Hurricane threat growing for Caribbean as long range outlook very uncertain

Morning model plots showing a general west track for the next several days.

Morning model plots showing a general west track for the next several days.

It has been a strange year for Atlantic hurricane activity. So many sputtering, long-lived but relatively weak systems have formed with minimal impact overall to land areas. Luck has been kind to us for sure but I am not so sure it can hold out for much longer.

We should have a tropical depression or possibly even a tropical storm by later today just east of the Windward Islands. We will know a lot more once the Hurricane Hunters fly out late today for on-site info from the low pressure area. Right now, it certainly looks like it is well on its way to developing but it needs a defined low level center of circulation and the recon crew can confirm whether or not that exists.

Whether or not this becomes a tropical depression or a storm before reaching the Windward Islands will not change the outcome for that region very much. Squally weather will move in beginning later tomorrow with tropical storm conditions likely across a good deal of the Windwards, especially to the north of where the center passes. Expect heavy rain, gusty winds and building seas as the low pressure area moves in.

Once past the islands, what should be Matthew at that point will have an opportunity to strengthen and become a hurricane. The upper ocean heat content in the Caribbean Sea is ample and could support a very intense hurricane if upper level winds allow.

As far as where the system tracks over the next five to seven days? More than likely, we’ll see a westward movement in to the central Caribbean not too far north off the coast of South America. As such, the so-called ABC islands could feel some impacts from this system. We simply need to wait and see to know the depth of those impacts as the week progresses.

Obviously areas such as Hispaniola, Jamaica, Cuba and the Cayman Islands should all be watching the progress of this system very closely. Before any possible impacts along the U.S. coast would happen, the islands along the northern Caribbean could be hit first. There’s no question about it, the next few days will be full of anxious moments as we wait and see how the steering pattern evolves.

A lot of talk has been made of recent runs of the GFS model which takes the storm/hurricane north out of the Caribbean and along or just off the U.S. East Coast. With a huge area of high pressure building over Canada and the Northeast this could be a bad scenario for a large stretch of coastline. But will it happen this way? It is impossible to know right now. Other model guidance shows a slower moving system that tracks farther to the west with potential tracks in to the Gulf of Mexico. Split the difference and Florida becomes a target.

So what do we do? My advice: just keep up to date with the latest info and be ready to react if this comes your way. No one has the answer right now. I sure don’t. It’s just like last year at this same time ironically when Joaquin was a threat to the Mid-Atlantic according to the American generated models. You remember that duel right? The Euro was the outlier it seemed and yet it turned out to be correct and Joaquin missed the United States. Right now we simply don’t have enough to go on in terms of making a forecast of where this ends up in a week to ten days. As I often say, it’s hurricane season and people should be ready for anything no matter what.

M. Sudduth 12:45 PM ET Sept 27

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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

 

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Recon had to abort mission in to 97L but doesn’t change outcome for Jamaica and points west

The tropical wave known as 97L still does not have a well defined low level circulation and is thus not a tropical storm as of now. However, the deep thunderstorms associated with it will bring heavy rain to Jamaica tonight

The tropical wave known as 97L still does not have a well defined low level circulation and is thus not a tropical storm as of now. However, the deep thunderstorms associated with it will bring heavy rain to Jamaica tonight

Quick early evening update on 97L.

The Hurricane Hunter plane suffered some mechanical issues and had to return to Mississippi before sampling the tropical wave that is nearing Jamaica. However, just because we don’t know for sure what the winds at the surface are or that the system is or is not a tropical storm doesn’t matter much. The effects for Jamaica will be the same – named storm or not.

So that being said, what can people there expect tonight? The main impact will be periods of heavy rain and squalls as the wave of low pressure and developing surface low passes by. It looks as though the loose center of circulation, what little of it there is right now, will pass south of Jamaica. This means a bulk of the shower and thunderstorm activity will rotate over Jamaica, approaching from the north and east.

Fortunately, the wave is still moving briskly to the west at 20 mph or so. This will keep the time period of heavy rain to a minimum but expect some localized flooding – something that is impossible to predict ahead of time in terms of precisely where.

Winds will be nearing tropical storm strength in some of the squalls and at higher elevations. Otherwise, this is a rain event and at least the island will receive some much needed fresh water – just not too much at once hopefully.

After passing Jamaica tonight, the wave should finally strengthen and become a tropical storm. From there, it’s hard to say how strong it might get. Water temps are as warm as they can get really and so it will all come down to the upper environment.

I’ll have more on the system tomorrow morning with posts to Twitter as needed throughout the evening and tonight.

M. Sudduth 5:35 PM ET Aug 1

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Tropical storm forming in the Caribbean Sea – will be named Earl, track towards Jamaica, Yucatan

Invest 97L well on its way to becoming a tropical storm later today as convection and overall organization increases

Invest 97L well on its way to becoming a tropical storm later today as convection and overall organization increases

The difference between yesterday and now with invest area 97L is impressive. Satellite images show a much better defined area of deep thunderstorms or convection and improving outflow in the upper levels of the atmosphere. The NHC is reporting that winds are already over tropical storm force and that a surface circulation is becoming better defined. It won’t be long now until we have a tropical storm to track – its name will be Earl.

