I’m feeling guilty tonight, relieved but guilty. If you’ve been watching the weather, you know the forecast has Ernesto tracking further east, getting ready to smack Cuba, weaken, emerge in the Florida Staits and then strafe the west coast of the Sunshine State. I’m relieved that we seem to have dodged this particular wet and windy bullet. I’m relieved that the central Gulf Coast, all those people still reeling from Katrina, are probably going to be spared. I’m not too thrilled that all the storm models seem to have converged on my brother’s backyard (he lives on upper Tampa Bay; most of my family’s in that area), but we all know the risks of ”living in paradise.” Like us when it’s our turn, he’ll probably not be sleeping too well the next few nights. Here’s what the weather guys are saying:
At 9PM CDT, Tropical Storm Ernesto was about 600 miles southeast of Miami, FL. Maximum sustained winds are near 50 mph, mainly in squalls northeast of the center. Movement is to the northwest at 7-8 mph. Ernesto is just holding on after interacting with the mountainous terrain of Haiti through the day today. But thunderstorms are redeveloping close to Ernesto’s center, and it is quite possible that Ernesto will strengthen again before reaching southern Cuba tomorrow morning. Once over Cuba, Ernesto should steadily weaken until it moves off the northern coast on Tuesday morning. Thereafter, a cold front approaching the southeast U.S. should begin to steer Ernesto to the north-northwest and north, parallel to the western Florida Peninsula. Our forecast takes Ernesto inland near Tampa late Wednesday afternoon then off the northeast coast of Florida near Jacksonville Thursday afternoon. Our confidence in the forecast track is average to below average. The slow movement today and erratic nature of Ernesto makes for a difficult forecast.
As for intensity, we think Ernesto will increase to just below hurricane strength before it moves ashore into Cuba. We expect significant weakening as the center remains inland for 24 hours or more. It’s possible that Ernesto could weaken to a minimal tropical storm as it emerges into the Florida Straits on Tuesday. How strong Ernesto gets before reaching the Florida coast will depend on how close the center of Ernesto tracks off the west coast of Florida.