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Ike pounds Cuba

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 2:24 PM GMT on September 08, 2008

Cuba is taking a terrible beating from Hurricane Ike, which crashed ashore in eastern Cuba last night as a Category 3 hurricane with 120 mph winds. Ike's winds have since weakened to Category 2 strength--100 mph--but are still strong enough to destroy the Cuba's electrical system and heavily damage the cities it encounters along the heavily populated east-central portion of the country. Damage will be heavy in Camaguey, which reported sustained winds of 49 mph at 8am EDT as Ike passed 20 miles to the south. Baracoa, on the coast to the southeast of where Ike made landfall, suffered a significant storm surge, topped by high battering waves, that damaged or destroyed 1,000 buildings. Ike's winds and rains of 6-12 inches will cause additional heavy losses to Cuban agriculture, and the storm should easily rank as one of the top-five most damaging storms in Cuban history. Ike is expected to track over Havana Tuesday morning, and the city's 2.2 million people can expect significant damage to the many poorly-built structures in the capital city. It will take Cuba a long time to recover from Ike.

On Sunday, Ike dumped heavy rain on northern Haiti, triggering floods that killed at least 73 people. Haiti has been battered by Fay, Gustav, Hanna, and Ike this year, and the death toll has grown to over 300. This makes 2008 Haiti's worst hurricane season since 2004, when Hurricane Jeanne's rains triggered flooding that killed at least 2,000 people in the northern city of Gonaives. Additional rains of 3-5 inches from Ike's outermost spiral bands are likely today over Haiti.

The southeast Bahamas were also hard-hit by Ike. Media reports out of Grand Turk Island and Great Inagua Island indicate that over 90% of all buildings on those islands were damaged or destroyed by Ike's wind and storm surge.

Figure 1. Radar image of Ike at landfall in Cuba at 9 pm EDT Sun 9/07/08. At the time of landfall, Ike had two concentric eyewalls. The outer eyewall had a diameter of 55 miles, spreading out Ike's damaging winds over a large region of Cuba. Image credit: Instituto de Meteorologia de la Republica de Cuba.

Track forecast for Ike
The Florida Keys are probably off the hook. It now looks unlikely that Ike will bring hurricane force winds to the Keys. Ike continues to move due west, and the eye may pop out to the south of Cuba at times between now and Tuesday morning. It is unlikely that the eye will move far enough from the coast for significant strengthening to occur, though. Passage over Cuba has disrupted the eyewall enough that it would take at least 12 hours over water for the storm to reorganize, and Ike probably won't get that kind of time over water. Ike is expected to track west-northwest on Tuesday into the Gulf of Mexico, passing near or over Havana, Cuba. The expected track should bring tropical storm force winds of 50-70 mph to Key West and the Lower Keys on Tuesday afternoon.

The latest 06Z (2 am EDT) computer models no longer expect a turn northward towards the Florida Panhandle. As we've seen many times this hurricane season, the models were over-enthusiastic about the intensity of a trough of low pressure passing to the north. High pressure has been dominant over the eastern U.S. the past month, and the models have consistently been underpredicting the dominance of this high pressure. The current steering pattern, with high pressure entrenched over the eastern U.S., steering hurricanes into Florida and the Gulf Coast, is similar to the steering pattern of 2004 and 2005. This steering pattern has acted to steer six straight storms into the U.S., and is not expected to change significantly over the next two weeks, according to the latest long-range forecasts from the GFS model.

As Ike moves approaches within 300 miles of the Louisiana coast on Friday, there will be another trough of low pressure capable of turning the storm to the north. The GFS, GFDL, HWRF, NOGAPS, and Canadian models all predict that this trough will be strong enough to turn Ike northwards into central or western Louisiana. The UKMET and ECMWF models disagree, and think high pressure will dominate enough to force Ike westwards into Texas, between Corpus Christi and the Louisiana border. These two models have been trending too far south with Ike so far, so I would lean towards a landfall in western Louisiana at this point.

Intensity forecast for Ike
Ike will probably be a tropical storm or Category 1 hurricane on Tuesday afternoon when it emerges into the Gulf of Mexico. It will take the storm a day or two to reorganize. Wind shear is expected to be light (<10 knots) and water temperatures will be high, near 30°C, so Ike will probably intensify into a Category 3 hurricane by Thursday. Once Ike approaches the coast on Friday and Saturday, the total heat content of the ocean declines, and the shear is forecast to rise to a moderate 15-20 knots. The GFDL and HWRF models respond by weakening Ike to a Category 1 or 2 hurricane at landfall in western Louisiana. This is a reasonable forecast, but our skill in predicting intensity changes this far in advance is poor.

Links to follow:

Holguin, Cuba radar

Watching the remains of Josephine
The remains of Tropical Storm Josephine are near 19N, 45W, in the middle Atlantic Ocean, headed west towards the northern Lesser Antilles Islands. The storm still has some spin, and wind shear has fallen below 10 knots today. However, a large area of dry Saharan air surrounds the system, and Josephine currently has no heavy thunderstorm activity. Shear is expected to remain low the next four days, and Josephine will find itself in a moister environment 2-4 days from now. These conditions may allow Josephine to regenerate later this week. The NOGAPS and UKMET models predicts this may happen by Thursday, when the storm would be about 200 miles north of Puerto Rico. NHC is currently giving Josephine a low (<20%) chance of regenerating by Wednesday. These odds will probably rise during future Tropical Weather Outlooks, assuming Josephine can maintain its spin.

The tragedy in Haiti
I heard from one of the leaders of the Lambi Fund of Haiti charity yesterday. It seems she noticed a sharp increase on-line donations after I recommended their charity as a way to help out the people in Haiti. Thanks to all of you who contributed!

Figure 2. The flooded city of Gonaives after Hurricane Hanna, September 3, 2008. Image credit: Lambi Fund of Haiti.

I'll have an update this afternoon.

Jeff Masters
Area between North St & railroad tracks is flooded with 4-5 ft of water from the bay and surrounding canals

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

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