The once-feeble tropical storm Ernesto is now an ominous and rapidly-intensifying storm heading for Honduras and Belize, likely as a hurricane.
As of 11 a.m. EDT, Ernesto had maximum sustained winds of 65mph, and the minimum central pressure was 29.35” (994 mb) according to the National Hurricane Center. Positioned 190 miles east northeast of the Nicarague/Honduras Border, the storm is moving west northwest at 9 mph. It is strengthening very quickly now, and has a 7-mile-wide eye reported by reconnaissance aircraft.
The government of Belize has issued a hurricane watch for its entire coast (pink area map below), and a hurricane warning (red area map below) is in effect for the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula from Chetumal to Punta Allen in Mexico.
Tropical storm warnings and watches are in place to the north and southwest of the hurricane watches and warnings (see the map below: orange-watch and blue-warning areas)
After more than a week of fighting against dry air, Ernesto has finally made it into the western Caribbean Sea, where the large-scale environment is presently much more conducive for tropical storms and hurricanes.
Since Sunday night, the vertical shear (difference between winds at low-levels and upper-levels) has decreased substantially, and the forward speed has slowed to 9 mph.
The image below shows a microwave satellite image of Ernesto from 7 a.m. EDT today. The grayscale background is a traditional infrared satellite image, but the colors overlaid indicate strong thunderstorm activity. Of particular note are the spiral rainbands and the circular arc feature (nascent eyewall) in the middle: both suggest a well-organized storm.
The storm is forecast to skim the northern coast of Honduras over the next couple of days before it makes landfall on Belize, likely as a hurricane early on Wednesday. NHC projects the storm will have maximum winds of 90 mph at that time.
You will be able to monitor the storm from a long-range radar loop available on my website.
After crossing the southern Yucatan Peninsula and weakening, the forecast is for a continued westward track into the Bay of Campeche.
* Brian McNoldy is a senior tropical weather researcher at the University of Miami/Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. He is serving as a guest tropical weather blogger for the Capital Weather Gang.