Tropical Storm Erika formed late Monday night, and is predicted to track through the northern Caribbean as we move through the week.
It will take on a similar track to Hurricane Danny, but will remain just to the north of Danny’s track, and will bring even more rainfall to the northern Lesser Antilles to Hispaniola.
This system will more than likely be steered to the west by a large swath of high pressure in the Atlantic during the majority of this week. This high pressure is predicted to guide Erika on a west-northwest course until we reach Thursday. Erika is currently stationed about 335 miles east of Antigua, and will make its way into the Leeward Islands on Wednesday night before hitting the area with rough surf, heavy rainfall, and gusty winds on Thursday.
This system has been thriving in an environment with low wind shear, tropical moisture, and warm water. These are the exact conditions that are conducive to strengthening the system exponentially.
Wind shear is categorized as strong winds near the surface of the ocean that blow aloft in different directions. In areas of strong wind shear, tropical systems can be completely destroyed. A tropical storm will continue to strengthen in areas of weak wind shear.
Hurricane Danny was thriving last week in a zone of low wind shear; but once it continued moving into the Leeward Islands, the wind shear kicked up and the system weakened quickly which downgraded it to a tropical depression.
Erika is a larger system compared to Danny, and will more than likely intensity at a slower rate than Danny did.
That system strengthened into a Category 3 hurricane when it was located over the open Atlantic, and was the first major hurricane in the Atlantic this season. When it moved into an area of stronger wind shear, it became disorganized and ultimately dissipated upon moving into the Lesser Antilles.
It is hard to say exactly what track Erika will take, as it depends on many different factors: the strength, the interaction with the Caribbean Islands upon landfall, the location of the dome of high pressure, and the aforementioned wind shear.
If Erika begins to weaken, it will more than likely take more of a westward path similar to Danny and will collide with a strong area of wind shear. It would also impact more of the Caribbean Islands, and that is where the potential is for Erika to become disorganized due to the mountainous terrain.
A track into northern islands of the Caribbean would be ideal, since those islands are dealing with extreme drought and the rainfall is much needed. Danny only produced about one inch at most, and the heaviest rain occurred at Canfield Airport on the west coast of the island of Dominica with only 2 inches of rain.
The eastern half of Puerto Rico is undergoing severe drought, and water rationing programs are in effect in the eastern region of the island. If Erika does in fact head to the north of the Leeward Islands, then it may survive and possibly strengthen again. If this does occur, the steering winds to the north of the Caribbean Islands will allow the system to move into the Bahamas and even Florida.
Erika is expected to move through the northern Caribbean as a tropical storm. But, if it is able to head farther north, it may become stronger. This is not the most likely scenario as of yet though. The exact path this weekend into next is still uncertain.
There is a large area of higher pressure that is present over the central Plains, and it is bringing some cooler drier air to the Midwest and Northeast this week. It is expected to move into the western Atlantic Ocean later on this week and into the weekend.
If this high stays where it’s at over this weekend and into next week, then it could steer Erika into Florida or even the eastern Gulf of Mexico. But, this track is fully dependent on the strength of Erika. A stronger system could bring it into Florida, while a weaker system could move it into the Gulf of Mexico.
Anybody monitoring the northeastern Caribbean, Bahamas, Florida, and the Southeast United States should closely monitor the progress of this system. Even though this has been a quiet first half of the hurricane season as far as Atlantic activity goes, the peak of tropical activity is usually late August through September.
This is the time of the hurricane season where the water temperatures are at their warmest; this gives the disturbances moving across the Atlantic Ocean from Africa the best possible chance for development.
There is also a tropical wave near the Cape Verde Islands that should be monitored, but at this point, any type of development is unlikely.