The 8:44am Hurricane Hunter eye report confirms what I've been seeing in satellite imagery this morning--Emily has assumed more of a westward motion, which may be the beginning of the long-forecasted turn to the west the forecast models have been predicting. It could also be a temporary wobble, so we'll have to watch Emily the next few hours. If the westward turn is happening, Emily will likely come ashore 60 - 120 miles south of the Texas/Mexico border. Since hurricane force winds extend out only 40 miles from the center, it is unlikely Texas will see hurricane force winds from Emily.
The central pressure dropped another 2 mb to 975 mb the past 90 minutes, and the eye shrunk from an oval 30x45 miles to a circular one 25 miles in diameter. The eye is starting to look distinct on visible satellite images, and the dry air that was disrupting the storm yesterday is mostly gone. Although the Hurricane Hunters did not measure any increase in winds, it is clear that Emily is strengthening, and should be a Category 2 hurricane this afternoon. With landfall expected at 3am Wednesday, it is unlikely Emily will make it to Category 3 status, though--there is not enough time. In addition, she may start interacting cooler water near the coast that will inhibit intensification.
It is interesting to compare Emily to the last bad hurricane to strike Brownsville--Hurricane Beulah
, in 1967. Like Emily, Beulah crossed the Yucatan Peninsula and emerged into the Gulf of Mexico as a Category 1 hurricane. But unlike Emily, Beulah was a September storm, and had much warmer water to draw energy from. Beulah was also moving much slower, about 10 mph, which gave it more time to reorganize. After two days over the Gulf of Mexico, Beulah had transformed into a Category 5 hurricane with 160 mph winds and a central pressure of 923 mb. Fortunately, Beulah weakened just before landafll into a Category 3 hurricane with 130 mph winds. Still, a 10-foot storm surge pushed up on the coast near Brownsville, and rainfall amounts of up to 30 inches caused major flooding. Ten deaths were atrributed to the storm, most of them in the 95 tornadoes Beulah spawned. Damage in year 2000 dollars was $1.1 billion.
Image credit: NOAA Photo Library
Brownsville is fortunate the westward turn of Emily is starting to happen--and that it is just July, and that Emily has been moving quickly at 15 - 20 mph over the Gulf of Mexico. Otherwise, Brownsville may well have had another Beulah.
Dr. Jeff Masters