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 , 4:54 PM GMT on September 24, 2011
There's not much change to Tropical Storm Ophelia today, which continues to battle dry air and high wind shear. Satellite imagery shows that Ophelia has little heavy thunderstorm activity near its low level circulation center, which is mostly exposed to view. Most of the storm's heavy thunderstorms are to the east of the center, with just a few puffs of thunderstorms occasionally popping up near the center. An analysis from the University of Wisconsin CIMMS group shows a high 20 - 25 knots of wind shear due to strong upper-level southwesterly winds. Water vapor satellite images show Ophelia is at the eastern edge of large area of very dry air.
Figure 1. Afternoon satellite image of Ophelia showing the low-level center exposed to view, with all the storm's heavy thunderstorms in a band several hundred miles to the east and south. This is not a healthy-looking tropical storm.
Forecast for Ophelia
The latest SHIPS model forecast predicts that Ophelia will experience high wind shear of 20 - 40 knots over the next five days, and will move into a region with slightly drier air. This combination of shear and dry air may be enough to dissipate Ophelia, as predicted by several of the models. However, Ophelia has maintained itself better than the models have predicted, so the storm will probably survive until at least Sunday. Even it Ophelia does dissipate, it will have the chance to regenerate by Tuesday or Wednesday, when it may encounter a region of lower wind shear. At this time, it appears that Ophelia will only be a threat to Bermuda.
TD 17 forms
Tropical Depression 17 formed in the far eastern Atlantic off the coast of Africa last night, and is likely to intensify into Tropical Storm Philippe later today. TD 17 has some impressive low-level spiral bands and upper-level outflow, and is very close to tropical storm strength. The predicted west-northwest to northwest track of TD 17 will put it in a position where historically, very few storms have ever gone on to hit land.
Figure 2. MODIS satellite image of Hurricane Hilary at 4:05 pm EDT September 23, 2011. At the time, Hilary was a Category 4 storm with 145 mph winds. Image credit: NASA.
Powerful Hurricane Hilary remains at Category 4 strength
In the Eastern Pacific, Hurricane Hilary remains an impressive Category 4 hurricane with 140 mph winds. Hilary is headed west, away from Mexico, and the storm is small enough that its outer bands are not causing flooding problems for Mexico. A trough of low pressure expected to move over the Western U.S. by the middle of the week may be strong enough to turn Hilary to the north, eventually bringing Hilary to Mexico's Baja Peninsula. The timing of this event is highly uncertain, though. Hilary is small enough that it is unlikely to bring significant drought relief to Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas if the storm's remnants move north into those states. Hilary is the fourth Category 4 hurricane in the Eastern Pacific this year, and the second strongest, behind Hurricane Dora, which had 155 mph winds.
Invest 91L set to soak North Carolina
A moderate amount of heavy thunderstorm activity has developed over the Northwestern Bahamas in association with the tail end of an old stalled front. This disturbance, Invest 91L, is under a low 5 - 10 knots of wind shear, but water vapor loops show a considerable amount of dry air to the east and west of the disturbance that will likely interfere with development. In their 8 am Tropical Weather Outlook, NHC gave 91L a 20% chance of developing into a tropical depression by Monday. The disturbance has only a short window to develop, as it is headed northwards and is expected to make landfall in North Carolina by Sunday afternoon. The 8 am EDT SHIPS model forecast predicts 91L will hit 35 knots of wind shear by Sunday morning, when the storm will be approaching the coast of North Carolina. Heavy rains from 91L may cause localized flooding in Morehead City, NC and surrounding regions. A moist flow of tropical air over the region has already brought rainfall amounts of 1 - 3 inches to much of Eastern North Carolina today.
Dangerous Tropical Storm Nesat headed for the Philippines
What may be the season's most dangerous storm in the Western Pacific, Tropical Storm Nesat, has formed about 700 miles east of the Philippine Islands. Nesat is under a moderate 10 knots of wind shear, is embedded in a very moist environment, has very warm sea surface temperatures of 30°C under it, and a very favorable upper-level outflow pattern above it. Nesat has plenty of time to intensify into a major typhoon before its expected landfall on Luzon Island in the Philippines on Tuesday morning.
I'll have an update before 2 pm Sunday afternoon.
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