Tropical Storm Karl approaches southern Mexico with heavy rain

Tropical Storm Carl developed suddenly in Campeche Bay on Tuesday. It is now approaching southern Mexico, putting it at risk of gale-force winds and torrential rain.

Tropical storm warnings are in effect from Coatzacoalcos to Sabanque along the bay, with tropical storms likely within the next 24 to 36 hours. Karl’s sluggish speed so far made predicting its final trajectory and effects a challenge. While it will likely have stabilized in intensity and not be a big wind maker, heavy rain could cause flooding in the Mexican states of Veracruz, Tabasco, Chiapas and Oaxaca.

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Karl is the eleventh named storm of the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season. Despite a month-long crowded spell punctuated by multiple Category 4 storms, the start of the season was slow. August passed without an identified storm, the first time since 1997 that this has happened.

Meteorologists refer to a value called the ACE, or accumulated hurricane energy, to measure how active a season is. ACE is an integrated measure that takes into account the intensity and duration of a storm.

A total of 83.7 ACE units have run so far, about 19.3 percent below average — in defiance of nearly unanimous predictions for an above-average season. Half of the ACE grew out of just two storms – Fiona, which blew up Puerto Rico before slamming the Canadian Maritimes, and Ian, who made the upscale Class 4 touchdown and killed more than 100 in southwest Florida.

As of 11 a.m. ET on Friday, Karl was slowly getting closer to the coast. It was located within Campeche Bay and was drifting to the southeast at 6 mph. Continuous maximum winds were estimated to be 45 miles per hour deep inside Carl’s core.

The storm was about 80 miles northwest of Ciudad del Carmen, Mexico. Outer bands of rain began to inundate the western parts of the Yucatan Peninsula and the Gulf Coast in neighboring southern Mexico.

On the infrared satellite, it’s clear that Karl is basically a large mass of thunderstorms. In the middle, a few spots of purple and black can be seen, indicating very cold clouds. This represents the highest clouds and highest peaks. Meteorologists refer to the bubble-like main current as a “transcendent summit,” since rising thunderstorms are so powerful that they penetrate the lower stratosphere before subsiding. It is a sign that the air is rapidly moving upwards.

On the perimeter of the storm, capillary tendrils radiate from the thunderstorm conglomerate. This is an indication of healthy outflow, or high-altitude exhaust air coming out of the storm and facing away from it. The more air a storm empties from above, the lower its atmospheric pressure and the more warm, moist air it can take in from below to fuel itself.

The limiting factor with Karl is not that sea surface temperatures are not warm enough; In fact, the Bay of Campeche is filled with oceanic heat content to support severe storms. Instead, wind shear, or a disruptive change in wind speed and/or direction with altitude, conspires to keep out the storm.

As a result, Karl will not be significantly strengthened. Dry air also wraps around Karl and serves to reduce his intensity. As such, it may gain more traction but it should come ashore as a relatively modest tropical storm. The National Hurricane Center is forecasting landfall near or just east of Paraiso, a town of nearly 100,000 people, from Friday night to early Saturday.

Winds along the nearby coast near the center may blow more than 45 miles per hour, accompanied by a bit of coastal currents and rip currents. The biggest threat will be heavy rain. During Sunday morning, Karl is expected to drop 2 to 5 inches wide for a total of 10 inches in Veracruz, Tabasco, northern Chiapas and Oaxaca.

“These rains can produce flash floods, along with mudslides, at higher altitudes,” the National Hurricane Center wrote.

Aside from Carl, the Hurricane Center is also watching for weak turbulence south of the Cabo Verde Islands, but it’s unlikely to develop.

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