Residents of and visitors to the Outer Banks will be waiting a few more days before forecasters can even make a relatively solid prediction about where Tropical Storm Erika might eventually end up.
Erika continued on a path through the Caribbean islands today with winds fairly steady at 45 mph. The storm had slowed down slightly — moving at only 15 mph — and seemed to be heading on a more west-northwest track by late this afternoon.
However, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center and on television and blogs continue to be perplexed by the storm’s future. The Hurricane Center earlier today called the five-day forecast tracks for the storm’s center “unusually” uncertain. And various models continue to diverge a good deal on whether Erika will fizzle, track into Florida, or turn to the north and threaten the Carolinas.
According to the forecasts, Erika will continue on its path as a struggling tropical storm and will continue to have issues with wind shear, dry air, and interaction with land for at least the next 48 hours — until late Saturday. At that point, it will be approaching the Bahamas.
If the storm makes it that far, the Hurricane Center is calling for intensification and a turn to the north-northwest, and the official NHC five-day forecast has the center of the storm just off the coast of northern Florida by Tuesday afternoon.
“Because of the marginal upper-level wind environment and potential interaction with land over the next few days,” the Hurricane Center said in its 5 p.m. update, “there is unusually high uncertainty in the forecast intensity, especially at days 3 to 5.”
This morning, Dr. Jeff Masters, in his popular blog on Weather Underground, said it this way:
“I give a 20% chance that Erika will end up being a landfalling hurricane for the U.S. East Coast, a 20% chance the storm will dissipate by Saturday, a 30% chance the storm will be too weak and disorganized to have time to organize into a hurricane before hitting the U.S. East Coast, and a 30% chance that Erika will miss the U.S. East Coast entirely.”
Many of us on Hatteras islanders give credence to our friend Frank Rosenstein, a Maryland resident who owns a home in Hatteras village and retired just a few years ago from his career as a NOAA forecaster. Rosenstein has been known to be “spot-on” with his early tropical system forecasts for our area, and he really nailed two of our most recent and devastating hurricanes — Isabel in 2003 and Irene in 2011.
Rosenstein weighed in this morning in an e-mail to many of his friends and followers on Hatteras, and he also sees “a good deal of uncertainty in the usually reliable models.”
“Erika should stay a tropical storm under all the shear its encountering until it reaches the Florida coast,” Rosenstein said. “At this time it will encounter less mid-level shear and be more affected by the mid-level trof forecast to be over the Gulf states and ridging to the north. This should pull Erika to the north along the north Florida/Georgia coast Tuesday to Wednesday, where it should be a Category 1 hurricane.”
At that point, he thinks the storm will do one of three things:
Make landfall from the central South Carolina to Hatteras. “A broad area at this time, and if I had to give a better guess, I would pick the Cape Lookout region.”
Run along the coast all the way past Cape Hatteras as per the August 1885 Category 2 hurricane.
Slowly drift eastward off the South Carolina/North Carolina coast as per a number of GFS ensembles and 06z GFS. No landfall but days of heavy swell.
Masters picks up on that last note in his morning blog when he wrote, “To further complicate matters, steering currents may collapse next week, allowing Erika to wander offshore the Southeast U.S. coast for many days.”
That final solution — “hurry up and wait” — is one that really drives Hatteras and Ocracoke residents to distraction.
We should have a better idea of what kind of weather next week will bring to the Outer Banks by late Saturday. Meanwhile, plan ahead and keep checking the Hurricane Center forecasts at http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/.
Erika becomes fifth tropical storm of the season
Erika still a tropical storm, heading quickly west