As I have mentioned several times already, water temps in the Caribbean, especially the western portion, are exceedingly warm. Once this storm forms, there won’t be much to hold it back from strengthening up until land interaction in a few days.

As for today, squally weather will begin to impact Jamaica and the Cayman Islands with fringe effects continuing for portions of Hispaniola. By tonight, it is possible that tropical storm conditions will be felt in Jamaica coupled with very heavy rain. The island needs the rain, so as long as it won’t be too much in too short a time period, what would be Earl could bring beneficial moisture to the area.

Track forecast models showing a fairly tight overall path for what would be TS Earl - headed generally towards the Yucatan peninsula and southern Gulf of Mexico

Track forecast models showing a fairly tight overall path for what would be TS Earl – headed generally towards the Yucatan peninsula and southern Gulf of Mexico (click to enlarge)

Strong high pressure to the north of the developing storm will keep it moving generally westward over the coming days. This will not allow the would-be storm to track in to the Gulf of Mexico – at least not until after crossing the Yucatan peninsula. Interests along the east side of the Yucatan need to be monitoring the progress of this system closely. It is possible that this system will go on to become a hurricane, especially considering the very warm water and high amounts of upper ocean heat content in the western Caribbean.

After passing over the Yucatan, depending on how far north the system would be, it could enter the southern Gulf of Mexico and strengthen again before making landfall well south of Texas. We can wait and see how well organized it becomes between now and landfall along the Yucatan before worrying too much about these details. Obviously the more time over land it spends, the harder time it will have intensifying again later on.

Elsewhere in the tropics, the east Pacific refuses to shut down. We now have TS Howard well off the coast of Mexico. It is moving northwest and towards cooler water and a more stable background environment. Howard should not pose any threat to Hawaii and will eventually die out over the open Pacific.

It is now August and in about two weeks, the rapid rise towards the peak of the season begins. If 97L goes on to develop in to a tropical storm and then a hurricane, it would put the season well ahead of where we should be for this time of year. Water temps in the Main Development Region and elsewhere across the western Atlantic are very warm. I have seen several indications that the next 45 to 60 days or so will be very busy in the Atlantic Basin. It’s never a guarantee one way or another, but the signs are difficult to ignore. It’s not the kind of season to sluff off and hope that nothing happens. With no El Nino and its associated strong shear machine cutting across the Atlantic, I feel as though we are in for a busy time going forward. If ever there was a season to be prepared compared to the last few, this is it in my opinion. If I am wrong, everybody on the coast comes out a winner. If I am right, and it’s not like I see this and no one else does, then hurricanes will be making headlines once again for the United States and elsewhere across the western Atlantic Basin.

I will have continuing coverage of 97L with frequent updates posted to Twitter (@hurricanetrack) throughout the day. I will also post a video discussion early this afternoon as well. Follow along in our app too, it’s on the App Store, search Hurricane Impact – all of my Tweets, blog posts and video discussions are posted to the app instantly. Get it and have everything all in one place!

M. Sudduth 10:30 AM ET Aug 1

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97L slowly developing as it heads towards the Caribbean Sea

Invest area 97L continues to look better organized today. Computer models indicate it will track in to the Caribbean Sea where additional development is possible.

Invest area 97L continues to look better organized today. Computer models indicate it will track in to the Caribbean Sea where additional development is possible.

Despite its very fast movement to the west, the tropical wave and weak low pressure area that we also know as “invest 97L” continues to get better organized.

Recent satellite images show more curved bands of showers and thunderstorms trying to wrap around the low level but poorly defined center of circulation. If it weren’t for the fast motion, we would probably have a tropical storm by now.

As it is, convection is increasing and interests in the Leeward Islands need to be ready for periods of heavy rain, gusty winds and overall squall weather as the system moves in to the region later tonight. The biggest impact will be to boaters so be aware – even a developing tropical wave can bring with it the possibility of strong winds and very heavy rain along with locally rough seas.

Once in the Caribbean, computer models indicate modest strengthening and it may be that 97L goes on to become tropical storm Earl – especially as it reaches the western Caribbean early next week. Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and eventually the eastern side of the Yucatan peninsula all need to be watching this system closely. Water temperatures are already exceptionally warm with ample upper ocean heat content all along the path of this system. The potential is there for this to strengthen and bring at least tropical storm conditions to areas in the western Caribbean, if not sooner.

Beyond the next five days, it is simply too soon to have a reliable idea of where this might end up. For now, the focus will be on the eastern Caribbean with a gradual shift towards the western Caribbean as the week ahead begins.

As for the other tropical wave, 96L, which was farther to the east, it has not shown any additional signs of development and probably won’t anytime soon. None of the global computer models carry this feature for very long but the tropical wave energy will have to be monitored since it doesn’t just “go away”. For now, it’s of no concern and our emphasis will be on 97L as it heads for the eastern Caribbean Sea.

I will have more here tonight preceded by my video discussion which I will post later this afternoon here, to our app (Hurricane Impact) and on our YouTube channel.

M. Sudduth 12:40 PM ET July 30

 

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