After days of teasing weather watchers (and the National Hurricane Center), a tropical wave in the Atlantic has formed into Tropical Storm Emily. The storm is rather disorganized and not at all “attractive” in the tropical cyclone sense, an artifact of its having had multiple competing vortices for several days that prevented its consolidation into a single system.
Because of its delay in getting organized, Emily is a threat to the United States. I am going to blog regularly about this system as long as that remains the case.
What’s the synoptic setup?
Emily is going to move mostly west, slightly WNW, along the southern end of the Bermuda High. Its strength will depend primarily on possible land interaction during this time. The National Hurricane Center forecasts an impact on the island of Hispaniola, which would weaken the system. How much remains to be seen; many a major hurricane has been reduced to a tropical storm by this island, but some systems that are much weaker have survived passage. It is terribly difficult to forecast how much effect the mountains will have on any particular storm. A lot depends on how well-organized the system is when it reaches the island (I do not mean its intensity; intensity and cyclonic organization are not the same thing), how long it stays there, and whether there are any additional destructive factors such as dry air intrusion and wind shear that are hitting the storm at the same time. It is arguable that there’s not a lot of point in making a forecast for Emily after its interaction with Hispaniola at all, because what happens to it after that will be heavily influenced by its strength at that point. I’ll discuss the various possibilities, however.
The high is going to be weakened on its left flank by a trough coming off the Atlantic coast in a couple of days. This should pull the storm to the north. How much depends on how weak Emily is and how strong the trough has managed to become. The stronger Emily is, the more northward it is expected to move, all things being equal with respect to the trough. I think that the trough will be the most important player here, though, and should be watched at least as closely as the tropical system. It is very uncommon to have a strong trough coming off the East Coast at the beginning of August, and there has been a pattern this year of the GFS (the U.S.’s long-range weather forecast model) overdoing the strength of lows in the days before they arrive. I am not inclined to buy into a strong trough unless I see it materialize, but it’s always best not to count anything out, either.
Emily is probably too far south and west to have a land-free recurvature (“fish storm”) path. It’s not impossible, but it is unlikely. It simply took too long to develop for that to be the most likely track.
What’s the model spread?
Models generally have clustered around the state of Florida as of Monday evening, with the NOGAPS (U.S. Navy model) farthest west and the GFDL farthest east. The NOGAPS is showing an implied strike on the Florida panhandle (it has Emily stalling in the Gulf and not making final landfall within a 7-day period), and the GFDL shows a “fish storm” recurvature. It is important to observe that this trend for the GFDL is relatively new; until the past 24 hours or so, that model was showing a strike on the East Coast of Florida and the HWRF model was showing a recurvature. Now that has reversed itself. In the meantime, the NOGAPS has been consistent in its Gulf track. Consistency alone is not a reason to support a model’s output, but it is generally indicative of a model’s having a better grip on the environment than one that is prone to the “windshield wiper effect.”
Is the Gulf Coast at risk?
Short answer: yes, but it’s not set in stone. As of now, I still would say that the Florida peninsula is most likely to get hit, but the Gulf is a definite possibility, especially if Emily is weakened by interaction with land and/or the trough is weak.
Several forecasts indicate that the storm will remain weak for long enough to stay south and get into the Gulf of Mexico before making the recurvature. This is not a fluke, or a one-off from some model; it has been a solution for the NOGAPS, Canadian, and UK several times over the past two days. Furthermore, models such as the HWRF have been hinting at a Florida East Coast strike at a perpendicular angle, indicating a strengthening ridge that would force Emily westward again. While these models do not go out far enough yet to indicate what would become of Emily after the Florida strike, entry into the Gulf (in a weakened state) is certainly possible in this scenario.