UPDATE 2: Weakened Ernesto Crosses Cuba; Florida on Watch

August 29, 2006

A significantly weaker Tropical Storm Ernesto crossed over the eastern Provinces of Cuba on Monday, bringing heavy rains. More than 500,000 people were evacuated from the region by authorities as a precaution, but so far no major damage, and only one fatality – a woman who was swept away by floodwaters on the Haitian Island of Vache – has been reported.

The erratic storm – the most recent 3-day forecast track from Miami’s National Hurricane Center shows it aimed directly at the Florida Keys and Southern Florida – has been turning gradually in a northwesterly direction. If that movement continues, it could also pose a threat to the Bahamas.

The NHC’s 5:00 a.m. EDT bulletin notes that Ernesto is “back over water and a little stronger. Maximum sustained winds are near 45 mph/75 km/hr with higher gusts. Some strengthening is forecast during the next 24 hours, and it is possible that Ernesto could be near hurricane strength when it makes landfall along the southern Florida peninsula.” Tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 85 miles/140 kms from the center. Ernesto’s estimated minimum central pressure is 1005 mb/29.68 inches.

The NHC has issued a tropical storm warning extending northward along Florida’s east coast as far as New Smyrna Beach, and for all of the Florida Keys. The NHC said “a hurricane warning may be required for portions of South Florida and the Florida Keys later this morning.” Elsewhere along Florida’s West Coast a tropical storm watch remains in effect from north of Bonita Beach to Englewood.

A tropical storm warning and a hurricane watch remain in effect for Andros Island, the Berry Islands, the Biminis and Grand Bahama Island in the northwestern Bahamas. Tropical storm warnings remain in place elsewhere throughout the region, although the NHC expects that they will “be discontinued for the easternmost provinces of Cuba later this morning.”

As of 5:00 a.m. EDT Ernesto’s center was located near latitude 22.6 north/longitude 78.9 west or about 230 miles/370 kms southeast of Key West and about 235 miles/380 kms south-southeast of Miami. The storm continues to move in a northwesterly direction at around 14 mph/22 km/hr, which is “expected to continue for the next 24 hours. On the forecast track the center of Ernesto will be near the Florida Keys or southeast Florida by this evening,” said the NHC.

It also warned that “rainfall totals of 5 to 10 inches [12.7 to 25.4 cms] are possible over portions of eastern and southern Florida and the Keys through Wednesday, with isolated amounts up to 15 inches [38.1 cms] possible over southeastern Florida. Coastal storm surge flooding of 1 to 3 feet [33 cms to 1 meter] above normal tide levels can be expected in areas of onshore flow within the warning area.”

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