The latest NHC advisory decreases Ernesto's intensity down to 35 knots, making it a minimal tropical storm. There is a chance that it may be a tropical depression at the next advisory, however, I find it unlikely given that there cannot be any aircraft reconnaissance over land. NHC claims that Ernesto is moving to the northwest, but I think there is more of a northerly component to the motion. Even though Ernesto is moving over land, thus far it is maintaining its deep thunderstorms (Figure 1).
While Ernesto will bring heavy rains to Cuba over the next 12 hours, the most interesting feature of the storm for me is the forecast. As I mentioned in the last entry, the models have been shifting to the east consistently over the last 3 days. This continued with the 12Z (8AM) model runs as well (Figure 2). In response, NHC nudged the forecast track to the east again, bringing the storm ashore on the extreme southeastern coast of Florida (Figure 3). However, looking at Figure 2, it is possible that Ernesto could miss Florida entirely. The landfall forecast is going to be incredibly difficult since the trajectory of the storm will be close to parallel with the coastline. That said, I think the NHC forecast line is the most likely scenario.
The intensity forecast is still difficult as well. The GFDL model is still calling for the storm to reach Category 4 status. And, as before, none of the other models have Ernesto reaching higher than a Category 1 before landfall (Figure 4). I hate to keep bringing up the same point, but the models are terrible at forecasting rapid intensification and this is a distinct possibility with Ernesto once it moves off of Cuba. I am sticking with my forecast from the previous post of landfall near Homestead as a borderline Category 2-3 hurricane. Stay tuned to the StormTrack for more.