Tropical Storm Erika drenched and damaged parts of the Leeward Islands Thursday with Puerto Rico and Hispanola in its sights for Friday. Unlike its predecessor Danny, which barely brought much rain to the Caribbean earlier this week, Erika may make more of an impact.
Already four lives were lost in Dominica as torrential rain sparked mudslides and several homes and buildings were damaged. Even though the storm only has 45 mph winds, weak construction often leads to quicken ruin.
The latest track from the National Hurricane Center has Erika becoming a Category 1 hurricane threatening the Florida peninsula early next week:
Danny was no match for a strong shear zone as it approached the eastern Caribbean. That storm was torn apart by the stronger winds aloft. Erika is moving into a somewhat weaker shear zone, which should slow its growth. However, it will still likely bring some substantial rains to drought-stricken Puerto Rico.
Once Erika crosses Hispanola, things get more interesting as there is less shear and water temperatures are extremely warm. Take a look at the pool of water warmer than 30° C (85° F) degrees in the Bahamas, eastern Gulf and around Florida's Atlantic coast:
As Erika emerges from Haiti and the Dominican Republic this weekend, it could experience explosive growth as it moves over that water. The majority of computer models have the storm heading toward Florida with only a few keeping it away from the U.S. and a handful nudging it into the Gulf:
One of the challenges for this storm is that once it moves toward the Bahamas, there isn't much in the way of upper-level winds to steer it. Based on the so-called spaghetti plots of the various computer models, Erika could linger off the Georgia and South Carolina coasts for several days.
It's not quite deja vu as the 10 year anniversary of Katrina's landfall approaches this weekend, but it doesn't help allay fears. If indeed Erika does become a hurricane and strikes Florida, it would be the first time in ten years that the Sunshine State has been hit by a hurricane. The last one was Wilma in 2005.
As with all storms, this one needs to be monitored as it continues to move and develop and forecasts change (and they will). As I am fond of saying - stay tuned...and be prepared.