Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Hurricane Earl (2016)

Storm Active: August 1-6

On July 25, a tropical wave formed just off of the African coast. It moved at an unusually fast rate (around 30 mph) across the eastern and central Atlantic, being among the first of the season to exhibit vigorous shower activity this far east. However, conditions were not very favorable and it is in any case more difficult for fast-moving systems to develop organized circulations. During the final two days of July, convection increased with the wave and it brought rainfall to the Lesser Antilles as it passed westward into the Caribbean Sea. Only toward the end of this period, however, did surface pressures begin to fall in the region. Organization increased significantly by early on August 1 as a large, roughly circular area of thunderstorm activity developed, bringing some rain and high winds to Puerto Rico as it passed to the south. However, it was not until August 2 that a closed circulation was identified. Since the system already had tropical storm force winds, it was designated Tropical Storm Earl as it passed quickly to the south of Jamaica.

Earl was quite disorganized at first, but shear lessened and the storm's forward motion slowed significantly later that day. Combined with the quite high sea temperatures of the western Caribbean, these factors allowed the cyclone to strengthen overnight as its southern bands swept across Honduras. The circulation of Earl had become quite broad by the afternoon of August 3, resulting in heavy rainfall for larger portions of Honduras even as the center remained offshore. Hints of a mid-level eye appeared intermittently throughout the day and by the late afternoon Earl had become a category 1 hurricane. It did not have much time to strengthen further, however. At around 2:00 am EDT, August 4, Hurricane Earl made landfall in central Belize at its peak intensity of 80 mph winds and a minimum central pressure of 979 mb. Hurricane-force winds affected an area near Belize City, and total rainfall amounts of 8-12 inches were common in the central peninsula.

Earl rapidly weakened as it moved inland. By the time it crossed into Guatemala, it was again a tropical storm. That evening, the center took a trajectory just north of west, bringing a the circulation toward the southernmost waters of the Bay of Campeche. As a result, weakening had halted by August 5, with Earl still clinging to minimal tropical storm strength as it continued generally westward. Significant convective bands redeveloped in association with the system as the center traveled over water that morning and through most of the afternoon. The tropical storm strengthened unexpectedly during this period, enhancing the rainfall totals for regions of Mexico. That evening, Earl made landfall in Mexico with maximum winds of 60 mph. Rapid weakening commenced over land, and the system dissipated over the mountainous terrain the next day. Having crossed Mexico, the remnants of Earl contributed to the development of Tropical Storm Javier in the Eastern Pacific basin on August 7.

Earl is shown above near peak intensity on August 3, about 5 hours prior to landfall in Belize.

The high ocean temperatures of the western Caribbean Sea were favorable for Earl's intensification, but its rapid movement and interaction with land prevented it from more than a minimal hurricane.

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