Gustav will be "large, powerful" hurricane
Tropical Storm Gustav is expected to grow and intensify rapidly today as it pulls away from the island of Jamaica and heads for the Gulf of Mexico. Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center say they're not sure yet precisely where the storm will make landfall early next week. But they warn that Gustav "is expected to be a large, powerful hurricane as it approaches the northern Gulf Coast."
And as if we needed to be worrying about other storms, the NHC is also watching tropical storm Hanna as it struggles to get itself better organized and aims for the Bahamas. Here's the latest advisory on Hanna. Here's the forecast track. And here's how she looks from orbit.
And, far to the east, off the African coast, another strong tropical wave is showing signs of rapid organization and could become the next named storm of the increasingly active 2008 Atlantic season. If so, it would be named Ike. Here's a look out there. (The storm is the one closest to the African coast.)
Gustav, of course, is the biggest and the most immediate worry. The storm is now centered about 100 miles west-northwest of Kingston Jamaica. Its top sustained winds are around 65 mph, and the clouds are dropping 6 to 12 inches of rain on Jamaica and the Caymans today. They can expect life-threatening flash floods and mudslides, forecasters warned.
The storm is expected to pass over or near the Cayman Islands later today or tonight, and strengthen over the very warm water in that part of the Caribbean. By the time it reaches the western end of Cuba this weekend, Gustav is likely to have reached hurricane strength again.
Here's the forecast storm track. Forecasters are wrestling with a very complicated problem in predicting Gustav's path across the Gulf and onto the U.S. landmass. High pressure over Florida is has been steering the storm to the west, but that's expected to weaken, allowing the storm to curve more to the northwest and into the Gulf.
But then there is low pressure over the southeastern U.S. Some models suggest that low could draw the storm more to the north. But there's also some analysis that suggests a high over Ohio (!) could have enough influence on the situatioin to steer the storm farther west. Go figure. With so many uncertainties about Gustav's speed and the timing of the whole dance, the thing remains something of a guessing game.
In the meantime, there's also a great deal of concern about Gustav's intensity. Still only a tropical storm, Mr. G is moving past the weakening influence of Jamaica's land mass and over some very warm water. That energy is going to fire Gustav up to hurricane strength, probably tonight.
But the big issue is what will happen after that. National Hurricane Center forecasters say the wind shear - cross-winds at high altitudes that can stall a hurricane's intensification - appears light where Gustav is going for now. That "could produce a strong hurricane very quickly," the forecast discussion said this morning. But there's more shear in the central Gulf. Here's more:
"The official forecast will show rapid intensification before it reaches western Cuba and could be conservative, as some models show Category 4 strength (top sustained winds of 131- 155 mph) at that time ... Although the forecast shows some weakening due to the shear, Gustav is expected to be a large powerful hurricane as it approaches the northern Gulf Coast."
Out in the Atlantic, TS Hanna has been having more difficulty getting her act together. Forecasters say the storm's center is now about 250 miles north-northeast of the northern Leeward Islands, including the U.S. Virgin Islands. She is tracking to the northwest at 14 mph.
Here's the latest advisory for Hanna.
But the Hurricane Center says their models suggest shifting conditions could allow the storm to intensify in the next day or two. She could be a hurricane by Saturday night or Sunday. The ace in the hole, as far as the East Coast of the U.S. is concerned, may be a developing ridge of high pressure over the eastern part of the country that could block Hanna's trek toward our shores. Wouldn't that be a relief?
Unfortunately, forecasters say that turn could threaten the islands. They have warned interests in the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas to pay attention to Hanna.
The forecast track shows her curving around to the southwest early next week - what forecasters are calling "a rare but not unique track" for such storms. That could bring Hanna toward the Bahamas by the middle of next week. After that, it's anybody's guess.