It has been a tough few days for hurricane forecasters and not because of something like Katrina 10 years ago. This time, it has been because the storm in question, Erika, has been such a pain in the neck to forecast. Fortunately, any deviations from the ideas set out by the National Hurricane Center, then echoed by others (including me), have been positives in terms of overall impact. In other words, Erika has not lived up to expectations and that is a good thing.
Before I get in to the (likely short) future of Erika, let’s not forget what happened around this time yesterday. Copious amounts of rain fell as deep convection developed right over Dominica in the eastern Caribbean Sea. This led to the unfortunate loss of life and terrifying flash flooding in the mountainous terrain of the island. Please let this be a reminder that even a tropical storm can be lethal. So much emphasis is placed on wind speed and pressure and category that the general public loses sight of the overall idea that we are talking about a destructive weather phenomenon. Rain is absolutely an impact from tropical cyclones as the people of Dominica were painfully reminded of yesterday.
So what does the future hold for Erika and any potential impacts to the United States? The answer to that question is rooted within what happens during the next 24 hours or so.
Erika is poorly organized but does have a fairly large envelope of energy. Tropical storm conditions are mainly being felt to the east of the center of circulation which itself is located just to the southeast of the Dominican Republic. In fact, you can see in the satellite photo that a burst of convection has popped up right near that center, giving Erika a little longer before the brick wall.
The United States and even Cuba for that matter owes a great deal of its hurricane protection to the island of Hispaniola. It’s all a matter of luck and geography but the fact remains that without Hispaniola in the way, many more powerful hurricanes would have lashed Florida, Cuba and eventually other locations along the western Atlantic Basin. This comes with a price though. The high terrain of the island literally wrings out the moisture from passing tropical storms and hurricanes. The resultant flash floods and mudslides can produce appalling loss of life and mind-boggling damage. Erika is headed right for the island and will slam in to it – likely bringing very heavy rain to the region.
As the storm traverses the rugged terrain, the low level center will almost certainly dissipate and we will be left with a trough of low pressure that was formerly Erika. Now, there’s a chance that the tenacious storm will just dance across and emerge in to the Florida Straits ready to go. I wouldn’t bet on that happening but you never, ever turn your back on a tropical anything coming through water that is near 90 degrees F! The next day or so is the key. If there is anything left of Erika once it passes over Hispaniola, then Florida might have to deal with a tropical storm and maybe, just maybe, a hurricane. So much will depend on how much warm water it has to work with and what the upper level winds are like. For now, Erika is headed for the Caribbean Road Block otherwise known as Hispaniola. What happens after that is beyond my ability to figure out – it’s a wait and see deal, nothing more.
Meanwhile, in the Pacific, hurricane Ignacio continues to track northwest in the general direction of Hawaii. The five day forecast keeps the center north of the island chain but we know how that can go. Obviously, interest out that way should keep watching and be ready to act should the track shift south even by a little bit. Water temperatures in the east Pacific, especially the northern Pacific, are quite a bit warmer than normal. So far, Hawaii has escaped major calamity this season – we’ll see if that luck holds.
I’ll have a video discussion on Erika and other happenings in the tropics, including a look back at Katrina 10 years ago today, posted later this afternoon.
M. Sudduth 8:55 AM ET August 28