Tropical Storm Erika approaching the Leeward Islands; Tropical storm warnings Issued in Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands; Potential threat to Bahamas, Florida
- 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.
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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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.
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.
Check back with The Weather Channel and weather.com for the latest updates on Erika.