Gustav has the potential to be a very dangerous, land falling hurricane early next week across parts of the Gulf Coast States. Gustav spent most of yesterday over the southeastern tip of Haiti causing the low levels of the tropical system to weaken and become disorganized. At the same time in the upper levels of the atmosphere, conditions seem favorable for development. Hurricane hunters found a surprise with Gustav this morning, the center of the storm had reorganized farther to the southeast over the warm waters of the Caribbean causing the winds to jump to near hurricane strength once again. Gustav could become a hurricane later today but he has one more obstacle to overcome, Jamaica. The current forecast track takes Gustav over the small island and this could once again disrupt the organization of Gustav today. Once Gustav moves away from Jamaica, conditions appear favorable for rapid intensification. Very warm waters and favorable upper level atmospheric conditions will allow Gustav to become a strong hurricane before reaching the Gulf of Mexico. As Gustav crosses the Southern Gulf of Mexico he will cross a region know as the Southern Gulf Loop Current. This is an area of very warm water not just at the surface, but down to a depth of 200 to 300 feet. It is this area of deep, warm water that has caused many storms to explode in strength if the conditions for development are favorable. Some storms of note that have exploded in intensity over this region are Opal of 1995, Katarina of 2005, Rita of 2005, and Wilma of 2005. The image below shows the Southern Loop Current. Notice the bright red colors. This shows water temperatures between 88°F and 90°F, giving a lot of fuel for Gustav's development.
So the big question is where will Gustav go? Forecast tracts have consistently sent Gustav to the Louisiana Gulf Cost sometime late Monday or Early Tuesday. Right now there is a ridge of high pressure located over the Eastern Gulf of Mexico and this is forcing Gustav to move west. Over the next couple of days we expect this area of high pressure to weaken, allowing Gustav to turn more northwest. The farther west Gustav moves before turning to the northwest, the farther west the eventual land fall will be. Another big factor on where Gustav will go is an area of high pressure that will develop across the Ohio Valley Sunday. Gustav will be forced along the outer edge of this area of high pressure. The stronger this high pressure, the farther west Gustav will go. The image below is the current forecast track from the Nation Hurricane Center.
One not of interest, the average error for day five for a tropical systems location is 300 miles. So everyone with interests along the Gulf Coast, and with current fuel prices that is everyone, should continue to monitor Gustav.