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 , 12:21 PM GMT on August 02, 2006
Chris continues to become better organized, and may become a hurricane later today. The latest hurricane hunter eye report at 7:09am EDT found flight level winds of 67 knots, which translates to about 60-65 mph at the surface. There are upper level lows to Chris' east and west, and Chris is embedded in a low shear zone of 10-15 knots between these two lows. The lows are helping enhance the upper-level outflow from the storm. The satellite presentation of Chris has improved substantially, and we now see a more symmetrical storm that is not sucking in so much of the dry air surrounding it. Radar from San Juan, Puerto Rico, shows an eye-like feature developing (Figure 1). Chris is over warm 29-30 C water that is favorable for intensification. The key question, as always, is wind shear. Chris is a small storm that is very vulnerable to wind shear. Any movement of Chris towards either of the upper level lows surrounding it will bring hostile wind shear that will weaken the storm. However, the current model forecasts call for Chris to maintain its position exactly between these lows, and for the shear to drop to 5-10 knots. The most likely ranges for Chris' intensity on Sunday when it is expected to be near Florida range from weak tropical storm (45 mph) to strong Category 2 hurricane (110 mph).
Figure 1.Latest long-range radar image from Jan Juan, Puerto Rico.
Path of Chris
The recent record heat wave over the Eastern U.S. means that the Bermuda High is extending further west than usual, creating a blocking ridge of high pressure that will prevent Chris from recurving to the north in the next five days. The GFS, NOGAPS, UKMET, Canadian, and European models all agree on a west-northwest track taking Chris north of the Dominican Republic and Cuba, into the Bahama Islands, then into Florida or just south of Florida by Sunday. The lone outlier model is the usually reliable GFDL, which takes Chris into the Dominican Republic. For now, NHC is discounting the GFDL. I would not cancel any travel plans for Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic this week, but those of you planning on visiting the Bahamas may want to rethink those plans.
It now appears likely that Chris will enter the Gulf of Mexico early next week and be a threat to the Gulf Coast. There is a trough of low pressure that will be moving across the Eastern U.S. on Monday that may turn Chris more to the north; high pressure is then forecast to build in on Tuesday and force Chris back to the west-northwest. Given this forecast, there is no region of the Gulf Coast that can assume Chris will miss them.
The "curse" of Chris
This is not the first time a tropical storm named Chris has come. There were storms named Chris in 1982, 1988, 1994, and 2000. Each time, Chris has been an insignificant storm that either never made it to hurricane strength, or in one case, barely made it to hurricane strength but stayed out to sea and never had a nice photogenic appearance. However, the 2000 incarnation of Chris did set a record--shortest amount of time as a tropical storm. Chris in 2000 lasted just one advisory before wind shear tore it apart. I've happily needled my friend Dr. Chris Landsea, Science and Operations Officer at the National Hurricane Center, every six years about this "curse" of Chris. He's always pretty cheerful about it, saying it was a good curse to have. Well, I'm hoping that the "curse" of storms named Chris continues this year, and I can happily tell Chris he'll have to wait until 2012 to get that nice-looking eye that a storm named Chris has never had!
Elsewhere in the tropics
Nothing else is happening in the tropical Atlantic, although most of the computer models are predicting a new tropical depression may develop off the coast of Africa this weekend.
This will probably be my last blog on Chris for several days, as I promised my family I would take off at least two days this August. This is the time that it worked out to be. Hurricanes are not respecters of the best-laid plans of humans! I'll be back to blogging on Saturday, and wunderground.com meteorologist Shaun Tanner will update my blog in my absence. He's on the west coast, so these updates will not come as early in the morning.
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