UPDATE 1: Hurricane Ernesto Menaces Haiti, Cuba; Florida in Storm’s Path

August 27, 2006

As of 11:00 am EDT, when the National Hurricane Center in Miami issued its latest bulletin, Tropical Storm Ernesto had become a Category 1 hurricane, the first of the current season.

The hurricane’s center was located near latitude 17.6 north/longitude 73.7 west or about 115 miles/185 kms. southwest of Haiti’s capital, Port au Prince, and about 205 miles/330 kms south-southeast of Guantanamo, Cuba. The NHC said “Ernesto is moving toward the northwest near 9 mph/15 km/hr and this general motion is expected to continue for the next 24 hours.” It’s expected to pass near or over the western tip of Haiti “this afternoon or early evening and be near the southeastern coast of Cuba Monday morning.”

Maximum sustained winds are near 75 mph/120 km/hr with higher gusts. However the NHC said “some strengthening is forecast today and tonight and Ernesto could become a category 2 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Scale – winds of 96-110 mph/54-177 km/hr – before it reaches the coast of Cuba.

Hurricane warnings have been issued for the Provinces of Central Cuba and a hurricane warning remains in effect for the southern coast of Haiti from the Haiti-Dominican Republic border westward to the southwestern tip of Haiti. A tropical storm warning and a hurricane watch remain in effect for Jamaica and a hurricane watch remains in effect for the Cayman Islands.

Ernesto, however, is moving slowly in a generally northeast direction The NHC warned that a “a tropical storm or hurricane watch may be required for portions of the Florida Keys later today.” Hurricane force winds currently extend outward up to 15 miles/30 kms from the center and tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 90 miles/150 kms. The NHC estimates minimum central pressure at 997 mb/29.44 inches.

According to the NHC’s 5-day forecast map, if Ernesto continues on its present track it would strike the western coast of Florida early Thursday morning near Tampa. Tides of up to 3 ft/1 meter above normal are expected along with heavy rains.

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