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 , 2:12 PM GMT on September 03, 2009
Tropical Storm Erika is hanging together despite strong wind shear, and is bringing high winds and much-needed heavy rain to the Lesser Antilles Islands. Winds on the south shore of Dominica Island were sustained at 37 mph this morning, and 8.03" of rain have been measured at the airport over the past two days. Winds and rain at nearby islands have been less, according to our wundermap for the region. The Hurricane Hunters are in the storm now, and have generally encountered top winds of 40 - 45 mph at the surface. They did find one spot of 50 - 65 mph winds, but that was likely due to outflow from a strong thunderstorm, and is not representative of Erika's wind field.
Figure 1. Radar image of Tropical Storm Erika at 9:15am EDT 9/3/09. Image credit: Meteo France.
Erika has improved in organization a bit since last night, but remains weak and disorganized, thanks to about 20 knots of shear at the 200 mb level, as seen on last night's Guadeloupe upper air sounding. Radar animations out of Martinique show plenty of heavy rain moving through the Lesser Antilles, but little organization of the echoes. Satellite imagery shows no low-level spiral bands and little upper-level outflow. Long range radar out of Puerto Rico is beginning to show rain echoes from Erika approaching the island.
The forecast for Erika
The computer models have come into better agreement about the track of Erika, taking the storm west-northwest over Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. This track will take Erika into a band of significantly higher wind shear of 25 - 35 knots, Friday through Saturday. Considering that Erika is barely maintaining itself as a tropical storm with 20 knots of shear, the combined effects of the higher shear and the encounter with the high mountains of Hispaniola and Puerto Rico should be enough to cause Erika to dissipate by Sunday. Erika's remains will still be capable of dumping very heavy rains of 3 - 5 inches over the Dominican Republic and 1 - 3 inches over Haiti and the Southeast Bahamas, due to the slow motion of the storm. By Monday, when the remains of Erika should be over the Bahamas, the storm will have penetrated through the band of high wind shear over the Greater Antilles, and shear may fall low enough for redevelopment of the storm. This is a scenario offered by the NOGAPS model, which then takes Erika northward towards North Carolina. The other models predict quite a bit more shear in the region than the NOGAPS, and any redevelopment of Erika early next week remains an iffy proposition. The GFDL and HWRF models continue to insist that Erika will brush off the high shear this weekend, avoid Hispaniola, and intensify into a Category 2 hurricane five days from now. These models have not been giving enough emphasis to how the current shear is affecting Erika, and are being discounted at this time.
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Elsewhere in the Atlantic
A large, strong tropical wave with plenty of spin emerged from the coast of Africa this morning. The wave is not yet generating much in the way of heavy thunderstorms, but has the potential to gradually develop into a tropical depression by early next week. NHC is giving this wave a low (less than 30% chance) of developing into a tropical depression by Saturday. The GFS model has been consistently developing this wave in its runs over the past few days.
I'll have an update this afternoon.
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