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 , 2:46 PM GMT on September 01, 2013
A tropical wave over the Lesser Antilles Islands (Invest 97L) is moving westward at 15 mph, and is bringing heavy rains and gusty winds to the islands. Top sustained winds in the islands as of 10 am AST Sunday were 26 mph at Monserrat. Heavy thunderstorm activity has sharply increased since Saturday, as seen on satellite loops. A large circulation is evident, with some westerly winds blowing to the south of the disturbance. However, the thunderstorms are poorly organized, and there is no sign of a well-organized surface circulation. Martinique radar shows some rotation to the echoes, though well-organized spiral bands are not evident, and do not appear to be forming. Wind shear has dropped to a moderate 10 - 20 knots over the system. An area of dry air from the Saharan Air Layer (SAL) surrounds 97L and is interfering with development.
Figure 1. Latest satellite image of Invest 97L.
Forecast for 97L
Wind shear is expected to be in the low to moderate range for the next five days, and ocean temperatures will be warm, 28 - 29°C. The disturbance is steadily moistening the atmosphere and is moving into a moister environment, so dry air will be less of an impediment to development as the week progresses. The main factor keeping the disturbance from developing over the next two days would appear to be the fact that 97L is quite large, and is stretched out from east to west over a wide expanse. Large, elongated systems like 97L usually take several days to consolidate and spin up. Another factor that will likely retard development is the presence of strong surface trade winds over the Eastern Caribbean ahead of 97L, south of the Dominican Republic. These strong trade winds are a common feature of the Eastern Caribbean, and make the region something of a hurricane graveyard. As the surface wind flow to the west of 97L accelerates into this wind max, air will be sucked from aloft downward towards the surface, creating sinking air, interfering with the formation of thunderstorm updrafts. The best chance for development of 97L would appear to be on Wednesday or Thursday, when the disturbance reaches the Central Caribbean. The wave will likely spread heavy rains to Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the Dominican Republic by Tuesday, and to Haiti by Wednesday. These rains will be capable of causing life-threatening flash flooding and mudslides in mountainous regions in Puerto Rico and Hispaniola. Of our three reliable models for predicting genesis, the UKMET, GFS, and European models, only the UKMET model develops the disturbance, predicting it will become a tropical depression south of Haiti on Wednesday, and near Jamaica on Thursday. In their 8 am EDT Sunday Tropical Weather Outlook, NHC boosted the 5-day odds of formation of 97L to 30%, and the 2-day odds to 20%.
Video 1. You can see why landslides triggered by heavy rains from a tropical cyclone are among the most dangerous hazards of these storms, thanks to a dashboard cam that caught this extraordinary rock slide in Northeast Taiwan on August 31, 2013, after heavy rains from a cold front drenched the island with up to 200 mm (7.87") of rain in 24 hours. The rains fell upon soils already saturated by Thursday's torrential rains from Tropical Storm Kong-Rey, which dumped up to 482 mm (19") of rain on Taiwan, killing three people. The driver of the car caught in the rock slide survived with minor injuries. Thanks go to wunderground member Robert Speta for bringing this video to my attention. A separate video showing the damage to the car and the course of the rock slide is here.
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