Southern US, Keep an Eye on the Tropical Atlantic
By By Kristina Pydynowski, Senior Meteorologist
August 21, 2011, 1:47:03 AM EDT
If a tropical wave in the central Atlantic overcomes the obstacles in its path, it has the potential to strengthen into a hurricane and target the southern United States.
The tropical wave in question is located about 550 miles east of the Lesser Antilles, separated from the U.S. by a week's time.
The AccuWeather.com Hurricane Center is closely monitoring this wave as several computer models show it strengthening into a hurricane and bearing down on the southern U.S. later next week.
Computer models are tools that meteorologists use to predict the weather. When several models show the same outcome, it highlights a more significant potential that may unfold.
However, computer models by no means show the exact final outcome. Meteorologists must instead use them as guidance and incorporate other knowledge, including historical information, before making a final forecast.
That is exactly what the AccuWeather.com Hurricane Center is doing in regards to the tropical wave in the central Atlantic.
The potential of the wave striking the southern U.S. as a hurricane later next week is definitely on the table. However, AccuWeather.com meteorologists have identified obstacles in the wave's path that could prevent this solution from happening.
The first obstacle is an area of African dust and stable air that has been hindering the wave's ability to develop during the past few days.
If the wave can totally escape this dry air, the warm water of the Atlantic and an absence of disruptive wind shear (strong winds high in the atmosphere) would promote significant strengthening.
The wave, however, may encounter a new obstacle just as the dry air releases its grip--the mountainous terrain of the Puerto Rico and Hispaniola.
These mountains can easily shred a weak tropical system or rapidly weaken a more organized system, as shown by Tropical Storm Emily's demise earlier this month.
The wave should pass close to these mountainous islands early next week after crossing the Lesser Antilles this weekend, dropping heavy rain along the way.
If the wave can escape the dry air then survive or bypass the rough terrain of these mountains, the scenario of the wave becoming a hurricane would likely unfold.
Exactly where such a hurricane would strike will become clearer as the wave overcomes the above obstacles.
While computer models are showing the southern U.S. as the main target, the wave could miss its expected northward turn and track into the western Gulf of Mexico or even the western Caribbean.
Even residents across the Northeast should monitor the wave in the event it rides up the East Coast with its heavy rain and strong winds.
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