Irma Slams Barbuda and the Virgin Islands, What Will Jose and Katia Do?

While Hurricane Irma is rightfully grabbing all the attention, there are two other tropical storms that could be threats to land in the coming days.

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Visible satellite loop of Hurricane Irma early Wednesday afternoon. Loop provided by the College of DuPage.

 

After moving across Barbuda, St. Barts, and St. Martin overnight, the eye of Hurricane Irma was moving across the British Virgin Islands  Wednesday afternoon. When Irma moved across Barbuda last night it produced sustained winds of 118 mph with a gust to 155 mph, before the anemometer failed at an automated observing station. Sustained winds of 106 mph with a gust to 131 mph were reported at Buck Island in the US Virgin Islands this afternoon, while a wind gust to 113 mph was also reported in Estate Bovoni on St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. Irma should continue moving west-northwestward today and tonight, with the eye passing just north of St. John and St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. While this places these islands in the southern eyewall, believe it or not, things could actually be worse. The strongest winds in the storm have been observed in the northern eyewall, which will remain over open water. Maximum sustained winds in this part of the storm are estimated to be near 185 mph, making Irma one of the strongest storms ever in the Atlantic Basin. In fact, if you exclude the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. it is the highest winds in any hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean. Likewise, reconnaissance aircraft measured a pressure of 914 millibars in Irma’s center early Wednesday morning. Excluding the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea again, this is the lowest pressure measured in a tropical system in the Atlantic Ocean. The old record was 915 millibars in Hurricane Isabel in 2003. The record low for the Atlantic Basin is 882 millibars set during Hurricane Wilma in 2005 in the northwestern Caribbean Sea.

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The most intense hurricanes in the Atlantic Basin, ranked by maximum sustained winds. Image provided by the National Weather Service office in Mt. Holly, NJ.

 

Irma’s southern eyewall will likely move across northern Puerto Rico, possibly including the San Juan area. Hurricane strength winds were already moving into Culebra early Wednesday afternoon, with sustained winds to 73 mph and gusts as high as 96 mph reported. In addition to the wind, heavy rain is expected across the Virgin Islands and northern Puerto Rico. Rainfall totals of 5-10 inches with locally heavier amounts, will likely produce flooding in some areas. Lesser rainfall totals are expected across St. Croix as well as southern Puerto Rico.

Once Irma moves away from Puerto Rico, the obvious question becomes “Where will it go next?” Hurricane Warnings are in effect for the northern coast of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, as the storm will likely pass just north of those nations, but close enough to bring hurricane conditions to coastal locations. Hurricane Warnings are also in effect for the Southeastern Bahamas, as well as the Turks and Caicos Islands. Right now, Irma is expected to pass right across some of these islands as a Category 4 or 5 hurricane later Thursday into Friday. Beyond that, there is still a lot of uncertainty.

Hurricane Watches have been posted for eastern Cuba as well as the Central Bahamas. Irma could be impacting either location by later on Friday. For the past few days, many of the forecast models showed the potential for Irma to head west-northwestward, possibly impacting or even making landfall in northern Cuba before making a sharp right turn and heading towards southern Florida. However, since last night, many of these models have started to shift a bit, now showing that turn coming earlier, with Irma possibly making landfall in south Florida this weekend, or possibly turning even earlier, and heading northward towards the coast of Georgia or the Carolinas. Even places farther up the coast might not be out of the woods yet either. At this point, it’s still too early to tell which scenario will be more plausible. Anyone with interests from North Carolina to Florida and the Bahamas should pay very close attention to Irma, and be prepared to take action on short notice.

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Model forecasts for the track of Tropical Storm Jose. Could the Leeward Islands really get hit again a few days later? Image provided by the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Jose is nearing hurricane strength in the Central Atlantic Ocean. As of midday Wednesday, Jose was centered about 1135 miles east of the Lesser Antilles, moving towards the west-northwest at 17 mph. Maximum sustained winds are near 70 mph, and Jose will likely strengthen into a hurricane later today. Jose is expected to turn more towards the northwest while strengthening over the next few days. While the storm is currently expected to pass north and east of the Leeward Islands, it wouldn’t take much of a shift in the track to bring the storm closer to areas that got hammered by Irma last night. That’s just what they need, right? Start the cleanup from one of the worst storms in history, then have another hurricane come by 4 days later? Look at the bright side – there wouldn’t be much left to damage.

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Rainfall forecast for the next 5 days from the GFS model. At least the heavy rainfall is staying out of Texas for the most part. Image provided by WeatherBell.

We also have Tropical Storm Katia in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico. At midday Wednesday, Katia was centered about 175 miles north of Veracruz, Mexico, drifting east-southeastward at 5 mph. Katia has maximum sustained winds near 45 mph, and additional strengthening is expected. Katia should start to drift more towards the south and southwest while strengthening over the next day or two. Katia could become a hurricane before making landfall in Mexico towards the end of the week. Katia may produce heavy rain across parts of Mexico, with rainfall totals of 10 to 20 inches possible leading to flooding and mudslides across the area.  Luckily, these rains will stay well south of the areas that Harvey flooded out a few weeks ago.

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