Tropical Storm Richard will likely avoid U.S.
As Tropical Storm Richard threatens Northern Honduras with heavy rain that could produce flash floods and mudslides, the latest estimates put the storm's maximum sustained winds at 40 mph. The official forecast from the National Hurricane Center predicts Richard will reach hurricane strength just before it reaches Belize in Central America early Monday morning.
The good news is that with each passing run from the weather models, a northward move toward the Gulf of Mexico and the United States appears progressively less likely.
Richard evolved a bit differently last night into this morning than in prior night-to-morning periods.
Keep reading for more on Tropical Storm Richard...
A cluster of very intense thunderstorms that developed last night near Richard's nearly stationary low-level circulation has lasted longer into the morning than such clusters have previously, and we'll see if it continues during the day today.
In the absence of a well-developed circulation, like a hurricane, there are usually daily cycles to these thunderstorm groups, with modest night-to-day swings in intensity commonplace. The slight cooling aloft during the night sometimes changes the local stability enough to allow the storms to reach a peak intensity after midnight, before daytime warming hinders their growth a bit. The longevity of this latest thunderstorm group is perhaps a sign that Richard may be maturing enough to overcome the down-swing of the daily cycle and keep the thunderstorms going.
The most recent wind shear (winds that change speed or direction with height and can sometimes weaken storms) observations from late last evening aren't significantly different than early yesterday's. The shear remains very high across all of the Gulf of Mexico and the Northern Caribbean. The yellow contours in the image below indicate that there is still 20-40 knots (25-45 mph) of shear just to the north of Richard.
However, the more symmetric (circular) appearance to Richard's cloud pattern suggests that perhaps in its immediate environment the winds are easing up a little. A high-altitude G-IV reconnaissance mission is scheduled to sample the environment along Richard's periphery later today, so we should soon have a better idea if indeed the shear is weakening in its immediate vicinity.
For now, though, strong winds from the west at high altitudes continue to carry very dry air aloft into the Western Caribbean. The dryness of the environment on Richard's northern and western edges (indicated by the orange tint in the image to the right) is still notable in the satellite presentation this morning, and could continue to slow the vortex spinup process in the near term.
But with the weather models continuing to suggest a weakening and moistening of the winds aloft over all of the Western Caribbean during the weekend, and with Richard not moving northward anytime soon (if ever), a window of opportunity is opening for it to strengthen significantly as it moves slowly over very warm water.
The track guidance has shifted southward from yesterday, and now favors a westward heading toward Central America or the southern Yucatan Peninsula, rather than northward toward the United States.
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