Tropical storm Emily moves west in Caribbean. Will it hit US coast?

Forecasters say tropical storm Emily poses a more immediate threat to the Dominican Republic and Cuba, but it could become a minimal hurricane off the east coast of Florida this weekend.

Weather Underground/AP
This NOAA satellite image taken Tuesday, Aug. 2 at 1:45 a.m. EDT shows Tropical Storm Emily, about 265 miles southeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Tropical storm Emily – some 200 miles southeast of Puerto Rico and moving west – is being closely watched by weather forecasters who are trying to determine whether Emily becomes a hurricane that could have some effect on Florida or other parts of the East Coast.

Meteorologists believe the most immediate threat is to Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and possibly the Bahamas. In the current worst case scenario, they say, Emily becomes a low level hurricane that shakes the palm trees somewhere in Florida this coming weekend.

If Emily does come ashore, the storm would be the second this season to hit the US. At the end of last month, tropical storm Don came ashore in south Texas, but quickly lost its punch and dropped little rain on the drought-stricken state.

Emily is not expected to be the last tropical system to develop in the Atlantic Basin – the National Weather Service back in May forecast 12 to 18 named storms with six to 10 hurricanes and three to six major hurricanes.

“We’re now getting into the time of year when we will see stronger and stronger systems coming off of Africa,” says meteorologist Alex Sosnowski of in State College, Pa.

However, Emily is not likely to be a significant threat, he says. Once it starts moving to the northwest, it will have to get past the 10,000 foot peaks on the Dominican Republic, where it could dump up to a foot of rain. After that the computer forecasts vary widely, with some models predicting Emily will move up the eastern Gulf of Mexico and others predicting a move east of the Bahamas before heading out into the Atlantic.

“The next 24 to 36 hours will tell us more,” says Mr. Sosnowski.

Although it’s still early, the National Hurricane Center currently expects the storm to successfully cross Hispanola, move west of the Bahamas and then move up the east coast of Florida. On Saturday it would be off Ft. Lauderdale and by Sunday off Jacksonville.

FEMA, in a release issued Tuesday, says it is monitoring the situation and urged coastal residents to be prepared.

Even though Florida may be in the path of the storm, many Sunshine State residents haven’t started to put the hurricane shutters up yet.

“I haven’t started preparing yet, but maybe I should,” says Lesly Cardec, a resident of Boynton Beach. “I have plywood and things ready to go should it turn into something we should be concerned about.”

Another Floridian, Karen Audet of Ft. Lauderdale, says she hasn’t seen people lining up for water and perishables at the grocery stores yet. “I would say people are less concerned,” says Ms. Audet who has hurricane windows installed in her home. “The only preparations we have to make are to take down our pool fence and get the chairs around the pool in the house.”

Audet says that all summer long trucks have been trimming trees in her neighborhood to eliminate the possibility of a dead branch falling on a power line. In addition, the local utility has installed more cement utility poles after hurricane Wilma, a Category 2 storm in 2005, snapped the wooden poles resulting in a loss of power for 15 days.

Even before there was a prospect of Emily moving up the coast, the city of Ft. Lauderdale had planned to hold preparedness exercises on Wednesday, says Mayor John Seiler.

“We have a new city manager and he just wants to be sure he’s 100 percent comfortable with the preparations,” says Mr. Seiler, adding, “We feel pretty well prepared and confident if and when it comes.”

Further north, in Jupiter, Jill Palmer says it’s too early in the hurricane season to get worked up over the storm.

“It’s like a blizzard in Thanksgiving – no one wants to pay any attention to it,” says Ms. Palmer, who says she will start to pay more attention on Thursday or Friday.

“My kids won’t let me watch The Weather Channel, they hype the storms so much,” she says.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.