The storm could be as strong as a Category 2 or 3 hurricane when it approaches Florida from Tuesday to Wednesday, although forecasts of intensity are uncertain.
As early as Tuesday, tropical storm conditions could begin over the Florida Keys and southern Florida.
The Hurricane Center wrote Friday that the storm has the potential to produce “significant effects from storm surge, hurricane-force winds, and torrential rain.” “Residents should … make sure they have their hurricane plan in place and closely monitor forecast updates over the weekend.”
Storm could be called Hermine or Ian, depending on whether this depression or another depression, right in West Africa, will regularize first.
It seems likely that this system will become the first hurricane to hit the mainland United States this year, and the hours could be by the end of the weekend for parts of Florida and the Florida Keys.
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Right now, the storm is still about 72 hours away from its first landing in Cuba. Before the storm approaches, National Weather Service offices in the central and eastern United States launch additional weather balloons to pull in additional data to improve the forecast.
On Friday morning, the depression was 500 miles east of Jamaica. Winds were about 35 mph, or less than the 39 mph threshold needed for the system to earn a name as a tropical storm.
An Air Force Reserve reconnaissance plane from Hurricane Hunter was sent Friday morning to fly into and investigate the nascent system.
On the visible satellite, it is clear that all the storms have been displaced to the west from a low-level vortex that has become the de facto center of the system’s circulation. This is due to wind shear, or a change in wind speed and/or direction with altitude. East winds get stronger with altitude, so the system tilts somewhat.
This shear is caused by the “flow,” or exhaust, from Hurricane Fiona a few thousand miles to the northeast. Until this cut rests on Sunday, the tropical depression will be swinging too far behind and unable to fully develop. After that, conditions will become more favorable for condensation.
Here’s what the waves on top of Hurricane Fiona looked like, from the top of a 50-foot wave
On Sunday, the shear affecting the tropical depression will be significantly weakened. At the same time, the system will slide under the high pressure area which rotates clockwise high. This will help evacuate air away from the center of the system in higher situations, promoting upward movement within the developing storm and promoting additional reinforcement. This also means that more moisture-rich air on contact with the sea surface will be able to enter the storm from below.
The waters of the northwest Caribbean are very warm and full of thermal energy to fuel the potentially explosive boost. This could easily help the system intensify it to a Category 2 or stronger hurricane before it hits Cuba. At present, the National Hurricane Center expects to make landfall early Tuesday west of Havana.
Before it reaches Cuba, the storm is expected to pass south and then west from Jamaica, where four to eight inches of rain may fall and cause floods and mudslides.
As the storm crosses Cuba on Tuesday, some weakening is likely before the storm veers northeast over the warm waters of the eastern Gulf of Mexico, where it should regain some strength.
While the bay is very warm, some dry air and potential winds in the vicinity of the storm could limit the storm’s intensification. However, the hurricane center expects the storm to be a Category 3 storm Wednesday morning while centered near Florida’s west coast.
It’s too early to say exactly where the storm might hit along the Florida coast. We still have five days to go, and tracking forecasts much earlier contains major errors. There is still an outward chance that the storm’s path will shift westward, toward the Central Bay, toward the southern tip of Florida or even offshore to the east of the peninsula.
After the storm hits Florida, it can then move to the East Coast or offshore, affecting coastal areas in the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and even the Northeast later in the week. But there is much less confidence in the outlook after Wednesday.