Visible satellite image of tropical storm Ernesto at 10:40 a.m. EDT (NASA)

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

Track forecast for tropical storm Ernesto (National Hurricane Center)

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.