Remember Erika? The mountains of Hispaniola and Cuba tore it to bits, and the National Hurricane Center declared it dead at 9:30 this morning. All that tropical moisture has to go somewhere, though, and Florida could still see several inches of rain from its remnants. Tropical downpours on saturated soil will lead to the potential for dangerous flooding, so it’s not something to take lightly.
The storm’s entire life was characterized by its struggle in the face of wind shear and dry air, and the tropical storm managed to hold on by a thread and evade our mortal forecasts for most of the past couple of days. Just about every news story (including every article here on The Vane) noted that there was a very real chance that the rugged terrain of the islands—whether it was Puerto Rico or Hispaniola or Cuba—would finally do the storm in, and that’s exactly what happened.
According to the latest outlook from the National Hurricane Center, there’s still a 40% (medium) chance that the remnants of Tropical Storm Erika will regenerate into a tropical cyclone once again when it reaches the Gulf of Mexico in a day or two. It probably wouldn’t have time to turn into much, but it’s still worth watching even if it’s not a named, organized storm anymore. (If Erika’s remnants regenerate, the revived storm will still be called Erika.)
Storm or not, the big story here is (and would have been) heavy rain. Much of central Florida—especially around the Tampa area—recently saw incredibly heavy rainfall that led to significant flooding across the region. The latest forecast from the Weather Prediction Center shows the potential for three or more inches of rain across almost the entire Florida peninsula, with the chance for much higher amounts in areas that see heavier showers/thunderstorms that are slow movers or stall out completely.
Aside from the wind and storm surge, heavy rainfall is an overlooked hazard in both the strongest and weakest tropical storms. One of the worst storms to hit the United States in the past few decades was Tropical Storm Allison, which produced double-digit rainfall totals across Texas, killing dozens of people. Just a couple of days ago, Tropical Storm Erika dropped more than a foot of rain on the small Caribbean island of Dominica, killing more than a dozen people from the resulting flash flood and landslides.
In anticipation of the heavy rain, flash flood watches are in effect for all of Florida along and south of Interstate 4, and the watches will probably be extended north along with the threat for heavy rain. There’s already some flooding underway along some streams and rivers due to heavy, slow-moving thunderstorms affecting parts of the Liquid Sunshine State this evening.
The rain from the late Erika is by no means guaranteed, but given the likely track of Erika’s remnants and the potential for deep, tropical moisture to overspread the region in the coming days, it’s enough to warrant coordinating your umbrella carriage at best and concern for flooding at worst.
Keep an eye on waterways and low-lying roads if you’re in an area expecting heavy rainfall. Don’t drive through a flooded roadway—it takes a surprisingly small amount of fast-moving water to lift a vehicle and hurl it downstream, likely killing the occupants inside. The majority of flood-related deaths in the United States occur in vehicles, almost always a result of people trying to ford a flooded roadway. Whatever is on the other side of that flood isn’t worth risking your life and the lives of the crews that have to rescue you or recover your body.
If Erika’s remnants regenerate into a tropical cyclone, the National Hurricane Center will start issuing advisories on it again. Otherwise, you can find localized forecasts and warning information by visiting the website for your local National Weather Service office.
[Images: NOAA, author]