Data from an Air Force hurricane hunter aircraft confirms that Richard has intensified to hurricane strength, as it bears down on the coast of Belize.
At 7:30am CST, the aircraft measured surface winds of 85 mph. Winds at their 5,000 foot flight level were 97 mph, qualifying Richard as the 10th hurricane of the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season. This year is now tied for sixth place for most hurricanes in an Atlantic hurricane season. This year's 17 named storms also ranks 6th most in history. Atlantic hurricane season records go back to 1851. Richard's center passed just north of the Honduras' Bay Islands this morning, bringing winds of 46 mph, gusting to 58 mph, to the Roatan Airport. Winds were clocked at 49 mph, gusting to 69 mph, at Calabash Bight on Roatan Island.The latest 8am CST eye report from the Hurricane Hunters noted that Richard had formed a nearly complete eyewall
, with a gap in the southwest side. Radar images from the Belize radar
also showed this gap, but the gap closed at 9am CST, and Richard now has a complete eyewall, which will promote more rapid intensification. Recent satellite imagery
shows a symmetrical, well-organized hurricane with respectable low level spiral banding, and upper level outflow improving in all quadrants. Richard has now walled itself off from the dry air to the storm's west, as seen on water vapor satellite loops
The eye of Richard is very prominent in this radar image from the Belize radar taken at 10am CDT 10/24/10. Image credit: Belize Meteorological Service.Forecast for RichardThe latest set of 12am CST (6Z) model runs are in excellent agreement with Richard's track, taking the enter of the storm inland over Belize between 4pm - 9pm CST tonight. The latest radar animations from the Belize radar indicate that Belize City will experience a portion of the eyewall of Richard, and residents of Belize City can expect a 2 - 4 hour period of hurricane force winds to begin between 4pm - 6pm CST this evening. Tropical storm force winds of 39+ mph should arrive at the coast between 2pm - 4pm CST this afternoon.
A good way to estimate these arrival times is using the wundermap
with the "hurricane" layer turned on and the "wind radius" and "forecast" boxes checked. Richard is in a very favorable environment for intensification, with low wind shear between 5 - 10 knots, and warm water temperatures of 29 - 29.5°C. Given these conditions, and the fact that the eyewall is is now fully formed, Richard will probably undergo a period of rapid intensification that could take it to Category 2 strength with 100 mph winds at landfall this evening. Once inland, Richard's small size and relatively slow forward speed of 5 - 10 mph on Monday will lead to substantial weakening as it crosses the Yucatan Peninsula. The storm will probably be a tropical depression when it emerges over the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday--if it survives the crossing. If Richard does survive the crossing, high wind shear over the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday and Wednesday should keep the storm from intensifying. Richard should dissipate by Wednesday, before affecting any other land areas.
Everyone in Belize and the Yucatan need to make preparations now, as a Category 2 hurricane is no joke and needs to be taken seriously. Satellite shows fair to excellent spiral banding on all quadrants of Hurricane Richard, meaning that the dry air has abated and has excellent conditions for further strengthening. Also evident on satellite a eye has become apparent also indicating further strengthening is likely. Infrared shows a sold CDO with -70-80C cloudtops directly over the center, this is a classic setup for a quickly intensifying hurricane as it makes landfall, something we've seen many times this season. Radar out of Belize shows the eyewall has almost completely rapped around the entire eye, with the eyewall open just to the SW. It is likely that this eyewall will close off completely and Richard will put it into high gear.