Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.
By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 3:55 PM GMT on July 19, 2009
The tropical wave near 12N 52W, about 600 miles east of the Lesser Antilles Islands (97 L), has grown more organized this morning as it tracks west at about 20 mph. This wave is surrounded by an area of very dry air from the Sahara Desert, but 97L has been able to steadily moisten a large region of the atmosphere over the past day, insulating itself from the dry air. This moistening process has been aided by sea surface temperatures (SSTs) that have steadily increased from 26.5°C to 27.5°C, plus the presence of only 10 knots of wind shear. The system now has a small area of intense thunderstorms near its center, with some rotation of the cloud pattern evident at mid-levels of the atmosphere. An upper-level outflow channel has opened to the north, and there is evidence that surface spiral bands are beginning to form. This morning's QuikSCAT pass missed 97L, so we don't know what is happening at the surface.
Wind shear is a modest 10 knots over the disturbance, and is forecast to remain in the moderate 10 - 15 knot range through Monday morning. This should allow further development to occur today, and 97L could be approaching tropical depression strength on Monday as it moves through the central Lesser Antilles Islands. Monday night, shear is expected to rise to 20 - 30 knots, thanks to the presence of a trough of low pressure at upper levels of the atmosphere over the eastern Caribbean. Since 97L is a relatively small system, it is very vulnerable to wind shear. This shear may be able to drive some of the dry air west of 97L deep into its interior, significantly disrupting the disturbance. Shear will remain high along 97L's path through Thursday, when the storm should be in the western Caribbean near Cuba. If there is anything left of 97L by then, some development is possible. The National Hurricane Center gave 97L a low (less than 30% chance) of developing into a tropical depression in the next 48 hours in their 8am Tropical Weather Outlook. However, I'd say the odds are now in the medium range (30 - 50%).
None of the computer models are forecasting tropical storm development over the next seven days.
Figure 1. Current satellite image of African wave 97L.
I'll have an update Monday morning. As 97L approaches the islands, you may want to follow local observations there using our wundermap for 97L.
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