Ernesto, after having an exposed surface center yesterday, is now rapidly intensifying as the recon plane currently in the storm has found that the center has jumped northeastward into an area of deep thunderstorms, and the pressure has fallen to 994mb. The plane has also found a closed eye, very small, with a diameter of only 8 nautical miles. Flight-level winds of 77kt and an uncontaminated SFMR surface wind report of 62kt puts Ernesto at barely below hurricane strength, and another 3-4mb pressure drop will likely make this a hurricane. The jump in Ernesto’s position will be significant for the short-term track and exact landfall point along the Yucatan in about 36 hours. With a small core like Ernesto has, a 50-mile change in landfall location can shift the entire area of maximum winds away from one location and on top of another. For Honduras this shift is good news since Ernesto will be farther off their coastline, and the southern side of the storm is the weakest side, making hurricane conditions unlikely there.
This significant strengthening was warned about in this dangerously conducive pattern in the western Caribbean, and Ernesto now seems to be taking full advantage of it. There was some doubt yesterday due to the unknowns of how fast Ernesto would reorganize, but this will now likely be a hurricane landfall for the Yucatan, possibly stronger than a Cat 1 if current trends continue. Regardless of first landfall intensity, Ernesto will be knocked down significantly by a full crossing of the Yucatan, but still may restrengthen significantly in the Bay of Campeche if it is far enough north to get quality time over the water. It is not outside the realm of possibility for Ernesto to regain hurricane status for a second landfall in Mexico depending on the exact track.
The long-term track since yesterday has shifted south yet again, farther south than expected, now well south of Tampico as the models have become tightly clustered around Veracruz, Mexico. The forecast philosophy overall has not changed. Height falls are now being observed over the SE US as the weakness in the ridge begins to become a little bit more pronounced, but not strong enough to bring Ernesto very far north. However, latitude gains are likely before first landfall in the Yucatan, followed by a turn back to the west as the storm is caught south of the big Texas ridge. Ernesto’s chances of affecting anyone north of Tampico, Mexico are now quite small given the tight and confident clustering of the models as we get closer to the end of Ernesto’s journey.
Right now though, the Yucatan portion of Mexico and Belize are getting hit first in the next 36 hours or so, likely by a hurricane, and hopefully nobody took their eyes off of this storm that fell apart but is now roaring back.
We shall see what happens!
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