Thursday, November 5, 2009

Manatee in the cone

Just when you thought we were out of the woods this hurricane season: Take a look at the five-day track map for Ida and you'll notice Manatee County in the cone.

Don't border up your homes just yet, but do keep an eye on the forecast in the coming days. The experts will know more after Ida, downgraded to a tropical depression Thursday night, gets back out over the waters of the Caribbean.

Some factors to consider when gauging what, if any impact, the system will have on our area:

* The average temperature for the Gulf of Mexico in November is around 80 degrees, Jennifer McNatt, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Ruskin, told Hurricane Watch late Thursday. Now compare that to an average temperature of around 86.5 degrees in August and September. That 6.5-degree difference might not seem like a lot, but it'll keep Ida's intensity down exponentially.

* An increased upper-level wind shear could rip Ida apart once it enters the Gulf. But while large-scale models agree on "an increasingly strong vertical shear environment," the National Hurricane Center's official wind speed forecast leads toward weaker models.

*Interaction with land will play a huge role. Once it gets over Nicaragua and Honduras, forecasters expect Ida to strengthen back into a tropical storm. After that there could be another date with land, either with the Yucatan or Cuba, either of which knocking down the storm's intensity. If it splits the strait, there would be a more intense storm.

With all that said, McNatt says, "It looks likely that it will be a weak system" if it does in fact impact the Florida coastline.

Experts now forecast Ida to be smack in the middle of the Gulf come 7 p.m. Tuesday with winds around 50 mph. That's nothing to sneeze at, though, considering recent flooding that has occurred in the area with much weaker storms.

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