A region of disturbed weather in the Western Caribbean (Invest 96L) is bringing heavy rains to coastal Nicaragua, and has the potential to develop into a tropical depression this weekend. Visible satellite loops show that 96L is beginning to show signs of organization. Some rotation is apparent, and the upper-level cirrus clouds streaming away from the center indicate that 96L is establishing an upper-level outflow channel to the east. The heavy thunderstorm activity is quite limited at present, because a large region of dry air to the east of 96L is interfering with development, as seen on water vapor satellite loops. An ASCAT pass at 11:05 am EDT showed no signs of a surface circulation, with surface winds in the 25 - 30 mph range. Surface pressures are slowly falling at San Andres Island, near the center of 96L. Wind shear is a moderate 10 - 20 knots in the region, and is expected remain in the moderate range through Monday. Water temperatures are very warm, 29 - 30°C, and these warm waters extend to great depth.
Figure 1. Afternoon satellite image of 96L.
Forecast for 96L
The moderate wind shear and warm waters should allow some modest development of 96L over the next few days, though this will be slowed by the dry air to the storm's east. The models are quite enthusiastic about developing 96L into a tropical depression, and our top four reliable models for forecasting genesis--the ECMWF, GFS, UKMET, and NOGAPS--have all been predicting formation of a tropical depression by Monday in one or more of their runs over the past day. 96L is in an area of weak steering currents, and will move little over the next three days. On Tuesday and Wednesday, a strong trough of low pressure will be passing over the Eastern U.S., and this trough has the potential to turn 96L northwards into Cuba. This is more likely to happen if 96L is stronger and deeper, and thus able to "feel" the upper-level winds the trough will bring. The 12Z run of the GFS model and 00Z runs of the ECMWF and UKMET models predict 96L will develop into a tropical storm that hits Western Cuba on Wednesday or Thursday, and potentially affecting the Cayman Islands, South Florida, and the Bahamas as well. If 96L remains a weak and shallow system, it is more likely to stay trapped in the Western Caribbean and make landfall in Nicaragua. This is the solution of the NOGAPS model, which has 96L moving ashore on Tuesday over Nicaragua as a weak system. NHC gave 96L a 30% chance of developing into a tropical depression by Sunday in their 8 am Tropical Weather Outlook. A hurricane hunter mission is scheduled to investigate 96L Saturday afternoon.
I'll have a new post on Saturday, but might wait until the afternoon, when the hurricane hunter data becomes available.