TS Ernesto Strengthens; Expected to Impact Belize, Mexico; AIR Analysis

Tropical Storm Ernesto is gaining strength as it moves west-northwest at around 13 mph, 20 km/h, according to the latest bulletin – 5:00 a.m. EDT – from the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

As it moves along the forecast track it is expected to make a “turn toward the west on Wednesday.” The storm’s center is expected to pass “north of the coast of Honduras today, and will approach the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula tonight,” the NHC said. The center of “Ernesto is forecast to move across the Yucatan Peninsula late tonight and early Wednesday and emerge over the Bay of Campeche Wednesday afternoon.”

The latest bulletin said “maximum sustained winds are near 65 mph, 100 km/h, with higher gusts. Strengthening is expected, and Ernesto is forecast to become a hurricane before it reaches the Yucatan peninsula.” However, as the storm moves over land some “weakening is expected.” Tropical-storm-force winds presently extend outward up to 125 miles, 205 km from the center.

Scott Stransky, senior scientist at AIR Worldwide, explained that “now that the storm has slowed, it has begun curving northwards and is expected to make landfall along the Belize/Mexico border in 36-48 hours as a Category 1 hurricane. However, with the increased time over the water, the storm may strengthen still further, and there is a possibility that it could reach Category 2 strength before landfall. The storm is expected to cross the Yucatán Peninsula and could make a second landfall in Mexico by Friday. Mexico has issued a hurricane warning for the east coast of the Yucatán Peninsula from Chetumal to Punta Allen.”

AIR reported only “minor damage” from wind and rain as Ernesto passed south of Kingston, Jamaica. Stransky indicated that “despite the winds and rain that Ernesto brought to several Caribbean islands over the weekend, only the most vulnerable structures would have potentially been damaged from this storm.

“In Jamaica, most buildings in the major urban areas such as Kingston are constructed of brick or reinforced concrete with tiled or cement roofs, which would be largely unaffected by Ernesto’s relatively low wind speeds. Poorly constructed shanty-type homes can be found across the country, and while these may be vulnerable to the observed wind speeds, they would not be insured. In the Cayman Islands, residential construction is a mix of wood, unreinforced masonry, and reinforced masonry.”

He also pointed out that the “Planning Department requires structures to be built to specifications of the Standard Building Code (1999). These conditions led to admirable performance during Hurricane Ivan (2004), indicating that the structures in this region should experience very minimal damage during this significantly weaker event. As in regions previously affected, flooding due to precipitation is a concern for non-engineered structures, but the forward speed of the storm has reduced this threat.

“While the storm is set to pass close to Honduras and bring winds to its northern coast, significant insured losses are not anticipated,” he added. There is no building code in Honduras, but insurance penetration in the country is low and Ernesto’s current projected track does not directly impact the country’s major exposure centers.”

Source: National Hurricane Center and AIR Worldwide