Earl headed for landfall in Belize, hurricane conditions likely

Satellite image of strengthening tropical storm Earl in the western Caribbean Sea

Satellite image of strengthening tropical storm Earl in the western Caribbean Sea

There’s not much to say about Earl this morning. The tropical storm continues to strengthen and is almost a hurricane. Air pressure is down to 989 mb and the winds have increased to 70 mph. It won’t take much to have the first hurricane of the season (there was a hurricane in January but I don’t count that one as being in the season for obvious reasons).

For residents and visitors in Belize, the impacts will depend on just how strong Earl gets before landfall. There is still time over the very warm western Caribbean for it to strengthen and it seems almost certain that it will become a hurricane.

Aside from the heavy rain that will accompany Earl, the NHC mentions storm surge of 3-5 feet above normal tide levels impacting areas to the north of where the center makes landfall. This is not severe but enough of a danger to be taken very seriously.

I am not as concerned about the wind right now – assuming Earl becomes a category one hurricane, those winds can be dealt with as long as people use common sense and stay out of harm’s way. My concern is the heavy rain and coastal storm surge. We lose more people to water than wind – by far.

Once the 11am NHC advisory is issued, I will produce a video discussion covering the impacts that Earl are likely to bring to the region. I’ll post that here, in our app and on our YouTube channel.

M. Sudduth 10:05 AM ET Aug 3

Tropical storm Earl forms south of Jamaica, headed towards Central America

Recent close up satellite photo of newly named TS Earl. Notice the overall disorganized appearance of the storm. This could help to keep it weaker as it approaches the southern Yucatan peninsula in a couple of days.

Recent close up satellite photo of newly named TS Earl. Notice the overall disorganized appearance of the storm. This could help to keep it weaker as it approaches the southern Yucatan peninsula in a couple of days.

It took a little longer than expected, but invest area 97L has developed in to tropical storm Earl. The Hurricane Hunter crew flew in this morning and found a better defined low level circulation center and sampled winds strong enough to classify the system as a tropical storm.

So what happens next? Well, for the most part, it’s a fairly easy forecast track-wise. Strong high pressure over the Lower 48 will keep Earl pushed south of the Gulf Coast states. This means it will track in to Central America, perhaps somewhere in Belize, along the southern extent of the Yucatan peninsula. Landfall looks to be in about 48-60 hours, depending on how the forward speed changes over time.

Once over land, it is possible that Earl will remain on a track far enough south to avoid even the most southern part of the Gulf of Mexico, what we call the Bay of Campeche. Some models show this scenario, others pull it farther north with a second landfall in Mexico several days from now. We’ll just have to wait and see but for now, the focus will be on the Yucatan, especially Belize.

As for intensity, that’s an entirely different story. Top winds are 45 mph now but Earl is not very well organized. I do not see any significant spiral banding, more of a blob of convection trying to hold on near the low level center. This is due to stronger upper level winds pushing on this mass of thunderstorms, keeping from aligning perfectly over the center. As long as this remains the case, Earl won’t strengthen much. However, if the shear relaxes enough, and the system can stack itself and allow a ring of convection to develop around the center, then it has a chance to become a hurricane. Water temps are extremely favorable in the region with plenty of upper ocean heat content. Indeed, residents and visitors in Belize and elsewhere along the east side of the Yucatan need to be paying close attention to Earl.

I will have a full breakdown of the forecast for TS Earl in my video discussion which will be posted early this afternoon. In addition, follow @hurricanetrack on Twitter for more frequent quick posts with new information, satellite photos and more.

M. Sudduth 11:55 AM ET Aug 2


Ernesto on its way to becoming a hurricane as it heads towards Belize

TS Ernesto over the Caribbean Sea

TS Ernesto over the Caribbean Sea

Conditions around Ernesto have improved and now the storm is really starting to ramp up. The main issue was dry mid-level air and the storm’s fast forward motion. It simply could not line itself up vertically and allow for the convective process that drives its heat engine to work efficiently.

Water temps are plenty warm and it is obvious by looking at satellite imagery that the outflow is well established now. Ernesto should become a hurricane before the day is out.

The threat to the U.S. is all but gone now and so the focus will be on Central America, specifically Belize.

As it looks now, Ernesto will be intensifying as it makes landfall. This is never good news. As I have written about before, it has been our experience in dealing with hurricanes in the field that when they hit while intensifying, their effects are amplified. This is due to the convection or upward motion of the clouds that act to bring the strong winds down to the surface. We noticed this most notably during hurricane Charley in 2004 and never forgot what it was like. While Ernesto is not expected to become as strong as Charley, I hope that folks in Belize realize that this is not going to be a weak, sheared and dried out tropical storm when it hits- not anymore. Wind damage could be a real issue with Ernesto along with the other hazards of coastal storm surge and torrential rains.

Farther up the Yucatan where Cancun and Cozumel are, the impacts will be far less. Since Ernesto is not an especially large storm, its effects will be confined to the areas south of the northeast tip of the Yucatan. There may very well be some passing squalls from the outer rain bands but I do not see any reason to believe that Ernesto will post any big problems for Cancun and vicinity. In fact, that area is only under a tropical storm watch at this time. If you have plans to visit the area, do not cancel as Ernesto is only a problem farther south.

Once the soon-to-be hurricane crosses the Yucatan, it could get buried over Central America and rain itself out. This will obviously have negative impacts on the region with excessive rainfall a possibility. The official track does take the storm back out over the extreme southern Bay of Campeche with a final landfall in Mexico near the end of the week. How much time Ernesto spends over land will likely determine how strong it can get once it reaches the water again, if it does not simply die out over land.

The rest of the tropical Atlantic is quiet for now. Florence has dissipated and will likely not be able to make any appreciable comeback. We’ll see, you never know in August.

In the east Pacific, the NHC is keeping tabs on invest area 92E which is forecast to become a tropical depression and eventually a hurricane by many of the intensity models .However, the steering pattern continues to favor a general westward track away from Mexico. This is not typical of an El Nino year and lends more evidence to the fact that the atmosphere is not behaving as if we were in El Nino conditions. With a fairly strong high pressure area over the eastern Pacific it is no wonder that recent hurricanes in the east-Pac have moved westward. It is also keeping the progress of the developing El Nino at a slow pace which could have implications on the Atlantic season from here on out. I’ll discuss that in more detail in tomorrow’s blog post.