Tropical Storm Erika May Weaken as Florida Eyes Emergency

  • High mountains in storm's path threaten its strength
  • A weaker Erika may reach Florida by Monday, NHC says

Deadly Tropical Storm Erika may weaken as it passes over the mountains of the Dominican Republic Friday before continuing on a forecast path toward Florida, where a state of emergency has been declared by Governor Rick Scott.

Erika was 60 miles (97 kilometers) south-southeast of Santa Domingo with maximum winds of 50 miles per hour, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said Friday at 2 p.m. New York time. The storm is blamed for the deaths of at least 12 people on the Caribbean island of Dominica, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said on his Twitter account.

“On the forecast track, the center of Erika will move over the Dominican Republic and Haiti during the next few hours, move near the Turks and Caicos Islands tonight, and move near the central and northwestern Bahamas Saturday and Sunday,” Jack Beven, a senior hurricane specialist at the center in Miami, wrote in a forecast.

The chance Erika could survive a pass over Hispaniola’s mountains and hit Florida by Monday prompted Scott to declare an emergency across the entire state. Federal Emergency Management Agency teams have been dispatched to Puerto Rico and St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands and are preparing to respond in Florida if needed, said Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman.

The potential of a strike in Florida caused orange juice futures to rise to a three-week high. Florida is the largest U.S. producer of orange juice.

Scott said more than 8,000 National Guard troops are ready to mobilize and power companies in the state are preparing for outages.

Bridge Closings

“We cannot afford to be complacent,” Scott said in a statement. “Every Floridian must have a game plan if they need to evacuate or help a family member evacuate the path of the storm.”

The U.S. Coast Guard is warning residents to stay off the water and away from beaches, and to be prepared for bridge closings. CSX Transportation, a freight rail hauler, doesn’t expect the storm to have a major impact on railroad operations, the company said in a statement.

Erika’s path across Hispaniola, home to Haiti and the Dominican Republic, may rob the storm of much of its strength as its structure is further torn apart by the islands mountains, some of which reach 10,000 feet. The center now says the storm will not grow into a hurricane, after earlier outlooks said such strengthening was possible.

Wind Shear

In addition it will be encountering wind shear through the rest of the day that can also rip at its structure.

“This, combined with land interaction, suggests that the cyclone should weaken, and there is a chance the system could degenerate to a tropical wave while crossing Hispaniola,” Beven said in an earlier statement.

Erika already looks more like a tropical wave than a storm, said David Streit, co-founder of Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland.

“It is really struggling,” Streit said by telephone. “It has lots of stuff stacked against it right now.”

There is only about a 5 percent chance it could enter the eastern Gulf of Mexico, Streit said.

Forecasts show Erika striking the tip of Florida Monday and traveling the length of the state through Wednesday. The Florida Division of Emergency Management has warned residents to be ready. 

Erika, the fifth named storm of the six-month Atlantic season, has brought flooding rains across the Caribbean. It was forecast to drop from 3 to 6 inches (8 to 15 centimeters) of rain across the Dominican Republic and Haiti, the center said. 

Some areas may get as much as 10 inches from Erika. High winds and rain are also forecast to reach the Turks and Caicos, as well as the central and northwestern Bahamas through the weekend.

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