Ernesto is now a Hurricane

As of 5:00 am this morning....

Hurricane Hunter Aircraft recently found increased winds and a lower pressure early this morning near the center of Ernesto. As a result Ernesto was upgraded to Hurricane status, making this the first Hurricane of the 2006 Atlantic Season. As of 5am, maximum winds have increased to 75 mph with higher gusts, which makes Ernesto a category one hurricane. Hurricane warnings have been issued for southern coast of Haiti. A tropical storm warning and hurricane watch continues in effect for Jamaica and a hurricane watch is in effect for eastern Cuba and Cayman Islands. Environmental conditions continue to become more favorable for continued development. An upper low to the west of Ernesto is moving west, decreasing the shear to the west of the storm. This decrease in shear this morning has allowed storm to intensify, as it continues to move west-northwest. Haiti and Dominican Republic will experience very heavy squalls, gusty winds, flash flooding and increasing rough seas today, with these conditions also affecting Jamaica and southeast Cuba by tonight. Latest forecast information indicates that a trough building across the central United States will be a bit stronger and create steering wind currents that may pull Ernesto on a more northerly track. Due to this, areas along the eastern Gulf of Mexico, particularly Florida, should be on the alert. Ernesto may begin to influence the Florida Keys by early Tuesday, and perhaps parts of the Gulf Coast or Florida my Midweek.

Ernesto's cloud pattern is still a bit ragged-looking but there are some banding features over the eastern semicircle...and cirrus outflow is expanding over the western part of the circulation. The last aircraft-extrapolated central pressure was 997 mb...suggesting that there has been little or no strengthening over the past several hours. With the upper-level cyclone shifting westward toward Yucatan...the shear over Ernesto is quickly diminishing. Thus the primary consideration in the intensity forecast over the next couple of days will be how much the tropical cyclone interacts with land. On the current forecast track...the center would be over Cuba from hour 24 to 48 hours. This should cause some weakening and the official wind speed forecast follows the decay SHIPS model rather closely. However...after the center moves into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico...significant restrengthening is possible. It should be noted that the official forecast intensity at 96 hours assumes some weakening due to interaction with land. However....Ernesto could approach category 3 status prior to the projected landfall in western Florida.