Hurricane Bertha, a minimal hurricane earlier this morning, is now a major Category 3 storm, packing 115 MPH winds. It’s developed one heck of a satellite presentation — it looks pretty textbook to me. This intensification kind of outgunned what most of the thinking was with the computer models; again, predicting hurricanes is still a very inexact science, and they still do things that we don’t necessarily expect. Bertha’s not expected to be this strong for too terribly long; it’s moving into an uncertain environment with slightly cooler water and some wind shear, so it will probably start to lose steam in the next day or so.
Bertha’s slowing up in forward speed, too, which is a pretty good indication that it’ll start to turn northwest and more north in the next day or so. Bermuda will want to keep an eye on it because the exact time when it will turn changes their situation, but things are looking more like a U.S. landfall is less likely.
After largely holding steady in intensity over the weekend as it moved through less favorable conditions, Bertha was given a little more room to breathe last night, got pretty well organized (and is showing an eye-like feature now) and became the first hurricane of the 2008 season.
Bertha’s a minimal hurricane right now, but it’s likely to strengthen a little bit more before running into some more unfavorable conditions down the road. See the 5am NHC discussion for the thinking behind this.
There is still a lot of uncertainty and variability with the forecast track. The official Hurricane Center forecast did begin to recurve the storm away at about 5:00 last night; however, the cone of uncertainty is a gigantically wide area four to five days out. The current track seems to put Bermuda square in line for a direct hit, but that can (and almost certainly will) change. A majority of the models now recurve the storm (the BAMM still thinks Bertha will not be steered away for the moment), but there is still so much variability on exactly where the storm will be recurved, hence a continued uncertain forecast from the Hurricane Center.
Oh, and here’s a fun tidbit: In a fun little coincidence, the last Hurricane Bertha formed on July 7, 1996. I guess 7/7 is a good day for Berthas or something.