Current radar from San Juan, Puerto Rico
As of this writing, the convection associated with 96L is beginning to burst and is likely bringing heavy rain and gusty winds to portions of the northeast Caribbean Sea. Areas such as Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic could see quite a bit of rain as the tropical wave and its weak low pressure area move through today.
So far, 96L has not become all that better organized but this has been expected per most of the reliable intensity models. Even the NHC makes mention of this in their outlook and we shouldn’t expect to see much strengthening until later in the weekend.
Once the system passes Hispaniola and vicinity today and tonight, it will begin affecting the southeast Bahamas with periods of heavy rain and general squally weather. It’s this point in time that we could see it begin to organize more and eventually become a tropical depression followed by a tropical storm. In fact, the NHC says this scenario is “likely” over the weekend.
Beyond the next couple of days, the forecast is very complicated for both track and intensity.
Right now, 96L is still a loosely organized, weak tropical low. Some of the intensity forecasts do increase the winds to hurricane force over the next few days. Other models do not see it that way. Water temps are plenty warm and vertical instability should become more favorable in the coming days. This means that we should see a steady increase in strength over time. Also, going by what we’ve seen so far this season, I would expect an increase in strength once the system gets north of about 24 degrees of latitude. It seems that we’re seeing tropical cyclones in the Atlantic (both of them this season anyway) reaching their peak intensity once clear of the dry, sinking air of the deep tropics. Do not be surprised if 96L eventually becomes the 3rd hurricane of the Atlantic season.
The track forecast is about as muddled as I’ve seen in quite some time. There’s been a lot of talk about this system reaching the Gulf of Mexico – at least earlier this week. Now, we have a lot of chatter about it simply turning out to sea, possibly impacting Bermuda. What people fail to realize is that the pattern is always changing and computer models are not as reliable as we would like to think. And in this situation, it’s even more complex due to the pattern that we happen to be in.
Basically it’s like trying to catch a bus. Let’s say for the sake of this discussion that 96L becomes a named storm which it is likely to do – the name will be Cristobal. It wants to catch the bus by virtue of finding a weakness in the Bermuda High or western Atlantic ridge, which ever term you like to use. That escape route is there now but seems likely to close and block the exit, forcing Cristobal to wait for another bus. This is becoming more and more plausible with each passing model cycle. Case in point – the ECMWF, highly regarded as the top global model on the planet, now gets the would-be storm much closer to the North Carolina coast than any other run of that model. And just this morning, the GFDL, for what it’s worth, looks eerily similar to the track of Sandy in 2012, bending what ever 96L does in fact strengthen in to back towards the Mid-Atlantic coast.
Yes, there are plenty of other model solutions that send the system off to the northeast, passing by or close to Bermuda and out to sea. My point is that we are starting to see more and more evidence that a possible threat to the Carolinas and points north from this system is not out of the question as we get in to next week.
It’s all a matter of timing – seems like it’s always that way, doesn’t it? Sometimes the forecast is fairly cut and dry and it’s a matter of who gets the impacts instead of if they get the impacts. In this case, we know that the Caribbean islands and eventually the Bahamas will feel some effects as the low moves through. After that – no one knows for sure but I’m here to tell you, I’ve seen it enough in the past to know not to write off something that is only a few days away from the U.S. coastline. School is starting back for many kids along the East Coast and families will be very busy with that (I know I will starting Monday morning). It is important, in my professional opinion, that people along the Southeast coast up to the Mid-Atlantic watch this system very closely. As I have said before, we can hope it heads out to sea but rest assured, hope is not a planning tool.
I’ll post more here tonight.
M. Sudduth 9:36 AM ET Aug 22