Tropical Storm Erika approaching the Leeward Islands; Tropical storm warnings Issued in Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands; Potential threat to Bahamas, Florida

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Tropical Storm Erika Moves Toward Florida


By Weather.com

Highlights

  • Tropical Storm Erika is currently about 285 miles east of Antigua.
  • Tropical storm warnings have been expanded as far west as Puerto Rico, including the Virgin Islands and most of the northern Leeward Islands.
  • Erika is expected to remain a tropical storm with little change in strength the next few days as it moves quickly to the west-northwest.
  • The northern Leeward Islands may feel tropical storm-force winds by late Wednesday night.
  • Erika will then bring more rain to drought-suffering Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and tropical storm-force winds Thursday and Thursday night.
  • Erika's future track and intensity beyond Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands remains uncertain, and may involve a track near the Bahamas this weekend and possibly parts of the Florida peninsula early next week.

Tropical Storm Erika is currently centered just under 300 miles east of the Lesser Antilles and is moving quickly westward at 17 mph.

(MORE: Heart of the Hurricane Season is Here)

For the next couple of days, Erika will be moving into an environment with vertical wind shear and dry air, both general inhibitors for tropical cyclone intensification.

Erika may face somewhat lower values of wind shear and dry air than did the former Hurricane Danny, but these negative factors, plus a potential future track over land in the Caribbean complicate both the intensity and track forecasts.

Due to Erika's fast movement, it's already forecast to arrive in the northern Leeward islands tonight into early Thursday with potential tropical storm-force winds and heavy rain, prompting tropical storm warnings to be issued for the northern Leeward Islands.

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Tropical Storm Erika approaching the Leeward Islands; Tropical storm warnings Issued in Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands; Potential threat to Bahamas, Florida
AT SEA - OCTOBER 28: In this handout satellite image provided by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Hurricane Sandy, pictured at 00:15 UTC, churns off the east coast on October 28, 2012 in the Atlantic Ocean. Sandy which has already claimed over 50 lives in the Caribbean is predicted to bring heavy winds and floodwaters to the mid-atlantic region. (Photo by NASA via Getty Images)

Hurricane Sandy at night, from space

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Hurricane Irene as Seen from Space

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IN SPACE - SEPTEMBER 11: In this handout satellite image provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), hurricane Humberto (R) forms as a category one on September 11, 2013 in the far eastern Atlantic Ocean. Humberto is the first hurricane of the 2013 season. (Photo by NOAA/NASA GOES Project via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 3: In this handout provided by the NASA, Hurricane Arthur is seen from the International Space Staion as it moves up the U.S. East Coast on July 3, 2014. According to reports, Arthur will continue to strengthen and will reach a category two in strength prior to landfall as early as the evening on July 3. (Photo by NASA via Getty Images)
CARIBBEAN SEA - AUGUST 24: In this handout MODIS satellite image provided by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Hurricane Irene (top center) churns over the Bahamas on August 24, 2011 in the Caribbean Sea. Irene, now a Category 3 storm with winds of 120 miles per hour, is projected to possibly clip the Outer Banks region of North Carolina before moving up the eastern seaboard of the U.S. (Photo by NASA via Getty Images)

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IN SPACE - SEPTEMBER 10: In this handout image provided by NASA, Hurricane Ike is seen on September 10, 2008 from aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The center of the hurricane was near 23.8 degrees north latitude and 85.3 degrees west longitude, moving 300 degrees at 7 nautical miles per hour. The sustained winds were 80 nautical miles per hour with gusts to 100 nautical miles per hour and forecast to intensify, according to NASA. The eye of the hurricane is expected to make landfall at Galveston Island early Saturday (13 September 2008) morning. (Photo by NASA via Getty Images)

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UNITED STATES - JANUARY 17: This photo of Hurricane Frances was taken by NASA ISS Science Officer and Flight Engineer Mike Fincke aboard the International Space Station as he flew 230 miles above the storm at about 10 am EDT Friday, 27 August 2004. At the time, Frances was about 820 miles east of the Lesser Antilles in the Atlantic Ocean, moving west-northwest at 10 miles an hour, with maximum sustained winds of 105 miles an hour. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)

Hurricane Dean photographed from Shuttle Endeavour [1680x1050]

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Hurricane Danielle (NASA, International Space Station Science, 08/27/10) [Explored]

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This will be the second time in less than three days a tropical storm will slide into the Leeward Islands, after Tropical Storm Danny did so earlier this week.

(MORE: Hurricane Danny Recap)

Erika is then forecast to spread rain and wind into drought-suffering areas, such as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands Thursday into Thursday night, with some rainbands potentially moving in as soon as Thursday morning.

In general, a swath of 3-5 inches of rain is possible over Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, with locally higher amounts, through Friday afternoon. Despite the long-term drought, this amount of rain, particularly if falling in a short period of time, may trigger flash flooding and mud/rockslides.

An Uncertain Future: Bahamas, U.S. Threat?

Beyond that, the forecast has a large amount of uncertainty, due to a potential track over land in the Caribbean, interaction with the aforementioned wind shear and dry air, as well as the nature of the upper-level steering flow near the eastern U.S. next week.

First up, Erika needs to survive the hostile environment over the eastern Caribbean the next few days. There is a chance Erika may not survive it, degenerating into a tropical wave like its predecessor, Danny.

Assuming it survives, the steering pattern and a more conducive environment for strengthening are more troubling for the Bahamas and Florida.

The current sharp southward dip in the jet stream in the East responsible for the cool, dry air in the Midwest and Northeast will be replaced by a northward-migrating jet into eastern Canada and northern New England. Any leftover remnant of that previous southward dip will be much weaker and farther west.

Coupled with the Bermuda high setting up southwest of Bermuda, an alley appears to be clearing for Erika -- assuming it survives -- to track toward or near the Florida peninsula early next week.

Furthermore, an environment of less wind shear and warm water may allow Erika to strengthen near the Bahamas later this weekend.

For now, potential impacts in the Bahamas from Erika are focusing on Saturday and Sunday, while those in Florida suggest Sunday night into Monday.

(FORECAST: Miami | Nassau, Bahamas)

Keep in mind we're still 4-5 days out before a potential Erika flirtation with the Sunshine State. The average forecast track error of a National Hurricane Center five-day forecast is about 241 statute miles. Intensity forecasts can also prove challenging, as was the case recently with Danny.

Erika also has the potential to temporarily stall or move very slowly somewhere near the Florida peninsula next week. Depending on the exact path, this has the potential to bring excessive rainfall and flooding to parts of the Sunshine State, and perhaps other locations in the Southeast. Indeed, this could prove too much of a good thing for the south Florida drought.

All interests in Hispanola, The Bahamas, Cuba, Florida and the southeast United States should continue to monitor the progress of Erika.

(MORE: Expert Analysis | Hurricane Central)

Check back with The Weather Channel and weather.com for the latest updates on Erika.

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