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All Eyes on Tropical Storm Rina

Hurricane season is slowly coming to a close but that does not mean that hurricane activity slows down, especially during the month of October when Belize receives most threats from storms developing in the Western Caribbean. This week everybody has eyes out for Tropical Storm Rina.

Belize’s National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) has met this morning and released information on the developing storm. As of  Monday morning, October 24, 2011, Tropical Storm Rina is located near 17.1°N Lat., 82.9°W Lon., or about 120 miles north-northeast of Cape Gracias a Dios.  Current position puts her inside our 2 Warning Zone. Rina was heading northwest at 6 mph with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph.  The center of Rina is expected to pass north of the northeast coast of Honduras during the next few days.

By Wednesday/ Thursday TS RINA is likely to be about 200 miles north east of Belize. A dissipating cold front over Belize and a cold coming down from the North could cause it to move west towards Belize.

NEMO has posted its initial assessed likely impacts to our area as follows: High probability: Belize City and Communities in the River Valley northward to OWK and CZL. Low Probability: Communities south Belize City – Freetown Sibun down to Gales Point Mullins River to Dangriga and Toledo Coastline Belize City and in the River Valley northward to OWK and CZL.

TS Rina’s formation brings this year’s tally of named storms to 17, making it the 7th busiest Atlantic hurricane season since record keeping began in 1851. Only 2005, 1933, 1995, 1887, 2010, and 1969 had more named storms. However, 2011 has had an unusually low percentage of its named storms reach hurricane strength. Only 29% of this year’s named storms have made it to hurricane strength (five), and normally 55 – 60% of all named storms intensify to hurricane strength in the Atlantic. The rare combination of near-record ocean temperatures but unusually dry, stable air over the Atlantic is no doubt at least partially responsible for this very unusual occurrence.

Hurricane Expert Jeff Masters from Weather Underground had this to say about TS Rina on his blog:
Visible satellite loops show that Rina has had a respectable burst of thunderstorm activity with high, cold cloud tops this morning. This “Central Dense Overcast” (CDO) is characteristic of intensifying tropical storms that are a threat to reach hurricane strength. Rina has been bringing sporadic heavy rain squalls to the Cayman Islands over the past day; George Town on Grand Cayman Island had received 2.28″ of rain and a peak wind gust of 31 mph as of 9 am EDT from the storm.

The intensity forecast for Rina has a high amount of uncertainty. Rina should be able to slowly intensify through Tuesday, becoming a strong tropical storm. On Wednesday, Rina will be approaching a dry airmass with high wind shear that lies over the extreme northwestern Caribbean. Since Rina is a small storm, these hostile conditions could cause the storm to dissipate on Wednesday as it nears landfall over the Yucatan Peninsula, as predicted by the ECMWF and NOGAPS models.

The completely opposite scenario is predicted by the GFDL and HWRF models, which forecast Rina will stay just south of the high shear/dry air region, and attain major hurricane status. The official NHC forecast of a Category 1 Hurricane Rina late this week is a reasonable compromise between these extremes.

The track forecast for Rina also presents difficulties. A west-northwest to northwest motion towards the Yucatan Peninsula is likely through Wednesday. A trough of low pressure is predicted to pass to the north of Rina late this week, but the models are increasingly suggesting that Rina will not be far enough north to get caught up in the trough, but instead will remain trapped in the Western Caribbean.

In any case, heavy rains from Rina should begin affecting Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, northern Belize, and extreme Western Cuba on Wednesday.

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