Tropical storm Erika strengthens east of West Indies

26 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Puerto Rico under tropical storm warning as Erika steams toward Caribbean.

In the wake of last weekend’s twin hurricane threats that fizzled, there’s another landward-tracking storm that’s quickly gathering more attention than the previous two combined—if only for the fact that meteorologists don’t really know what to expect yet.A tropical storm warning was issued Wednesday morning for Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the Leeward Islands as a strengthening Erika continued a path that could affect South Florida by the weekend. The most likely scenario, though, seems increasingly troubling: Tropical Storm Erika could be headed for a hurricane-strength landfall in vulnerable South Florida. Erika, which formed on the heels of Hurricane Danny on Monday in the middle of the Atlantic, intensified to a tropical storm with 45 mph winds late Monday before wobbling in the afternoon as it encountered dry air.

The latest official forecast from the National Hurricane Center shows Erika making a beeline for the region on Sunday and Monday, but emphasizes the strength of the storm at that time is “very uncertain.” No place in America is more exposed than Miami, but amid a record-breaking lack of hurricanes in recent years, the booming city’s residents have grown complacent. The storm could weaken as it moves over land or encounters dry conditions that helped snuff Danny. “We don’t even have a hurricane until Sunday afternoon, and there’s a great deal of uncertainty about that, so the best thing for South Florida residents to do is check back every day or so,” said hurricane center spokesman and meteorologist Dennis Feltgen. Over the last 12-24 hours, though, the models have settled down a bit at least with regard to Erika’s likely path in the general direction of Florida.

The storm not even reaching the mainland would, of course, be the best-case scenario, and may even be beneficial to drought-stricken Caribbean islands, as well. Over the next five days, forecasters predict Erika will gradually strengthen but barely muster hurricane strength Sunday as it passes over the Bahamas. “We are preparing accordingly as if we are going to be impacted between now and Saturday,” said Captain Stephen Russell, head of the Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency. Residents, he said, are being warned to make every effort to “safeguard their property and their lives.” Unlike Danny, a compact storm able to quickly intensify and just as quickly lose strength, forecasters say Erika will take longer to build.

The Canadian model, not particularly known for forecasting hurricanes well, has been insistent on a landfall in the Florida Panhandle in six or seven days at tropical storm strength. It’s an unlikely possibility, and the NHC has singled out the GFDL model as an outlier, but just yesterday the European model was showing something similar. With sporadic flashes of truly dangerous potential scenarios showing up in some of the historically most accurate models, it’s enough to scoot to the edge of your seat if you live on the Florida coast.

Tropical storm watches and warnings have already been posted for parts of the northern Caribbean, so government meteorologists are throwing everything they have at Erika right now, in an attempt to learn as much as possible about the storm in hopes of improving the forecast. In addition to frequent flights into Erika by the hurricane hunters, a NASA Global Hawk drone was scheduled to embark on a 24-hour mission in and around the storm on Wednesday.

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