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.

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Ernesto likely headed for Yucatan then where?

TS Ernesto certainly has improved its appearance since this time yesterday. As noted in the latest NHC discussion, appearances can be deceiving and Ernesto has, in fact, weakened some. I see this as probably temporary as the storm is pulling in air from South America and to some extent, the Caribbean islands to its north. Remember, tropical cyclones can be very sensitive to even the slightest changes in their environment. Once Ernesto gets to about the same longitude as Jamaica, it should start to intensify and become a hurricane.

It is very puzzling as to why the various global models do not “see” Ernesto very well. This is called initialization and the models are not initializing the storm very well. I have read quite a bit on various message boards about how this could be throwing the future track forecast off. The logic is that if the models do not see the storm at the beginning of the run, then how can they predict where it will go later in the run? Let’s look at it from an entirely different point of view.

Forget that Ernesto is even in the picture. Then look at the computer models. I’ll take the GFS as an example. What does the large scale pattern look like three to five days down the road? Is there going to be a weakness in the big high pressure area over the Gulf of Mexico that would allow the would-be hurricane to turn more to the north? Not really. There seems to be just enough subtropical ridge nosing in from the Atlantic, across the eastern Gulf, to keep Ernesto on a WNW track towards the Yucatan and then in to mainland Mexico. So whether or not Ernesto is strong, weak, picked up in the models or not, I do not think it matters. The steering pattern strongly suggests that it will not directly impact the U.S. down the road. The only possibility that I see right now is south Texas but even that is a long shot in my opinion. So all this talk about the models not initializing the storm and thus not trusting them is non-sense to me. The trend has been more west with the tracks and since we are not quite in to the time of the season when deep troughs dig in to the Lower 48, I just don’t see a way for Ernesto to hit the U.S. Can there be a sweeping change coming up? I suppose so, you never say never but track forecasts are getting pretty good these days so I wouldn’t count on there being any big changes over the coming days.

TCHP Track Map

TCHP Track Map

With all that being said, let’s focus on the Yucatan now. Obviously with a hurricane aimed at that location, people need to be aware and ready to take action. Ernesto has to cross some fairly high ocean heat content (see graphic where the track is plotted on the current TCHP map). However, it is not forecast to go over the highest values, none the less, the western Caribbean is notorious for creating strong hurricanes and I urge people along the eastern side of the Yucatan from Belize to Cancun to watch this system carefully. It has the potential to be a serious hurricane for the region next week.

Beyond the Yucatan, as I said, the data suggests another landfall in mainland Mexico, south of Texas. We’ll worry about that later since it is still perhaps over a week away.

Next we have Florence out in the tropical Atlantic. This will be an interesting feature to track but should not pose a problem for land areas. It is already at a fairly high latitude and developed well east in the Atlantic, meaning that is destined to head out to sea. While there are certainly instances when long track hurricanes have made it all the way across, most do not and Florence is likely to not break precedence here.

The other feature to watch is just off the Florida coast. I think the only issue here is the increase in showers and thunderstorms for boating and beach interests. Otherwise, ignore it, nothing will come of it that will have any great consequence on your weekend plans.

I’ll post a video blog detailing Ernesto’s future in our HurricaneTrack app for iPhone shortly with another full post here this evening.

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