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 , 11:00 PM GMT on November 10, 2005
The persistent area of low pressure and storminess that has affected the ocean areas between Panama and Nicaragua has expanded today and become better organized. A weak circulation at mid levels of the atmosphere was evident on visible satellite imagery this afternoon, as was some upper-level outflow to the north. Intense thunderstorms now cover much of Panama and the surrounding ocean areas, and these storms will bring heavy rains to Panama and Costa Rica the next two days as they move westward at about 10 mph. Wind shear over the area is about 10 knots, which may allow some slow development over the next few days. The GFS computer model continues to show that early next week this area of disurbed weather may start to move slowly northward and develop into a tropical storm.
Figure 1. GFS model forecast seven days from now, showing a tropical storm with copious rainfall (bright green colors) forming in the south-central Caribbean Sea.
It is highly uncertain what land areas might be at risk if such a development does occur. The three main possibilities would be:
1) A track like Hurricane Beta into Nicaragua.
2) A track like Hurricane Michelle in 2001, which struck southern Cuba then passed northeastwards through the Bahamas.
3) A track like "Wrong-Way Lenny" of 1999, the only hurricane ever recorded that took an extended west-to-east path through the Caribbean.
Anything that works its way far enough north is going to get picked up and quickly recurved northeastward by one of the many troughs of low pressure migrating across North America. This means that except for a low threat to South Florida, the U.S. would not be at risk. Additionally, given that there has only ever been one storm knicknamed "Wrong-Way", the eastern Caribbean would probably not be at risk, either. I'll be able to spend my vacation in Puerto Rico next week at the beach, instead of taking shelter at the Internet Cafe and writing blog entries. The primary area at risk would be Nicaragua, Honduras, Cuba, Hispanolia, Jamaica, and the Cayman Islands.
I'll be back with an update tomorrow morning. Remember that the computer models are rather poor at forecasting tropical storm development, and nothing at all may develop next week. But given that this is the Hurricane Season of 2005, I'd give at least 50/50 odds we'll see a Tropical Storm Gamma by late next week in the central Caribbean.
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