Tropical Storm Erika May Be Breaking Up in Caribbean

  • An aircraft inside the storm is looking for signs of demise
  • Storm is blamed for 20 deaths on Caribbean's Dominica

Tropical Storm Erika, which killed at least 20 people on the Caribbean island of Dominica, appears to be breaking up in the waters north of Cuba, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

A Hurricane Hunter aircraft flew into the storm Saturday to evaluate it as it churned in the Caribbean about 55 miles (90 kilometers) east-northeast of Holguin, Cuba, the Miami-based center said in an 8 a.m. New York time advisory. Its top winds were 40 miles per hour and it was moving west-northwest at 20 mph.

“Surface observations from Cuba and reports from an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft suggest that Erika is degenerating to a trough of low pressure,” Jack Beven, a senior hurricane specialist at the center in Miami, wrote in a forecast. He said if subsequent data confirms this, advisories will be discontinued later this morning.

On its path through the Caribbean, Erika killed at least 20 people on the Commonwealth of Dominica and left many others missing, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said in a televised address posted on his Twitter and Facebook pages. The mountainous island is home to just under 74,000 people and is known for its forests protected by national parks.

Across Dominica, located between Guadeloupe and Martinique, roads have been washed out, the country’s airport was damaged and towns have been cut off, Skerrit said. He estimated development on the island of just under 74,000 has been set back 20 years.

“The extent of the damage is monumental,” Skerrit said. “Some communities are no longer recognizable.”

Erika also brought winds and heavy rains to the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. As much as 3 to 6 inches of rain are forecast for Haiti and Cuba through Sunday, the hurricane center said.

On Friday, the potential threat to Florida prompted Governor Rick Scott to declare a statewide emergency and prepare the National Guard for action. Orange juice futures had their biggest three-day advance in 11 weeks.

Federal Emergency Management Agency teams were also dispatched to Puerto Rico and St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which were struck on Friday, and are preparing to respond in Florida if needed, said Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman.

Florida Watching

“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 biggest threat to Florida is likely to be flooding, said Todd Crawford, a meteorologist with WSI in Andover, Massachusetts.

“I think she will emerge up near the west coast of Florida and sort of stall out as a big rainstorm,” Crawford said. “Not as anything particularly interesting, just a big blob of rain.”

The rain may help southern Florida, said Dan Kottlowski, a meteorologist at AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania. The southern tip of Florida is gripped by extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor in Lincoln, Nebraska.

“This will certainly help out in the Everglades,” Kottlowski said.

The hurricane center is also watching another potential storm off the coast of Africa. It has a 70 percent chance of becoming a tropical system in the next five days. 

Kottlowski said if this develops it will most likely curve north into the mid-Atlantic Ocean.

In the Pacific, Hawaii is forecast to have hurricanes to its east and west through next week.

Forecasters are watching Hurricane Ignacio with top winds of 90 mph that is now 785 miles east-southeast of Hilo, Hawaii. The storm’s forecast track is to miss the island state just to the east starting Monday.

Tropical Storm Kilo is forecast to reach hurricane strength and pass Hawaii to the west.

(Corrects spelling of Cuban city in second paragraph.)
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