Tropical Storm Erika: Warnings Issued for Puerto Rico, Storm Could Strike Florida

26 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

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

After struggling to puff out a thunderstorm yesterday, Tropical Storm Erika is becoming better organized and stronger as it zips (west at 17 mph) towards the northern 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. 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. Maximum sustained winds are near 45 mph and the National Hurricane Center (NHC) forecasts slow but steady intensification to hurricane strength by Sunday, when it forecasts the storm to be approaching Florida. 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.

Clearly, this storm poses a potential threat to both the Bahamas and Florida where residents and tourists should be starting to think about hurricane preparedness and a plan of action. 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.

Simulations from last night’s four leading computer models for Sunday evening, including two global ones (ECMWF and GFS) and two regional ones (HWRF and GFDL) present vastly different scenarios. 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 latest 7-day rainfall forecast from the Weather Prediction Center includes a 1-foot bullseye right off the southeast Florida coast, with significant totals all along the entire peninsula.

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. They’ve been looking at this stuff for years,” he said. “Another thing to keep in mind —and this goes back to the 2004 season — please don’t pay attention to the skinny black line in the cone because the center of the storm can be anywhere in that cone.” A big if in Erika’s track is a system forming off the U.S.’s Southeast coast.

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. 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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