Tropical Storm Ernesto gained strength in the Caribbean Sea east of Nicaragua and will probably become a hurricane by early tomorrow as it moves toward northern Belize, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
The fifth storm of the Atlantic hurricane season had winds of 65 miles (105 kilometers) an hour, up from 50 mph earlier today, and was head west-northwest in the Caribbean at 12 mph, the Miami-based center said in an advisory before 8 p.m. East Coast time. Ernesto was 295 miles (475 kilometers) east of the island of Roatan in the Bay Islands of Honduras.
“Ernesto struggled to become better organized over the weekend, but warm water and low wind shear will provide fuel for strengthening during the next couple of days,” Brian Edwards, a meteorologist for AccuWeather Inc. of State College, Pennsylvania, wrote on the company’s website. “Ernesto is expected to make landfall as a Category 1 hurricane in Belize early Wednesday morning.”
A reconnaissance aircraft was on its way to investigate the storm, the hurricane center said in the advisory.
A hurricane warning is in effect for the east coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula from Chetumal to Punta Allen and for Belize’s coastline.
Tropical storm warnings and watches were issued earlier today for the entire coast of Honduras and for the Yucatan north from Punta Allen, including the resort areas of Tulum and Cancun.
As much as 12 inches (30 centimeters) of rain may fall over the southern Yucatan and Belize, creating dangerous flash floods and mudslides, the hurricane center said. The sea may rise 4 feet above normal tide levels near the area of landfall.
The center’s tracking map shows Ernesto making landfall Aug. 8 on the northern coast of Belize, crossing the Yucatan into the Bay of Campeche as a tropical storm and then returning to land in southern Mexico.
“If Ernesto survives its crossing of the Yucatan Peninsula, the potential exists for it to re-strengthen over the Bay of Campeche, and make a second landfall on Mexico’s coast Thursday night south of Veracruz,” Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground in Ann Arbor, Michigan, said on his blog.
Most computer models “predict that Ernesto will pop out so far south in the Bay of Campeche that the storm will have less than 24 hours over water,” he said. “This makes significant re-intensification unlikely.”
Masters said he didn’t expect Ernesto’s rainfall to reach as far north as Texas.
A separate system, Tropical Storm Florence, weakened to a remnant earlier today low in the Atlantic between the northern Leeward and Cape Verde islands and is expected to dissipate by the end of the week. The center stopped issuing advisories on the system.