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Posted at 12:55 PM ET, 08/07/2012

Hurricane Ernesto to hit Belize and Mexico tonight

Visible satellite image of tropical storm Ernesto at 10:40 a.m. EDT (NASA)
UPDATE, 2 p.m.: The National Hurricane Center has upgraded previously tropical storm Ernesto to a Category 1 hurricane - the second of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season. Maximum sustained winds are 80 mph and the storm, 185 miles east of Chetumal, Mexico, may strengthen a bit more before landfall tonight. See public advisory for the latest storm statistics and updated watches and warnings.

From 11 a.m.: Tropical Storm Ernesto is nearing hurricane strength, and is just 220 miles from making landfall on the Yucatan peninsula. However, rainbands and the outer circulation will be reaching land very shortly.

Landfall is expected to occur near midnight tonight as a Category 1 hurricane; the center should pass very close to Chetumal, Mexico, which is right on the Mexico/Belize border.

Track of Hurricane Dean in 2007 - very similar to Ernesto this year
Ernesto’s track is remarkably similar to Hurricane Dean’s path in 2007, but Ernesto is a much weaker storm. Dean made landfall near the Mexico/Belize border on August 21 as a Category 5 monster.

Track forecast for tropical storm Ernesto (National Hurricane Center)
A hurricane warning is in effect for all of Belize, as well as the Yucatan peninsula from Chetumal to Tulum in Mexico (colored in red above). Tropical storm watches (in yellow above) and warnings (in blue above) surround the hurricane warnings.

The mountainous topography in Belize and the southern Yucatan peninsula will enhance rainfall totals, perhaps producing up to a foot in certain locations, which will in turn result in mudslides and flash flooding.

Immediately along the coast (particularly to the north of the landfall location), storm surge could reach 4 feet above normal tidal levels.

I have a long radar loop available from Belize which will help to track the center when it’s not being probed by aircraft. The hourly weather observations in Chetumal can be found here.

Also, you can monitor plots of wind speed and surface pressure from a tiny island just off the coast from Chetumal called Banco Chinchurro that should experience the full force of the storm.

Model guidance is in excellent agreement that the storm will track over the extreme southern Yucatan peninsula after landfall, enter the Bay of Campeche , then make a second landfall on mainland Mexico near Alvarado late Thursday night.

* 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.

By Brian McNoldy*  |  12:55 PM ET, 08/07/2012

Categories:  Tropical Weather, Latest

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