'belt of tropical activity' near the equator

Shifting from the ocean-atmosphere environment, there has been quite a bit of ground shaking in Oklahoma over the past week. These seismic events have included a 4.7 magnitude quake on 4 November, and a magnitude 5.7 on 6 November 2011 with an epicenter just 8 km northwest of the town of Prague,  and 72 km east of Oklahoma City, located at the rather shallow depth of 5 kilometers. The region of Oklahoma where both these quakes and numerous aftershocks have hit over the last 4 – 5 days has a history of light to moderate seismic activity with most quakes in the 2 -4 magnitude range, with a few 4.5 -6 magnitude earthquakes occasionally occurring. Early reports are of moderate damage, mainly in the form of toppled unreinforced masonry structures, and structural cracks on some buildings. Despite its moderate impact and damage this Oklahoma event is significant because it has taken place near the center of the continental USA not too far from the New Madrid major seismic fault region, where a swarm of earthquakes hit over a three-month period in 1811-1812 that included a possible magnitude 8.0 earthquake. Other major earthquakes have hit this region, including one on Christmas Day 1699 that was written about by early explorers and settlers, and numerous prehistoric events that have left their signatures in the geological record. This whole region is considered a major seismic province capable of triggering major earthquakes in the future.

Map from the USGS showing the epicenter of the near-surface magnitude 5.7 earthquake that hit to the east of Oklahoma City on 6 November 2011

The map that follows, courtesy of the USGS National Earthquake Information Center [NEIC] shows earthquakes that generated in Oklahoma from 1990 through 2006. Each of the orange circles represents an earthquake, with the size of the circle being proportional to the magnitude of the quake.  This record shows most of the recent seismic activity has taken place on in the central-southern portion of the state. This map also shows some prior activity in the region to the east of Oklahoma City where the latest seismic events took place.

Map showing seismic activity from 1990 through 2006 in Oklahoma and neighboring northwestern Texas.

Beyond the cyclonic and seismic events looking toward space there is an unfolding space event taking asteroid 2005YU55, a 400 m diameter rock, on a flyby of Earth that will bring it within 325,000 km of our planet and approximately 200,000 km from our Moon on 8 November 2011. This is the closest an asteroid has come to the Earth in more than 30+ years. To put this event in perspective it is important to note that its trajectory will take it between the Earth and the Moon at about 0.85 of the distance between our planet and its satellite, in space terms this is quite close, almost a near-miss. Radar is the main tool used by NASA to track asteroids that come near earth, and in the case of 2005YU55 the radar telescopes in Arecibo and Goldstone have been tracking it for the past 3 days. The image below shows a rendering of the track the asteroid will take as it crosses between the Earth and the Moon’s orbit on 8 November 2011:

Artistic rendering showing the relative positions of asteroid 2005YU55 the Earth and the Moon in the early hours of 8 November 2011

These events are just an example of what is typical of the hazardous planet we inhabit, which serves to illustrate the point that humankind lives with risk on an everyday basis. This underscores the need for maintaining a continuous effort of research, public education and outreach, to better understand the natural processes at work on Earth and the natural hazards – sources of potential damage – that may threaten vulnerable communities worldwide, and the need to be prepared and practice hazard mitigation on a constant basis.






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2 Responses to Early November 2011: Events on Earth and in Space

  1. Ricardo says:

    Yes indeed! No sooner had I published this post that the NHC report came in: we have the 18th-named storm of the 2011 Atlantic Hurricane season subtropical storm SEAN has developed to the southwest of Bermuda. This is ‘subtropical’ because it generated to the north of the Tropic of Cancer, so technically it is out of the tropics, thus the ‘subtropical’ qualifier. The storm is moving toward the northwest at 4 kph and it is generating sustained winds of 72 kph. The projected track takes this storm on a recurving path between Bermuda and the Carolinas, and into the open Atlantic waters over the next couple of days.

  2. Luis says:

    A lot of ‘activity’ was predicted for this time-frame in 2011. I’m referring to very ancient writings. Although they called for much harsher punishment, the recent activity is far from lame or boring. I appreciate your reports very much.

    The purpose is 2 MITIGATE!