Tropical Depression Three is steadily organizing, and appears poised to become a much stronger storm than was forecast. Water vapor satellite loops show that the upper level low to the west of TD 3 that has been bringing high levels of wind shear to the storm is now moving faster to the west than predicted. This faster motion has resulted in a reduction in wind shear over TD 3, to a moderate 10 knots.
Satellite images of TD 3 show that the storm is taking advantage of the lower shear by developing several low-level spiral bands to the north and east of the center. However, the center of circulation is still exposed to view, and dry air is still getting injected into the core of the storm from the southwest. The storm's heavy thunderstorms have not increased in intensity this afternoon, and the amount of heavy thunderstorm activity near the core of the storm is still limited.
TD 3 will need to build more intense thunderstorms near its center before significant intensification can occur. TD 3 is a small storm, and surface observations in the Bahamas do not show the circulation very well. An outer rain band of TD 3 is now visible on Miami long-range radar, and a flood watch has been issued for all of South Florida. The Hurricane Hunters are in the storm at present, and have found top surface winds of 35 - 40 mph.
Figure 1. Afternoon satellite image of TD 3.
Track Forecast for TD 3
The storm is in a straightforward steering current environment, and TD 3 should progress steadily to the west-northwest through Sunday. This will bring the storm ashore over the Florida Keys or South Florida on Friday, and into the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday. The latest set of model runs from 8am EDT (12Z) foresee a track more to the north than the previous set of model runs.
This increases the threat to the oil spill region, and I give a 40% chance that the oil spill region will see tropical storm force winds of 39 mph or higher this weekend. Oil recovery and relief well drilling operations should cease. If TD 3 makes a direct hit on the oil spill region as a tropical storm with 50 - 60 mph winds, it will likely drive a storm surge of 3 - 6 feet with high waves on top into the Louisiana marshlands, fouling a large area with oil. Oil would also penetrate into Lake Pontchartrain, which lies just two feet above sea level. However, the wave action of the storm will dilute the oil to some degree, which may limit the damage to the marshlands....MORE