Tropical Storm Chantal small but fast-moving

By Blake Mathews - Meteorologist
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - As of 2 p.m. Tuesday, Tropical Storm Chantal had increased to 65 mph winds and a central pressure of 1006 mb. The heading remains north-northwest at a break-neck speed of 29 mph. That is an incredible speed for a tropical system.

Tropical storm watches and warnings remain hoisted for the majority of the Lesser Antilles as well as Puerto Rico -- where Chantal is expected to pass just south of the island early Wednesday morning. New Tuesday morning was the issuance of a hurricane watch for the coast of the Dominican Republic meaning hurricane conditions are possible for that island in the next 48 hours. Tropical storm watches are also up for the Turks and Caicos islands.

Chantal is a very small system being driven along by a very strong Bermuda high to its north. Nothing has changed in the forecast as far as that is concerned. We are watching the progression of a short wave trough in the northern U.S. that may cause a weakness to develop in the ridge allowing Chantal to turn northwest or even north-northwest towards the Bahamas by 8 a.m. Friday.

By Friday, the ridge is anticipated to begin to re-strengthen. This would essentially close the gap of the weakness forcing the storm on a more westerly course. This is why Chantal has our attention as it would put central Florida in its path.

The question many of you want to know is, what will the impact be on Jacksonville and how strong will it be? The short answer is it is way too early to tell. The forecast error at 5 days out is over 200 miles. The cone currently encompasses nearly the entire state. That means Chantal could be located anywhere from the Keys to northeast Florida in 5 days. Jacksonville is currently not in the 5 day cone (but we would be if you extrapolated the cone out to day 6). The second unknown here is whether Chantal even survives the trek over Hispaniola; an island with 10,000 ft. mountains. Very high terrain like that often decapitates storms and they weaken very rapidly.

The current forecast calls for the storm to survive the journey over that island and emerging into a more favorable environment for development along with very warm gulf stream waters. The National Hurricane Center places Tropical Storm Chantal southeast of Jacksonville in 5 days with a heading of west-northwest towards the central and northeast Florida coasts as a moderate tropical storm (50 mph winds).

Please understand that the least most accurate forecast is the strength forecast. It's not fully understood why some storms rapidly intensify and others have a difficult time. At this time, it is advised that you keep alert to this developing weather situation and you review your emergency plans in the event they are needed by the weekend, which at this time is not anticipated.

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