Ernesto strengthens, nears Carolinas

Tropical Storm Ernesto is strengthening. As of 2:00 PM, it’s at 70 mph — just shy of the requisite 74 mph to become a hurricane — and Hurricane Watches are up for the Carolina coasts. Alan Sullivan thinks it will be a hurricane. The NHC isn’t officially forecasting that, but acknowledged the possibility in the 11:00 AM discussion:

THE OFFICIAL FORECAST BRINGS ERNESTO TO 60 KNOTS [70 MPH] AT LANDFALL IN AGREEMENT WITH GUIDANCE. SINCE NEITHER I NOR THE MODELS ARE GOOD ENOUGH TO PRECISELY KNOW IF ERNESTO WILL HAVE AN INTENSITY OF 64 KNOTS [74 MPH] AT LANDFALL…WHICH IS THE BORDER BETWEEN HURRICANE AND TROPICAL STORM INTENSITY AND 4 KNOTS ABOVE THE FORECAST…A HURRICANE WATCH HAS BEEN ISSUED FOR A PORTION OF THE COAST.

Dr. Jeff Masters has more.

Incidentally, I may have a liveblogger reporting later this evening, via audioblog and/or cell-phone photo posts, from just south of Myrtle Beach, very close to the expected landfall point… but no promises about that yet. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, check out the current images from the long-range Charleston and Wilmington radars. That’s the same storm, but it looks a lot more impressive on the Charleston radar, doesn’t it? This is a great example of how radar images of the far side of a tropical system tend to make it look weaker than it really is. The Charleston radar is piercing the side of the storm and seeing a strong left back quadrant. The Wilmington radar has to cut through the bulk of the storm to see that, and thus, isn’t picking it up very well. At least, that’s what appears to be happening; if someone has a different explanation, by all means offer it. I’m not a radar expert, but I’ve definitely seen this pattern before.

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