Tropical Storm Barry Slowly Churning its Way Towards Louisiana

Tropical Storm Barry formed yesterday morning while drifting slowly westward across the northern Gulf of Mexico. Over the past 24 hours, Barry has slowly strengthened, but as can be seen from the satellite image below (Figure 1), the system is quite asymmetrical. Consequently, while the storm has strengthened slightly since becoming named, it has not intensified rapidly due to strong upper-level winds blowing out of the north which have pushed most of the deep thunderstorm activity (warm colors in the satellite image) to the south of the circulation center. However, the storm is located over extremely warm waters (86-88°F), and there is still the potential that Barry could become a hurricane before making landfall either late today or early tomorrow along the central Louisiana coast.

Barry is a very slow moving storm – currently tracking west-northwest at about 5 mph. Slow-moving storms, like Florence in 2018 and Harvey in 2017, are notorious rainmakers. Even if Barry does not intensify further, there is a lot of concern about significant flooding with Barry. NOAA is forecasting up to 20 inches of rain in parts of south central Louisiana, with large areas of Louisiana and Mississippi likely to receive over 6 inches of rain (Figure 2). There is considerable concern about flooding in New Orleans, as the Mississippi River is running at about 16 feet right now near the city. Normally at this time of year, the Mississippi River is about 6 – 8 feet.

In addition to rainfall, Barry will bring some storm surge to the Louisiana coast, with the potential for 3 – 6 feet near where the storm makes landfall. Should Barry intensify to hurricane strength before making landfall, it would also bring a damaging wind threat, although water (from both rainfall and storm surge) is likely to be what Tropical Storm Barry is best known for. While hurricane landfalls in Louisiana are rare in July, there have been three hurricanes that have made landfall in Louisiana in July since 1851 – when NOAA hurricane records began. The most recent of these was Hurricane Cindy in 2005.

Figure 1: High resolution infrared satellite image of Tropical Storm Barry on July 12, 2019.

Figure 2: Current rainfall forecast from NOAA for Tropical Storm Barry.

About the Author:
Dr. Phil Klotzbach has received national and international attention for his work in researching weather patterns and forecasting hurricanes. He currently is lead author on Colorado State University’s Atlantic basin hurricane forecasts which he releases every year with his colleague Dr. Michael Bell.

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