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Posted at 11:20 AM ET, 10/22/2010

Tropical Storm Richard will likely avoid U.S.

By Greg Postel

* Nice weekend! Full Forecast | Bastardi knocks NOAA *

A color-enhanced satellite image of Tropical Storm Richard from this morning. The enhancement technique, known as JSL, is used to bring out low-level and high-level clouds in tropical cyclones. Credit: NOAA.

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.

Water vapor satellite image of Tropical Storm Richard from this morning. Credit: NOAA.

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.

By Greg Postel  | October 22, 2010; 11:20 AM ET
Categories:  Tropical Weather  
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I was somewhat surprised how effectively the dry air and wind shear kept Richard at same 40mph intensity overnight! I hope my friends make it home safely to Tampa from their Cayman Island cruise, ha :)

Posted by: Camden-CapitalWeatherGang | October 22, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Hi Camden

There may be more to it underneath it all ... Richard may not be suited internally to deal with the environmental hostility so well (sounds like a psych class). Perhaps another storm could have done better so far. Hard to know. But you're right, it is notable that Richard has not evolved much. As you know, however, there's still time.


Posted by: gregpostel | October 22, 2010 12:47 PM | Report abuse

It appears that Richard could make landfall by next weekend anywhere from Florida to northern Mexico. Since this has been perhaps the warmest October on record for most of the gulf coast, the sea water temps still support a major hurricane as if this is September instead of October. A cold front is forecast to push through Texas on Thursday, which could steer Richard westward across the Bay of Campeche into central Mexico, but everyone should be thinking about preparations to evacuate just in case. As far as this hurricane season is concerned, it should be extended to December 31 as opposed to November 30. Don't be surprised if a Category 3 or 4 hurricane comes barreling towards Louisiana near the Thanksgiving holidays.

Posted by: banzaigtv | October 22, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

banzaigtv, the season could progress longer than typical in parts of the Atlantic but I'd be shocked if there was a storm like that in the GOM. Warm water is only part of it... the environment tends to become more hostile as we head into the cool season... already evident now probably, as the NHC notes that even if this storm re-emerges in the bay of campeche or something there will probably be lots of wind shear to contend with.

Posted by: Ian-CapitalWeatherGang | October 22, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse

If Richard hits Belize...

Back in the early 1960's, the year we had Carla on the Gulf Coast, Hattie struck Belize with winds well over 100 mph., killing 200+ people. As a result, the Government of then-British Honduras moved the capital inland from Belize City to Belmopan.

Since then, no major hurricanes have hit Belize, though several late-season hurricanes, notably Mitch a few years back, have attained Category 5 status in the western Caribbean late in the season. To hit Belize, major hurricanes must approach from dead east or slightly north of east. Hurricanes approaching Belize from the southeast tend to get broken up over the Honduran/Nicaraguan land mass.

Posted by: Bombo47jea | October 22, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Bombo47jea, Honduras had had storms since the 60's. Hurricane Fifi hit Honduras in September of 1974, with major damage. Casualties were in the many thousands.

Posted by: MMCarhelp | October 23, 2010 11:23 PM | Report abuse

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