Tropical Atlantic waking up: two potential storm threats

August 14, 2013

After a two-week break, there are a couple areas of interest brewing across the tropics: one in the western Caribbean and one in the far eastern Atlantic.

Caribbean disturbance, headed for Gulf of Mexico

The first area, and of much more immediate concern, is a disturbance centered about 400 miles southeast of Cozumel, Mexico.  It is slowly getting better organized, and heading towards the Yucatan peninsula.  Environmental conditions are quite favorable to allow this to develop further, and a reconnaissance plane is scheduled to fly into it tomorrow to more accurately assess its position and intensity.

Early morning visible satellite image of the western Caribbean Sea. The current position is marked with a red L, and the general track possibilities are shown with purple arrows. (NASA)
Early morning visible satellite image of the western Caribbean Sea. The current position is marked with a red L, and the general track possibilities are shown with purple arrows. (NASA)

In the near term, it’s expected to cross the Yucatan peninsula on Thursday, then beyond that, the track depends on just how much it strengthens.

If it remains weak, a more west-northwest track into northern Mexico would be likely, while a stronger storm would respond to different steering currents and turn more towards the north… such as eastern Texas, Louisiana, or over to the Florida panhandle.  Models vary greatly in their timing of this sytem, but a landfall scenario on the northern Gulf coast would be timed around the Saturday-Sunday timeframe.


Various model tracks for the disturbance in the western Caribbean. None of these are official NHC forecasts, but serve to show the likely range of possibilities.

For now, the only thing that’s certain is that heavy rain will spread across western Cuba, the Yucatan peninsula, Belize, and Guatemala.  I will be watching it very closely for any development and new guidance.  Of course, interests along the northern Gulf coast should also monitor this closely.  And it’s not out of the question some moisture from this system streams up the East Coast.

Far eastern Atlantic disturbance

The second area of interest is an easterly wave near the coast of Africa.  The wave was generated over the Ethiopian Highlands back on August 9, then traveled across the continent for about 5 days, and is now located just southeast of the Cape Verde islands.  It is developing rather quickly, and could become a depression or storm by the end of the week.


Enhanced satellite image of the disturbance near the African coast. Low clouds show up as yellow, while high clouds show up as white. (NOAA)

However, by Saturday, the sea surface temperature under the disturbance will decrease, the vertical wind shear will increase, and the low-to-mid level humidity will decrease… all ingredients that could combine to snuff out the storm in its formative stages (remember Dorian?).  Assuming that it hangs on though, we can expect a general W-WNW trajectory, which would place it near or north of the Lesser Antilles next Thursday.  There is plenty of time to wait and see what this wave does.

The next two names on this year’s list are Erin and Fernand.  Erin is still one of the original names from the modern lists (first used in 1983), while Fernand is a new name this year to replace Felix (retired in 2007).

* Brian McNoldy is a senior researcher at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.

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Jason Samenow · August 14, 2013