Whenever you have an extremely intense hurricane that has already killed people, as is the case with Hurricane Dean, "luck" is a relative term.
That said, however, it now seems that this hurricane's particular track through the Caribbean has avoided the realization of certain worst case scenarios while, at the same time, allowing us to breathe more easily here in the United States.
Yesterday, the eye of Category 4 Dean passed just south of mainland Jamaica. That means that while most of the island experienced Category 1 or 2 force winds, it could have been way worse. In my last post I compared Dean to 1988's Hurricane Gilbert, but Gilbert's landfall in Jamaica was direct and caused $4 billion in damage. By comparison, Jeff Masters guesses Dean's toll will only be about $ 1 billion, simply because of the storm's particular track.
Today, meanwhile, Dean is bearing down on the Yucatan Peninsula.
The storm should make landfall late tonight or early tomorrow. It is traversing a part of the Caribbean featuring extremely high ocean heat content, and so we may well be looking at a full Category 5 strike, after which the storm would drag across the landscape and emerge back out into the Bay of Campeche. There it might possibly regain major hurricane status (Category 3 or higher) before a final landfall in mainland Mexico.
This is bad stuff, but again, it looks like it could have been worse. Dean's most powerful winds now seem likely to miss the tourist havens of Cozumel and Cancun, located towards the northern tip of the peninsula -- at least according to the latest track forecast (below). The eye is instead expected to come ashore over a less populated area. (For more discussion and maps see here.) Finally, because Dean looks like it will strike further southward than once thought, it may spend more time over land and therefore weaken more.
No part of the United States remains within the white "cone of uncertainty" in this latest forecast.
The central question, of course, is what Dean will do in the next 6-12 hours. The storm, according to the National Hurricane Center, is intensifying as expected. While it hasn't been pronounced a Category 5 yet, it's right on the borderline between storm categories, and may be one by the next advisory (5 p.m. ET). The official forecast has Dean's maximum sustained winds reaching 140 knots, or more than 160 miles per hour, before landfall. That would be Category 5 and about as strong as any storm anywhere in the world this year. However, the forecasting of hurricane intensity changes remains an imperfect science, so we shouldn't be surprised if Dean comes in somewhat stronger (or weaker) than expected.
Tropical Storm Erin and Typhoon Sepat.
With Dean wreaking havoc in the Caribbean it has been easy to neglect other tropical weather. But the onetime Tropical Storm Erin performed a remarkable feat yesterday, reintensifying and reorganizing over land. For more details on Erin and Typhoon Sepat, which recently slammed Taiwan and also affected China, see here. Finally, the National Hurricane Center is watching another disturbance out in the open Atlantic. Don't forget: The peak of hurricane season continues for more than another month.
In my next post I'll have more about what Hurricane Dean means in the context of global warming issues ...
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