Scientists keep tabs on rising water temperatures in the Gulf

Published: Jun. 22, 2009 at 9:16 PM CDT
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By Al Showers - bio | email

BAY ST. LOUIS, MS (WLOX) - Scientists at the National Weather Service and NOAA are keeping a close eye on rising water temperatures. Last week, the weather station near the Bay-Waveland Yacht Club recorded a water temperature of 93 degrees.

We all know warm Gulf waters increase the chances of a hurricane. But experts say rising water temperatures are no reason to panic.

The data is collected by the NOAA Sentinel weather station.

"They give us information such as air temperature. They let us know the wind direction, wind gusts, water temperature and sometimes detailed information such as currents," Meteorologist Ken Graham with the National Weather Service in Slidell, Louisiana.

Monday morning, the water temperature was already 89 degrees in the Bay of St. Louis.  That's not unexpected. Over the last couple of weeks, the daily readings from that weather station have recorded higher than normal temperatures.

"If you look at the weather pattern we've been stuck in, this high pressure system over the area the Gulf of Mexico and at least the Coastline, especially, has had plenty of sunshine and hot temperatures. So right at the surface, we're getting pretty warm water."

Graham said the water temperatures are also higher than normal deeper in the Gulf of Mexico, but there's no cause for concern right now.

"Water temperatures are a couple of degrees above normal throughout the Gulf of Mexico. But again, water temperature is just one factor in creating a hurricane. In fact, Hurricane Gustav last year weakened when it went over the warmest temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico. We have to look at wind shear, we have to look at a lot of wind parameters in the upper atmosphere to create a hurricane. So it's like baking a cake when you have one ingredient. It takes a lot of ingredients to actually make that cake, and water temperatures is just one single ingredient."

According to Graham, a tropical system needs a water temperature of at least 79 degrees.

High water temps now don't necessarily mean it will be a bad hurricane season. But Graham believes they are just one more reason for the experts to watch the Gulf closely.

"Even if we're predicting here at NOAA, and the National Weather Service are predicting an average season, the problem is it just takes one storm."

To track the data gathered from the weather stations, visit the National Data Buoy Center online at

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